The Coolest Cat

I never thought that cats liked me even though I have always been a lover of them. Ever since I was a young boy I have had cats in my life. To this day I own two cats (one of which I won in a local pet lottery), both of which are black, both of which refuse to sit on my lap and scramble away when I come into play. I do not know if they simply dislike me- or if they are afraid of my tall and normally tense stature or if I have done something in particular to make them afraid of me. Granted swinging them around by their back feet or tugging on their tails and refusing to let go may not of been the wisest ways of befriending them when they were young- but cats have always been afraid of me. This is why tonight I was so surprised when three cats followed me home.

My daily exercise consists of an hour walk around my neighborhood. I am done with sweat and cardiovascular exercises and have resigned myself to a body less sculpted by rigorous workouts and more defined by a moderate walk. I do certain exercises to keep my minimal muscles toned, but other than a few push-ups and arm curls with some weighted green balls I own, walking is my main fat burner. I like to drift off in the mental space that walking takes me to even though at certain times, like today, my thoughts can become negative and relentless. I will try and focus on the wind, or various elements of the outside world….but sometimes I get so caught up in my thoughts that I can not recall where I have been. I get lost and find myself on some street that I have never seen before.

The three cats sat on a fence post and I was as surprised to see them as they were to see me. I could hear their purrs from many steps away so I approached them with the hope that they would not run away like every other cat seemed to do. In my head I repeated the word “love” so as to emit a gentle energy from my body that was attractive as opposed to repellent. As I reached out my hand one of the cats immediately took to it and rubbed its whiskers all around the base of my thumb. I was immensely excited by the lack of their immediate retreat so I stuck out my other hand and little did I know that the fun had just begun.

I pet them for what seemed like an hour. I rubbed my face against their cheeks, ran my hand under their chins and all along their spins. One of the cats drooled and they all purred with the madness of elation as I pet them them with the delicacy of a man who is in love. I was sure to be gentle with them and tell them how beautiful I thought they were as I ran my hands all across their fur. I was surprised that they were not in the least making a move to run away but instead reaching out their claws towards me as if to make me stay. With their shredded fur all over my hands, arms and shirt I decided that it was time to call it a day and when I started to make the move to walk away- in what looked like a synchronized unison the cats leaped from the fence and began to follow the shadows of my foot.

I must of walked for ten blocks before I realized that these cats had no intention to leave. At first I was a bit concerned about pulling them away from their home, but I resigned myself to letting them have free will and simply enjoyed the rare occurrence of being followed by three cats. They rubbed their heads against my shins and made movements in between my legs that a few times threatened to send my falling onto the ground. If cats could laugh they would of been laughing out loud with me as they followed me down many streets with what looked like smiles upon their feline faces. Pedestrians who would pass by would stop and stare and I noticed that from the windows of certain houses, faces would be looking out at me with looks of confusion, disbelief and delight. You would think that I had cat nip in my socks from the ravenous way these cats followed me but I had nothing but the delight of a man who was finally experiencing something extra-ordinary. Tears of joys occasionally made their way to my eyes as I walked along. I was overwhelmed by the surreal realization that I was actually worthy of being followed by cats, that cats liked me! For the first time in many years I felt like what I can only now refer to as…… the coolest cat on the block.

The Chronic Consumer

“The cost of something is the amount of life that you are willing to exchange in order to have that thing.” – Henry David Thoreau

dscf1917I spend a lot of money. The irony is that I do not make much money. Off of my meager Teachers wage I seem to get by in a style that would not beget a king, but is better than most who suffer the wrath of poverty. I am no celebrity but neither am I a poor popper. I do not know if my spending habits arise from a deep emotional lack or if I simply enjoy the transaction process. Sometimes I think I may be closely aligned to the Pavlovian dogs who drool when they hear the meal time bell. Except for me it is not a noon time bell, but rather the feel of my fake gold debit card in my hand or punching the keys on that little machine that deducts my hard earned money away, away. My therapists (yes I have two now) seem to believe that my spending habits stem from a dis-satisfaction with the present moment of my life. Like most Americans, I have been conditioned to believe that things will get better if I spend some time each day as a consumer. But it is always the same story, I spend money on one thing and am gratified for a short allotted period of ti-me until the next day comes and I am looking for something brand new to buy.

Do not get me wrong, I am by no means a ravenous spender. My purchases are humble and thoughtful and often contribute to my own well being and peace of mind. I am also not an excessive spender, buying up property, stocks, vacation packages, children and costly material items. Rather, because I only make an income that is beneath three grand a month- I have to keep my purchases within the realms of what I can afford. I have been keeping a budget for the past few months and on average this is what I spend a month:

$500 on groceries mainly bought at Whole Foods (or what I prefer to call Whole Paycheck). I try only to purchase organic food and booze which can be pricey.

$400 on gas and other car expenses (I drive an old SAAB with over 200,000 miles on it so I am always having to attend to it).

$500 on eating out ( I do enjoy the Epicurean experience on a regular basis).

$200 on books and music (one way that I experience pleasure is by frequently visiting book and music shops).

$900 on rent and other survival necessities like electric bill, credit bill and phone bill.

$200 on drinking in bars.

$300 on miscellaneous things like clothes, cat supplies, bird supplies and vitamens.

$300 on Therapists

I no longer spend money on prostitutes, strippers, massage parlors and other erotic addictions so at least this is one way that I have managed to save money the past few years. However, before the month is up I am usually broke- or beyond broke lying in a ditch of moderate debt. Now, none of my purchases are what I would label as excessive or exploitative (I consider myself to be a mindful consumer) but I can see how they are addictive. For each thing I purchase I receive a small rush of adrenaline to my brain (it is a sensation akin to accomplishment). Yesterday, when I treated myself to a nice dinner (which I do on an almost nightly basis since there are good restaurants everywhere around where I live), a concert and a new ipod I felt that the rush of adrenaline was more gratifying, almost sensual in nature. I felt as If I had achieved something strangely satisfying– the ability to spend money on things which I do not really need. Is not this the American way?

My chronic consumerism has been concerning me lately. Not only do I feel like I am spending more money than I need to, but I enjoy the concept of “forget savings.” The idea that one should spend what they have today because who knows if they will be around tomorrow to enjoy it has permeated my spending habits and left me little cash to watch grow the flowers of interest. All my hard earned labor has been exchanged for momentary pleasures that leave me feeling empty and searching for more the following day. I have become a consuming animal not that far detached from my cat who spends his days searching for something to eat. There has got to be more to life than this constant need to go out and buy. Recently, I have felt like it is impossible to step out the front door of my home without spending twenty bucks! I watch my friends drop cash that they worked hard to earn on superfluous things that leave them to feeling unfulfilled the following day. Is our material conditioning nothing but an economic hamster wheel that has been set up to keep us working and the cogs of capitalism spinning? Have I been duped and brain washed by the very country that I have grown to love? Sucker.

My concern has grown so large that both of my therapists have recommended that I move to the country where there is less temptation to spend. I have seen the best minds of my generation get tied and tangled up in expenses and spending habits that have caused them to have to trade in their happiness for a fifty plus hour a week job. Chronic consumerism has become an epidemic that has already managed to define me. I am helpless in its clutches and the only way that I can see how to be set free is to move out of the city.

In a month my wife and I are moving to the country. We will hire movers and relocate our lives to the central valley of California, where not much goes on other  than the natural cycles of day to day life. We have rented a two bedroom home that will not cost us half of our paycheck a month and it is not surrounded by Whole Foods and five star restaurants. It will be a quieter life filled with bird sounds, barking dogs and late night walks (without the fear of being mugged). We plan on eating the great majority of our meals at home, spending less and enjoying our lives together more. I realize that this will be a difficult life style change to manifest since what I have become accustomed to is consumerist, cosmopolitan satisfaction. I am going to have to dust off my old poetry books, set up a chair in the back yard and be content just staring at the redwood and the things we will grow for food. Neither of us knows what we are going to do for work (there are so few jobs around where we will live)- but one thing will be certain, I will finally have the opportunity to heal from my chronic consumerism and find a new way to be in this world without needing to spend a single buck. But for now, my wife is waiting for me in the car, because I promised I would take her out for a nice lunch.

The Spiritual Materialist

dscf1854 I went to a Tibetan Fair. There were all sorts of Tibetan rugs, scarves, sweaters, ornaments and jewelry for sale. There was Tibetan music and “Save Tibet” booths, along with booths trying to bring attention to various imprisoned Tibetan activists. However, I was not there for any of these things. What I was looking for was enlightenment. I had been asking around about enlightenment. A co-worker told me to check out the Tibetan fair because they might sell it there. Since I was in desperate need of enlightenment I figured I had nothing to loose. I paid the $10 entry fee and was overwhelmed by the amount of people, vendors and music that sprawled all over the three acre park. With so many booths to choose from I started going up to various vendors to see what they were selling. Most seemed to offer material goods but I asked anyways if they sold enlightenment. The response was always the same “no” and the degree of the laughter depended upon how well the vendor understood me. There were also booths for acupuncture, massage and psychic readings. There where even meditation booths. Since I had nothing to do for the rest of the afternoon, and a pocket filled with three hundred dollars- I decided I would take my time and look around.

An acupuncturist told me that he did not sell enlightenment but that he could help me find it. I only let him put three small needles into me and after ten or so minutes of lying still on his table I had to ask him to please take out the needles because I was feeling anxious. I had a massage from an old Tibetan woman who told me that her hands could bring me close to enlightenment but she had none for sale. I gave her ten bucks for ten minutes- but half way through the massage I felt so uncomfortable being rubbed in public that I had to ask her to stop. “Maybe you try more meditation,” she told me as I thanked her for taking some of the stiffness out from my neck and upper back. I paid a psychic fifteen bucks because she told me that she could not sell me enlightenment but she may be able to guide me in the right direction. After fifteen minutes of her sitting still without saying a word she opened up a flood gate of prognostications, that made me feel a bit uncomfortable. She told me of my bad luck and the various ways that my impatience has caused me to make several bad decisions. She told me that soon I would make a career change and that the reason that I have so much stress and tension in my body and life is because I am not getting the recognition in my life that I feel I deserve. She also told me that I am smart and posses an analytical mind which causes me to be unhappy because I am angry at all the less intelligent people who get ahead in life while I remain behind. All of it was too much for me to take. I stopped her in mid sentence as she was saying, “you are getting older and you are afraid that……” I thanked her for her revelations but told her that I felt no closer to finding enlightenment than when I began. She smiled, shut her eyes and I went on my way.

I continued to travel around the fair looking at all the wide eyed Buddhists. In the background music played from the main stage but was muddled by the multiplicity of various voices that traveled through the fair. It felt like the entire city of Berkeley was making their way through those two acres of land. I had to squeeze my way up to booths that seemed like they could be potential sellers of enlightenment. “Do you sell enlightenment here?” I would shout so that the vendor would hear loud and clear what I was trying to say. People would look at me in disbelief as I was told again and again, “no, no enlightenment here.” The afternoon was ending and I could feel the heat being put off by the sun begin to decrease as the sun made way for the moon. Relentlessly, I traveled around from booth to booth determined to find the object of my search. If I could not find enlightenment here where else would I find it? Some vendors who could not sell me enlightenment offered me a good deal on items that may bring me close. I purchased some sandalwood prayer beads and a t-shirt with the “OM” symbol on it. I also purchased some incense and a new meditation cushion, but I knew when I bought these material goods that they were only steps to enlightenment, and not enlightenment itself. With bags containing my new purchases I asked old Tibetan women, sexy Tibetan women, young Tibetan men and older Tibetan men if they knew where I could purchase enlightenment. None did, except one. She pointed her decaying finger callused by such a long life at a lone booth that sat on the top of a hill. The woman without any teeth in her mouth and more wrinkles on her face that that of a redwood tree said, “Up there…he may find it for you.”

I walked toward that booth like a man making his way towards a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. A lone, middle aged Tibetan vendor stood contentedly behind a pile of beautiful Tibetan rugs that had intricate patterns hand woven into them. An array of colorful Tibetan scarves blew in the wind above his head. He stared eagerly at me and I could tell that his eyes had achieved some semblance of nirvana. “Do you sell enlightenment here?” I asked him like an eager pupil. Since he was a little hard of hearing I had to repeat my question. “Enlightenment, do you sell it here?” I asked again. He did not laugh like all the rest. Nor did he look at me with dumbfounded disdain. Instead he opened up the doors of communication by saying, “oooooooh enlightenment, you looking for it here?” “I have been looking for it everywhere,” I replied, feeling some sense of relief overcoming me. Maybe I had finally found a man who can sell it to me, I thought. “You know why you no find enlightenment?” he asked me. “Why?” I replied. “Because you look for it. You need to stop looking for enlightenment and then you will find that it is everywhere….all around you, all the time” I had a brief “aha!” moment, where time stood still and it felt as if I was the center of the universe. I listened to the sounds, smelled the scents and looked around me. For the first time in years  I was free from my desire to find something I did not have. Instead I simply let go and for a brief moment or two I felt something akin to enlightenment. “You not need what is in your bags or on your shelves, just remember the breathing,” the man said in a calm tone as I smiled at him and took a deep inhalation. “Thank you,” I told him, “you have helped me find exactly what I was looking for.” “And it’s even free,” he said and then let out a little laugh.

A Career In Meditation

app_full_proxyI like spending a lot of time in stillness. I don’t mind people, but I prefer being left alone. The pleasures of my own mind far out weigh the experience of being around other human beings. I enjoy going on long mental walks, alone. I also enjoy just breathing and watching my own mind fill up with thoughts flashing across the movie screen of my consciousness. Somehow I am fully gratified by this simple experience in the same way that most others would be gratified by going to a movie. I will be honest- in my home there is a closet where I enjoy spending most of my time. I sit in meditation sometimes for hours at a time in darkness, just watching my breath and the thoughts that snake through my neurotic mind. After twenty minutes or so of calming my mind and heart down- I reach a state that some people refer to as PEACE. Everything becomes still. Thoughts stop menacing around in my mind. My cravings calm down and my breathing is so slow that not even a feather would move if you put it under my nose. My lust and ambitions dissolve and I no longer need to do anything or be anywhere. I am a man at peace- alone in the privacy of his own closet.

My wife is having difficulty dealing with the amount of time that I spend closed off from the material world. She thinks that it is abnormal behavior for a grown married man, who is almost 40 years old to be closeted off from the world for such long periods of time. “You should be more ambitious, pursuing a career- and out with friends,” she tells me. I should be devoted to work and wife and striving to achieve the American dream. I try to tell her that I am working on myself so that I can be a better husband, friend, lover and member of society. Most of my life I have struggled with chronic anxiety- and meditating in my closet is my one way to be free. She still thinks that there are better ways of doing this other than holding myself hostage in a closet. I could join a group or go back to school, she suggests but all I want to do is be left alone far from the light of day.

I think one of the reasons why my wife may have wanted to leave me for another man was because of the amount of time I was spending closed off in my closet. Even though I told her that I was practicing meditation (self growth) she saw it as a form of alienation and felt like I was not paying much attention to her. Over the course of many months my wife started getting involved in her own extra curricular activities and eventually was able to get her needs met elsewhere. I on the other hand was able to meet my own needs by sitting in the lotus position, focusing on my breath and being still in darkness. I needed little sexual fulfillment (even though I confess to smoking marijuana a few times in my closet) and I was content enough to simply be alone. My closet became a universe of its own- a reflection of my mind turned inside out.

Recently I have begun to notice that there are no careers in meditation. My wife can understand my need to spend long periods of time in my closet if I am working towards something specific. I asked if she would be more content with the time I spend alone if I was working towards a career in meditation. She told me that would make more practical sense to her. So during the day I have been looking around for careers in meditation, but there are none. There are careers and graduate degrees in everything from taxidermy to vivisection but there is nothing out there for working silently with your own mind. Human beings are a strange species- we value doing experiments on animals and then stuffing them when they die more than we value our own inner peace. I could be a Psychologists or a Psychic, I could be a Yoga Instructor or a Thai Chi Master- but none of these careers appeal to me. I simply want to find work in the field of meditation so that I can spend the majority of my time sitting alone in the darkness of my own closet. I want to teach others how to sit equally still so that I can feel like I am doing something to contribute to a more relaxed world free from all the paranoia. Until I am able to find a way to have a career in meditation I have promised my wife that I will spend less time hidden away in my closet (or else she may threaten to run away again into the arms of yet another man). For the time being I will continue to do things for money that the world (and my wife) thinks of as more pragmatic and maybe go out with a few friends now an then. I will pretend to be normal. This way I will get my wife off my back, but I can promise you dear reader- that when she is not looking I will sneak back into to the wonderful dark world where you will find me sitting alone.

The Man With Green Balls

dscf1917I have two green balls. They are heavy and round and stuffed with sand. Each one is the size of a soft ball, but one of them has a permanent indentation, which causes it took look like it went through a kind of surgical procedure. I use these balls almost every day to keep myself strong and my posture erect. They weigh five pounds a piece and I was told that if I walk with them in my hands for sixty minutes a day my arms would get a gladiatorial kind of definition. So it has been about a month now that I have been carrying these balls around with me for an hour or so. I go for walks through the city in which I live and do curls with each arm as I walk. The general public stares at me because they are not quite sure what to make of a grown man dressed in civilian clothes walking around with large green balls, but I am past the stage where I care what people think. I know that I am doing something that is good for my health and I realize that there is a price to be paid to achieve a body that looks as if it was carved out of stone.

A month and a half or so ago I took off my jacket in front of a class I was teaching. I was wearing a t-shirt that had sleeves that revealed my slushy biceps. I did not know why my students were saying”ewwwww” and giggling at me all of a sudden until one of my students pointed out that my “flesh jiggled like jelly on my arms” when I took off my jacket. Humiliating. I had not realized that my muscles had become so flaccid until this public humiliation. That evening I returned home and stood in front of a mirror with my shirt off and realized that my months of beer drinking, reading and inactivity had turned my body into an undefined mass of weakened flesh. I immediately became self conscious and started doing as many push ups as I could, which was only three.

I am to young to go muscularly limp. I still have two years until I turn forty and there is no excuse for hanging blubber beneath my arm pits and having biceps that are as soft as a cotton swab. I am a skinny man and if you looked at me with my clothes on you would never know that I was so weak, but the following night (after the public humiliation) when I was naked in bed with my wife, who recently had an affair, I found out that I was loosing sex appeal. “You’re not taking care of your body anymore and your loosing all your muscle tone,” she said as I rolled away from her. “Is this why you had an affair with a younger man?” I asked, well aware of the answer. “It was just a fling. He was an attractive guy and I needed to put some passion back into my sex life since you have not been able to take care of that. Maybe if you develop muscle, it will make you better in bed.” I could not argue with her. For over a year I had been sexually disinterested and allowed not only my muscle but also my sexual passion to dwindle away.

I had not been in a sporting goods store for years but when I was told about the benefits of walking with green balls I immediately went and purchased them. I admit that walking with large green balls in my hands may be an abnormal thing to do, especially for a grown man. In our day and age of conformity and moral righteousness it is difficult to be abnormal or go against the grain without being noticed. I am mortified by the idea of joining a gym or taking an exercise class so instead I have quit drinking for a few months and started walking everyday with my green balls. Police officers stare at me (do they think I could be a terrorist?). People yell out their windows, “freak.” Heads turn everywhere. It is as if I am carrying a bomb or the ten commandments. I can not figure it out for the life of me- I mean they are just large five pound green balls! What is so unusual about green balls? Some brave souls stop me and ask me “what are those?” or “what are you doing with those green things?” Since I am open to meeting new people, I immediately put the balls into their hands and say “see for yourself.” The moment that they feel the weight of the balls in their hands they can understand the function that the balls serve. When I tell them my story and then let them feel my biceps they immediately ask, “where can I get balls like these?”

I have thought about making an exercise video called Walking With Green Balls. My marketing pitch would be “you can not only build arm muscle but you can also build friends, community and attract attention.” Over the past month I have met more people on walks and attracted more attention to myself than ever before. It is almost as if the green balls are people magnets. I do not know if this is the kind of attention that I want to receive, but for now I am okay with being the local freak since I am moving soon. City living is not all that it is cracked up to be. The shared consensus amongst people is that cities are a place for diversity and eccentricity- but if this were true why then is a man who likes to walk with green balls such an aberration? Why all the attention, when my only intention is simply to get in shape so that I can feel better about myself and please my scandalous wife in bed?

In a few months my wife and I are moving to the country. I have tired with city living and all its contradictions. I want clean air, flat land and cows. I want trees, simplicity and anonymity. I want to work on a farm and spend my days in the sun, away from freeways, pedestrians and police cars. My wife is excited about the move and so am I but I am also a little nervous about taking my walks in rural areas with the green balls. I am a tall man with dark skin……..and I fear that the green balls may attract the wrong kind of attention from some crazy hillbilly or rancher. I may have to find other ways of staying in shape- like push ups or an at home Yoga practice. Whatever the case may be, I feel like the green balls have given me back my strength (psychologically and physically). They have served a functional purpose. My arms now have some semblance of definition. My wife is comming on to me more often. I feel like I can face the world (and my students) again with dignity and without a fear of wearing t-shirts. Most importantly, when I now stand naked in front of the mirror- I can see something that may look like sex appeal.

The Parallel Parker

photoI have always been amazed by one particular ability of mine. I say this with hesitation because there are not many things about myself that amaze me. The fact that I am six foot five amazes me. The fact that my walls are lined with bookshelves filled with books that I have been incapable of finishing amazes me. The fact that I am thirty eight and still confused about what it is that I am going to be when I grow up amazes me. But none of these are talents (I apologize here for using but at the beginning of a sentence. The fact that I am a hypocrite also amazes me, since last Friday in my English class I told my students never to use the word but at the beginning of a sentence). They are more like physical attributes and behavioral characteristics that I have somehow inherited from my parents. However, my ability to parallel park in any spot, no matter how tight- this is a talent that I have developed all on my own.

Ever since I began parallel parking at the age of fifteen, I displayed a natural talent. I learned how to drive in my mothers Cadillac, which was more like an elongated boat rather than an automobile. Getting this vehicle into cramped spots was no easy task (my mothers inability to do so was demonstrated by the large amount of dents on her bumper). I practiced parallel parking in her car for hours at a time, never once indenting her bumper. When I took my drivers test the instructor was impressed by the fluidity with which I snuggled my vehicle in between two park cars. I remember him  saying to me that if I was this graceful at squeezing my way in and out of things that I was going to make a dam good lover to many lucky ladies. Once I received my drivers license I was able to impress my friends and potential lovers with what they began to call my stealth parallel parking abilities. I earned a reputation. For fun most teenagers ride dirt bikes, play sports, go to movies and drink beer….I parallel parked.

I have parallel parked in some of the tightest spots around the world. In piazzas in Italy, on the small cobble stoned streets of Spain, in the desert sand of Israel and in the market places of Thailand and Vietnam. I have parallel parked effortlessly and with mastery. It has taken me a long time to accept that my gift or my greatness is my ability to parallel park. I have always hoped that my greatness was more in the realm of the arts or humanities- but at some point in every mans life he has got to accept the deck of cards that he has been dealt. So I may not be the next Tolstoy or Picasso. I may not create a body of paintings that will be viewed in a modern museum of art or write a book that will be on the New York Times best sellers list but I am content knowing that I can parallel park as well as Picasso, Klee or De Kooning could paint. My greatness will not land me on the cover of a magazine or into the millionaires club but I, and only I- have the satisfaction of knowing that if there was an appreciation for parallel parking in this world…I would go down as one of the greatest parallel parkers that ever lived.

How Facebook Can Help Save Your Life.

dscf1917I was once terribly disturbed by facebook. I did all I could to avoid it. Despite the fact that almost every individual around was digging deep into facebook- I held out an iron fist. After many months of a stern unwillingness to join the social arena I allowed my wife to convince me of facebooks many attributes and I decided to drop my fist and give it a try. Not long after my honeymoon with facebook had come to a delightful end I found myself obsessively pulled towards the website on an almost hourly basis. I was leaving at least five status updates a day and hearing from past lovers and friends that I had no desire to re-connect with (as much as I am happy to hear that they are alive and well). Facebook was becoming not only an obsession but also an affliction that I was struggling to control. I went out less, socialized with real, corporeal human beings less and began to feel more insecure when I was in public situations. I became so comfortable with hiding behind the facebook platform that my anxiety was easily triggered whenever I found myself in social situations. My habitual usage of facebook became so extreme that my therapist threatened me with and intervention unless I attended a weekly meeting for facebook addicts. It was at this point that I realized I was dealing with a serious addiction. I attended FBAA (Facebook Addiction Anonymous) meetings on a weekly basis and slowly began to sever my unhealthy relationship with the facebook world. I went through months of mourning, a week spent in the woods away from computer access and several detoxes until I was finally able to return to my normal self (which is quite abnormal) in a modern, living, social world- free from the facebook grip.

Months went by without taking a single glance at the facebook homepage. Even though I was tempted every time that I went on line to take a peak at my friends most recent updates I was able to abstain with a combination of a superhuman will and the resolve of a zen monk. I was committed to regaining my confidence by socializing with people in the flesh and by being more engaged in my professional pursuits. Even though I was around people all day I struggled to make friends, which I discovered was not as easy as pushing the “Add Friend” button. Through dozens of consultations with my therapist I learned how to become more comfortable with the sound of my voice, my tall stature and my style of dress (all of which have always been a source of distress for me). Despite the fact that I slowly felt more confident inside my own skin…I was constantly compelled to go back onto facebook and check in with all of my friends because I was feeling very lonely in the real world.

I became conflicted (more so than I already was) and frustrated. It was not as simple for me to communicate with other human beings with honesty and vulnerability as it was for me to do on facebook. Even though I had a strong moral resolve to abstain from my facebook addiction my inner turmoil was become more malignant. Not having a venue to express my deepest thoughts to friends was causing me to feel isolated and constricted. I felt the cloud of a familiar depression following me around wherever I would go and my desire to find the closest computer to log onto facebook with was becoming stronger and stronger. I was going in and out of an FBAA support group but I was well aware of the fact that I had no friends in the real world that I could update about how I was feeling. This resulted in a chronic introversion that left me ten pounds thinner and as tired, isolated and sickly as an old cat.

Then one Sunday, one beautiful Sunday afternoon- I happened upon a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. My gold came in the form of an article written in The New York Times about how having a large community of friends that you can be honest with and that listen to you in return, can extend your life by decades. The article concluded, that several long term research studies had concluded that people with a large friend network not only lived happier lives but also lived healthier and longer lives! I immediately thought about the 56 friends that I had left behind when I retreated from the facebook arena and decided that my current poor health was being caused by my isolation and lack of community. I took the article to my therapist and told her that I was convinced that if used properly and moderately, facebook could save my life.

Initially my therapist thought that my new theory was the ravings of a mad man. After a few consultations and another health scare she decided that there was nothing to loose by seeing if facebook could indeed make me well again. Even though it made perfect sense to me that someone with many friends on facebook  was gaining the same health benefits as someone with the same amount of friends in real life- my therapist remained skeptical but open to learning something new. I persuaded certain family members to support me in my transition into a new relationship with facebook and my sister, my blessed sister, committed to monitoring  facebook homepage in order to make sure that I was not leaving more than one update a day. A contracted was signed between my family, therapist and myself that if I was caught leaving more than one status update a day or spending more than twenty minutes a day on facebook- I would permanently and forever give facebook up.

It has been a month since I began my new relationship with facebook. I have devoted myself to spending my allotted twenty minutes a day on facebook judiciously recruiting new friends, leaving a very honest status update and reading my friends updates (and responding to some). Interestingly, I have noticed that my health has returned to a state of homeostasis and the cloud of depression that followed me around like a bad memory…has all but vanished. Normally, I try to sign onto facebook first thing in the morning or before going to bed for the night. If the study in The New York Times is indeed correct, than I am a living testament to the power of friends. My goal for this summer is to recruit over 200 new friends which I assume will only add to the quality and quantity of my life. It is only a matter of time until I have mastered myself enough that I will be able to spend more time on facebook without becoming addicted (it is my desire to get to a balanced state of being able to leave no more than three status updates a day). The other day my therapist told me that life was a series of trials and transformations. She congratulated me on my personal progress by recognizing that I had regained my confidence, optimism and energy. She is not quite willing to admit that my positive transformation is the result of more friends in my life, but whenever I meet with her now- I always end by saying…. “It really was facebook that saved my life.”

On Being Crazy

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Today in the middle of class a student of mine told me that I was crazy. “Mr. R, your crazy,” he said. Just like that, in the middle of a lecture on Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.” I felt a bit embarrassed about being accused of this in front of my class. I replied with surprise, “what do you mean I am crazy?” “You know what I mean, your crazy,” he said once again looking me straight in the eye. “Why do you say that?” “I don’t know, I just know that you are crazy,” he concluded. He was not one to talk. This particular student has a reputation for being one of the crazier men on campus. He is missing his two front teeth from trying to bite through rocks (while high) and he has a huge scar across his neck, which is a testament to a failed suicide attempt. I could not just stand there in front of a classroom filled with 52 students and take this assault on my reputation. “What do you mean I am crazy, you’re the crazy one,” I said with a strong defensive tone. He stood his ground and simply replied, “I know I am crazy but YOU are the craziest.” The class laughed and all I could do before continuing with my lesson was say “great, so we are both crazy.”

For the rest of the afternoon the idea that I may be crazy has not left my mind. I have been reviewing my past and present behavior to see if there is any validation in my students judgemental claim. I have even gone so far as to ask a few of my co-workers the uncomfortable question, “do you think I am crazy.” Of course all of them told me what I wanted to hear: “no you are not at all crazy,” “I would not use the adjective crazy to describe you,” “definitely not crazy, maybe a little eccentric, but not crazy,” and of course “what! you are one of the saner people that I know.” Ever since I became an adult I have grown less and less trusting of an adults ability to tell the truth, so of course- I hardly believe any of the above claims. I could see in all of my co-workers eyes the truth wanting to come out but their inability to tell me how they really felt, that yes they agree with my student, that “yes, you are crazy,” only restores my belief that if you want the real truth about yourself, ask a teenager.

I don’t understand why it is such a big surprise to me that I am crazy. If I examine my past- it makes perfect sense that I would end up a little mentally unstable. I am the offspring of two Jewish parents who were filled with guilt and high expectations for their less than ambitious son. I let them down on almost a daily basis. They raised me on a golf course (in a suburban country club) where my worst fear was a golf ball hitting me in the head while sitting out by the pool. I had a maid who made my bed and cleaned my room every afternoon and a cook who prepared my meals. My father, who was an angry and violent man, terrorized me with his unstable emotions and always walked around our house naked. I was forced to go to a college that was $60,000 dollars a year and I had know idea what I was doing there. I joined a fraternity that made me eat live goldfish, dog feces and half dead frogs and stick my penis into prostitutes and other things that to this day I am still uncertain about what they were. After college, I developed a panic disorder that kept me confined to my apartment for years and by the age of thirty I was penniless and living in a transient motel. Now close to forty I am just starting to get my footing back. I live in an area where bullets rain down from the sky and sirens have replaced my childhood sounds of blue jays, swaying oak trees and golf swings. Why would I not be a little crazy?

Now that I think about it more, I am crazy. Okay, my student called my bluff today. I have never questioned the brutal honesty of teenagers before today because I have never been subjected to their sharp accusations. My defensiveness was an admission of guilt. Yes, I am guilty of craziness. Some may even agree that I have lost my mind. Maybe it is the transition from the first part of my life being filled with so much wealth and the second half being filled with so much struggle (it ain’t easy to be twenty five years old, living alone in a run down apartment and dropped into a kitchen without a clue on how to cook for yourself). The transition between the two may have jolted my nervous system into imbalance. Add upon that a sensitive disposition that not only feels but wants to end all the sufferings of the world- then yes…..you could call me crazy. And if that was not enough now add the threat of swine flu (I teach at an inner city high school made up of over fifty percent Mexicans- most of whom just arrived back from Mexico after their spring break) and yes, I may be loosing my mind. However, into today’s world, who isn’t guilty of insanity? The lifestyles that we live, the news stories that we bare witness to on a daily basis, the life and death struggles that frame our own existences…..is this not enough to jolt any nervous system into imbalance? As I was leaving my classroom today my student approached me and said “Mr. R, I hope I did not offend you by calling you crazy… I was just messing around.” I stood there in silence for a moment and then I looked at him and said, “I think everyone is a little crazy, don’t you?….and beside who the hell would not want to be crazy. It’s just another way of saying….. your are alive.”

P.s……..I apologize for any grammatical errors or poor sentence structures. Today…I am writing with tooth picks in my eyes (to keep them open) and a strong need to rest my crazy head.