Meditation Discoveries

Okay, so this one isn’t about Scifi or books or writing. It is about this crazy practice of meditation. I started about a year ago and was extremely skeptical, but I swear by meditation now. It changed my life.

“Alejandro, there’s no need to exaggerate,” you say. “You’re not earning street cred by saying that meditation is a game changer.”

But yes! I shall insist that meditation is something more Americans need to do. Think of turning off that internal voice for just a second. Your boss, your mom (dead or alive), your friends- all those voices inside your head go silent for a 20 minutes while you sit in one place.

Just sit and breathe. Focus on your breath. Sounds easy enough, huh? It is actually one of the hardest things just getting yourself to sit down and calm yourself. It is in fact one of the hardest things. Who knew?!

But once you do, you hear the noise and chatter in your head, most of which isn’t even you consciously thinking. It just cycles in and out, out and in. Your boss: “You better finish that deliverable.” Your dog barks, “Woof, woof.” And it just seems like a tangled mess that’s beyond your control.

There is a moment though, at about 10 minutes, when those voices melt away. At that point, you are free. And this is where the paradox of meditation lies: it frees you from yourself. It lets you be just breath and life without our monkey brain. It lets you be.

For all our love of identity and its integral part in literature and love, the fact is that any identity, no matter how puny, has its share of burdens. In a strange way, being a son or a father or a grandpa is both a blessing and a curse. As a son, I think, “I love my dad.” and two seconds later, “I hate my dad.” There are worries and constant shiftings that are beyond our understanding. Maybe an indigestible Kit-Kat sits in your tummy and just gives you the most terrible thoughts about yourself and your weight (identity crisis, anyone?) Or maybe you’re an aspiring writer (ahem). You love it but it also burdens you with worry: “What if this isn’t good? That paragraph surely isn’t.”

Meditation, for a brief moment, eradicates those worries because it eradicates the identity. You aren’t really anyone when you are just breath. You are just life. You are moving stillness, like the vacuum of space. That is the miracle of meditation, my form of prayer to the universe.

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Scenes with a dog in the fog

I sit in my cold, wintery room in DC and think about Philip K. Dick and his craziness, about alternate realities just like the lateral ones he spoke about in his essays, about the Pre-socratics and their obsession with the element that unified everything…

But I also think about writing and its beauty. I sit with a pile of papers from the manuscript TREE WARS, thinking that it’s mostly trash. But in reading that trash, I have made an astonishing discovery- that the third person is just as malleable as the first. Take the following scene:

“A man walks a dog through the DC streets in the fog.”

Seems easy enough and looks like a normal third person scenario.

Now add some flavor:

“A man pulled the mutt’s leash through the wintry fog.”

Now add some feeling:

“A man dragged the mutt forward in the fog. It was his girlfriend’s dog that she had abandoned with him before she drove her car to California. It was a lousy mutt that resembled a dirty back sponge.”

Granted, the last one has more detail, it also starts to shape a character and voice.

As I read some of my first attempts at third person voice, I am reminded that there are ways to dig deep into the character’s state of mind without explicitly mentioning feeling. It is a beautiful world- the one of words.

 

 

Dystopian Megacities, LA Impressions

LA- it’s like a chocolate bar you hate eating but can’t help chomping into. The sun, the beach, the diversity, but also the smog and the cars and the traffic. “You get used to it,” says my friend as we approach lane upon lane of traffic.

I, the budding LA scientist hired by secret corporations in DC, performed a study today. I counted the total number of bicyclists in this sprawling megalopolis. How many? 4 bicycles and cheap ones you wouldn’t mind getting stolen. Gone are the sports bicycles of the San Fran hills. Gone are the bike lanes that keep us safe. Want to get around LA? Better have a car or you will wait for a lifetime for the bus.

“Let’s just throw streets arounds these hills,” said the founding fathers of LA, “let’s just make an oasis in this desert.”

And God gave us LA, and he said it was good enough. Don’t get me wrong. LA is full of sights and sounds. Where else are you going to find a record shop that specializes in punk and ska? Where else are you going to see Mexican burritos with real chorizo in them?

It feels like an American Mexico, with its long strips of concrete shops. It feels like the glamor is really just the dust and the grit of Raymond Chandler’s hills. It is a desert and one that is expensive and struggling to renew itself. Seattle is far more beautiful and bicycle friendly. Yes, it is the capital of entertainment. Yes, it is gritty and weird and cool.

It is a love hate relationship, not too unlike the one people have for NYC, the oasis for the East-coast masses. It is the dystopian future of a people that have refused to change their ways, like Chris Burden’s vision shown below:

1-Metropolis-II-2010-E

Seattle Poem 2: “Salmon Fishing”

The river still runs at night

When the salmon sleep with eyes

Wide open. Their silvers flash

Amid the stones in the stream.

As I wander on the trail, I yearn

To have them in my hands.

I kneel and watch how still

They are in the cool rapids

Before plunging my hands into the depths.

Unsurprisingly, they slip away,

Which makes me wonder if

They were just illusions

I made in the moonlight.

The waters clear and shadows stretch

Where I thought I held

The fish for a moment.

The gloaming digs into me

As if I, too, were just a dream

That someone has tried to reach…

Police States and Orwellian Realities: Drug Laws in the US

I am not one to read books like THE NEW JIM CROW. Though I bought it randomly from a peace and justice store in Vermont, I am so glad I did. The author Michelle Alexander reveals the truth about our criminal justice system and the new underclass of former inmates it creates. The image it presents is disheartening and horrific.

In fact, I include my readings and thoughts in this blog because it feels too much like 1984.  We are spiraling into a kind of totalitarian regime that hides behind the façade of democracy. In reality we live in an age mass surveillance, a racial caste system, and plutocracy.

The book argues that the colored males that are thrown in jail for minor drug offenses are released with as little rights as blacks used to have during Jim Crow. They can’t vote and have few housing opportunities. The strangest part about the situation in which we live is that the reports about riots in Baltimore exclude any mention of the bigger problem- a criminal justice system that has become militant in its tactics to the point of violating civil liberties. An op-ed article from the NY Times discusses how harsh drug laws are.

The movements and protests that have sprung from police brutality have lacked focus. This, in my opinion, is what they should be striving for- change in drug laws like the three-strike policy in California. If we fail to act, we risk have a generation of men with felony records with no hope for the future. Either we reform drug laws or we provide leniency, even pardon for those that have nonviolent drug crimes.

What I observe in today’s society- a highly militarized police that does what it wants, an obscure government that relies on the faltering journalism industry, and surveillance that goes beyond just national security. But what makes these horrors even worse is our lack of understanding about who or how these laws are coming into place. Maybe we are the ones to blames for not holding the legislators more accountable for the mayhem they are creating.  I am as guilty of it as anyone else.

As we see more and more protests about police brutality, we must discuss the much larger issue- we are leaving a chunk of the American public with no hope of the future. Ignoring the problem will only result in more violent protests.

Voices in the head: from Juan Rulfo to Extremism

How many voices are inside your head? Who are they- relatives, your partner, a mélange of them? I was taking a leisurely stroll on the side of the Potomac last week when I realized this- that every man must have at least five voices in his head. I suppose that the very act of writing necessitates listening to the voices, almost like the character of Valis by Philip K. Dick.

So I suppose the corollary to the fact that all men have voices in their head is that men select which ones to listen to. There are voices so powerful, they cannot be silenced. When I sit down to write a story, I am deeply attuned to certain voices inside my head – the one that tells about a character or even the character him/herself.

I suppose certain voices must be so distracting they can harm a man. We easily drown out the voices with stimulation, from TV to video games, but at the end of the day, they are still there when we lie in bed with our lights off. Imagine not being able to function because of crippling voices. It seems fantastic, but I imagine not too far from where we currently are.

As I read H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness,” I am reminded of the blurry and almost nonexistent line between insanity and sanity. A man who succumbs to the voices is always in danger because they live only within his head and can only be explained second hand to another. I hope the voices in your head are kind enough to grant you a reprieve. I will try to listen as closely as I can to the voices without being overwhelmed. I cannot guarantee that I will return from the nether regions- the distant future or the closeness of the past.

My final point about voices and how every man contends with them: I was listening to an interview with Juan Rulfo, the great Mexican novelist, and heard a comment he made about violence.

“I have never met a violent man,” he says at a certain point when the interviewer questions Rulfo about the origins of the violent men in his stories.

Rulfo explains that the men he met who were violent were addicted to the acts of violence that had stemmed from the revolution: assault, rape, and theft. They were not violent people.

The point was explosive yet subtle.  The US government recently declassified documents found in Bin Laden’s home. An application for extremists desiring to join the organization was among the documents. Questions on the application included: “Who should we contact if you attain martyrdom?” The morbidly humorous question makes one wonder about the conflict in the Middle East. Are those people that we see firing and shooting really violent? Or is it a matter of socialization and the voices instilled in us and the ones we create from the ones we hear around us?

Perhaps the voices that ring loudly in their minds are the ones that request martyrdom or anti-western sentiments. I am not condoning when someone listens to one voice or another, but one must wonder about violence and whether anyone is really ‘violent’ as Rulfo said…