Thursday, August 14, 2014

Crossing the Rubicon

"Alea iacta est."

"The die has been cast." So Julius Caesar supposedly said* after crossing the Rubicon, a small stream that marked the northern border of Italy at the time. By crossing the river with armed troops, he was basically declaring war on Rome. Once crossed, his path was firmly set in one direction and there was no going back.

Lately I see my life as a series of metaphorical Rubicons and crossroads laid before me. At each juncture I can choose the easy path, or the more challenging one. All of life is like that, I suppose, but now it feels like the ground beneath me is shifting to a greater extent.

Some time ago (October 2012) I chose a fork in the road that has led and is leading me to a place of fulfillment and happiness I haven't experienced in a long time. I learned a practice called Orgasmic Meditation (OM). If your mind just traveled to a "naughty" place, you're actually on the right track. The details of the practice are not important for the purposes of this blog post but suffice it to say it is controversial and many would consider it scandalous. To find out more about OM, click here. The important part is that OM is helping me become a better human being. I want to live it. I want to teach it. I want to coach others in the philosophy that is built around it.

Yes, it sounds crazy. How can a simple practice change my life? I'm still working on that and exploring all the reasons. Yes it sounds cultish. Am I going to go to some remote compound where I'll eventually drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid? I highly doubt it. Or am I going to become like those annoying evangelicals who are trying to save the world? Again, I doubt it. OM's not right for everyone, but I think it's right for me.

In the larger picture OM fits into a process of self-discovery and learning that I've been doing for a little over ten years. I've been with other traditions and I'm sure there'll be other paths in the future that'll lead me in surprising directions. But right here, right now OM is the path that I'm on.

Is OM the completely wrong path? Perhaps. Is it really a cult? Maybe. Will I look back ten years from now and say, "Well, that was really a stupid move."? I could see that. But I can also see OM as being a very positive influence. It's certainly outside conventional boundaries. But so many other things have been outside conventional boundaries at one time that haven't led to the destruction of civilization. Homosexuality. Interracial marriage. Women's rights. Equal rights for all. Marriage based upon love and not politics/economics. To name but a few. Yes, it may be a dangerous cult. Life is full of risks. I'm willing to take this risk to find out.

Till the next Rubicon...

*Caesar probably didn't speak the phrase in Latin because Latin was his native language and saying something important in a foreign tongue psychologically gives it more weight. The historian of Roman emperors Suetonius reports that he instead said the Greek equivalent, "Ἀνερρίφθω κύβος".

Friday, May 24, 2013

Fairly Philosophical Friday: Where can I get the rule book for war?

Yesterday the President gave a speech defending his use of drone strikes in the theater of war. He gave that speech in part to answer his critics who think such drone strikes are unethical/illegal. Which is curious. Apparently, there are rules for the manner in which you kill someone in war. Apparently, it's legal and ethical for a person to kill another if they are holding a gun and pull the trigger, as opposed to doing it remotely from a control room. Where is this book of rules? It sure would be helpful to know.

So, this is a short Fairly Philosophical Friday. I'm tired. I got other things on my mind. Perhaps that will be a blog post of it's own. Someday.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Regular Writing Wednesday, in which I ramble about formulae.

Formulae. Or formulas, if you don't like the Latin. This past week I've been thinking a lot about them. In chemistry, you use formulas to show what a chemical reaction looks like. In cooking, you use them to make food; they're usually called recipes in that context.

In fiction, also, formulas are used, though they are often derided as not being "artistic" or "creative." But formulas help organize, help clarify. Also in fiction, there is the danger of adhering to the formula too closely, too rigidly. Instead of giving the reader a sense of wonder as to what is going to happen next, it makes the plot seem stale, something they've read or seen before. But not using a formula is also not good. In that case, the prose can seem directionless and without form. There needs to be a happy medium. In any case, a formula acts as a guidepost for the plot to progress in an effective and meaningful manner. I think a lot of "literary" or "experimental" fiction claim to be formulaless, and perhaps in many cases that is true. But that is to the story's own detriment. In many cases, such fiction does follow a formula, the writer simply doesn't want to admit such.

Perhaps I'm rambling. Perhaps I should've written this blog post using a formula. Whatever the case, I wanted to write it down, to get it off my chest, so to speak.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fairly Philosophical Friday: Rage Against the Scandal

Pissed. This week in American political history we saw the spawning of, or continuation of three so-called scandals that Republicans strongly imply could bring down the Obama administration.

First we have the Republicans current favorite made-up scandal: the attack on the Benghazi Consulate. This fake scandal may be over, however, when an email shows that there wasn't a massive conspiracy between departments, but simply bureaucratic misinformation.

Next we have the IRS scandal, in which they supposedly targeted the nonprofit applications of right-wing groups. This one, for some reason, seems to have gained some traction, with even the president firing the current head of the IRS, even though that person was not the acting man in charge when all this supposedly happened. And yes, I'm using "supposedly." Because you see, it's the IRS's job to go through tax applications. Perhaps it's because everyone loves to hate the tax man that has caused this made-up scandal to garner attention. Or maybe I simply don't understand something fundamental about this story that will bring everything into clarity. The news media certainly hasn't done a good job explaining it.

The last of these scandals may actually be a scandal: this week we found out that the Justice Department had been tapping the phones of the Associated Press. If this is true, and it was done completely illegally, yes, metaphorical heads should roll. But I have also grown quite cynical for anything carrying the name "scandal," so, in my mind, I'm still waiting to see how it all plays out.

So amidst these three scandals, there is the scandal that no one is talking about. Perhaps "witchhunt" would be a more appropriate word, since that is exactly what it is. Republicans had explicitly made it a goal to have Barack Obama as a one-term president. Now that they have failed at that, it is quite obvious that they are searching for something, anything, to impeach him. They used the same playbook during the Clinton Administration, except then they weren't as obvious. Then, they did find something to impeach Clinton over. But then we as a nation found out that impeachment didn't necessarily have to be the end of a presidency. Now Bill Clinton enjoys high favorability. The Clinton scandal certainly showed to us that sex does indeed sell. If Barack ever cheated on Michelle, it would certainly dwarf our current batch of "scandals."

Yes, I know this blog post is not that philosophical, but I had to get it off my chest. I actually restrained myself, somewhat. I haven't dropped the f-bomb once, though I am sorely tempted to. Then again, "philosophical" means wisdom loving, and I'd like to think that rants do have some wisdom in them. Whatever the case, I have a feeling this won't be the last time I rant about politics. It certainly wasn't the first time I have done so.

Let's just hope that fake scandals die a quiet death. I won't be holding my breath.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Regular Writing Wednesday, in which I muse about outlining and pantsing

In the world of writing, there are two diametrically opposed ways of producing a final draft. On one side, there is outlining, producing a blueprint for the thing to be written before a single letter of a single word of a single sentence is committed to the draft. On the other side, there is barreling ahead and committing words to the project without any care for a plan; the so-called writing by-the-seat-of-your pants method. Of course, in the real world, most people write in a hybrid style while leaning more toward one end of the spectrum than the other.

For me, I'm closer to a pantser than a outliner. The problem I usually face with that method, however, is that I often run out of pants to sit on before I am done with the product, to stretch a metaphor to the point of tearing it, and to produce a bad pun. In other words, to use another metaphor, I often hit a brick wall.

So this past week I've been trying to move more toward the center and do a little more of that outlining the other side is so fond of. I fear that outlining will have the unfortunate side effect that I'll get bored with the material too fast if I have too detailed of a plan. But in this case, I've already used the pantsing treatment on it, so I hope that means the only direction to go is toward completion. I think that outlining method I've chosen will also contribute to me not getting bored. Basically, it starts with a one sentence summary of the novel, and then expands it from there, so the the creative work is directed more inwardly toward finer and finer detail, rather than linearly from point A to point B, the so-called snowflake method of outlining.

Now I think I need to figure out a meaningful schedule, and stick to it. Because these regularly scheduled blog posts sure make me write on the blog. Finding what is "meaningful" is going to be the trick, however.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Fairly Philosophical Friday: Living like you're about to die.

I'm sure you've been asked this question: You have x time to live, so how will you spend it? You create a bucket list of things you would like to do before your predictable demise. The exercise is supposed to make you think about what is important to you. But it often seems to take on a whimsical attitude, as if it were impossible to think about something as morbid as death. This is probably a defense mechanism on our part. After all, who wants to think about death? But sooner or later, that's how we're all going to go.

There is another reason for that whimsical attitude, I think. That bucket list seems like work. Who wants to go on that tour of Europe when it's a lot easier just to take the weekend off and play tourist in your local area? Who wants to write that long — at times arduous and soul crushing — novel when it's a lot easier to write a blog about how hard it is to write that novel? It is perhaps an evolutionary mechanism to find the easy way out. The animal who goes after the hard — yet more emotionally satisfying — target is also more likely to get himself killed, and therefore decrease the likelihood of siring offspring. But the one who finds the easier and, evolutionary speaking, better way to catch prey will have more chances to mate. That's one hypothesis for the evolution of procrastination.

In our modern society, we no longer have to struggle to survive, for most of us. Even the most poor of us don't have to worry about being eaten. And our jobs — the civilized equivalent to hunting — usually doesn't include putting our lives at risk. But our genes don't know that; they're are still stuck in Neolithic times when it was a lot easier to spear a fish than a woolly mammoth. So it's hard for us to get motivated to be healthier, or to learn French, or whatever. Because those things require burning calories, calories that our genes need to be preserved for the next hunt.

How do we overcome our evolutionary demotivation? Often those exercises in what you would do if you had a finite time to live tell us to live every day as if it were your last. A nice sentiment, but that usually doesn't work because emotionally you just can't believe that today is your last day unless it were actually true. Certain meditations try to overcome that obstacle by having the meditator contemplate deeply the nature of death and what it means to have a finite time to live. The pitfall I see there is that there's the risk the meditator will simply conclude it's better just to meditate than to do anything else. Perhaps that is okay for some. But for me, at this time in my life, I would much rather not spend my life navel-gazing.

Still others refuse to believe death is truly the end of existence, so they subscribe to some notion of the afterlife. Perhaps belief in heaven, or reincarnation, or whatever, has as much to do with the fear that one's life has been wasted as it has to do with the fear of death. But I simply can't believe in a mystical afterlife that has no evidence for existence beyond some ancient books of fairy tales.

So what is my solution? I'm not sure. That's still a work in progress.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Regular Writing Wednesday, in which I ruminate briefly about procrastination.

Procrastination. I've written about him before. And he continues to be my number-one demon. Perhaps this Friday I'll write some more about his nature, but for this entry, all I will say is that he has got a mouth hold of me this week. Instead of writing, I spent most of my time surfing the Internet, doing little. Like so many times before, it's oh so seductive. As I'm procrastinating, I know deep down in my heart-of-hearts that I really shouldn't be procrastinating. But like a drug, I just don't want to stop.

So yeah, that's about how my week has gone. I really don't want to dwell on it too much, such as write long blog entry. Because really, instead of blogging I should be writing fiction. Yet, this weekly schedule is forcing me to at least write this entry. Hopefully the coming week will be much more productive, and I won't still guilty writing a longer blog entry. So till then…