Thursday, February 23, 2017

Sue Me, I'm Anti-Nonsemitic

I love Bibi!
Antisemitism is supposedly on the rise in the United States. Defined as hostility, prejudice, or discrimination against Jews, a person who holds such positions is called an antisemite. (Hyphen is optional.) Antisemitism is generally considered to be a form of racism. I should be ashamed to admit it, but I am an anti-nonsemite.

I prefer Jews to all other people. Italians are a very close second, and a neighbor from Columbia I recently spent time with is very cool and fun. But all those plain white people who eat ham and have dinner parties with lace tablecloths and crystal bowls of flowers and extra silverware bore me. Sunday morning churchgoers strike me as pretentious, lacking in humor and woefully non-spiritual. (They just don't get it.)

I have had many friends who are not Jewish, but I never tell them anything real about myself. It's a trust thing. Go ahead, report me.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Mad at the Weather(men)

If you're just starting out and looking for a career, consider the fact that meteorologists get away with murder. Unlike doctors who must carry tons of malpractice insurance, or pharmacist who must live with guilt if they kill someone with the wrong prescription, or plumbers who get called back to fix a mistake, weather forecasters can screw up, which they do all the time, and nobody says a peep. They don't get sued, or fired, or for all we know even chided by their bosses. Their mistakes are never mentioned. Nobody says, "Hey sorry you all had to evacuate your homes, that tornado (or avalanche or mudslide or hurricane or blizzard or thunderstorm or even just a rainy afternoon) never showed up. My bad."

Despite evidence to the contrary, we all believe the application of science and technology to predict the state of the atmosphere for a given location is virtually foolproof, and certainly reason enough to cancel the company picnic or move a wedding party indoors. Ha!

Case in point: Last night as I was drifting off to sleep, comfy under my covers and one blink away from dreamland, I remembered the evening forecast that promised it would begin raining in the middle of the night and that rain would turn to sleet and freezing rain, encasing my car in ice by daybreak. So I hauled myself out of bed at one in the morning, groped my way downstairs, dragged on a pair of boots and trekked outside into the cold night in my bathrobe to pull my car into the garage. I was not happy, but I was thankful to have dodged an ice bullet the next morning. Only the next morning showed up dry as a bone and sunny, with nary a cloud or a raindrop in sight.

Pisses me off. Who do I call?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

What's Your Pronoun?

Right now, in fact this very minute, there is war taking place in many countries around the globe. People are getting blown to smithereens. Or else they are being tortured, or are in hiding, or looking for food and water, or deprived of shelter, or making a long and difficult journey to another country that might or might not allow them to come in and live in peace there. It's truly terrible what's going on for so many who, by the simple bad luck of where they were born, are caught in the crossfires somewhere else.

But, thankfully, here in the United States, aside from the press beating up the president things are quiet. So quiet in fact that our young people have the luxury of feeling insulted by which pronouns people use when addressing them, either in print or in conversation. The administrators at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont have solved this dire situation by providing pin-on buttons that help clarify this matter. One campus student leader said, “I think the pins are good. When you create a culture that says, ‘Hey, we ask people’s pronouns, we don’t assume them,’ that really lets students know that that’s the culture of the school, and they can either accept it or not.”

Today's pins display pronouns ranging from she/her and he/him to they/them and xe/xem. One type says, “Hello, my pronouns are fluid. Please ask me!” Back in the 60s, our pronouns were more about personality than gender. If only we had been given pins at NYU! Who knows, I might have avoided my entire first marriage.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Joy of Low Expectations

Smiling Haitian children, wearing shoes and eating snacks.
It was recently brought to my attention that a highly bizarre condition exists called Paris Syndrome. First diagnosed in 1986, it is described as a temporary mental disorder exhibited by visitors to that fabled French capital, most notably occurring in travelers from Japan. Seeing Paris for the first time and having it fall far short of their expectations, they experience a host of unpleasant physical reactions, including but not limited to delusions, hallucinations, dizziness, sweating, paranoia, heart palpitations, a racing pulse, nausea and vomiting. It is considered by psychiatrists to be a severe form of culture shock.

Ha -- I wish I only felt that way in Paris! Almost every time I have gone to a foreign city I've been disappointed, and while vomiting is something I just don't do because it is too disgusting, I certainly have experienced several of the aforementioned symptoms.

In Barcelona, seeing the Dunkin' Donuts directly across from our hotel room caused me unrelenting sadness every morning when I opened the shades. In Ireland, the fact that everyone spoke English and acted just like Americans, except they drove on the opposite side of the road and the food was inedible, made me angry that I had flown all that way when I could have gone to Vermont for a whole lot less money. I'm pretty sure I had palpitations for a lot of that trip, especially at meals. Even my last trip to Chicago turned me into a sweating, dizzy, paranoid, shaking mess after just two days there, and we were staying on posh Michigan Avenue with no gunslingers in sight.

The only time I have been pleasantly surprised and actually rewarded by travel was when I went to Haiti. I expected it to be terribly hot and depressing, with malaria-ridden mosquitoes covering every surface, beggars and thieves on every corner and barefoot, malnourished children sleeping in the streets. Instead I found a welcoming population of genial and generous natives, fine weather, some great food and not a bug in sight. The obvious lesson: Never underestimate the power of low expectations.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Latest Style in Pubic Hair

I make oil paintings. I love my paintings and have them hanging all over my house, with many more stacked up in my art studio. I also have given them to close friends and family members when there is one in particular they have admired. They are of varying subjects including flowers, landscapes and lately, portraits. Many are completely abstract studies of the interplay of colors and shapes. I have sold a few in shows over the years, but not enough to make me anybody special in the art world. Now I know why.

In today's New York Times magazine there is a one-page Q&A with an artist roughly my age who is clearly successful. I never heard of Marilyn Minter before today but apparently she is a big deal. Her work centers on "women's issues," which are all the rage these days and surprisingly include quasi-pornographic, close-up paintings of women sucking men's penises. Sometimes there are two women sucking on one penis. (Funny, I would have said that's more of a men's issue, but that's just me.)

The interview about Minter's current exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum includes the following exchange: "There is an entire wall of your paintings, which were commissioned by Playboy, of women's pubic hair." The artist replies, "I'm trying to make a case for it because it's a beautiful thing." She goes on to explain that she wants young girls to stop lasering. The Times asks, "What if you're the reason that pubic hair makes a comeback in the next decade?" She replies that one should "do whatever you want for fashion, just don't laser."

I am stunned, having had no idea about any of this. I still have all my pubic hair and wouldn't have it any other way. I found the whole thing depressing, but at least I now know what's hot in art.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Other People

Many things drive me crazy but mostly it's other people. If only they could all be better. One of the things they do is something I've written about before but it hasn't stopped and in fact it's getting worse, so I'm writing about it again. It's that horrific tendency of robotic thinking, exemplified when people write the exact same thing on a comment stream on Facebook as the last one posted. They don't even try to hide it! For example, say someone has died--a dog or cat or even a child, God forbid a million times. You might see this:

First person: I am so sorry for your loss, my heart and prayers are with you and your family.
Next person: Sorry for your loss. I am praying for you and your family.
Next person: So sorry for your loss. My prayers are with you and your family.
Next person: Sending you  and your family prayers. So sorry for your loss.

Or maybe this, when someone is sick or is getting over surgery:

First person: Sorry to hear you are down. Hope you will start feeling better and be on the mend soon.
Next person: Hope you are on the mend soon!
Next person: Really hope you are feeling better and are on the mend soon!
Next person: Heard you were feeling down. Hoping you feel better soon.

Why do they bother? Why not just do it this way? Like after an illness:

First person: Sorry to hear about your surgery. My prayers are with you and we are sending healing thoughts your way.
Next person: What she said.
Next person: Ditto.
Next person: What they all said.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Mastering Mindful Zen Mastery

I'm thinking of changing the name of this blog to The Daily Zen Master. Or maybe Daily Zen, or Zendroid, or Mindful Droidness or Droidfulness. (Feel free to weigh in.)

Being mindful, as opposed to mindless, is very popular these days, and after all my studying I know pretty much the same stuff as all the people claiming to be Zen masters, and there is a boatload of them, believe me. Just about anyone with time on their hands is now a "mindfulness expert." I've checked many of them out, and the sad truth is that they all say the exact same things because there are only a very few things to say.  Yet each one claims to have The Answer to your anxiety, unhappiness, distress, panic, insomnia or whatever may ail you. Hey, I can do that! Here is my very first lesson, which is actually the only lesson. If you follow my instructions carefully you can save tons of money on books and tapes and candles and little statues of the Buddha.

1. Sit comfortably, either on a cushion on the floor with your legs crossed or upright on a chair with both feet on the floor. (That's a good tip, because otherwise you might have twisted yourself into an uncomfortable position that you would try to hold for like fifteen minutes, hoping to relax.)

2. Close your eyes, or keep them open. (Again, good advice,  otherwise some folks might have kept one open and one closed, which would likely be distracting.)

3. Focus your attention on your breathing. Breathe in, and then breathe out. Breathe normally, and think about the breath as it enters your body through the nostrils and exits through the mouth, or however you do it. Don't force yourself to breathe in a special way. Keep doing it. (By the way, this is also necessary to stay alive so it's not a complete waste of time.)

4. If a thought comes into your head, which one or two are likely to do, just acknowledge it as a thought and tell it you'll think it later. Then go back to focusing on your breathing. If anything external arises to distract you, just recognize it as a distraction and keep thinking about your breathing. (One exception: If you smell smoke, get out of the house immediately.)

5. Do this breathing thing for as long as you can possibly stand it or until people start banging on your door. The longer you do it the better, since it means less time spent worrying about the future or regretting the past, which is what most people do most of the time.

Congratulations, you are meditating! Now do it some more later today, and then again tomorrow morning, and the day after that and the day after that. Then you can write your own book about how to be a Zen master. (But don't think about that yet.)