Sunday, June 17, 2018

RIP Anthony Bourdain

Last week the world lost another celebrity to suicide. Normally I don’t pay too much attention to celebrity deaths but this one is different. For years Anthony Bourdain has been my role model. My guru.

He often said he traveled the world on his belly, meaning he traveled to one exotic place after another and indulged in the local fare. He only ate local foods, only ate at local eateries, only ate with local people, and was always fascinated by how and why people cooked their native dishes. He experienced the best and worst of each location, placing a high premium on experiencing its authentic cuisine—whether that was dining on Peking Duck in a Michelin star Beijing restaurant or scarfing down a bowl of noodles from a Bangkok street vendor. And that’s the way I travel.

“Move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.” -Anthony Bourdain.

I both love and emulate his low-key traveling persona, willing to experience out of the way places, dirty places, places tourists don’t go. To him and to me, you don’t experience a place by taking in the postcard monuments and museums. And you don’t travel to a location in order to have fun. Traveling is not about seeing the top sites and having fun. It’s about merging with a different culture, and the more different the better. Travel is about learning about humanity in all its many varied forms. Travel is an eye-opening, live-changing, curiosity-appeasing quest. 

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you... You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” — Anthony Bourdain

I travel from four to six months per year. Most of my destinations are outside the U.S. I’ve visited over sixty countries over the last twenty-five years. I dare say there were few places Anthony Bourdain showcased on his travel show that Herman and I have not visited, which gave us both a feeling of connection with Mr. Bourdain. We shall continue to travel in the style that he epitomized, but from now on we will travel with a slight sense of loss. 

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I Value Good Manners

Nothing brightens my day more than meeting a young person who speaks clearly, looks me in the eye, calls me “sir” (yes, I’m that old), and uses terms like “thank you” and “please” and “excuse me.” I feel better about the person speaking, and about myself. It also gives me hope for these younger generations. I try to encourage good manners with everyone I meet by setting an example. However, more and more—or perhaps I should say: the older I get—I find young people simply ignore me, or give me a clipped response and try to move on to something/someone else. So that when I do come across someone who displays good manners, it really shines out.

As the sign says, manners cost nothing, but they can mean so much.

I feel the same way when I meet someone who takes genuine pride in his or her work and who goes the extra mile. It seems like so many people simply want to get by with the least amount of effort. Nothing makes me cranky as quickly as standing in a long line at the DMV or the bank or a department store with only one window open while a bevy of three or four workers chat among themselves in full view of the waiting customers. I’ve always had a high work ethic, which in my view means giving everything—work and play—a hundred percent effort. Back in the day when I earned a salary, I wanted the bosses to know I earned every penny, and I wanted the customers to realize that as well.

If I sound like I’m being a stogy old man, so be it. I sound that way to me as well. At my age, it should be expected.

Monday, December 11, 2017

My Take On The American Dream

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to our country this year, trying to understand why a man like Trump could appeal to so many Americans. I keep coming back to what people want out of life, what the American Dream looks like in 2017.

In my year of reflection and study and talking to people, I’m sorry to say no blinding insights materialized. If anything, I was wowed by how modest people’s hopes seem to be. And although it is impossible for me—a reasonably affluent, gay, white man—to understand the challenges of other races, sexual orientations, and income groups, I’ve developed a strong opinion that these modest hopes hold constant across race, region, religion, sexual orientations, and income groups.

What I’ve come to believe is that it involves to six critical areas:

1) Economics: The idea that anyone willing to work should be able to hold a job that pays a living wage. 

2) Health insurance: The notion that nobody should have to file bankruptcy simply because they, or someone in their family, got into an ancient or became seriously ill.

3) Education: Every parent wants their child to have access to a good education, and that means they should be able to attend college even if their parents are not rich. And in these days of dizzying technological change, adults also need access to colleges so they can remain competitive in the marketplace. 

4) Safety: People want their families to walk streets free from criminals and terrorists. To go to church or a concert without needing to worry about some psychopath with an assault rifle.

5) Environment: People are rightly concerned about the world we are passing on to our kids. We all want clean air, clean water, and poison-free food. And we want to protect wildlife environments. 

6) Quality time: Time to enjoy life with your family, and in old age, to retire with dignity and respect.

Yes, I know that if you ask people what they want, off the top of their heads they mostly want to be millionaires, drive Teslas, own a big house with an indoor swimming pool, and fly first class to the best destinations in the world. But when it comes down to real hopes, I believe they would be happy with the list above. 

It’s not much to ask. And it seems to me that these basic hopes are not just the American Dream, but what families the world over hope for. I like to think that most people understand the government can’t solve all their problems, but the flip side of that coin is that government shouldn’t stand in the way of people helping themselves to achieve everything on that list. And although government can’t do everything, they can, and should, help every American achieve these goals.

Monday, October 9, 2017

A Week of Expunging

At least once per year, usually around New Years, Herman and I do a house purging. This year it came early, because after the wretched news of another mass shooting, we needed a mental tonic.

We started by cleaning out our garage and shed, donating or throwing away everything we no longer need or use. Those two areas produced two truckloads of stuff. Then we focused on the inside of the house, the closets, which produced another truckload of donatables.

I don’t know why, but purging always brings me joy. I’ve never been a packrat, and the fewer possessions I have around me, the more liberated I feel. Possessions weigh me down, shackle me. They take energy, pull my attention to them, clutter my mind.

One of my happiest times in the last several years came when Herman and I first moved into our Palm Springs house. During the first two weeks—before the moving van arrived with all our belongings—we lived in an empty house. Only an air mattress and sleeping bags in the bedroom, a card table and chairs in the dining room, and our laptops. No pictures on the walls, no TV, no writing desks, nada. I felt so free. With nothing but white walls, I felt I could remake myself into anything I wanted. I could be someone new each day. Then the furniture and artwork arrived, and with it came all my personal history. And I was back to being that person again, anchor into that mindset by all those things.

I believe it’s true, that the things we gather around us do define who/what we are. It’s why people hoard. The more things you gather, the more tightly expressed you become. All those things are a visual manifestation of who we are, they define us, and that gives most people a great deal of comfort. Not me; I like existing with as few boundaries/definitions as possible.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Another Day of Mass Death

Woke up to another day of sadness. One shooter with an assault rifle, fifty-eight dead, over five hundred injured. My heart weeps for these people locked in this tragedy. I weep for all Americans who wish to live in peace and security, and who reject violence.

And I ask myself the same question I’ve asked many times over the years: How many innocent people must die from gun violence before the people of this country snap out of their inanity and outlaw assault weapons? Fifty thousand? A hundred thousand? A million?

How many parents must lose a child? How many spouses must lose the love of their life? So much loss, so much anguish, and for what? So a few million people can feel empowered? Can’t we find a better way to empower people? A way that lifts us all up, instead of taking precious life?

Friday, April 14, 2017


Compassion is the heart and soul and awakening to enlightenment. Meditation and self-reflection can make us more receptive to compassion, but it cannot be forced or manufactured. When it gushes within, it feels as though it suddenly came out of nowhere by chance. And it can vanish just as quickly. It is experienced in those moments when the barrier of self is lifted and the individual existence surrenders to the well-being of existence as a whole.

Thus, we cannot attain awakening for ourselves. We experience it by participating in the awakening of all life.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Spiritual Transformation According to Tolstoy

The three life-conceptions are these: The first—the personal, or animal; second—the social, or the pagan; and third—the universal, or the divine.

1) According to the first life-conception, man’s life is contained in nothing but his personality; the aim of his life is the gratification of the will of this personality. 

The savage recognizes life only in himself, in his personal desires. The good of his life is centered in himself alone.  The highest good for him is the greatest gratification of his lust. The prime mover of his life is his personal enjoyment. His religion consists in appeasing the divinity in his favor. And in the worship of imaginary personalities of gods, who live only for personal ends.

2) According to the second life-conception, man’s life is not contained in his personality alone, but in the aggregate and sequence of personalities,--in the tribe, the family, the race, the state; the aim of life consists in the gratification of the will of this aggregate of personalities. 

A pagan, a social man, no longer recognizes life in himself alone, but in the aggregate of personalities,--in the tribe, the family, the race, the state,--and sacrifices his personal good for these aggregates. The prime mover of his life is glory. His religion consists in the glorification of the heads of unions—of eponyms, ancestors, kings, and in the worship of gods, the exclusive protectors of his family, his race, his nation, his state.

3) According to the third life-conception, man’s life is contained neither in his personality, nor in the aggregate and sequence of personalities, but in the beginning and source of life, in God.

The man with the divine life-conception no longer recognizes life to consist in his personality, or in the aggregate of personalities (in the family, the race, the people, the country, or the state), but in the source of the everlasting, immortal life, in God; and to do God’s will he sacrifices his personal and domestic and social good. The prime mover of his religion is love. And his religion is the worship in deed and in truth of the beginning of everything, of God.

These three life-conceptions serve as the foundation of all past and present religions.

The whole historical life of humanity is nothing but a gradual transition from the personal, the animal life-conception, to the social, and from the social to the divine. 

The history of the ancient nations, which lasted for thousands of years and which came to a conclusion with the history of Rome, is the history of the substitution of social and the political life-conception for the animal, the personal. 

The whole history since the time of imperial Rome and the appearance of Christianity has been the history of the substitution of the divine life-conception for the political, and we are passing through it even now.

Christ’s teaching differs from pervious teaching in that it guides men, not by external rules, but by the internal consciousness of the possibility of attaining divine perfection. That is the goal, to evolve into divine perfection. And in man’s soul there are not moderated rules of justice and of philanthropy, but the ideal of the complete, infinite, divine perfection. Only the striving after this perfection deflects the direction of man’s life from the animal condition towards the divine, to the extent to which this is possible in this life.

Over and over Jesus stressed (as did the Buddha) that the external world means nothing, that to follow Him means to focus inward, and not give a thought for the external world. 

Jesus said, “Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls or the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them.  Are ye not much better than they? Which of your by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow/ they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall He not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? Or, What shall we drink, or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof (Matt. Vi. 25-34)

Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is there will your heart be also (Luke xii. 33-34).

Go and sell that thou hast, and follow me, and who hath not forsaken father or mother, or children, or brethren, or fields, or house, cannot be my disciple. 

Turn away from thyself, take thy cross for every day, and come after me.  My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me, and to do His work. Not my will be done, but Thine; not what I want, but what Thou wantest, and not as I want, but as Thou wantest. The life is in this, not to do one’s will but the will of God.