The Mask

“Take off your mask. You say you’re not wearing one? But you are. The muscles of your face are so accustomed to displaying your familiar emotions they’ve gotten stuck. Raw new emotions are aching to show themselves, but can’t dislodge the incumbents.”

The quote is from Rob Brezsny’s “Pronoia Is the Antidote to Paranoia,” a book I’ve been reading for the past couple of weeks. It’s a big, loopy trade paperback with quirky graphics and lots of space for doodling and rumination. It’s a manifesto inviting readers to throw off the chains of what Brezsny calls “the culture of the living dead,” a/k/a the world as we know it.

There’s a library branch at the end of my street, so I don’t buy many books. I bought Brezsny’s because he’s a man after my own heart. Which is to say, he doesn’t buy into conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom pisses him off in a rowdy, good-natured way, and he’s made it his life’s work to undermine it and expose it for the fraud that it is.  

Brezsny is also the author of “Free Will Astrology,” which is syndicated in publications around the country, and I’ll confess I don’t get much out of it. But what he’s trying to do with “Pronoia” is get people to turn off the auto-pilot and wake up to the truth. If you’re really paying attention, he says, you’ll see that, “All of creation is conspiring to shower us with blessings.”

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Gryffen and His Mom

I got an email last week from my younger daughter saying that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer and is scheduled to have a double mastectomy in mid-June.

 “I’m not afraid as much for myself as my children,” she wrote. She has a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. But then she added, “OK, yes I am — hearing the description of some of the procedures was terrifying and not at all what I thought I knew.”

I don’t know much about the procedures, either, and what I do know horrifies me, too. A dear friend of mine had a double mastectomy just a few months ago, and she told me, “It’s hard. It’s so hard, and my heart breaks for anyone who has to go through it.”

I keep thinking that if men were the target of breast cancer, the treatment would be more advanced and more humane than it is. Mastectomies are barbaric, and I have no doubt that in the future people will look back at what we call modern medicine and be appalled in the same way contemporary doctors have to be appalled at what happened to George Washington. Washington contracted pneumonia, but it was the primitive treatment he got that killed him. Doctors took five pints of his blood, causing shock, dehydration and asphyxiation.

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Why Is This Man Laughing?

My friend Walter had an interview with a recruiter the other day about a very good job with a big company that’s looking to expand overseas. Walter has been in senior management with a couple of U.S. corporations, and he’s got a nice house in the suburbs and a lot of toys to show for it.

But he lost his job a year ago, and when the headhunter asked Walter what he’d been doing lately, he said “Working at Starbucks.”

The recruiter blanched. When they tell you in the HR business that it’s easier to find a job if you already have one, they don’t mean making push-button lattes and wiping down sticky tables.

But that’s the economic reality for a lot of people in the wake of what TIME magazine called “the decade from hell.” There are a lot of people like Walter whose chances of landing a job commensurate with the one they had is compromised not only by economic conditions, but also by their age. Walter is 57, an age at which there seems to be hidden code written into the application process that causes your resume to wind up in the circular file.

In other words, this is the kind of situation that causes folks to wake up in the middle of the night trembling with fear, and I’d be surprised if Walter wasn’t one of them.

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Tiger on Training Wheels

Sometime last year, when summer had laid siege to Georgia and golf became an indoor activity, I spent a lazy Saturday afternoon watching a PGA tournament. Tiger Woods was in the field and, as always happens when he is playing, the cameras doted on him almost to the exclusion of everyone else.

There is a reason for this. Woods’ astonishing success and multiracial background has brought millions of new fans to the sport. His presence on the tour has been the financial tide that lifts all boats.

But as he strode up the fairway, I found myself wondering why it was that I couldn’t bring myself to like him. I’m no Will Rogers (“I never yet met a man I didn’t like”), but I tend to like people until given a reason not to. So what was it about Tiger that put me off?

When he reached the green, the camera zoomed in for a long, lingering closeup of a face that showed no signs of warmth or kindness. Granted, he was playing a golf tournament, not handing out chocolate eggs to children, but what I saw was arrogance and a sense of entitlement that verged on contempt.

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No Time for Rocking Chairs

A conversation yesterday with my friend Maryanne reminded what a pleasure it is to talk with a friend, and how important it is to sane, healthy thinking.

I’ve known Maryanne for more than 20 years, but we seldom see each other. When I first moved to Atlanta we attended the same church and saw each other often. In time I drifted into a different orbit, but we are still fond of each other and I think of her as an older sister.

Some of this flashed through my mind when I saw that she had called. It also occurred to me that years ago Joel and Maryanne had a construction business, and Joel was shocked to discover that at one point it was worth about $2.5 million.

He tells the story on himself, so I’m not giving anything away to say that in pretty quick order he managed to squander that fortune out of feelings of unworthiness. The good news is that although they had some very hard times, times that tested their marriage severely, they toughed it out and their relationship is better than ever.

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It’s All About the Change

The next installment in “Magic in the Mundane” will be posted shortly. Meanwhile, I couldn’t let this opportunity pass.

Ali Hale wrote a piece on The Change Blog recently about the difference between growth and change. Which makes for an interesting discussion of semantic differences, but what it triggered for me was how far things have come in the past several decades.

The coolest thing about change is that we are in the midst of a paradigm shift that makes it possible for significant numbers of people to change. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating.

In the past, change was a matter of “one-offs” – strong individuals who defied conventional wisdom and changed. St. Francis of Assisi and Henry David Thoreau come to mind, the former because I just read something about him. The latter because, like every other school kid, I had to read “Walden” and was surprised to find that once I got into it I liked it.

While folks like St. Francis and Thoreau have made contributions to the world, they didn’t generate a groundswell of change. There wasn’t sufficient critical mass to change mainstream thinking, which was — and still is — grounded in fear and negativity.

But now there are numerous modalities for change and highly visible leaders who have taken the mystery out of change and made it desirable, even when it doesn’t always seem safe.

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Magic in the Mundane, part 2

This is the second part of a blog that begins with the preceding post, titled ‘Magic in the Mundane.’

The vision of Thich Nhat Hanh came to me on a Monday morning, and it may have been a day or two later when I was talking with a friend that reality began to shift.

I told Claire Watson Garcia, an artist and high school classmate, about the vision. She had a friend who had a friend who was an attorney at Time Warner Cable.

Two phone calls later, I was in the office of a semi-retired attorney named Gabe Pearlman. The thrust of his advice was that I needed “a rabbi,” someone who could shepherd the project through the minefields of network television.

A few things are worth noting at this point, not the least of which is that less than week after having the vision I was already in touch with someone who knew the TV business well. Considering that I started at ground zero, that was a small miracle in and of itself.

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Magic in the Mundane

I got a message the other day that Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk, author and peace activist, was following me on Twitter. A day later, two of his followers signed up to follow me, and a day after that a third.

This was just a week after I’d joined Twitter, and I was still skeptical of its value. Mainstream media limit access to keep fools and amateurs from cheapening the product, and I wasn’t persuaded that social media had much value beyond connecting with old classmates.

Eventually I signed up to follow Atlanta Journal-Constitution sports columnist Jeff Schultz with whom I’d exchanged a few emails. But when Jeff started following me, I realized I could no longer get away with being a paperweight.

Whole Lotta Tweeting

A search to see what others write in their posts led to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Twitter page, and I decided to follow him. When he (or, more likely, someone in his organization) reciprocated, I figured that whoever responded was just being polite. I mean, TNH had 4188 followers and was following 3901 people. Even at 140 characters a person, that’s a lot of tweeting.

But our interaction reminded me of something that happened 15 years ago, something that occurred in a matter of seconds and yet  has shaped the trajectory of my life ever since. Something that speaks volumes about the magical possibilities in our everyday world.

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10 Reasons to Revive This Site

1.    Six months off is plenty: Writing is what I do — for a living and as a means of self-expression. One balances the other, and for the past six months, I’ve been out of balance. 2.    The project I’m working on is in good shape: I’m writing a book for a foundation in Washington.Read more

Resistance Is Fruitful

Anyone familiar with “Star Trek: The Next Generation” will recall the Borg, a race of cyborgs who roamed the universe in a brutish cube that looked like a nightmare that had been run through a trash compacter. The Borg overwhelmed and assimilated cultures after issuing their signature warning, “Resistance is futile.”

“Star Trek” and the importance of resisting came up the day after I posted my last blog, and in the most unlikely of places. Who’d have thought you might find answers to the financial crisis in the first century AD?

I was invited to participate in a workshop recently at Columbia Theological Seminary in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur. One of the speakers was Stan Saunders, an associate professor of New Testament, and before I go any further, a caveat.

It’s not my intention to promote a particular religion. The password here is change — stories about those who have chosen positive change rather than settling for the ordinary and conventional. My experience is that the most powerful and lasting change is usually spiritually driven, and in this particular case, Saunders talks about Christianity. If he’d been discussing the Old Testament, you’d be reading about Judaism Several centuries later,  Islam. And so forth.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming….

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