Well, here we go again.
I’m going to take a minute to throw a number out there, and that number is 36.
“36 what, Jeannie?” (that’s you). 36 is the number of times that I’ve moved that I can remember. Guess what I’ve decided to do in a few weeks? Oh yeah, MOVE- again.
Since this month’s mash-ups are leading up to the big scary Halloween day, I’ve decided that I’m going to let you all in to my personal nightmare: it includes lots of boxes, some tape, a shit-load of dust, and some seriously well-placed puns…
The Shining-meets-The Muppet Movie
I’m not really sure how to start this epic adventure that is my life, but that’s okay because the first few big moves I can’t remember. Sort of like little Danny in The Shining: blissfully ignorant in a family dynamic that is less-than-ordinary, but in tune to (and about to witness) something that will no doubt have an enormous impact on him later in life.
Imagine the Kubrick-ian opening credits as a massive metaphor for my life, only replace the little car with an old Studebaker, and the drivers with muppets: Bear right, frog left.
My first big move was a little like this current one- as in, away from New Mexico. The fam’ moved to upstate New York for some years. Then we moved to Florida. Then we moved to Vermont. Then I took over from there: Gainesville, Fl; Portland, OR; Nashville, TN; Austin, TX; Savannah, GA; Galway, Ireland; Albuquerque, NM. There was a lot of bouncing back to Austin in between most of those moves, but you get the idea… I don’t sit still long.
The Muppet Movie was all about following a dream, right? You’ve got Hollywood lust, musicians on tour, and the constant chase of the corporate world to turn Kermit (me) in to a spokes-frog for something he doesn’t support (Deep breath: the-settle-down-and-get-a-real-job-already-black-hole-of-creative-stagnation-and-life-long-regret/disillusionment-for-not-following-your-own-dream)… Forever, and ever…
So, the comedian and the actor/writer keep “moving right along” from one end of the country to the other in search of said dream. How easy is it to just toss your shit in the back of a car and go elsewhere? Too easy. You just do it, then you go. As Grover says: Near… Far.
Here’s the thing though- the nightmare part: Wherever you land, there you freakin’ are. Whatever ghosts you had haunting you in the last town, well they travel light and are liable to come bursting through your bathroom door with an axe yelling “Here’s Johnny!” while you cower uselessly against the wall. In fact, it seems, the MORE you move, the more those ghosts become tangible items that you haul around in a box and label “baggage”. It’s lonely out there in the Overlook mid-winter, and all you’ve got sometimes are yourself and your ghosts.
The secondary issue with having this “shining” (or: the propensity to move at the drop of Dr. Teeth’s hat) is that, once you do land somewhere, the figurative walls start closing in on you. This happens everywhere- it’s not just subject to small towns, lily pads, or monolithic hotels. Once the elevator doors begin to spill blood down Main Street, the itch demands to be scratched, and the Snowcat/Studebaker starts a-callin’ yer name. At some point (30) you hit the wall and start screaming at the top of your lungs: “Why are you doing this??!!”
What’s possibly kept me from going completely bonkers (aside from having better things to write than “all work and no play…”) is the fact that I really don’t know any different. Kermit knew nothing of being not-a-frog, right? Well, here I am: insert whatever terminology there is these days for American Traveler here.
Luckily, apart from finding my own Fozzie Bear who is equally as non-geographically-committed as I am (or, as we call it, “geographically challenged”), I seem to find myself narrowing down the landing strips. My “shining” is beginning to fade with age, as in the desire to add to the mileage. I know there probably isn’t a “the-standard-rich-and-famous” contract for me (and, sadly, it will not be handed over by Orson Welles), but I’m coming close to finding my way out of the topiary maze and depending less on frightening bartenders- so, hey, that’s something!
This current move is, what else, temporary- it’ll be back to the East Coast next Fall. But I’m going in like I always do: Edith Piaf blasting away “Non, je ne Regrette Rien” from the factory stock speakers in my wagon. Maybe the path seems longer these days, but the distance is certainly shorter, and the ghosts are waning- hopefully a few can be put to rest here in Albuquerque.
I guess it’s all part of livin’ the dream… or is that a myth? A what? A MYTH: MYTH!
Yay October: A month where we get to watch and think of all things scary.
What’s scarier than scary to me? Past relationships of course! Haunting, chilling, hand-covering-the-mount-or-eyes-in-disbelief-and-fright: oh yeah, it’s October-rifficy-goodness.
The Blob-meets-Dirty Dancing
The beauty of this mash-up is that it really doesn’t have to represent anyone in particular- EVERYONE knows this guy (or gal). The beginning of this relationship is 100% Dirty Dancing. He’s hot, muscle-y, and wants to take you dancing so you can finally master the ‘lift’ (innuendo?) where you’re twirled around in what seems like the only moments of grace your awkward body will ever feel (innuendo.). He’s brash and charming, not necessarily lacking in a sense of humor, just a little on the serious side (‘cause he’s a workin’ man, right?). Oh the lusty-goodness of the beginning of this relationship is so sweet- but, then, something starts a-bubbling. Small at first, but… then…
The scariest thing about The Blob was how slow- PAINFULLY SLOW- it moved. When I watched this movie as a child it seemed like there was NO WAY the oozy-gooey-big-bad could catch up to and kill any of the innocent teenagers in it’s path. But it grows- and it consumes.
Now, if you think about Mr. Blob sitting on your couch for the 8th consecutive week in a row, bitching about how the summer season is over at Kellerman’s and his particular ‘field’ is less than desirable in this faulty economy, it becomes that much more scary. The slow-moving, all-consuming terrors of his personality (and eating habits) begin to gnaw away at your very life-force- which, by the way, has been slowly disintegrating since you took that THIRD JOB in order to pay rent on your apartment that has now become the dank and musky lair of the-thing-what-crawls.
Oh Baby- it’s true, nobody puts you in the corner- but Johnny Castle’s idea of liberation means he gets to fondle the remote while you’re out working at Sally’s Beauty Supply contemplating the many ways one could hurt themselves on the job with activator and home perm kits. Where does this end?
The sad truth of these types of relationships is that the two-fold disposition of a well-meaning woman will enable blob behavior if there’s ‘art’ at stake. On one hand, you see the potential in blobby-boy to be a real man- if only the world could just give him a chance (and we’ve all felt this way). On the other hand, no one understands and supports him like you do- especially when it comes to his writing/music/painting/wood-sculpting/acting/film-making/dancing/etc. etc. etc… What’s important to remember here is that the behavior of a blob never changes- and with every human it consumes, its blobbiness just grows.
The only escape from the indescribable, indestructible (nothing can stop it!) relationship is to remember “The Time of Your Life” was had in the first month- and it’s all gone downhill from there. When muscles are flexed to ‘get the girl’ you’re darn right it’s gonna be good. Even the most disgusting creatures can pass themselves off as Patrick Swayze in the battle for a hard-working lady-friend, especially if they have a really cool car and can manipulate your daddy issues to a tee. If, however, cool-guy-slacker hasn’t got a job that pays real money by the time he starts saying things like “Can we do laundry soon?”-and by “we” he means “you”- then it’s time to kill the thing what oozes so you can eventually run off in to the sunrise with Steve McQueen.
As the classic taught us all, the only way to defeat the Blob is with the cold. Nothing short of an airlift to the North Pole could eliminate the perpetual suck-dom that was inhabiting every faucet of my life then, so there was no other option but to turn on the fire-extinguishers- full f-ing blast. I became the bitch I never thought I could.
It’s amazing how empowering the words “Get your shit out of my apartment, NOW” can be- sort of like watching something huge (ego) shrivel up and cower in a corner (not an innuendo). This is true liberation, not the Dirty Dancing kind that has Baby passed from one all-controlling man to another with anger issues (Right? He was pretty violent, wasn’t he? Wonder how that turned out…).
The point of this, the ‘lesson’ I suppose, is to never fall for the Johnny Castle bullshit. If there is no progress in the potential, no motivation behind the ‘art’, screw ‘em. But leave it at that.
Somewhere there’s a Steve McQueen waiting for us all, and I’m pretty sure he’s worked/working his way up to whatever-it-is that will make him truly self-satisfied. The non-blob-art-guys that are the real deal would rather starve than have you supporting them with three crap-tastic jobs because they understand you’ve got your OWN passion to follow. The oozing pink lazy-asses (ew) will selfishly prey on your kindness, until they’ve sucked you dry.
So: Go McQueen.
So I’ve already made the decision to sort of “theme it up” a bit and include at least one horror movie in every post I make for October.
Why not start a little early?
Let’s talk about cocktail waitressing. It sets the tone so perfectly for a horror flick of all sorts: running, screaming, periods of incoherence, and strange men chasing you up stairs to demand something from you that will, of course, result in more running.
Funny though, I don’t think of ‘chaser films’ when I think about my job(s). This is what comes to mind:
Dawn of the Dead-meets-Pee-wee’s Big Adventure
FYI: That’s the original, 1978, Dawn of the Dead. This entry is zombie-baby free (although, for the record, I miss Joe Dubois).
In case any of you are considering an illustrious career as a cocktailer, here is the short list of things you must possess to handle this job:
1. The ability to look like you’re happy when, in fact, you want to tear people limb from limb. See: Romero Zombie 101, or, Pee-wee vs. Francis Burton.
2. Quick thinking in potentially violent and/or lucrative situations. See: The Zombie Survival Guide (thank you Max Brooks), or, THIS.
AND possibly the most important of all:
3. The constitution to maintain some semblance of faith (or sense of humor) in the human race after seeing them at their absolute worst, night after night, year after year. See: Peter’s suicide contemplation (but not follow through!) in Dawn, or, I KNOW YOU ARE BUT WHAT AM I??!!
Basically it’s this: bar patrons=zombies. Not just any zombies, DAWN OF THE DEAD zombies. Somehow, somewhere in the deep recesses of the mushy zombie-brain, there is a compulsion to return again and again to the same place you were the night before, do the same things you did last night, and drink (human blood/body parts=booze in this analogy) until you pass out or get killed looking for more.
Have you figured out where the basement in the Alamo figures in? PAY-OFF. Where Dawn didn’t exactly fail to deliver an uplifting ending (helicopter pun!) of escape, Pee-wee got fame and fortune out of his adventures in to the surreal. AND he got his bike back. AND he got to ride off in to the sunset with a bicycle mechanic (which, speaking from experience, rocks).
See, cocktailing sucks about as bad as the zombification of America, but hell, the tips are great. If you want a truly brain-numbing job, work in retail. Be one of the first-to-go in the mall-o-dooms-day- not from being devoured by walking dead, but from your own head-first spiral down the rabbit hole of human-and-self-loathing. Let’s put this to a test, shall we?
In one of the more memorable lectures I’ve ever attended I got to ask Max Brooks what the psychological implications were of the “Quislings” in his novel ‘World War Z’. Quislings were people that hadn’t been turned by zombies, but just couldn’t deal with the zombie apocalypse, so they had a mental breakdown and began to act just like the undead did. Interesting thought, if you apply that to retail. Here’s why:
For 39.9 hours a week (because full-time-with-benefits is about as mythical as a studio executive offering you loads of money to buy the rights to your life story) you can make minimum wage selling people who make more than you do shit they don’t need. After your first two-cent raise (so, after you’ve worked the same register for 2 years), you start to think to yourself “How are these people any better than I am?” To make yourself feel better, or, you know, not the world’s most insignificant peon, you take advantage of your 3% store discount and start buying all the same shit those people with loads of money buy. Now you’re the same! You all own a bunch of shit you don’t need!
Conversely, cocktail waitressing produces a very different effect. After the first few months of hit-or-miss nights, the ‘hit’ nights sending you home after 5 hours with $400 cash-money in your pocket, you start to LOATH the people that come in for a ‘party’. Not your regulars, mind you- they generally know how to drink and tip. The ‘party people’ are the assholes that think ‘bar’ translates roughly in to ‘leave all morality and human decency at the door’. They do things like take their shirts off and holler “Jager Bomb Yo!” at the top of their lungs. Does this make you want to join them? Nay. You run, far away, back to your books and dvd collection for some specifically non-sweaty non-physical-contact-y goodness.
Who wins in this situation? The fucking cocktail waitress who knows how to run her ass off on a slippery floor in heels. Archery? Can’t be that difficult if you’re coming from a place where you have to balance 9 kamikazes and eleven-teen pints of Bud Light on a tiny tray. Let’s face it: Dodging drunks is about 99% zombie avoidance technique. I will survive.
So all seriousness and human carnage aside, let’s go back to the most important rule: a sense of humor. Until that day comes where drunks actually ARE undead, blood hungry threats, we can’t go attacking with shovels. Yet. Which leads me toooooo: TEQUILA!
It’s safe to say I dance my way through work nightly. Not in a booty-shakin’-too-sexy-for-this-apron kind of way, but in a mental, this-is-the-only-way-I’ll-get-out-of-here-alive, way. If Pee-wee could dance his way out of hangin’, tattooin’, killin’ ordeals, I sure as hell can, too.
So watch out bikers! My tequila dance is to the Robot Chicken ‘ba-bac bac bac’ and involves many, many inexplicable pies.
Keeps a smile on my face though. And that, my friends, pays the rent…
Tip me or I’ll get the shovel,
Notes from the Conquistadork…
Far be it from me to pull the “when I was your age” card, but…
…When I was your age, when me and my friends wanted to worship a drug addled lunatic, we went with Hunter S. Thompson. Nowadays, everyone loves Charlie Sheen and will not shut the fuck up about it.
…Whoops, I just crapped my Depends.
But really–the recent Roast of Charlie Sheen left me feeling like a guy who just made out with his hot stepsister. I mean sure–it was fun. But it leaves you with a dark, cancerous feeling inside. The fact that most of the jokes surrounding Sheen and guest Mike Tyson had to do with their women-bashing ways did not help. Because when I think comedy, I think domestic violence. If you missed any of it, let me give you an example:
Presenter: Mike Tyson is here!
Unexplainably loud applause from audience.
Presenter: Mike Tyson sure does rape and beat women.
Applause, as Tyson takes a bow, as if to say, ‘Yes–I do indeed rape and beat women’
Presenter: Charlie Sheen does drugs and beats women!
Wild laughter and clapping as Sheen stands and bows proudly. The audience bears Sheen aloft and buys him heroin-tequila shooters. Camera cuts to formerly abused ex-wives who shrug as if to say “That’s my man!”
They might as well have brought them a fresh hooker every time he needed someone to put out a cigarette on.
I know this is my weekly time to be funny, but we really need to do something about this. The obvious answer is to eliminate Charlie Sheen. But that is how martyrs are made.
No–I think the best thing for Charlie Sheen is also the best thing for the rest of us:
Make a third Hot Shots movie. Have him parody whatever action flunkie movies came out that year, and promptly forget he ever existed.
This will mean a clean sweep of the internet. That’s right folks: we might need to get rid of the past two decades worth of memes, comic strips and flash-based animations. Trust me–we need this. No more YouTube, no more Google, no more Classy Ha—-
Oh well, nevermind–long live Charlie Sheen!
Follow @ElConquistadork on Twitter! He’ll teach you how to friend the internet itself!
There is something people like to tell you when you talk about of college, and it’s this:
“The longer you wait, the harder it is to go back.”
It’s one of those things that everyone’s heard a thousand times, and just accepts as fact. So, when you’re older, and you start obsessing about this thing you meant to do because you don’t really want to be a cocktail waitress for the rest of your life, people vomit the words that sit idly by on the back of their collective tongues for such occasions, much like the term “It is what it is.”, the latter being my least favorite of all.
Side note: “It is what it is.” is a nonsensical term that is said when there’s nothing else to say about something, but someone feels the need to have either A: the last word or B: a moment of condescension about some topic they really don’t know much about. “It is what it is.” is the equivalent of saying nothing. Tip: Saying nothing will make you sound smarter than saying “It is what it is”. Trust me.
I think I can safely divide people on the outside of ‘going back to school’ in to three categories. There are the “longer you wait…” people, who went to college and finished it in one go, or dropped out and have no plans to go back. That’s cool- I get school isn’t for everyone, and some people are just good at it fresh out of high school. It still doesn’t make that statement entirely true.
The second tier of peripheral ‘friends’ are the non-believers. Fact: These people suck. They get really defensive when you start talking about returning to a higher education, and usually answer your ponderings with “Why?” They’re the ones who’ll cite people that didn’t go to college in an example like this: “Well, Picasso didn’t go to college, and he was, like, a famous painter, ya know?” Or this: “Just get a book on it, man, and like, teach yourself.”
The third, generally minority, group of people are the supporters. These are friends. They say things like “That’s awesome. Do it, you’ll rock at it.” Or, even better: “If you need help with that, I’m totally here for you.” We like these people because they recognize that ‘back-to-school’ doesn’t mean you’re setting out to be smarter than THEM, but better than YOU WERE. Hey, non-believers, take note…
My Fair Lady-meets-O Brother Where Art Thou?
When I left film school in 2000 I set off on a fabulous adventure across the country every-which-way-I-could. My odyssey spanned the Brit Pop nights in Gainesville, Florida; public transportation-al wonders of Portland, Oregon; and the music scenes, respectively, of Nashville, Tennessee and Austin, Texas.
Out of the chain-gang-dom of (what I believed was) high-school-extended-college I was freed, and the epic journey to find a mythical fortune lay ahead of me across the glorious mountains and plains of the good ol’ U-S-of-A.
Though I started off as naïve as Eliza Doolittle, I was perfectly happy not sitting absolutely still- for seven years. Instead of longing to work in a real flower shop, pulled up from the dregs of lowly ‘flower girl’, I was happy working my way up from cocktail waitress to bartender, all the while scribbling away melodrama in stacks of composition notebooks. It took seven years of bar work, doing the ‘read a book on it’ writerly-education, to realize that I might be able to pass myself off as a Duchess (writer) to some people, but I never would believe it for myself.
After years of Henry Higgins (my uber-supportive mom) incessantly suggesting “The Rain In Spain” (go back to school), I started to actually listen. Then, one day, sitting in a house in East Nashville watching the naturally talented ex play guitar with confidence, I realized that school wasn’t something that I needed- it was something I WANTED. A well-choreographed musical number followed, with my mom dancing around in a smoking jacket singing “By George I think she’s got it!”
So that’s when My Fair Lady transformed to the stages of Ulysses Everett McGill. Or, rather, poetically speaking: And then came the flood…
This is when I discovered the triple breakdown of ‘friends’ I mentioned above. There were blind men speaking in theological codes (i.e. the “Why” rhetoric), attempted robberies (“You can’t.”), and many efforts to catch a train I just wasn’t ready or fast enough to hop on. But then there was a baptism of sorts (with a little bit ‘o luck): I got accepted.
Which was I, at that point: Eliza, or Everett? I think I was both. On the one hand, Eliza leaves a young suitor for her teacher, and I suppose that’s what eventually happened to me (metaphorically, mind you). But on the other hand, I was returning to something I had a falling out with. My education was like a relationship that had grown too demanding, too limiting for my liking, but after years of stubborn arrogance I found that I was really just working my way back to it.
Once I was in it- really finding my way (ego)- the masks came off and the real musicians were reveled. I was fucking GOOD. Not great, not the best, but GOOD- and what I got from going back was real confidence. Bona fide, even.
Now school is not without its own struggles. Lord of the Lake Rings happened again and again, rewrite after rewrite, but the biggest asset I had going in was perspective- not just seven years on most students, but of the adventure that got me there.
So the answer is not “The longer you wait, the harder it is to go back.” That can be partially true, if you get kidnapped by sirens or betrayed by kin (which, I suppose, can loosely be translated in to corporate underemployment-black-holes or mythic societal obligations). What’s really true is that, as long as you’re paying attention to what you’re experiencing on the road, everything is an asset when you get where you’re going. The longer you wait, the more shit you have to draw from. It IS a relationship, you and school: like dating, the more you do it, the more you know what you definitely don’t want. Eventually, through process of elimination, you’ll figure out what will you do.
From one enormous chair,
Notes From The Conquistadork…
Like all of you, in the year of 1990 I was horrified to discover that I was a geek. By this time, I had written original backstories for each and every one of my GI Joes (because the ones on those profiles cards on the back were such bullshit). I had decided that my life’s ambition was to become a mad scientist. Also, my weekly gaming of Super Mario Brothers and Castlevania and reached a solid 40-hours–early to bed, early to rise. Cause that nasty King Koopa ain’t gonna kill himself. Not yet, anyway.
I danced through these games with the ease of a robot assassin murdering non-robot assassins. This commitment to excellence continued until after college graduation, when the reality of poverty sank in, and I suddenly unable to keep up with the latest and greatest of consoles and video game innovation. I fell into what is known by some as the “old gamer curve”. We’re the aging gamers that buy all our games used, years after their release. We’re the guys who finished Halo for the first time around the time Halo 3 came out. It’s sweet and sad at the same time, like seeing an octogenarian buying green bananas.
So when I finally entered the realm of multiplayer shooters, I was suitably frightened. This, I had been told, was a world of asian hackers and preteens who execute you while screaming “faggot!” over the headphones. I don’t remember what made me thought logging in would be a good idea. As my system searched for a random party to join, I began to sweat. This wasn’t Super Mario anymore. I couldn’t just jump over my opponent to reach an axe and drop his bridge from beneath him.
Turns out, this is exactly what I could do.
After my first few rounds of learning curve, I found myself supporting teammates with code names that referenced old pen and paper roleplaying games. Some of these guys had stormed through fifty hours of Simon’s Quest. The idea that I wasn’t the only person pushing thirty was heartening. And then I cut down my first opponent. And I haven’t turned back since.
Now I’m the obnoxious guy screaming “faggot!” You won’t hear me, though–I still haven’t gained the courage to wear the headset.
Are you down with the totally cool new-wave gamer dudes? Are you leet? Remember: the leetest of the leet follow @ElConquistadork on Twitter!
–Editor’s note: Gaby Dunn first wrote an original piece for Classy Hands well over a year ago and since then, we’ve found ourselves reposting her material almost weekly. Gaby has become somewhat of an internet celebrity in the interim. Her growth in popularity has little to do with us. Instead her blog, 100interviews, has taken off.
Recently Gaby finished her 100th interview for the project and will be publishing the final pieces over the next few weeks, in time for the deadline she set for the project. Everyone here at Classy Hands wishes a hearty congratulations and wishes her all the best. This is her most recent 100interivews article.–
Image courtesy of Kadampa.org
Buddhism, I learn, is a science of the mind.
In fact, in the free e-book ‘Modern Buddhism’ by Geshe Kelsang, it’s defined as “scientific methods for improving our human nature and qualities through developing the capacity of our mind.” This is not the scientific method I remember from grade school.
After work a couple Fridays ago, I head to an office buidling in Chelsea and take the elevator to the fifth floor. There I find Geshe Kelsang’s Chakrasambara Kadampa Meditiation Center and its resident teacher, Kadam (or “Teacher”) Morten.
The center is a few rooms used as a kitchen, an office, a bookstore and a big carpeted meditation and prayer “temple.” Golden statues of the Buddha line the walls, above them are paintings of the different Buddhas, representing different aspects of the enlightened mind. There’s also a platform with a pillow, from which Kadam Morten leads meditations and classes like “The Key to Happiness” and “Understanding the Mind’s Potential” while students sit on the carpet or in folding chairs. It’s a simple, beautiful set-up.
Morten, a welcoming guy who looks way younger than his actual age, is originally from the primarily non-spiritual country of Denmark. His father was a diplomat so the family split time between home, New York and Switzerland. When Morten was 10, his parents became interested in transcendental meditation, then a popular 1970s fad. That was when Morten learned to meditate.
In Switzerland, Morten’s father became sick with cancer. Morten remembers practicing meditation as a way to relieve his own stress. Back then, Eastern medicine was not mainstream; it would have been seen as absurd to teach meditation to sick people. There was less of an accepted medical connection between the mind and the body.
When Morten was sixteen, his father passed away.
“I felt no peace,” he says. “At that point, that was obviously a huge event within our family, traumatic, tragic. It was definitely, for me, really for my whole family, a bit of a spiritual wake‑up. I was basically interested in, for lack of a better way of saying it, exploring the meaning of life…That’s what I was trying to work out: Why are we alive? Why do we have to die? What the heck is going on?”
His fascination with meditation and Buddhism continued when he went to college in York, England to study English literature. There, he found a Buddhist center and kept gravitating towards what he calls “a meditative way of thinking.”
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing traditions, beliefs and practices based on the teachings of a 4th through 6th century man named Siddharta Guatama. He is commonly known as “The Buddha” and in short, believed in enlightenment as an end to the cycle of suffering and rebirth.
Morten says the main commitment is not to harm others and the main practice is to give love and to understand the potential for compassion, the mind and love. He does also wish to achieve enlightenment himself.
The Buddhist center is where Morten met his teacher: the aforementioned Geshe Kelsang, an 86-year-old Tibetan man. “Geshe” is a title meaning “spiritual friend.” Geshe Kelsang had been raised a monk in a Tibetan monastery, and fled to India when the Chinese took over the country. There, he went into a retreat for 20 years. When Morten met him in 1981, Kelsang had been sent over to the West to set up Buddhist Centers in Europe.
Morten gestures behind me to a series of three photos of Geshe Kelsang outside wearing a winter hat. They’re hanging on Morten’s office wall. He’s the cutest, thinnest old man I’ve ever seen. His smile practically blooms on his face. I tell Morten I think Kelsang is adorable.
“He is an authentically happy fellow, which is quite rare,” he says, admiration evident.
I ask if Kelsang is considered “enlightened” or if enlightenment is seen as possible for the modern human being.
Morten says enlightened people will never announced their own enlightenment. To Morten, Kelsang is enlightened and one of his teacher’s main goals is to help now modern people have access to a mind of enlightenment.
His followers would regard Kelsang as enlightened, as “a source of inspiration in our own lives,” Morten says.
While Morten liked Kelsang, he fell in love with his teacher’s focus on Buddhism’s practicality.
“What I liked is that it explained our experience in terms of the mind, as opposed to in terms of some old story. It was just explaining it all in terms of the mind. The reason we’re unhappy is because we have unhappy minds,” he says. “We have agitated minds, like anger, or attachment, or jealousy, insecurity, these types of minds. Then you can learn to identify those in meditation, and you can learn to let go of those. That just felt very practical to me.”
The Chakrasambara Center has a couple days a week where the general public is welcome to sit in on a class. Morten says his classes usually focus on meditation and then one specific practical tidbit for students to apply to their everyday lives: dealing with stress or channeling rejection, etc. Someone need not be a Buddhist to be studying Buddhism: It’s not uncommon to identify as, let’s say, a “Jewish Buddhist” or the cutesy “JewBu.” Morten says people from other religions sometimes use Buddhism to deepen their appreciation of their own faith.
“The lovely thing about Buddhism is that it’s very practical, and you don’t have to be a Buddhist to make use of that practice, so people can introduce meditation or integrate meditation into their lives with any spiritual background or no spiritual background,” Morten says.
Buddhism, he says, is a method. It’s training yourself to learn about your own mind, and subsequently, on a basic level, it’s how to let go of unhappy states of mind and cultivate positive states of mind.
As Morten finished school, he split his time between classes and Kelsang’s Buddhist Center. He describes it as an internal “discussion between the Western perspective and the Buddhist perspective.” He was caught up in his secular studies, but remained drawn to Buddhist teachings.
Morten was among Geshe Kelsang’s first students. He was around before there were any teachers, or a set protocol for becoming a teacher. The first time they met, Geshe Kelsang told Morten to study and train to become a teacher.
“That was like the first thing he said to me, was that I should do that,” Morten says. “I thought he was joking, actually. I thought I was already taking enough exams at the university,” he laughs. “He wasn’t joking.”
Westerners were gaining interest in Buddhism and Kelsang wanted Morten’s help. I joke that the Beatles’ time in India really did a number on the popular hippie culture. Morten laughs, “Blame it on the Beatles,” he says. Whatever the reason, the interest was there. Tibetan teachers were being invited out to the West more and more frequently.
Kelsang’s teachings, Morten says, focus on the practical. Westerners, more so, wanted to understand how to use Buddhism in their everyday lives. In Tibet, there was a moreacademic approach to Buddhism.
Kelsang’s teacher gave him permission to re‑present the Buddhist teachings, or the Dharma, according to the needs of modern Western people. Morten says it’s something Kelsang has done with great creativity and energy: Kelsang has written 25 books on how to begin and progress on the Buddhist path.
Gradually, he began to set up centers and to train Western teachers. “He saw that if it was to flourish in the West, it needed to come through Western teachers,” Morten says. “Otherwise the danger is that it remains a bit of a trip. It remains exotic.”
In that way, Kelsang was radical and ahead of his time. He began his own Buddhist tradition, which he called the New Kadampa Tradition. Morten’s been there from the beginning.
After graduation, Morten and a few other young enthusiastic types moved into the Buddhist Center in York and started training to become teachers. For a decade, starting in 1984, Morten taught full-time all around England. In 1994, he came to New York and Washington DC to start spreading the New Kadampa tradition in the States.
“It didn’t exist here. Basically, when I arrived, there was nothing,” Morten says. It was also pre-Internet and so advertising was truly grassroots. “It was just me and some posters that I would walk around town and put up and say, ‘Hey, come and listen to me if you’re interested,’” he says. He sometimes placed ads in the Village Voice. “It was like starting up a band or something.”
Gradually, people started coming to hear him lead meditation and to speak on topics like learning to deal with anger, improving relationships or increasing self‑confidence. Sometimes Morten spoke on more profound topics like the ultimate nature of reality or the nature of consciousness. “Buddhism is very, very rich because it’s basically an exploration of consciousness, so it’s very interactive, and it’s very dynamic,” he says.
“That’s the cool thing that [Buddhism is] a science and it’s a religion although the thing about religion, especially these days, is it’s a dangerous word because I think immediately people associate it with a dogma,” he says.
Buddhists, for example, do not mix church and state, so to speak. There are no restrictions on the LGBTQ community (there are gay Buddhist teachers) or stresses to vote one way or another, which Morten calls “dangerous, dangerous stuff.” Kelsang does not want the centers to get involved in politics, however Morten says he is a “radical” person: two of the main teachers at the top of the tradition are Buddhist nuns, a position women don’t usually hold.
“Forget the patriarchy,” Morten says. “It was just very modern even though he is an 83 year old Tibetan. He just wants to bring benefit to all living being. Of course, everyone equally has Buddha nature.”
Buddhists tend to verify their religion through experiences: If you meditate this way, you will have this verifiable experience.
““People associate faith with believing in something unbelievable. In other words, faith involves believing in something that is irrational,” he says. “…Everything can be tested and verified in your own experience.”
But, I counter, Buddhism has fantastical stories about the Buddha, just as Judeo-Christian religions have in the Bible. Morten says whether or not those stories are true is unimportant to Buddhism.
“What’s important is are you becoming more peaceful, more loving, more compassionate? Is your own anger reducing? Geshe Kelsang says the real source of happiness is inner peace. Whatever’s on your mind is peaceful, you’re happy and you can experience that directly,” he says.
“We tend to think that there are stressful situations. We will say, ‘My job is stressful,’ or, ‘My kids are stressful.’ But they are only stressful if your mind is relating to them in such a way as to produce stress. Basically, if you investigate your mind, which is what we do in Buddhist practice, you will discover that there is some rejection taking place in your mind. So, the example that I often use is, if you are running to catch the subway train and the doors close in your face, then almost everybody’s response, it’s like a universal response, is, ‘No.’But if you think about it, it doesn’t make any sense, because actually the doors have closed. So we are resisting or actually rejecting what has taken place,” Morten says.
He compares it to driving the handbrake on.
“We are taxing our system. So, if we are constantly resisting our life and the circumstances in our life, guess what? You get exhausted and you become unhappy. You get angry. You get bitter,” he says. “So what we learn to do in meditation is first of all, to develop a peaceful mind.”
Meditation, Morten says, is a science. Paying attention to your breathing gives you momentary peace, through which you learn peace is possible. From there, potential is limitless.
“It’s basically telling you that your happiness is in your own control. It’s your responsibility. Rather than go around blaming all these people for making you unhappy or making you angry or whatever, no, it’s my mind. I need to start training my mind,” Morten says. “We learn to recognize those in our own experience and let them go. It’s like, ‘Oh, look. Anger. No big deal. Just let it go.’ Then, instead learn to respond with a creative mind, with a positive mind, a flexible mind and finally, a happy mind. So, in Buddhism, we can verify. Happiness comes through peace.”
In terms of the mind as a science, Morten says humans have unlimited potential for love, and for the use of their minds. They just have to believe in their own potential.
“The mind is this incredible thing. Sadly, most of us in our life, we don’t identify with our potential. We walk around identifying with all our limitations. We think I’m a loser or nobody loves me and all I need to do is find one person who will love me and then I’ll be happy,” Morten says. “We go about life in a very passive way, grasping on to ourselves as being stuck and then just trying to see if we can find some kind of situation that will make us comfortable. But the real problem is you have an uncomfortable mind, doesn’t matter how comfortable the situation is.”
Morten says by learning to identify the person who angers you regularly, you can instead begin to see them as a sparring partner, someone created to test your peaceful mind.
“Instead of being an object of anger, they become your object of patience,” Morten laughs. “You’re growing as a person through your relationships, through your difficulties. I think one of the misconceptions about Buddhism is that it’s also about running away, heading for the hills or becoming an aesthetic or walking around very slowly and drinking tea very slowly.Actually, it’s about developing a quick mind. It’s really a very creative practice that enables you to make use of anything that’s going on in your life as part of your training, as part of becoming a better person.”
I tell him I find all this really great in theory, but I’m skeptical about the ability to implement it in real life. I’m a very stressed out person, and it’s hard for me to imagine breathing my way through problems.
“That’s why people come here regularly,” Morten says, gesturing to the center.
“They get a dose of inspiration, not just from the teachings but from hanging out with other people and meditating together so that you feel that it’s not just you,” he says. “That this is something that’s really possible in our society.”
Daymon Dodson was a friend of mine. One thing that I valued about our friendship was that it started because of our mutual distaste for each other. A lot of people mention how much they loved Daymon as soon as they met him, and many people say similar things about me…our initial meetings must have been the exception to this rule. I thought he was loud and annyoing, and he though I was an arrogant shit talker…other things that people have said about the both of us. Once we realized our similarities, we were fine with each other.
Daymon passed away in 2006 and his passing was a huge deal to the music and art community in Columbus, but that was chump change compared to the effect his passing had on his friends and family. At his wake there had to be over a thousand people easily, it seemed closer to two thousand. To this day that still blows my mind. Since then Daymon’s friends and family have held an annual parade and celebration to pay homage to Daymon, and to everyone else that we might have lost along the way. This is always one of my favorite weekends in Columbus.
I am not going to wax poetic or carry on about how important Daymon was to people. I am just going to tell a few of my favorite stories about Daymon.
1. Daymon loved to party. Loved it. Me and Mike Fardal (along with Josh and Tony) used to live on Stinchcomb Dr. near Riverside Hospital in Columbus. Daymon would come over and pregame at our house regularly. He did this because we had a blender, and for awhile Daymon was all about making blended drinks. More often than not Daymon’s drinks were terrible. They would be these absurd concoctions of more than 3 liquors, whatever fruit was on sale, and ice. If he made a particularly good one, he would make it at the party. He would try to talk Mike into letting him take the blender to the party in case the party was unequipped. Never worked. One time he came over to pregame, and we did not have any hard liquor, just beer. Daymon wanted to set the night off right, so he felt he needed liquor. Mike had an airplane bottle of Courvoisier that he had saved for a long time because it was just cool. Daymon took it and drank it. His rationale being that he was a big guy, and beer could do nothing for him…he needed good liquor to make the night perfect.
2. One time me, Mike, Daymon, and PRZM (RIP) all went to the dollar theatre on Bethel to see Hustle and Flow. Hustle and Flow was regarded by many as this landmark film about life in the hood as a struggling pimp/rapper. What a bunch of dumbness. As soon as Terrence Howard was talking in that goofy Tennessee accent and lamenting on life as a pimp we lost our shit. The only other people in the theatre other than the 4 of us were an older white couple who were probably annoyed by our pressence. Daymon remarked “They are only here because only white people would actually like this movie. They read about it in People magazine.” Again we lost our shit. The best moment was at some point in the movie DeeJay (Terrence Howard’s character) smacks one of his hoes for something minor and petty. We lost all control of ourselves. It was the funniest slap any of us had ever seen. Daymon remarked again “Those two probably think black people act like this all the time!” To that we laughed a lot more. We all went to Adriatico’s after that and continued to act like asses.
2b. On another trip to the dollar theatre Daymon got really mad because the second Fast and Furious was packed so we could not watch it. He was really excited to see it because the oldest son from Home Improvement had a role in it. He was genuinely pissed. We ended up seeing X-Men instead…this pissed Daymon off even more. His only reason for going to the dollar theatre that night was to see the oldest son from Home Improvment.
I have a bunch of other fond memories of Daymon that involve going to the mall, shopping at AJ Wright, eating Houndogs, watching movies at his house, parties, QBC shows, Bernies, etc. etc…I shared those few because they were personal and stood out to me.
Daymon did a song called “Bitch You Don’t Shit”…it is sort of like an underground anthem in Columbus. Here is a link to the DL of the song, and nice write up by my dude Wes. There is also a vid from the 09 Daymon Day. I’m at the tail end somewhere yelling loudly. Like the loud, annoying, arrogant shit talker I am. Daymon would be amused.
Oh disillusionment, I have heard you call my name- and how.
So, this isn’t exactly about writing. It’s more about getting a degree in writing. I don’t want it to be like a big WARNING sign- I’ve found that us people who have to do this crap really HAVE TO do it. Sort of like heroin, or crossword puzzles- once you start, you can’t stop without therapy (unless the newspaper company cuts you off because you’re not paying your bill, which you never actually signed up for in the first place).
By saying “getting a degree” I mean what happens directly afterwards. In my case I moved back to Austin, Texas- my self-proclaimed “home” (when you’ve moved as much as I have you get to do that).
I left my college with a 3.94 GPA. I graduated Suma Cum Laude. I majored in Writing. One of these things is probably not ideal.
Reality Bites-meets-The Purple Rose of Cairo
To be fair, I wasn’t early-twenties Wynona Rider smokin’ weed and being all pop-cultural on a rooftop after graduation. It took me seven years to go back to college from my “adventure-time off”, so I was 28 when I finished my degree in Dramatic Writing. Though I’ll have to exchange the personalities of one Cecilia (Mia Farrow) with Lelaina Pierce (Ms. Rider), the ‘clumsy waitress’ thing and burgeoning Depression depression in Purple Rose is dead on post-graduation ME.
You can glean the basis of this depression from the over-all plot of Reality Bites:
Girl graduates at the top of her class only to find the idealistic ethics surrounding her work will get her nowhere in the “real world” of filmmaking (or any other media outlet). Sadly it wasn’t even my ethics that stood in the way of making any headway out in the ‘world’- a lot of it had/has to do with the economy. Enter the 1930’s Purple Rose of Cairo backdrop.
2009-present: What a fantastically dreary time in American history to be graduating from college. Between religious zealots attempting to rewrite the Constitution, banks and multi-million-dollar corporations rewriting Morality, and the literal embodiment of “change” and “hope” being reduced to little more than a hall monitor for the aforementioned bullies, the bleak outlook on life wasn’t centered just around me, but the whole damn country.
So what was there to do? Movies.
Let me tell you about something that exists in Austin, Texas that should be in every town and city across the WORLD. It’s a little something called the Alamo Drafthouse, and when I call Texas my home, I really mean a seat somewhere in one of the cool, dark theaters of the South Lamar cinema with a cold pint and a plate of green chili mac-and-cheese in front of me. There’s no place like it (except for the other locations they have in Texas and, apparently, now Virginia).
So when Tom Baxter breaks the fourth wall and climbs down to comfort Cecilia, he’s really 90’s-indie-band-front-man Troy Dyer who’s “this close” to a degree in Philosophy. When she falls in love with him (Ethan Hawk), despite the attraction of the Hollywood producer who’s aptly played by Ben Stiller, she offers half of her chocolate malt (with the little candy-covered sunflower seeds), while clinging desperately to the hope that her career, as well as the economic and ethical standards in the country they live in, HAS TO get better. All this with eyes glued on the big screen at the Alamo Drafthouse.
I spent the better part of a year avoiding the uber-corporate world and committing various acts of escapism all over Austin (yes, while waitressing), until I realized the alternative ending to both Reality Bites and The Purple Rose of Cairo: leave the country. Sadly things didn’t get better when I was away (sigh: worse) but that doesn’t mean that after I get ANOTHER writing degree they won’t pan out (right? Right?!!).
Perhaps a sane person would stop going to school for writing. Maybe Lelaina Pierce really had it right, recording every single moment of her Gen X life with a camcorder, blinded by her faith in constant indecision and struggles for identity. Don’t they eventually make a bigger picture with a very solid decision and identity? Isn’t that my generation?
But what does she do with it, in the end? We know she moves in to a swanky new apartment- but they couldn’t possibly have done that all on one gas card (could they?). Something gave somewhere- Troy went to work at Whole Foods or Lelaina finally figured out the definition of irony (something I wish she’d share with a younger generation). Reality Bites took the tone of a hip Michael Moore film at the end there- no answers, just a funny, sarcastic (depressing) view of “how things are”.
As for poor Cecilia, at least she got rid of the abusive husband. She goes back to the theater (I went back to the learnin’)- but then, what the hell happened to her? Don’t get me wrong, that ending was the ONLY ending Purple Rose could have had, and it was brilliant, but then… where does that leave me? Will I be one of those fat people that has to get skin grafts because I’ve bonded to a reclining chair in the Alamo- desperate for good news, albeit fantasy, so much so that I’ve started identifying with Michael Bay characters?
Sans the Woody Allen cadence, Cecilia and Lelaina talk a similar talk: their souls are ‘saved’ by their obsessions. I guess the trick is to hold on to some part of you that really means something- a documentary, a love of adventure, the need to write… Then, at some point, you decide what kind of life you can live with. Do you get lost in the love of it (stay poor longer), or do you give in to the pressure of the Vast Machine (work so much you don’t notice you’re poor)?
Ah yes, the disillusionment conundrum. It will last my entire life, I know it. But if I can just squeeze out two more years of writing, it’ll all be worth it- so here’s to an MFA…
Remembering the Alamo,