Oct 29, 2007

Become Your Best You, Doo-bee doo-bee doo

Joel Osteen has another book out entitled, "Become a Better You." It follows his wildly successful book, "Your Best Life Now." Maybe I can contact George Clooney and see if he can air drop some of these books on his next mission to Darfur. They can package them along with "The Secret." You know, if the Muslim extremists in Sudan could just apply these seven principles on how to "become a better you," maybe they'd drop the whole genocide thing. Or maybe they'll become better at mass murdering. It could go either way.

Osteen is the pastor of a massive church where ten thousand people flock every week to hear his uplifting sermons. He seems really nice. Sweet. Happy. His wife seems really pretty. So why does the guy makes me nervous? Maybe I'm just a curmudgeon. I know our world is mired in negativity and we could all use a boost. His uplifting messages aren't evil. But haven't the past 30-40 years of therapy, self-help, self-actualization, etc, proven that SELF-improvement isn't why we're here? Or as Jesus put it: "The Son of Man did not come to BE SERVED but to SERVE, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

I remember hearing an actor at a seminar say basically this: In movies, the characters we most admire are those who face horrible circumstances, insurmountable odds. They struggle, they doubt, they despair, but they push on. Even if they fail or die, they win a larger victory, and we love them for it. And yet, we wake up every morning and want God to make everything go our way.

My small group is going through scenes and movies that have impacted us spiritually. Last night we watched a scene from The Two Towers. Frodo and Sam are exhausted from trying to get the ring to Mt. Doom. Here's the text:

SAM: It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are.
It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.

FRODO: What are we holding on to, Sam?

SAM: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

What is it, do we not have anything worth fighting for any more? It seems like the battles worth fighting are taking place elsewhere: in Darfur or Somalia. Places where real lives are at stake. Or if they are here, but they're in the ghettos and the prisons, far from any photo ops. Meanwhile the battle to eradicate our own selfishness and narcissism is glossed over by cute little principles about "Becoming Your Best You." I wonder if we whole foods shopping botox shooting middle class chumps have forgotten what really matters.

Seek pleasure -- and in the long run you will find boredom, disillusionment and enslavement. Seek God -- and you will find, among other things, piercing pleasure.
John White, "Eros Defiled."

Oct 24, 2007

Katrina It Ain't

Maybe we've learned lessons from Katrina. The LA Times praised Qualcomm stadium as "a relief center to behold." Cots, games, free coffee from Starbucks, ethnic foods, and jazz bands. The number of volunteers rivaled the number of refugees. Neighborhoods reconstructed themselves. Good. I need to focus on the good.

I need to check out the photo galleries, the faces of the people who've lost everything. Well OK, there's an aerial shot of a burned down mansion with a six car garage. They have other houses I'm sure. But I need to keep my mind on people when I pray.

Because my cynicism kicks in. Some areas hardest hit by the fires ... Poway, Rancho Bernardo, are where the mansions are. Are they receiving this treatment because of their wealth? PS: Please read comments from aazmom at the end of this post. She's in northeast end of San Diego on the front lines and her observations are worth noting!

A fellow Burnside blogger posted a link to a Mike Davis' book Ecology of Fear, to the chapter, "Let Malibu Burn." Davis exposes the disparity between how the rich and poor are treated. Worse, the way LA leadership caters to developers and landlords at the expense of the poor.

My friends have a ranch about 25 miles northeast of Castaic (site of the northernmost LA county fire this week). It looks north to the Tehachapis, and down into the southernmost tip of the Antelope Valley. It’s rustic. No DSL. A computer modem can't go faster than 24K on dialup. But they bought it for that purpose: to get away from the speed an insanity of urban life. To them, quiet is beautiful.

They nearly lost the ranch a few years ago to wildfire. They were lucky. But it's sub-desert. It's risky country.

Land developers don’t view it the same way. They’re trying to convince the locals that a self-contained town would do well down in that empty unused valley space. They come in, build some houses and a mall, and Bob's Your Uncle, you're set. Think of the revenue, the jobs, the consumers ... think of the Starbucks! My friends have gone to the town meetings, bringing fears about the lack of water, the fire danger, and the noise pollution. But the developers talk louder about revenue. Maybe the fires will convince neighbors to vote against building. But they already voted in a Dick Cheney style Hunt club.

I hope to get back to their ranch. After the fires die down, before the snow. And before the developers bring their back hoes and destroy that valley's greatest resource: Silence.

Oct 23, 2007

World On Fire

Larry and I are safe here in Eagle Rock. On a clear day wecan see he Glendale foothills to north, Mt. Baldy far to the east. Last week we were driving a stretch of the 134 freeway along the foothills. We could see far west far into the San Fernando Valley; the Pacific Ocean was shimmering in the south. Made you understand why people moved here. Long ago. Before the other people got here.

But today the world is on fire.

When the sun came up this morning, it rose through a thick band of smoke, the smoke magnifying the sun into a bloated red balloon; the sun igniting the brown band into fire orange; like the flames that generated it. it's smoke from Lake Arrowhead, a mountain resort has lost over a hundred homes to the inferno. So far.

To the west, the sky is thick with dirty beige. To the south it's brown brown brown. Smoke from San Diego. The LA Times reports that fires have consumed about 270,000 acres, more than 420 square miles, across seven counties. Hundreds of thousands of people are being evacuated. I thought I heard the radio newscaster say "half a million." He was at Qualcomm stadium in San Diego, where the evacuees are trying to sleep on the hard, cold concrete. One family got out just in time, but they couldn't find their pets. They heard later their entire apartment complex burned to the ground.

And the fires are raging north of us as well. Simi Valley, Valencia, Castaic, Agua Dulce. We used to drive that way every Christmas to visit my uncle in Lancaster. It was an eternity's drive through wasteland. Today, that sixty-mile stretch is pock-marked with houses. Tract homes and shopping centers. Most of them work in LA, but can't afford LA home prices. So they live here in the wasteland and drive to work.

We drove out to Colorado last Thanksgiving, and took that highway north in the predawn hours. All we could see was a ribbon of white headlights, slinking south at 20 miles an hour. The masses of commuters living lives of desperation.

Stevenson Ranch is on fire. I shot a TV show out in Stevenson Ranch in 1991. It was a ranch then. This past April I went to a cabin in Tehachapi to write. I stopped in Stevenson Ranch to get groceries and gas up. It was one housing development after another, pimpled with Designer Shoe Warehouse and Ross and Linens 'N' Things and Toys R Us and Marshalls. A city-approved sign boasted, "The Shops at Stevenson Ranch." It looked like every shopping development I'd seen in Nashville and Denver and New Jersey. I got out quick. Driving the desert wasteland was a relief after that.

And now it is all on fire. And I can only feel empathy for these poor people, who pitched their overpriced tents in the middle of nowhere, put up some grass and some shopping malls and schools and called it home. I hope they have homes to come home to.

PS. I wrote this at 10am on Tuesday. As of 7pm, nine hours later, nearly 1 million people in California have been evacuated. One in three households in San Diego County. And the fire has spread. See new imagery from NASA...

Oct 5, 2007

A Tea Cozy that's A Hat, a Sweater that's a Tea Cozy

When Larry and I were in New York, there was a street fair on Columbus near our apartment. I remember most street fairs as being a mix of one or two cool things, along with booths selling Verizon phones, irregular sheets and last year's Tommy Hilfiger socks.

I was drawn to a booth selling hats. And lo and behold I found a Tea Cozy that's Really a Hat. Handle, spout and all. Being the tea lover I am, I couldn't resist. it was soft, cute, and the colors perfectly matched a "cashmere" scarf I'd just bought at a booth one block down. I wore it to lunch that day, not thinking what it was like for Larry to sit next to a woman with a tea pot on her head. I got some looks. Mostly chuckles and "you go girl." But a few, 'Run Away" as well.

Well you decide.

It's fall, and the few days of cooler weather prompted me to get out my knitting. When I was working on "My Name Is Earl," the actress who plays Earl's mother showed me what she'd done with felting. Ever thrown a wool sweater into the laundry by accident, and it came back the size of a Barbie suit? Well, with felting you do it on purpose. The actress old wool sweaters at the thrift store, felted them, and then used them as fabric. She'd sewn baby booties to give to orphanages.

This was the coolest thing. Especially, I thought, since sewing a tea cozy out of felted wood would be a lot faster than knitting and felting, which I'd already done. They take HOURS.

So last weekend I sewed a tea cozy. Made from an old sweater I found at the Salvation Army and felted.

Voila. With autumn here and Christmas gifts coming, I've got work to do.

Speaking of Christmas gifts, you may have heard of the Advent Conspiracy, an organization that is trying to take the consumerism out of Christmas. Instead of blowing wads of cash on useless items, make gifts for each other (They provide a list). Then donate the money you saved to a favorite charity.

Some of you may be getting a felted tea cozy from me. Or a felted hat. Or wallet.

You've been warned.

Oct 3, 2007

Here Come Da Germs!

I've got a book manuscript due in January, so I made the commitment to ride with my husband to work. So for eight straight hours, while Larry is slaving away writing fundraising copy, I'll be at the library slaving away on my manuscript. At home I've got distractions like phone, email, and a cat who thinks she can convince me I haven’t fed her. The library is free of those distractions. Well, I don’t answer MY phone. But last time, a pudgy Pilipino turned his table into a home office. Every three minutes his cell phone went off with a factory issue jazz riff, followed by his p-peppered voice popping along.

I carry ear plugs. It got so bad one guy came over and offered to buy my spare pair off of me, earwax and all. There’s no cat to ask me for food, but there are a lot of Section 8 Types trying to snore on the comfy chairs. There’s no at the library either. But that’s not intentional. There’s supposed to be wi-fi access, but the signal is about as reliable as a memo from Blackwater.

Despite the drawbacks, I was getting into a good rhythm working there, until Friday. “Is it cold?” I kept asking my husband, who always likes things warmer than I do. The next morning I had a sore throat. By Saturday night my esophagus was on fire, my bones ached, and I was craving plain water. By Sunday the bug had arrived. I’ve been hopped up on Theraflu, Airborne, Zinc lozenges and Vick’s Vapo-Rub ever since.

Sunday night I couldn’t breathe. Monday I sneezed nonstop. My nostrils were so raw it burned. Today my nose ran all day. I have newfound compassion for allergy sufferers.

And my writing? No can do. Theraflu does that to you. Did you ever try to write when you were on drugs? I got wigged on Percoset once, after an endoscopy. The upside was, I finally “passed” the eHarmony personality test after failing it three times. Downside was, I got matched with Percoset addicts. So trying to be creative when you’re hopped up on antihistamines, Tylenol, VapoRub and lemon flavoring is bad. You can’t put together a sentence. Which makes me wonder how I’m managing to write this. Maybe the Theraflu is rubbing off. Ack, here comes a sneeze.

I did see minor progress today. I was able to nap for a few hours after dinner. Which has left me wide awake at 1:30 AM

As soon as my ears normalize to the same pressure as the outside world, I’m going back to the library. But I’m bringing the Instant Hand Sanitizer with me.