29 Mar 2011

Squirt Guns and Push-Ups (Bikinis)

1 Comment Relationships, Self Development and Transformation, Technology and Change

When I was a boy, there were few things I enjoyed more on a hot summer day than a good game of war. The sun shining, neighbor kids out en masse, ice cream man due in a few hours…and water guns. I loved squirt gun fights. With enough kids involved, these fights could become battles and we would re-enact our own distorted versions of the Raid on Pearl Harbor (wasn’t their any hand to hand combat at Pearl Harbor) or one of the numerous battles against the Nazis. We could all agree that Nazis were bad.

At my ecumenical summer camp, these games of war were nuanced to the “Raid on Entebbe” where Israeli commandos swept into the heart of Uganda to save 248 Jewish Air France hostages from sure death at the hand of terrorists. We all fought over who got to be the unit commander, Jonathan Netanyahu, who was the only commando who didn’t make it out alive.

What was it that drew me to the hot molded plastic with cool water in its chamber? What was it about the passion and the fury as we swept down at each other furiously squeezing our weapons and simulating machine gun noises? Well, for one thing, we were almost always all boys. Sure, there was the obvious need to release pent up aggression at parents, teachers and bullies. Sure, more than a few of us had begun the Change…strange squirts of adolescent testosterone pulsing through our wiry little bodies, hardly equipped it seemed, to handle these new levels of manhood.

There was something magical about these squirt guns, these tools of young masculinity. Just gripping a plastic Uzi in my hand gave me a certain power, a sense of strength and ability, a certain reach, so to speak. In fact, holding a water gun was like holding an extension of myself. I was able to imagine my manhood reaching out into the world and effecting change.

That might make you giggle. It might make you wince at a culture that equates violence and masculinity. You might run out to the store and buy dolphin squirters for your children. Yet, there is a truth here that transcends projections about violence and aggression that we often associate with little boys playing with guns.

There is a process by which little boys realize that there is something powerful about their penises and while it may not be the ideal manifestation of that process, playing with guns is an attempt by little boys to understand themselves. And, yes, violence is a component of transporting testosterone. It is one of the challenges; a test of strength to use testosterone wisely and for good…

Abercrombie and Fitch this week released a new line of push up bikinis for little girls who aren’t biologically supposed to have a woman’s breasts at nine years old. While I’m as outraged as the next person, I also understand the challenge for young girls to understand what it means to be a female in this world. Somehow, playing with dolls and baking cakes in the Holly Hobby oven doesn’t cut it any longer. Kids know there is something just outside the door, waiting.

Like their male counterparts at nine years old, there is a desperate need to feel safe and in control of oneself as we negotiate a society that is rapidly maturing, encroaching on childhood with a frustratingly insistent intensity. Technology, change, and information is squeezing childhood back toward the crib without concern for the impact it might have on our basic human development.

26 Jan 2011

On Prehistoric Stress Monsters…

No Comments Humor, Self Development and Transformation, Technology and Change

Are you stressed?

It seems like stress has become a way of life for so many of us, simply a “given” in much the same way as paying for bags on an airplane or basic cable television. Has it always been this way? Have we always been anxious, throughout the ages?

I like to fantasize about what daily life was like at different periods of history in different parts of the world. We have a tendency in our moment in the human record to project our own experiences back into the past onto our predecessors. For example, there are few reconstructed images I have seen of “prehistoric, ” a fascinating concept in and of itself, man where the hairy, unshaven fella wasn’t chasing or being chased by a Woolly Mammoth or menacing dinosaur ( yes I have heard they didn’t exist at the same time ).

Talk about stressful! Have you seen Jurassic Park? I know it was all just on one little island but if those velociraptors lived on my block I guarantee I would carry pepper spray.

I think back to the days of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Zealots and Sanhedrin, Romans and Right-wingers. Roaming prophets spoke about the end of days and it must have been hard to change the channel because they were right there, screaming and shouting while you slaughtered your goat. Wait, what if my soul really doesn’t go anywhere when I die? It seems like it might have been pretty relaxing, just living out in the desert with one’s family and a little extra wine with dinner until I consider the various marauders, armies and general kooks looking for something or another.

No public assistance programs for tough times or local security forces for the kooks. I imagine the “good old days” had a possibility of becoming terribly frightening very quickly. Not exactly stress-free.

I think about the ways technology and industrialization have made certain challenges much easier and peaceful the past few hundred years. I suppose common folks just made peace with bowel elimination in cities and villages a thousand years ago…until another plague was unleashed. I have a romantic notion of the early American pioneers, setting out from the muddy streets of New York with the intention to work the land and live life under the stars. Create one’s own destiny… what a wonderful banner to soar above our log cabin in the woods. Until the real native stewards of the neighborhood got fed up with the concept of “manifest destiny….”and murdered us. How’s that for anxiety and stress?

I wonder if there has truly ever been a time in our history when there was not a relationship to anxiety or stress. So, perhaps the lugubrious suggestions we like to make about how life is more challenging today than it was for our grandparents isn’t so accurate? I hear quite often that all this technology has added so much stress to our lives that perhaps it isn’t worth it!?! Really? No one is forcing us to spend an hour a day on Facebook or keep up with the spam folder but it sure is nice to be able to Google a topical solution for psoriasis, YouTube a video on how to perform CPR or use my smart phone to call AAA when my car is stuck in a ravine.

There is no doubt in my mind that life today has its unique share of stressors and strains. At the same time, I firmly believe that each generation is faced with a relative drop-down menu of anxiety manifestors befitting the day, era and location. At least we can post an updated status to our friends when we are feeling overwhelmed.

14 Jan 2011

A Confounded Tower for Us All…

No Comments Relationships, Self Development and Transformation, Technology and Change

I wanted to believe that this might be the only blog in town this week not about Osama or Obama. That I wouldn’t write a tome about “to kill a killer” or “to gloat or not to gloat.” Yet, in the end, it’s all really about the meaning of life, anyway. I’m talking about BIG stuff, here. I’m talking about THE POINT.

What’s the point?

And I’m not coming from that nihilistic, black nail polish kind of place. I’m coming from that stare into the mirror and sigh sort of place.

It seems like back “in the really old days” people had basic survival to contend with more than anything. Hunt, gather, and/ or grow food and do ones best to protect the family from marauders and generally bad people. Also likely was the added concern with the fate of one’s body, mind and spirit in the assumed or hotly debated afterlife.

Today, we’re still concerned with the procurement of food ( I mean, who doesn’t like a cold Coca Cola) and self-protection (could I ever build a wall high enough), however these basic needs are often overshadowed by the pursuit of new technology (patiently, peacefully waiting for the IPhone 5), preparing for retirement (what does that really mean in this day and age) and where and when we will take our next vacation (when did we need a fancy term for staying home instead of going somewhere else).

Back in the day when folks were primarily concerned with the survival of self and soul, do you think they felt an overarching sense of meaning in their lives? Do you think they felt connected to the rest of the planet; a kinship with other humans? Even without CNN? Makes me wonder…

When faced with my survival, is there really significant emotional and physical space to worry about the existential nature of meaning and purpose?

Today there are surely billions of people who are still concerned with their souls in the afterlife and who derive a sense of meaning from their respective religions or beliefs. Yet, I am unsure as to whether there is a unifying, universally coherent, common purpose for us all; something that draws us all together. Was the notion of the Tower of Babel (one of my favorite parables) merely about language or was there a deeper, existential notion of DIFFERENCE?

One would think the condition of our environment would have accomplished a unification for our species long ago yet the fact that the nations of the world can’t seem to work together to solve global warming is an indication of our state of affairs. We still remain scattered across the earth doing our own thing. Some countries still consider global warming an Other issue as a matter of public policy.

Then there is, of course, the issue of doctrine, dogma and subjective truth. The marauders attacking my village thousands of years ago believed they were justified in attacking my village even though I strongly disagreed. I mean, I REALLY disagreed with the essential premise of their approach to life.

Many of us today are in favor of free speech and democratic process until someone threatens us for real. When marauders come rolling through my sense of peace and calm, I want to stop them by any means necessary because I’m still basically a human being who doesn’t care about you until you make changing me and altering my agenda, your agenda. Then we have a problem, man.

The notion of that primordial tower was for all the nations of the earth to band together for a common end and build a structure so amazing that we could reach God, thus becoming Gods. However, that scoundrel God “confounded the language of all the Earth.” (Genesis 11:5-8) and set us back a ways. Now look at us.

10 Nov 2010

The Dirty Business of Staying Sacred

No Comments Uncategorized

Advertise Here?

Really? I can’t tell you how many times I have unzipped in front of a standing urinal to find an advertisement staring back at me. In Santa Fe, NM there was a company that seemed to have infiltrated every restroom in town, actually installing fancy cases above urinals where the marketing could change with the season or the event. Who decided that my time in the bathroom was an untapped opportunity to sell me something?

I remember one of the most striking scenes in Jerry Maguire involved Cuba Gooding and Tom Cruise hanging out in the bathroom, screaming and shouting, making business happen for real. There is a mortgage broker in my current office building who can be seen almost daily walking into the restroom with his cordless phone tucked under his shoulder as he reaches to lock the door behind him. Don’t you hear him negotiating his own deal on the other end?

In this day and age of smart phones and tablets, aren’t we already hooked up pretty securely? What makes this matter so concerning for me is that there really is no end in sight to this trend. Selling you is my democratic right, and we reward the guy or gal who is creative enough to nail you where you least expect it and then hit you with their YouTube capture of the coup a few million times. The guy who bought AdWord space for a CEO he wanted to impress when he Googled himself is considered creative and brilliant (he even got a job out of it) yet not invasive or impertinent.

It is easy to jump to the question, “Is nothing sacred?”

However, I believe the more important, yet related, question is:

Where does the sacred fit in this new world order we are creating?

It can be so easy to let my sense of something beyond my personal daily story fade away in the midst of endless tweets and texts. Finding the miracles tucked away in supermarkets, on dog walks, and in simple interpersonal interactions has always been such an important part of what has kept me sane in an oftentimes wacky world. Acknowledging the presence of God/Spirit/The Universe/Higher Power/Gaia/ETC. can be just the right thing for me when the Internet goes down, the bars disappear on my IPhone or I lose that blog I was writing on WordPress. So, I suppose the choice is mine. Do I allow the sacred into my technological mishmash or move farther away from the tiny miracles that have the power of making technology another vessel, not another deity…