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There Is No Place for Hate Here

November 19th, 2016
"First World Problem Child" - Detail

“First World Problem Child” – Detail

My public face is reasonably apolitical. I intend for my art and writing to inspire a brighter, more beautiful, and more hopeful world. I do my best, most times, to let it just be that. I think that there’s so much in the way of politics already that I don’t feel a need to bombard you with more. Afterall, as they say – if you aren’t outraged already, then you aren’t paying attention. And it’s never been my intention to outrage you all the more.

But here’s the thing: in recent days, the beast of racism, of sexism, of xenophobia has reared its head in this country in ways that I thought unimaginable. And it is all in the name of economics and politics. Those things ultimately – on their own, are not political. To call them “political” is to do a disservice to the humans who are affected by these attitudes every day. They are issues of hate and division and fear. While those are the tools of politics, they are not politics not in and of themselves.

I want to tell you: there is no place for that here. I have no patience for racism, sexism, misogyny, or homophobia or anything else that is hateful and divisive. They will not find any fertile ground to plant themselves upon.

I will listen. I will try to understand where it comes from. How we got here. But it goes no further than that. There is no coddling. No time for apologists. No second-guessing. No compromise. No quarter given for hate.

Many people who don;t experience these things directly, when presented with it by those who do, begin their next sentence with “yeah, but….”

So let’s just stop right there and discuss that part first because it is very important.

"First World Problem Child" - Detail

“First World Problem Child” – Detail

Racism, sexism, homophobia, and other such attitudes, are like weapons. They are used to hurt, subjugate, and make those who wield them feel powerful. However, if you are not the person for whom the weapon was designed to hurt, then you probably won’t ever completely understand its impact.

For example, if you are a man then you aren’t going to feel that sexism spear when it hits you. Maybe a woman is telling you about how she experiences it in the world – maybe how sick she feels right now that a prime example of a misogynist has been elected into the highest public office of the US. Or maybe she is with a group of other women and they are all expressing dismay at various examples of sexism that each has experienced. Maybe you start to feel defensive. You want to say it’s not all like that. The same story goes for race or anything else designed to subjugate and exclude that you yourself don’t experience.

“Yeah, but…,” you begin…

Just stop. Here’s the thing: as a weapon, the weapon is not designed to hurt you. If you are white, racism is not designed to hurt you. If you are a male, then you won’t feel the brunt of the spear of sexism as it impacts the women around you. And so on. No matter how much you examine that weapon – looking for the trap, the part that draws blood, the part that injures, you won’t really feel it. You do not have the apparatus – your skin color, your gender, or whatever – by which to experience it.

But this doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It simply wasn’t designed for you. It is imperative to not let your own experience of it (or lack thereof) invalidate the experience of others.

Instead, just step back, give up whatever you are holding onto that is letting you not hear those who are speaking up – especially if they are telling you that they have been hurt – and instead try to just listen. Really listen.

Just listen.

Right now, in America, an alleged sex offender has been elected for President. Not Bill “I had a consensual blowjob in the White House” Clinton. No, this is a self-admitted misogynist who has multiple allegations against him as well as multiple recorded statements that illustrate it. It’s plain as day. For sexists, for misogynists, his election normalizes attitudes of dominance that women live in fear of every day.

Right now, in America, someone who has made multiple racist comments and, in fact, was fined for excluding blacks from his apartment buildings years ago, has been elected to the highest public office in the country. The same man has the tacit approval of the Ku Klux Klan and continues to appoint to his committee those with outspoken racist attitudes. For racists, this seems to normalize the attitudes of racial domincance that continue to pervade this country in every level of society.

Right now, almost half of the American people who voted have elected someone who is backed by the anti-Gay Christian Right. This same person chose, as his running mate, a man who claims homosexuality can be “cured” and would like to do away with laws protecting the LGBTQ communities. For the homophobic, his ascent to a place of power normalizes and validates the latent or expressed homophobia everywhere.

Right now, America has elected a person who has stoked the fires of xenophobia enough that people are committing countless hate crimes across the country in his name and he has yet to denounce those actions. In fact, he argues that building a giant wall between the US and Mexico is a good idea. He proposes registering all Muslims and banning all others from entry. In doing so he normalizes nationalistic and xenophobic Us vs. Them attitudes (which are largely ‘whites’ vs everyone else) and the hate crimes that lie at the extreme end of those attitudes.

In short, the man who has been elected to be President of the United States is helping to normalize hate, fear, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and more in ways that I never expected to see. Ever. I never expected it would now sit squarely in the chair that is supposed lead this country of the United States forwards.

Yet, here we are.

"First World Problem Child" - Detail

“First World Problem Child” – Detail

I have spent the past week, as have many others, disgusted (and depressed) by this stark reality, grieving for all the families now living in deep fear of being torn apart, for all of the women who see a sexual offender now celebrated, for an environment that will soon be trampled (as he proposes to dismantle the EPA and calls Climate Change a hoax)… and so on.

I can barely believe it. And yet I can… Because there’s so many who live in fear of the other, looking out for I, Me, and Mine, influenced by the Mass Media barrage and the decrepit American education system which has decidedly failed them.

So I want to tell you this: my art is for everyone, everywhere, regardless of race or religion or gender or sexuality or anything I might have missed. It is meant only to inspire openness, hope, joy, maybe brighter more vibrant lives for everyone.

Yes, it obviously comes through my own cultural lens. It is tied to personal experiences that, in their details, are unique to me. But the archetypes of the human experience know no boundaries. We all cry and love and live and die the same. We are all in it together. This planet. This family.

This is all we’ve got.

I’ve had countless wild experiences. I could ascribe all sorts of stories to those experiences. But only one thing really shines through though as a worthwhile story to believe in. In the end, I’m left only with my breath and my body, my sensations, my experience of the world. And you, too, are left with your own.

In the end, all I can do is be kind to myself and others. Just be good to each other.

That’s it. There’s nothing more.

"Illumination" - Detail

“Illumination” – Detail

The only reason I can bring my art to the soaring places it reaches is because of the seeds it starts with. That intention is merely to create beauty, joy, kindness. It is not trying to be something. There is no agenda. I am not here to preach. It comes from one place of joy and beauty and moves onwards and upwards from there, downwards and inwards, to the greatest forms of that seed’s expression. Even the darkness leads to that and comes from that. For me, my art is what it looks like to be alive.

We are jewels reflecting light.

Hate will find no footing here. There is no ground upon which its gnarled roots and twisted forms can take hold. I will listen. I will understand. But there is no place for hate here. Only love.

If you are on the receiving end of these weapons know that I hear you. I see you. I’m with you. I always have been. I always will be. Because there isn’t just you. Just me. There is us. We may be divided by cultural boundaries, linguistic barriers, or any other perceived form of separation. But in the end: I respect your right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and together we defend that for each other. There are millions and millions of us creating a space where we can thrive, as best as we can, in the ways that we know how, while trying to cause as little harm to others. We are stronger together than apart with our choir of voices and our multitude of colors.

We are a speck in the history of the universe. But we are no less beautiful for it.

"The Crucible" - Detail

“The Crucible” – Detail

Having and Having Not: Homelessness in Los Angeles

April 3rd, 2016
Homeless in Los Angeles

Homeless in Los Angeles

A new law passed by the LA city council prohibits homeless people from owning more belongings than can fit in a 60-gallon trashcan with the lid on, and allows police to summarily confiscate any tents that are still standing on public property during daylight hours.

The law is a response to Los Angeles’s epidemic of homelessness — a rise in homelessness that’s clocked in at 20% of two years.

Of course, homelessness isn’t like smoking, a lifestyle choice that can be disincentivized given enough government arm-twisting. Homelessness is a human rights crisis, brought on, in part, by Bill Clinton’s cruel and vile “welfare reforms” (which were passed by adding “compromises” that allowed state governments to be even crueller, an arrangement that came home to roost when the Tea Party started electing governors who ran on a platform that demonized poor people, and subsequently began to literally starve the poorest people in their states).

From: BoingBoing.net

From the files of ‘how human beings treat other human beings’. It is easy to see simply the haves and have-nots and believe that the have-nots want to take what you have. Those who believe that the walled garden they live in must not be trampled upon by those who have-not believe also that the only way to protect those walled gardens is to build bigger walls and enact more laws outlawing having-not.

When we look around, it is easy to believe ourselves to be these cultured, well-informed creatures who have ‘civilized’ ourselves to some high degree of class and sophistication. We can look at back-jungle native cultures and say ‘well, those savages didn’t build computers or develop bullet trains or make 3-D IMAX movies!’ or whatever and yet: we can look to those same cultures and see a lack of, well, lack – of homelessness and destitution. There is only destitution when our western world encroaches upon them and takes away their livelihoods, demolishing their world-views. We can look at other cultures and see communities that are supportive one another and would never think of there being holes through which one would fall and, if there are holes, there are safety nets to catch them.

This isn’t colonial nostalgia. This is the understanding that our tunnel vision of “what the world is” is but one perspective amongst many. That perspective has its flaws as much as it has its shining points of brilliance. There are so many other ways of being, other ways of thinking. And when the one way of being simply barrels over others without any compassion then I really think that we are doing it wrong. When the heart closes and we say ‘nope, they can suck it. I earned it on my own and they can too’ then we separate ourselves from a vast interweaving of the world, living selfish little lives. As we contract into ourselves it causes cracks and holes in the fabric between each other, like dried skin, like a parched desert.

Our society is riddled with these holes and cracks and the more one contracts, the more one is led to believe that one is separate from those that fall through those holes if they don’t have the means, by whatever ill-fortune, to support themselves. This is the story we tell ourselves over and over and over again. it is repeated on the news, in the movies, in books. You might have worked hard to get where you are but it was as much luck and privilege as anything else.

I long for a day when our ‘civic leaders’ and those that vote for them can find the compassion to do something for others – for this civil society we supposedly live in and not just do for themselves and the private investment interests they represent.

Why I Vote (And Why You Should Too)

November 5th, 2014

First W

The same old story: “Why vote? Voting doesn’t make a difference. Politics isn’t real. It’s all smoke and mirrors. An illusion to keep you distracted.” It’s a common story – in one form or another – told by a disproportionately large section of people my age and younger. I’m 38. So that’s a lot of people!

Getting people to believe that ‘politics isn’t real’ is a great way to con a populace into apathy and inaction. Each group, each subsection of the population, seems to have it’s own methods of doing so. It saddens me to watch people slip into sleep like that. Buddhism and Hinduism can use ‘karma’ – we are where we are and our lot in life is just our karma playing out, from the local to the national to the global level. It pacifies people. It keeps them from affecting changes. Christianity offers the carrot of eternal reward in Heaven and that God will judge, not man, so let things go. We all are guilty.

The New Age community offers this: “If you sit and think hard enough you will manifest a reality in which YOU have everything you need. Other people’s problems are simply them not thinking hard enough and manifesting what they need.”

Marx was right: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. Man creates religion, he said, not the other way around. We create religion to justify our actions. To give us a framework with which to move through the world. If we choose to ignore the political currents of the planet or if we choose to feel powerless in the face of such currents, we can create a religious worldview which supports – even empowers – that sense of powerlessness.

But that doesn’t make it go away. Ignoring a thing doesn’t make it disappear. People are real. As are politics. Desires, needs, goals, greed, and generosity. They exist in as much as everything else exists. We move through the world together.

For the foreseeable future, there will be a Supreme Court. There will be women’s rights. There will also be pesticides and limits or bans or lack thereof. There will be trade agreements and the EPA. And, at some point or another, there will be a law against a thing you believe in. It might limit your dancing. It might restrict your access to birth control. It might strip you of some freedom you thought was undeniably yours. There will always be something.

Walking through the world maintaining an ignorance of any and all things that ‘bring you down’ only serves to further disenfranchise, to further the system as it is. The only way through is to engage. We are all humans having our collective human experience. While our mindsets might be different, the desire to live healthy and happy lives is something we all share.

Things get better. Some get worse. It’s a constant evolution of how we live together on the planet.

We are individual bodies but also a collective body – on local, state, national, and global levels. Like a body, we are always fighting off virus, bacteria, parasites. We have to be ever vigilant and can’t just roll over. There is no cell in my body that says “Fuck it, I’m just gonna sit here LA TI DA TI DA!” They all work together – all of the time. The same with people. We are all in it together, all of the time.

iI, say, one of our limbs is diseased, focusing only on our healthy hand – look how pretty and shiny it is! – doesn’t make the disease go away. In fact, we are more likely to lose the diseased limb. And we are weaker for it. The only way to heal is to engage with the process.

It is our duty to one another to engage this process of creating a healthy and happy environment for the entirety of our bodies – our local body and our broad global collective body. On the local level, we can vote for people who enact laws and ordinances that lead to situations like this:

A Florida City Just Arrested This 90-Year-Old for the Crime of Feeding the Homeless
http://mic.com/articles/103382/this-city-arrested-a-90-year-old-good-samaritan-for-feeding-the-homeless

or we can vote for people who can enact things like this:

Salt Lake City a model for S.F. on homeless solutions
“Salt Lake City has cut its chronic homelessness rate dramatically during the last 10 years by giving homeless people nice, permanent places to live with lots of counseling on-site. Its experience offers valuable lessons.”
http://www.sfgate.com/nation/article/Salt-Lake-City-a-model-for-S-F-on-homeless-5587357.php

This is now. This is what is happening. This is change in one direction or another. We aren’t just one ship with one rudder. We are many ships with many rudders and they change course one at a time. Eventually, when one ship sees that the direction another ship is heading in leads to greater prosperity, it will follow suit, or it will suffer. Such is life. But that doesn’t mean we stop.

Lead and others will follow. Follow and you have no right to complain about where you’ve been led.

Kauai and Maui

September 2nd, 2014

collage_20140902144310598

Returning to Hawaii 14 years later, Violet and I took a boat trip – time was short and the hike itself is long – around the north-western side up along Kalalau where I spent a month camping, being, and letting go 14 years ago in 2000 when I was 24. I’m a different person now yet, not so much as changed. Back then I’d hiked the Kalalau trail at least 8 times – once in only 3 hours. Had nearly had my neck crushed by the ocean, had been poisoned by the water, eaten a goat killed by a fellow camper and roasted over the fire, and then had retreated away from that larger transient community on that gorgeous beach. In a little hidden spot tucked away from everyone I lived in a tent alongside a river up in the valley. I dug a fire pit and had a sweet pool to swim in. I hiked, painted, got lost, found, sat, did yoga, grew my beard, mused and pondered and let myself disappear into the landscape.

“What made you come out?” asked Violet while we watched the sun cast sharp angles over the jagged edges of the cliffs.

“I was done, I suppose.” I replied. “Ready for a change…” And ready to see where I was at – who I was out in the world. You can only retreat so much. Humans are communal creatures and, ultimately, better suited to be of some service to each other. It behooves us, and our practice, to take part in the world at large.

At that time, after a few more weeks on Kauai (where I’d gone after spending four months on the Big Island), I went to Maui. I rented a room and puttered around, partied, hung out on beaches. Spent a lot of time drawing and drawing on all number of experiences, inner and outer. I was used to drifting onwards and eventually I drifted onwards from Maui and away from Hawaii.

This time around, we went to Maui first where we spent a couple of weeks in Haiku in a space graciously provided by a dear friend. We painted and shared sweet, loving, creative space – Violet and I. It is so easy to get wrapped up in the busy-ness of life. To get pushed and pulled by greater currents and the world we take part in and in the currents of our own oceans – conscious and unconscious. This human world doesn’t always lend itself well to examination of those currents -driven and hectic as it can be. It doesn’t always lend itself in to those necessary and tender pauses.

On Maui, there was a sunrise over Haleakala, hikes and swimming in waterfalls, rain and flowers, gorgeous sunsets over the Pacific. So many of our travels take the two of us to places where we want to run and see and do everything – great architecture and ancient ruins – or there’s events and all sorts of people and faces and conversations. This was quieter and we struck out into the spaces between each other and in ourselves and in the sweetness of our surroundings.

Afterwards, we went to Kauai and snorkeled and hiked and swam and had lovely dinners and laughter and sweetness and rainbows – all of the things Kauai is – and all the gorgeous epicness I remembered it to be. And, to go with Violet, up the Na Pali coast where I’d been blessed to call home for a month and share with her what I thought – and still think – is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been was perfect.

Compassion: Recognizing Ourselves In Others

May 28th, 2014

Recognition-Compassion

Here is a thing that boggles my mind: we need to convince other – we need to argue about – why people should be compassionate towards one another. We need to debate why we should guarantee a living wage? How is the bottom line more important than the basic needs of your workers? We discuss into absurdity why we should pass laws to guarantee that our veterans are cared for. And we need to convince people that we should care for the planet instead of just dumping toxic chemicals will-nilly everywhere. And we have the world we’ve created… that echoes all of these struggles.

Why should we be compassionate and how far should that compassion extend? Just to people who look like us, act like us, think like us? What about the people who are different than us? What about to, say, a tree, a bird, or the air? What’s the use – the utility – of compassion?

We tell stories about a wise sage who told stories about being compassionate. We tell tales with as far out of consequences as possible: you’ll earn karma, have a better spot in heaven, God sent his only Son, and so on. We tell all these stories – over and over. We create religions, stories, institutions… all just to create a reason – why we should feel a little bit of compassion for each other. And for ourselves. How did we go so far from that?

The earth. The animals. Trees, grass, people. The whole planet, the universe, the stars and sun. We run past the homeless person on the street. We can barely fathom that someone of the other side of the world. Our own lives carry on enormous conversations inside of our heads.

Religion: we create these intensely complex forms of spiritual governance all to just stimulate a little compassion for our fellow human – all to give a reason as to WHY we should care for those around us – and, more importantly, those who we perceive to be as DIFFERENT than ourselves.

We see ourselves and everything else. And we have this ingrained idea of needing to struggle to survive and the fittest – not the most collaborative – is the one which will survive. There’s nothing in the capitalistic mindset that says that most compassionate will survive. It’s a dog-eat-dog-world we’re told from the start. Competition is key! The man with the most wins!

The thing is – when we think like that, we stop recognizing ourselves in others. We’re taught to see the differences. Man. Woman. Black. White. Gay. Straight. Old. Young. Blond. Brunette. Red head. And so on. And we’re taught that our survival – in fact: our flourishing – doesn’t depend on their survival.

Yet, like all other organisms, we are self-perpetuating machines striving to perpetuate this human organism. How can we not see that the happiness of others supports our own happiness? And vice versa. We are not individuals: we are separate nodes of a greater organism. And, really, deep down, each of those nodes just wants to love and be loved.

It seems to take so much for us to just feel some compassion for others. And yet: it’s as easy as extending a hand, recognizing the life in another, feeling some kinship to another, and loving.

What’s In a Name (And the Choosing of our Own)

March 27th, 2014

books

Names: what we name things. We name things all the time. Often we are using names we’ve been told to call things. Those names serve the purpose of being a point of reference in a conversation. Sketchbook. Pen. Cat. And then there’s more signifying names: my cat’s name is Figaro. Or Lukki. Or Maceo. 

I had a name that was given to me when I was born – Michael – and it accompanied a middle name – Robert, my dad’s name – and Brown, my father’s last name. And that was my identity for many years, tying me to a long family heritage and, on a broader scale, a long system of patriarchy.

In typical male/female marriages, the man always keeps his last name. Conversely, the woman has to give up her last name. This is rarely questioned. Sometimes people hyphenate the names but even that is MaleLastName-FemaleLastName. Few men ever consider taking the woman’s last name. Ask some married couple you know about that sometime. They will laugh, feel uncomfortable, etc. It’s weird.

So when Violet and I decided to get married o so long ago, she said: Let’s take a new name. She declared that she wasn’t interested in just taking my name and perpetuating the patriarchal idea of ownership of the wife.  At the same time, we wanted to be creating a solid container and, along the lines of the naming of things and, in a sense, bringing them into being via the name, a hyphenated name still seemed to create a sense of together-but-separate. It didn’t feel like that solid unified container that the contract of marriage created.

Violet suggested we take a new name. The new name would be our new container that we agreed upon together. It would be the name we decided to call ourselves. We are mirrors of the world around us so we wanted the name to reflect how we see the world.

Taking a name from another culture didn’t feel right. Our language is our language and its words and sounds and turns of phrase are a part of its own magic. It’s the language we have grown up speaking and the one we use to the call the world into being. Taking a word from another culture seems to support an imagined esotericism.

Quite importantly, we wanted it to sound right in our ears, with our first names, etc. It had to have a nice flow to it. Like harmonies in song, the last name had to work with the sounds of our first names. I like to feel words in my mouth: feel how they rolls off the tongue. Or not. How they starts and stops. Where they breathe and where they pause. So much meaning – and reflection of the world we perceive – is related through the sounds of words.

Lots of different words flowed through our mouths and ears. Finally we settled on “Divine”. It seemed to fill in the blank of that last name appropriately and would be symbolic of the container of this new family we were creating. It mirrored how we saw the world – all of the world – as divine. This divine life. This divine being.

Sometimes people meet me and they have this idea of me based on my name and on their own ideas of what Divine might mean – and why I might have chosen it. To some, it’s pretentious because the “Divine” is a far off thing or idea and who am I to call myself that? To others, it’s more what-your-last-name-wasn’t-good-enough? because we should be content with who and what and where we are in life. And, for others, it makes me super spiritual, whatever that might mean, because the Divine is so spiritual. The they meet me and they see that I’m really a rather ordinary person. I’m just this guy who sometimes has a rather crass sense of humor. I like wine and music. I like life. And to some, even that is an affront because, in their eyes, it’s not divine enough.

I can’t take responsibility for the projections of others. But I can take responsibility for who I am – and that is a human being, living his life. I enjoy this life quite a bit – with all of its many facets – and try to see it for what it is, whatever that might be.

And if we were to choose a word for that ‘what it might be’  then Divine seems to be a pretty good word.

Some Thoughts on ‘Gifting Circles’

February 19th, 2014
pyramid_scheme

The other day a friend – a 24-yr old woman – asked me what I felt about “gifting circles” – what I knew about them and how it jived with me.

I said I felt that these gifting circles prey on an innate greed* along with an innocence and naiveté in people. They operate under the guise of ‘female empowerment’ or ‘manifesting abundance’ and the ‘law of attraction’ (which is about the most materialistic spiritual belief system out there) and this ‘circle of sisterhood’ where women can share what they are going through, etc. Yet, at its core, there is this offer of an up to $40K ‘dessert’ they will receive when they reach the inner ring/top of the pyramid/head of the table, etc. Having nothing to do with sisterhood, that is the ultimate driving force leading people to join. After all, most women already have a circle of girlfriends to share with.

There’re plenty of buzz words these circles incorporate to give themselves an air of authenticity. The circles and their leaders use terminology found in all sorts of feel-good spiritualisms while shrouding their own deception. To many, it seems grand: you get a circle of women who are willing to listen to your problems and you will get a fat check when you exit. That ‘exit’ of course comes with a sense of ‘achievement’. You have to buy into it but, theoretically, you will find others to join.

In the end, however, it’s a completely unsustainable system. Perhaps the person at the top can walk away with some money but everyone else is shafted. You only have so many friends who won’t second guess your request for $5,000 to join a ‘women’s group’ where you will, in the end, also get to receive $40K.

The sadder part is the person at the top of that pyramid [scheme] often convinces others that she has ‘manifested’ some kind of ‘abundance’ and that her new clothes, etc are a sign of her newfound spiritual connection when in fact that abundance was simply acquired from the women at the secondary tier. The women in the secondary tier then are led to believe that they too can advance to that top-tier candidacy of great abundance manifestation if they get other to join and that it will, in part, reflect their own spiritual achievements.

Part of the ploy – the brainwashing – is that, when the top person leaves and the others can’t actually come up with any new members, women are guilted into thinking that they weren’t supposed to ‘expect’ anything to begin with when, in fact, that carrot is dangled in front of them the entire time. The only real reason they join is so that they will get that check.

It’s sad to see that this still goes on. It’s existed for, well, as long as there has been the concept of the pyramid. It seems that there will always be one person or group that is looking to exploit another person or group. It doesn’t matter how it’s dressed up – what sort of pretty clothes it wears or cars it drives or the colors of its skin: it’s a pyramid scheme plain and simple. Early on, it was called ‘multi-level marketing’ in that one person invited others to join them, purchase things from them, etc and the invitees were asked to invite others. But even this, while involving a lot of hustling on the member’s part still around a tangible product.

Rather than actual products, the women’s ‘gifting circles’ offer spiritual achievement. It’s better to offer a belief system than a tangible thing because when the person doesn’t get that ‘thing’ then they can be brain-washed into thinking it’s their fault: their own lack of belief, faith, trust, etc. In any case, the people invited then go on to invite others, and so on. Of course, members are instructed to not share it with anyone – it’s quite secretive. Those who are asked to join are told how special it is to be invited. But always remember: any person who asks you to join is just eyeing you for your $5,000 check. Eventually, after some female empowerment and some abundance manifestation, you give your money and then you have to go find more people to join… and eventually YOU will be at the top of the pyramid. Or so they say. In the meantime, the person at the top has left to wherever she has convinced the others that their ‘powers of manifestation’ have allowed them to live grandly.

My friend told me that she always feels uncomfortable about these invitations but when she would speak about her feelings, those who asked her to join would get defensive. I suppose this is a common reaction. No one wants to feel like they are being taken advantage of. No one wants to feel like a mark, a chump. No one wants to feel like they are being scammed, especially when it’s dressed up in such nice, feel-good language. But the truth is: that’s what it is. It’s a scam.

I think it’s noteworthy that almost every woman I know has been invited to and/or is a part of these. And almost every woman I know has turned them down. I feel blessed that I know a lot of women who are strong critical thinkers, who can see through the lies quickly. Those same women have strong support groups of friends and family who don’t require that she give them money and don’t dangle a future payout in front of their faces. The ones who are the critical thinker types either engender a defensiveness in those who have asked them to join or they get shut out of any future invitations and are eyed suspiciously. Rabble rousers! Trouble makers! Boat rockers!

Most importantly, these women who are less likely to be drawn into the gifting circles are all on paths they feel confident in. They are entrepreneurs, students, teachers, professionals. They’ve found something that makes them feel good about the work they do and adds to the quality of their lives and the world at large and don’t have a sense of lack around that. I think it’s a bit of a commentary on the nature of our social structures in general that people don’t feel so good about working for someone else. They don’t want to take pride in that work. They feel it squashes their desire for self-direction and gets in the way of the lifestyle they would prefer to lead. The gifting circles are sort of a parasitical reaction to that lack. Rather than go to school or take the time to get really good at something, there is a preference instead to find ways to siphon money from others while coating it in a coat of sweet sisterhood sharing.

Look, it’s ok. We’ve all been scammed at one point or another. Consider it a lesson in ego. In desire. In understanding greed. And, most importantly, giving a bit more time to that voice that questions, that doubts, that seeks to understand more. If someone ever tries to silence that – then you should question all the more.

I think that, an important thing to maintain in this world of so many ideas for sale all the time is a sort of philosophical skepticism. Question things! If people chide you for questioning, then it’s likely that you are challenging them because they haven’t done much questioning themselves. So question, consider, and dissect – especially someone is asking you for money! Learn, understand, know. Make informed decisions. You will be all the happier for it.

******

Recently a woman in Guilford, Connecticut was convicted of running just such a gifting circle. Why was she convicted? Because it is fraud, plain and simple and if you do the math, you will see how incredibly unsustainable its structure is.

*Yes, I think that, in humans, there is an innate sense of greed. I think that all of the ‘seven deadly sins’ are parts of the human body/condition. Our choice is whether we feed them or not. But they are always there –  sloth, lust, greed, avarice, etc – waiting to be fed.

******

Many thanks to the women who offered their insights for this. Especially to M and to [Anonymous]. They offered those insights because they care.

Gratitude

January 15th, 2013

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I’m rounding the corner, walking home from the organic market that we shop at, and it’s a chilly evening. The sun is well past gone. I have a small bag of groceries in my arm – chocolate, coffee, some vegetables, some coconut milk creamer – and a man pushing a grocery cart filled with plastic bottles and aluminum cans passes me. He looks to be smiling but then again maybe he’s grimacing and I wonder: what stroke of life gave this man a cold evening to push a grocery cart filled with plastic bottles, maybe just trying to find enough to make a few dollars and buy something to eat – and me, walking to my warm home. Sometimes, driving through downtown LA, I end up on one of the blocks of homeless people living in tents, pushing shopping carts that contain everything they own, living in the gutter. I wonder at how it is that I am in my car, listening to music, on my way to a meeting, or a dinner with friends, or just getting on the highway and heading home and they are there, stuck in some all together different way of life. I wonder at how the uber-wealthy end up so high up on that pedestal they place themselves upon, sometimes unable to truly value the little things.

I wonder at this… this world with all of it’s countless threads of lives going on: where some are bombed, others are swaddled, some are cared for, and some are left to be trodden upon, some walk tall, some walk small, some don’t walk at all… I wonder how it is that man is legless and I walk along or that child was born without sight, and I can see. How that person appears to be ahead of me, and that person is behind. The vast multitudes and all the myriad walks of life. I wonder at it and I wonder at how I ended up here: making art, doing what I love, living unafraid, neither angry nor resentful, but loving it. I’m in a wonderful marriage to a wonderful woman, with a home that is warm and, right now, smells like fresh baked bread, with a cat on my lap and soft music playing and soft lighting. I wonder at it all and the only thing I am left with – the only answer that comes back to me, echoing from my heart and what feels like the heart of all things – is gratitude: at this gift, this life.

Gratitude is like the late afternoon sunshine, touching everything, turning it gold.

Egypt – Luxor, Giza, Alexandria, and The Great Convergence

January 2nd, 2013

Observations, Experiences, and The Great Convergence in Egypt
Dec. 13 – 25, 2012

“We must be some kind of important,” I chuckled quietly to Violet as the six tour buses of revelers traveled quietly down the twisting desert road away from the Giza plateau and the Great Pyramids and a party so unbelievably perfect that the bus is actually quiet and now here we were led by Egyptian police on motorcycles with lights flashing whisked down down down through the sand and back into the city and decrepit neighborhoods and little fires on the sides of the road, old man looking up and taking note and not a traffic light to be stopped at, straight on through back to the safe bubble of the hotel, six busloads of tired mind blown ecstatic alive and wild people.

Wow, was all that many of us could say.

As I sit now in Alexandria in this spacious high-ceilinged café along the Mediterranean, drinking a creamy cappuccino (possibly the best coffee I’ve had in Egypt, save for those from the night before with Jimmy and Violet) and watching the minibuses and old German cars and newer Japanese cars pass by on the busy Corniche road that runs along the sea, it seems far far away. It seemed so very far away too with each moment that led up to it. Just before Thanksgiving we were invited, along with our good friend Jimmy (founder/curator of the Temple of Visions gallery in LA) to attend – to live paint and display artwork. Once tickets were in hand, the gears were set in motion. We were going to Egypt! It was surreal and real. New passports were ordered and expedited (the old ones were expired). I got really sick and hoped I’d get better. It all worked out. I healed thanks to Chinese Medicine and the passports arrived several days early. Packed and sorted and there we were, meeting Jimmy at LAX and getting on a plane bound for Cairo after a layover in Frankfurt where we ceremoniously ate sausages and sauerkraut and drank a beer.

Landing in Cairo in the night time, we exited the terminal into the thrall of taxi drivers all vying for our attention but my eyes locked with the suit jacketed attendant of a transportation desk in the main lobby. Young and clean shaven he spoke fairly and sported a shiny belt buckle that looked like a berretta. He arranged for a van to take us to the Giza train station where we’d booked an overnight train to Luxor. The cab driver, like most cab drivers, was happy for some listening ears and, in broken English, wanted nothing more than to tell us about Egypt, how expensive the apartments near the airport were (in the Heliopolis neighborhood – a million dollars a piece, in USD), how we shouldn’t trust anyone in Luxor (Not entirely true. You can trust most people most of the time just not all people all of the time so proceed with caution.), and how Egypt is very good, very safe.

Once we circled around Cairo and into the rush hour thrall of Giza not much different than  downtown LA. Street vendors and everyone walking driving riding honking. It was just a bit dirtier and a few more halogen bulbs and no bacon wrapped hot dog vendors. Cars passed within inches of each other and at first you think it’s amazing that no one hits anyone else but then you see how every car is scratched and dented and a bit worse for the wear.

“Ah,” said our driver, “Egypt is great but traffic. Traffic is a problem!” A comment heard uttered by many a taxi driver after him.

In the coldly lit office of the young station master in the Giza train station I tried to explain how I’d purchased tickets for the night before because didn’t realize that the time change from the US to Egypt would make us lose a day and would it be possible to use those for today. We went back and forth with the cab driver translating. I was never sure who was pulling my leg. Violet and Jimmy waited in the cab. Finally I bought new tickets. There was no way around it. I’d have to eat the $127. It’s things like that which make people in some countries think that people from other countries are made of money. We’re not. We’re just on different value scales.

The train showed up and our cabbie through much fast talking got us onto a car, into two sleeper cabins, and the cab driver is telling me that he needs me to give him all this money so that he can go pay for our tickets but I wasn’t born yesterday and it’s best to take care of transactions yourself, in any part of the world, so we gave a a handful of US dollars to the car attendant or whatever he was, the cab driver was off the train. The doors closed. The train started moving. Our two cabins had a door between allowing them to open to each other and there we three were, bound now on the night train for Luxor.

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