2010 October

Archive for October, 2010

29 Oct 2010

Beyond Concrete TV: 10-29-10 Halloween Edition

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A little anecdotal tale about demons and goblins from my early days as a therapist. Happy Halloween!!!

27 Oct 2010

Why I Vote (and why it matters which songs play at the prom)

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This Tuesday is finally Election Day.

I can’t wait until this latest (dreadful) foray into the worst caverns of our sorry political process has passed and I can go back to pretending that our system is somehow not ruined and that the people we elect to “serve us” in making the democratic matrix successful are really good people doing good things for good reasons. Wince. Gasp. Where’s the Single Malt.

I am taken back to high school politics because it is where I first learned about shadow government and because I’m still surprised that the idea of a “best candidate” is somehow separate from politics. I was a fringe candidate. I was not the most popular nor was I the loudest. Yet, part of me believed I had the ability to make a difference in something as vital to our collective well-being as the senior prom.

It was a time in my life when I cared about things like the senior prom. I cared about the color of the table cloths and the official theme song of the 1988 Senior Prom (Hold On To The Night by Richard Marx). The rocker dude who was elected president was promptly surrounded by close friends (conveniently elected to the supporting junta) thus creating a sense of balance in the world to a small conclave of constituents. To be honest, I don’t remember my prom but I look happy enough in the pictures.

By the time I got to college I could care less about running for office and focused more on what the people elected to offices were doing poorly. I chose not to enter the fraternity system at a school that was over 70% Greek.Instead, I lived in a vegetarian co-op called the Peace House where we hosted meetings for PETA, various anti-war and anti-nuclear organizations, Took Back the Night and lambasted fraternities when another woman was raped or another student died from hazing. I thrived on feeling disenfranchised. I was good at it, too. On the other hand, I drove to Burger King for meat fixes and a non co-ed bathroom on a regular basis.

I studied political science in college and even did a semester abroad in Geneva, Switzerland where I studied International Relations and took my lunch at the World Health Organization’s cafeteria (where food was cheap). I often sat and listened to frustrated global aid workers discuss their inability to effect change due to a seemingly endless bureaucracy. Many of these folks appeared resentful that they had committed their lives to making a difference “out there” yet they seemed to question how big a difference they truly made on a daily basis.

After college I got an internship at the Anti-Defamation League in Manhattan because I wanted to pursue a career in documentary film making and the ADL had seemingly effective public service messages on television where they reminded society to be nice. On my third day, a major story broke accusing the ADL of conspiring with the FBI and foreign governments to rid the world of bad people who say bad things about minorities. I mistakenly got off on the third floor returning from lunch and walked into a massive document shredding party. Wrong floor. Interesting, useful, somewhat disheartening window into organizations meant to do good in the world. I was removed from the project I had been working on and instead transcribed hours of anti-Semitic rants perpetrated by a Nation of Islam radio station out of Harlem. That was not fun. I had my own opportunity to consider whether my time and energy was being well served.

I was elected president of my class in graduate school largely due to a dearth of challengers. Not surprising, my fellow counseling students were less concerned about the mechanism of change and focused more on feeling and being heard. I organized opportunities for students to air their dissatisfaction with course selection processes and facilitated more areas on campus for students to study and relax. It wasn’t much, but I took it seriously and listened to what students wanted and helped people feel they had a voice in the system. I felt good about my role and considered the system to be a relatively functional process.

So, as a practicing psychotherapist, I’m pretty removed from the day to day political process in this country. I don’t canvass for candidates and I don’t subliminally insert my picks for office in the minds of my clients as they speak about this or that. I do, however, care about my community. In fact, I always have. Even when my input meant Richard Marx would somehow steal the official song status for the prom, I felt like my vote mattered. Things have gotten really grown-up since those days have passed. Issues of immigration, taxation, and legalization have made their way into my home. Matters of the heart and the mind, the body and the soul, have crept into a personal discourse between my consciousness and that of the tribe.

I do care. I believe things should be one way and not the other and I also believe that the majority matters. I also feel the frustration of a stubborn itch in my mind that suggests my voice doesn’t matter. I watch the political process in this country being hijacked by home grown terrorists who don’t want a real dialogue but simply want to steer us all into pillars we have erected and see if they fall. Then they win? Is that what it’s all about? The truth is, I don’t care which songs played at the prom but I do care about how we treat one another in the process of decision making. I’m not sure if my vote really matters this week. I’m not sure if I can effect change in our society by choosing one candidate over another. However, I believe passionately in process. And right now, this whole election thing is our process. If I don’t, at least, cast my vote, then I remove myself from the process and wind up either silently disgruntled or a terrorist in the making. So for now, I vote.

23 Oct 2010

Oktoberfest, Skinheads and Islamophobia

4 Comments Humor, Relationships, Self Development and Transformation

Exactly twenty years ago this month, I visited Germany for the first time. As a 19 year old university Junior on my semester abroad in the international city of >Geneva, Switzerland, the allure of a week-end jaunt to Munich with some friends for a stint at the Hofbrau Haus tent was too “educational” to pass up. It was to be far more enlightening than I ever imagined.

In many ways, the fair itself was a kitschy display of Germania, much like an Independence Day picnic with fireworks or even Thanksgiving in the U.S. People were happy, drunk and stuffing brats in their mouths with great strength.

Coming to Germany offered a momentary tilt of the head as I considered the history my family had in and with Germany during the last world war, however I was 19 and this was going to be a blast. A huge party.

The party was pounding. We raised our enormous beer steins to the sky and shouted the drinking songs with the rest of the happy people, consuming more beer than I choose to remember. We met up with several more folks from our college who had the same idea for a free week-end in Europe and the group of us stood on a picnic table and fit right in.

Some other folks began to huddle around us as we were becoming rather rowdy, sharing our Colgate party skills with the rest of the world. Before I knew it, some of the onlookers were now participants, standing up there on the table with us, their steins raised and their cheeks flushed. A few of these new friends were even more aggressive than we were. Black jackets, tall black boots and white T-shirts. One of the guys, sporting a blond crew cut and a faded tattoo on his neck, was particularly interested in my friend Haroon. He kept on clinking steins with him and wanted to talk rather than simply laugh and drink.

“Where are you from, my friend?” he asked.
Haroon was a very proud son of his country, and shouted “I’m from Pakistan!” with passion and a requisite raise of his beer.
The gentleman began a rant about how the Moslems were taking over his country, living off of his taxes and taking his jobs. He was what many of us commonly refer to as a buzz kill. We just didn’t realize soon enough that he would actually try to kill the buzz for real.

Somewhere during the rant, Haroon offered the sensible recommendation that our new friend go fuck himself. I saw the now empty stein sail past me and land on Haroon’s temple in a moment that I replay from time to time when I think about how important it is for me to remain sharp and alert in most situations. The assailant was disappointed that my tall, robust friend did not fall with the first blow, smashed his huge glass (I know, really?) stein on the edge of the table and proceeded to stab him in the head.

There were, of course, other branches to this conflagration that occurred simultaneously. Our rugby friends from school took on the other two skinheads while Haroon and I were left with the chief assailant. For the first time in my life, I jumped into a real fight. It all happened quickly, but I tried to stop the shard of glass from hitting Haroon with my bare hand which was in turn, mangled with glass and blood. Ouch. Haroon was pummeled unconscious before the police reached us and I had managed to kick the skinhead off the table.

In a surreal turn of events, the German Red Cross threw all of us in the same ambulance as we raced to the hospital. The skinhead managed to cut himself with his own weapon and he sat in the front with the ambulance driver as I sat with Haroon in the back, my hand wrapped in a blood soaked napkin while Haroon lay unconscious beside me, his head wrapped in stained gauze. The idiot in the front tried to apologize for hurting me, noting that his only beef was with the half dead Pakistani. I decided to leave the part of my being Jewish out of the dialogue, but still managed to repeat Haroon’s previous recommendation.

Haroon received over 100 stitches that night and I came out with ten. We were very sober, very quickly. It was a turning point for me. At nineteen, I discovered that I would fight for a friend and that I would also put myself in harms way when I believe in something bigger than myself. It was huge. The scars remain on my hand to this day as a reminder.

I was reading Pepe Escabar’s article on Islamophobia on AlterNet and I couldn’t help but remember the skinhead who tried to kill my Muslim friend and left us both scarred. Angela Merkel suggestion that immigration is prejudicial to the German economy reminded me of a twisted double standard that is true not only in Europe but in my own country. The belief that letting other ethnicities inside our “pure” culture in order to work in jobs that we tend not to want to do is somehow a compromise to the homogeneous bubble we enjoy is not only farcical but is dangerous to the immigrants we welcome as well as the hosts that open the doors.

I always think of the pride in Haroon’s voice when he lifted his stein and shouted “Pakistan!” when I consider the danger of nationalism. Just a few degrees past pride lives extremism. A notch above that floats terrorism. We must find a way to reconcile the global culture that is rapidly enveloping us all with the onset of technology and the stale, limiting belief that we are still one nation under God.

22 Oct 2010

Jeffrey’s Friday Video: The Law of Responsibility

No Comments Relationships, Self Development and Transformation

How often is it that we take responsibility for our real feelings and actions in our relationships with others? For many, many years, I did not take a whole lot of credit for myself and what I was doing and saying to the people that supposedly meant the most. In fact, I oftentimes found contempt in others for exactly the things I was struggling with in myself. Here’s a brief video where I get into this issue and what I refer to as, The Law of Responsibility…

19 Oct 2010

God Wants You To Buy More Frozen Peas…

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It doesn’t take the sudden death of a three week old goldfish to prompt stirrings of the meaning of life for a five year old child. Issues of life and death bombarded me from birth and likely will unto death, from the chicks hatching inside the nursery school incubator to the disintegration of multi-colored Pac Men. We won’t even get into the relationship of said Pac Men with floating bright red cherries as they are swallowed by supposed greater beings.  It is virtually impossible to avoid the matter of life and death, but for a small child it is inevitable that the matter be conjoined with the question of God.

And isn’t it one of THE questions for a young one? Adults are often so strong and matter of fact in their beliefs and emotions with regard to God, yet no one truly explains the matter in enough detail and with enough seeming precision as to settle the issue completely. So, we little one’s improvise. 

All knowing, all seeing, all powerful. These are the Super-human qualities that seem to get bandied about quite readily when it comes to discussing this God entity. Already a committed Superman adherent at three, common descriptions of God very closely challenged my associations with the Prince of Krypton, a hero who always impressed, astounded and fulfilled my expectations. I depended on Superman a great deal as a boy. Not even simply as a boy. I still admire the Man of Steel…

Transcendent. Able to appear and disappear at will. Dissolving and coagulating. These abilities bumped God above Superman as I had never seen him perform such feats. Another devoutly revered superhero, Batman, was able to appear and disappear, dropping in and leaping out of situations at will, however when measured by the suggested definition of transcendent, the Dark Knight didn’t come close either. Transcendent was suggested by a teacher as something akin to rain falling from the sky on a summer afternoon and the ensuing absorption of said water by the ground, the bugs and each blade of grass. Transcendent.

In fact, as more and more of God’s qualifications were recorded, it became increasingly challenging to find anyone that resembled him or her in my personal experience. I include “her” for my love for Batgirl was already warm and sublime at a young age and I would have welcomed her into the God running.

So many adults, when queried, are adamant that they enjoy personal relationships with God, that He is a fixture in their lives and that He personally saves them from all sorts of villains and evils. However, there was no God comic book, no Saturday morning cartoon, no Underoos. Whomever this God character was, he clearly needed better P.R. The closest I could find was a quirky, low budget animation program on Sunday mornings called “Davey and Goliath.” The consistently low-key “boy and dog” show seemed to address the sorts of questions I was also concerned with, but in the end, they were just as puzzling in their determinations.

In the end, the question of God remained a puzzle. The greatest approximation I found within myself was a hybrid crossing Mr. Clean with the Jolly Green Giant. This was the figure that seemed to seep into my dreams, speaking with a commanding voice, acting in a controlling, all-knowing sort of way. I had visions of waves of grain and green pea pods behind him as he encouraged me to be nicer to my little brother, tie my shoes faster and eat more of the frozen peas on my plate at dinner.

In fact, this early childhood version of God didn’t come with a cape or “underwear that was fun to wear;” she didn’t fly, didn’t drive a cool car or fight evil. Indeed, the manifestation of this transcendent being in my dream life and increasingly, my waking, conscious awareness, supported the rather confusing case of God.

If anything, I emerged from childhood with a unique association with God that approached a patriarchal, agricultural and extremely sanitary giant. This perhaps explains my subconscious preference for frozen vegetables and shiny floors and helps me better understand the radical right.