Thursday, December 20, 2012

Lost in Translation: Subtitles VS. Dubbing

Being a reader, someone who is enthusiastic about reading and who prefers reading books over watching movies but still enjoys watching movies from time to time, I've found that of all the films I watch, I especially enjoy watching foreign language films with English subtitles, probably because it's a blend of watching and reading.

Of course, you can always look at subtitles while listening to a language that you understand. For instance, watching an English language film while reading English subtitles. But to me it is not the same, and I usually see no point in doing so. I enjoy the mystery of not understanding what is said while listening, but being able to understand while reading and watching and feeling. Reading subtitles to a film that you otherwise would not understand, makes you much more engaged with it than perhaps you'd be while reading something that you already understand verbally, where you are reading more carefully, seeing how it integrates with the unfamiliar speech, sounds, and movement on the screen, of which you'd perhaps otherwise be lost. This makes it interesting, where my senses are on high alert, where on the one hand I'm reading and understanding what is said, but at the same time it is very different from what I am used to. That is what I like about foreign language films.

I'm an American who unfortunately, despite taking classes years ago in both Spanish and French, am only fluent in one language, English, and even that is somewhat debatable, as I must have been sleepwalking through my English grammar lessons, as I'm still pretty much lost about how to properly punctuate a sentence.

Well anyway, despite my language handicap, as I said before, I prefer books to movies, but I do watch my fair share of films on DVD, which are all from the public library. This is just something I started doing over the past year, when I discovered that the public library had a really great selection of films. I never spend a single penny on them, neither own nor rent DVDs, other than the cost of electricity and operating equipment, which being a supreme tightwad, just doesn't seem worth it. If I couldn't watch the DVDs for free, I probably wouldn't watch any at all, or only very rarely. And other than that, I hardly watch any television at all. I've found most of it to be crap anyway, even the premium channels don't seem worth it anymore, and any decent Showtime or HBO series can be found on DVD, so no reason at all to subscribe to the channels, it's just a waste of time and money, in my opinion.

I just started watching a film tonight called The Girl Who Played With Fire, which is based on the follow-up novel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo after seeing the Swedish language film first, instead of reading the book before seeing the movie, as I usually prefer to do, and I liked the movie better. Can't say whether my opinion of it would have differed had I read the book first, but it does seem to be the case that seeing a movie adaptation of a book does have some influence on the way you view the story, sometimes forever altering your perception of it, and often, but not always, in a negative way. Personally I prefer to keep the two formats separate. Meaning, that a great movie or book stands alone in its greatness, that if I love the movie, there is no reason to read the book; and if I love the book, there is no reason to watch the movie. That you basically need to take your pick, choose one, if you love it, stick with it, otherwise, if not, you got nothing to lose. Of course, not that I will always stick to that rule, but just that I have found that in hindsight, in most cases, it is preferable; as combining the two, watching a movie version of a book I loved, more often than not leads to disappointment, and forever alters my relationship to the book, where as I'm reading it, I can't get the goddamn movie out of my mind.

Anyway, the whole point of this post (yes there is a point beyond my rambling) was to comment on an observation I made tonight while watching, for the first time, the Swedish film The Girl Who Played With Fire. Like I said, I haven't finished watching it yet, and in fact the DVD is paused right now as I write this, but one thing I noticed in this particular DVD version, is that there are two viewing options: you can watch the original Swedish language movie with English subtitles, or you can watch it dubbed in English. Just for curiosity I decided to view the dubbed version, and although I only watched about twenty minutes of it, it was crap, felt like some low budget movie with bad actors, and on top of that, whose dubbed spoken English dialogue did not match the English subtitles. I quickly went back to the Swedish language version, and it is much more enjoyable, not only to watch, but also to hear. Seemed much better quality, and much more natural, where the voices more closely matched the emotional expression of its characters.

Something very important is lost when a film is dubbed into a different language; it is much better to translate it into written subtitles, while preserving the original spoken language. Even if something is still lost in translation, from, for instance, spoken Swedish to written English, it at least preserves the emotional authenticity of the film, matching feelings and physical mannerisms with words. Where what you see, still matches what you hear and feel and understand.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Vegetarianism and Self-Discipline

I think one of the worst lifestyle modifications I've made over the past year was to start eating meat again, especially red meat, mostly in the form of hamburgers, tacos, and submarine sandwiches, after abstaining and being primarily vegetarian for over five years. Though during my vegetarian days, despite being vegetarian most days of the week, I've never been vegan, or even completely vegetarian, because I still had fish at least once a month, at most twice a week, usually salmon or cod, always wild caught, never farmed; which is an important distinction.

Farmed fish is generally of a lower grade, more likely contaminated, pumped up with antibiotics, artificial chemicals, and is best avoided. Which is not to say that fish couldn't be farmed in a much healthier manner, but just that it generally isn't. Fish farms are like factory farms for fishes, and you know how that is right, it's all about maximizing production at all costs, quantity over quality. Wild caught fish is much better. However, much of the sea life has been contaminated, not to mention over-fished, and some wild caught fish are healthier than others, and some, due to the heavy concentration of toxic chemicals in the fish, are actually quite dangerous to your health. I've heard that these particular types of fish, wild caught Alaskan salmon and cod, as well as sardines, have low levels of mercury contamination, something that is a major threat to many other varieties of fish, especially tuna, which I think is probably the worst; which is a shame, because I've always loved tuna, and now I cannot have it very often because of it.

Well anyway, while there are differing opinions of what constitutes a healthy diet, where some say that eating meat, depending on the quality of the source -- type of meat, cooking method, portion size, as well as what other foods are consumed with the meat, such as the amount of vegetables, type of bread, etc. -- is not at all at odds with healthy living, which may be just as healthy as a vegetarian diet. In other words, just as some fish are healthier to eat than others, certain types and cuts of meat are healthier to eat than others.

But I'm not disputing the fact that being a meat eater may be a perfectly healthy choice for some people, what I'm saying is that I have found that for myself personally, being a vegetarian (but one who sometimes eats fish) is good for me, not just nutritionally, but even more importantly it's good for me psychologically. I see a correlation between being a vegetarian, living simply, and being more mentally disciplined. This may not be true for everyone, but it appears to be true for myself. When I eat meat, my entire worldview is altered, I feel differently, lazier, more arrogant, less patient. Again, this may not necessarily be anything endemic to the meat itself, but is my own personal response to it. When I'm vegetarian, and making a conscious effort to stick to a simple, healthy and well balanced vegetarian diet, which means not just cutting out meat, but also staying away from refined flours and sweets, it's like I'm aspiring to nobility, am refining myself, both my body and mind, but when I eat meat, it's like a drunk falling off the wagon, or like somebody on a diet trying to lose weight, while eating a whole cake...it affects everything. You start slipping, lowering your standards, until you have no standards left to lose.

So, much of it is psychological, in that it's not necessarily that eating meat is always unhealthy, but that for me vegetarianism carries a strong association in my mind with clean, self-disciplined, healthy living. Being a vegetarian also requires that you become better educated about your food choices, to assure that you are getting a well balanced diet. Because it's not just a matter of not eating meat, but about making healthy food choices that do not include meat, that still supply adequate amounts of protein. Meat has a very heavy, rich flavor, very filling, satiating, almost intoxicating, it's like a drug, where the more you eat it, the more you need to eat it. Vegetarian dishes tend to be lighter, more about nutrition than indulgence, and feel less like a pig fest, you know, less gluttonous. Which is not to say that vegetarian dishes cannot be delicious, because they can be very good, but like I said, it is lighter, mainly I guess because they are usually much lower in fat, it is less satiating. Your taste buds become more sensitive, you learn to appreciate the simple flavors and natural sweetness of fruits and vegetables, requiring less sugar and fat to enjoy the meal. In fact, I think you could call meat a gateway drug for refined sweets. The more meat you eat, the more fat, salt, and sugar you crave in your diet.

The point of this post is just to say that I had been vegetarian for a few years, went back to eating meat for awhile, am not happy with the results, have noticed a change in my level of discipline and overall outlook on life, and think that I would be better off completely cutting out the meat again, and going back to a mostly vegetarian diet, with the exception of occasionally having fish.

Questions to think about:

How does the absence or presence of meat in one's diet affect consciousness?

Do meat eaters and vegetarians think differently from one another?

How do the different foods we eat influence the shaping of personality and character, intelligence and beliefs?

What is the connection between food and mood, diet and cognition?

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pilgrimage as Purification

"The more difficult the journey, the greater the depth of purification."

This is an old Tibetan saying recorded by Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer in his WWII era travel memoir Seven Years in Tibet. I read the book a few years ago, and it stands out in my mind as being one of my all time favorite adventure travel books.

I bring it up because a couple nights ago I watched the movie adaptation, starring Brad Pitt, which is not nearly as good as the book, but being a fan of mountaineering movies in general and anything to do with Tibet, it was worth watching again for that reason alone. Well, this was the second time I saw the film, the first time was shortly after its theatrical debut back in the late '90s. So it had been awhile, was almost like seeing it for the first time. And like I said, while I enjoyed the book version very much, the movie version, though it has some merit, is not really anything special, but on this second viewing one line stood out to me that I found thought provoking enough to write it down in my journal and share it with you here.

"The more difficult the journey, the greater the depth of purification."

I thought that was an interesting line. It was in reference to the fact that the Tibetan people as a whole, both peasant and priest, were culturally orientated toward going on regular pilgrimages. It was believed that the act of pilgrimage, walking long distances over difficult terrain to visit sacred sites, while enduring numerous obstacles along the way, would help cleanse one's sins. That the more difficult the journey, the more rewarding that journey would be. So it was like an act of atonement, a way of finding forgiveness and consolation and strength in moving forward, helping one to discard, however large or small, the bonds of guilt and grief and discontent accumulated from past misdeeds and mistakes.

Though I suppose that's true of all pilgrimages, not just Tibetan, about it being an act of purification; that regardless of which spiritual or religious point of view one is aligned with, a pilgrimage is fundamentally about seeking clarity through the purification of negative thoughts.

Kind of reminded me of the Catholic concept of purgatory, that intermediary stage between death and resurrection, except that the pilgrimage is a sort of a purgatory one experiences while still alive. You could say that it's a way of dying, without dying, to be reborn again in this life; where pilgrimage provides a means of purification along the journey to enlightenment.

As a hiker, who also considers myself to be a spiritually minded person, what I find exceptionally interesting about pilgrimage, is that not only does it involve travel and adversity as a means of purification, but that walking in particular is considered an essential component of it. And I think that is not simply because of the fact that walking is more challenging, particularly because it is slower, and a greater hardship if you must carry your own gear, but that it is also because of the very specific state of mind that walking tends to inspire.

For instance, walking is more humbling, because you are more vulnerable, being momentarily homeless, living out of a bag, perhaps sleeping outside, and at the mercy of the hospitality of strangers. But another reason is that walking is essentially a moving meditation, which helps to ground you to the immediacy of the ever changing landscape of the moment; where there is struggle, but also exceptional clarity and mindfulness which makes it all the more conducive to the task of mental and spiritual purification.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Shifting Gears

Well, that was fun, wasn't it? That's alright, no need to answer, I'll take your silence as a yes. Because of this challenge, of writing 20 posts in 30 days, I forced myself to write much more than I would have written otherwise. Not sure if anything exceptionally great came of it, but nonetheless, I think it was a good exercise.

I like these challenges. I'll probably do this again sometime. Though like I said before, it will be different, a different challenge for a different month.

But I'm very tired, stayed up way too late, woke up way too early, had to do some work today, manual labor, outside cleaning a patio, mopping and sweeping and scrubbing and planting and garbage collecting and disposing. It was a two hour job, but not getting much sleep the previous night, I'm pretty much worn out. So, maybe I'll take a day off, and then we'll think about what's on the agenda for October, what kind of master plan challenge I can devise for myself to share with you here, that maybe you'll find interesting and worth your while to read.

As for now, I think I'll finish off this month with a toast, and a poem that is not very good, and is so bad in fact, that it will not even be filed under poetry. It's just one of them filler posts, because I am too tired to post something brilliant, yet too obsessively competitive to allow this challenge to go unfinished.

After 20 blog posts
in 30 days,
I figured it a good
time to celebrate,
as I shift into a different gear,
I thought I'd try a new beer,
made quite appropriately
by New Belgium Brewing Company
a pale lager called Shift,
but at ten bucks a 4-pack
it's a bit of a gyp.
Though it is pretty good,
very smooth and delicious
as I expected it would,
just a tad bit too costly for my taste,
but I did get it on sale,
which was its saving grace.

Hmm, beer tasting and pictures, that's a plan,
what a good idea for October, I'll see you then.

Sampling a can of Shift
*This is post 20 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge. Well, the race is over, looks like I made it. This concludes my September challenge. Now I think I'll shift into a slower speed, and take a day or two off. Thanks for reading. 

On Health, Discipline, and Resisting Mediocrity

So, following the last post, while we're on the topic of health, inasmuch as being healthy is a key factor in aging well and having a high quality of life, I would like to say a few more words about it here.

Health. Everyone acknowledges its importance, but few consistently live in a manner that is conducive to optimal health. There is so much laziness. Bad information. Poor choices. People are tired, from working too long at jobs that are either too sedentary, too tiresome, or are less than gratifying. People are fat and undisciplined, accustomed to eating poorly, and eating way too much. Fast food. Processed meats. Microwave dinners. Salty snacks. Sodas. Too much sugar, salt, and fat. Too many artificial sweeteners and colors. Eating too many empty calories and nutritionally deficient meals. It's like everyday there is a war being waged against the body, but our mainline of defense rests primarily upon the everyday choices we make, in regards to what we choose to eat and how much exercise we get.

Yadi yadi yada. Most people know that they should strive to be healthy, to make healthier food and lifestyle choices, but problem is people are largely irrational beings, who often do the opposite of what they know they should. They rebel against healthy living. They rebel against rationality and common sense. Like the cigarette smoker who is in denial that their habit is ruining their health, that mistakenly believes they have a good chance of beating the odds and not get cancer, people eating poorly, just don't care, they prefer not to think about it, about the future consequences of their actions.

Reminds me of one of my past jobs, where most of my co-workers ate fast food everyday for lunch. And this one time when someone, not me, made a comment about how fattening the food was, I think it was McDonald's, and the guy eating it, said something like at least he'll die happy. But really when you think about it, that is not true, because while he may feel happy, or rather, happily stuffed and sedated today, can't say the same for tomorrow, when they are riddled with diseases and in constant pain later down the road, won't be so happy then will they. But such statements, are just another way of making excuses, living in denial, doing everything you can to justify your bad choices.

I'm not immune. Though I would say that most of my life, thanks to my parents, has been characterized by extremely healthy food choices, home cooked meals, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, a tendency of avoiding overly processed foods, fried foods, fast foods, foods with too much fat and salt. But there have been a few times that I have indulged in poor food choices, where I've been out, without packing a lunch, and not wanting to spend much money, succumbed to the decision to eat fast food, a burger and fries, fried chicken, Taco Bell, etc. Not many times though. For real. But enough times to know how it effected me.

What I have noticed when doing so, is just how much that type of fried fatty fast food is addictive. It does something to you to alter your body chemistry, where once you start eating that type of food, even if only once a week, you start wanting it all the time. I think it alters your taste buds too, making natural slow foods, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, seem more unappealing. Where if it isn't buried under a layer of excessive fat and salt, it's boring. That's what a diet of fast food does to you, the more you eat it, the more you'll want to eat it, and if you don't nip it in the bud, you'll eventually be eating it all the time.

Though I have come to realize that it is a counterproductive waste of time trying to convince people who do not want to change, to change their eating habits, to talk people out of eating fast food, and not just fast food, but all processed garbage foods with too much salt and fat. I mean you can try, but the odds that it will do any good are slim. They will come up with all kinds of excuses, or maybe they'll cut it down a little bit, but very few will cut it out completely based entirely on your suggestions. It's something that each person must choose for themselves.

So I can only speak for myself, when I say that it is absolutely imperative that I regularly exercise and diligently adhere to a whole foods diet no matter what.

Physical fitness is a prerequisite to holistic health and happiness. Eating healthfully, exercising discipline and self-restraint at all times, not succumbing to the temptation of fast food, junk food, and processed convenient foods, is vitally important to me. Some people will call me fanatical, say that moderation is the key, you can eat junk food once in awhile, it's okay to have a greasy burger and fries, dead food in box, etc., just don't eat it all the time. One Big Mac isn't going to kill you. True. Same could be said for a shot of heroin, or a hit of crack, it probably won't kill you, but you'd also be better off without it. If I am fanatical, then so be it, it is with good reason.

Whenever I have indulged in bad habits, even if infrequently or in moderation, consuming anything that I know to be bad for me, that is contrary to my worldview, and the kind of person I aspire to be, strong, healthy, sober, intelligent, it has had a negative effect on me. And as long as I continue to do so, even if just a little bit, I can see myself falling into a pattern of not caring, of giving up, of throwing my entire life away into a cesspool of mediocrity. Where it's not just a matter of making a bad food choice, it negatively effects my entire life, and that is why I must avoid those things at all costs.

That's what junk food does to people over time, it robs you of your capacity for self-discipline and personal excellence, where you become sloppier and lazier in your thinking and habits, not just what you consume, but everything you do, and how you live your life. A sloppy diet builds a sloppy mind, and feeds an attitude of laziness and mediocrity. After all, if you smoke, and eat unhealthy foods on a regular basis, how could you say that health and discipline is important to you? There can be no room for discipline, if you are regularly undisciplined with such a basic everyday necessity as food. Where is there room for health, for discipline, for diligence, efficiency, productivity, when you do not exercise such qualities and habits in regards to the management of your own body and mind?

This is my opinion, based on how it has effected me. But does it effect everyone this way? I think it does, but maybe some people are so locked into a mentality of mediocrity already that they either don't notice or they don't care.

Old habits die hard. The longer a habit has to get established, the more difficult it is to give up. Best to nip it in the bud as soon as possible. You can give recommendations to people, but each person must work on themselves, make their own choices, and take responsibility for their own actions. It's a harsh and painful truth that few want to believe, that in your quest for health and personal excellence, as much as you'd like to share and recommend your way of life, you will find that some people really are lost causes. There is no hope for them. They are completely unreachable, completely content with their mediocrity. Better to work on yourself and be a living example. Sometimes that is all you can do.

*This is post 19 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge. Apparently I like to wait until the very last minute to wrap things up, but now it feels like a race, where I once held the lead, but is now a desperate struggle to the finish. No, I do not schedule my posts in advance, these are live. But in my defense, I figured it would help keep things interesting, that working under pressure would keep me on my toes. Well, we're almost there, only one more post to go! The race is still on, we're neck and neck, but will I make it?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Best Time to Be Alive

It's interesting that I set this goal of writing 20 posts in 30 days, not realizing at the time that it roughly coincided with my cousin's own countdown to her 40th birthday.

My cousin has a blog, but is not a blogger by any means. If that makes any sense.

Apparently there are some people who have blogs that are not really bloggers. What that means is, they haven't been blogging for very long, don't blog very often, and more than likely won't stick with it. Maybe they'll last a year or two at the most, but most newbie bloggers quit after six months. True fact, though I don't have the citation handy.

Well anyway, my cousin has a blog (sorry, can't share it, I have my reasons), which is less than a year old, only updates a couple of times a month, and never responds to comments. That's a tell tale sign right there: lack of interaction with your readers, suggests a disinterest in your audience. Not that you must respond to every single comment, but at least responding once in awhile, goes a long way in showing your appreciation and dedication to the blog.

So, my cousin is not what you would call a die hard blogger, is not a web savvy veteran in it for the long-term, but she is someone who created her blog primarily to document, and I think also to help her adjust emotionally to, the experience of being a first-time mother, but is not really what you would call a "mommy blog" either, more of a life lesson's blog, mostly intended for family, and has recently begun blogging about her impending mid-life crisis, that of turning 40, and not liking it one bit. That is a huge understatement, but we'll leave it at that.

I suppose it's a natural reaction, to feel a bit of apprehension about turning 40. 40 is a big number, for many it is the half way point in their life, and a pretty huge wake-up call that you are no longer a kid, that your youth is a fading memory. For many, that has repercussions that go beyond appearances, beyond that graying hair and wrinkled skin, but may also suggest a feeling of lost opportunities, of time passing you by. No longer do you feel as if you have all the time in the world, like you have your whole life ahead of you. At 40, it may feel as if time is running out at a rapidly accelerating pace, and like certain doors are closing to you, things you haven't done and may never be able to do. And after all, if you're no longer young, what are you? You're old. And if you're old, you're all the more closer to death.

That can be scary for most people.

I think 40 is a major turning point in people's lives, it's a time when you are feeling your own mortality more than ever. Though of course, by the time you reach 50 and 60, you realize that 40 was not old at all. And boy, when you reach 80, you reminisce about the good old days of those youthful 60's. I know that's a fact. My grandma, who turned 86 years old this year, told me so. How much she'd give to be 60 again, and had her whole life ahead of her. Well, try telling that to the 100 year old, how much they'd give to be 80 again.

Point is, it's all about perspective. You know the old cliche, you're only as old as you feel. It's true. How you feel largely shapes whether your experience of growing older is positive or negative. If you are in pain, can barely walk, and feel ugly and unloved, your experience of growing older may be miserable. This is where spirit comes into play. Your attitude, feelings, and beliefs help shape the quality of your life, perhaps just as much as your actual physical circumstances.

But let's face it, 40 is not old old. It's older than 20, but it's not time to be shipping off to the nursing home just yet. In many ways, it could be considered the beginning of the best years of your life. Though more often what it really means, is the beginning of a new chapter in your life, and that too can be scary. It all depends on how you look at it, and of how you define youth and maturity. Getting older doesn't have to be considered a death sentence. When you die you die. People die at all different ages. Some young, some old. But really, it doesn't really matter what your age is, as long as you have your health, each remaining moment could be considered the best time to be alive.

As to myself, I'm not 40 yet, nor have I experienced a major crisis about aging, but the fact that I am closer to 40 than 20, is kind of sobering. It doesn't bother me though, at least not yet. I look young, think young, feel young, will probably be young all my life, at least in my heart and soul, even if I don't forever look it. To me, it is less about chronological age and the appearance of getting old, what matters more is how you feel about it, how well you adapt to the changes in your life, and whether or not you feel comfortable in your own skin.

*This is post 18 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Spontaneous Poetry

Last week I published a poem here called Spontaneous Poetry: Blogging.

Yeah, I know, it's a lame title. A better choice perhaps would have been to simply use the first line of the poem. But I chose the other name more so as a descriptive label, indicating that it would be a continuing series, though surely an infrequent one, with the format being what I called "Spontaneous Poetry," and the subject being whatever followed the colon, which in this case, was a poem about blogging.

The reason why I designated this poem as being a form of spontaneous poetry, is because the first lines came to me completely randomly out of the blue. I wasn't attempting to write a poem at the time, wasn't in front of my computer, wasn't even writing anything at all. I was just relaxing, sitting on the edge of my bed thinking, and obviously the subject of this blog was on my mind, was thinking about what it means to me, how I perceive it, where I see it going, and suddenly as a sort of effortless epiphany, these words popped into my mind exactly as is, completely unaltered, one after the other, much like a song:

do i touch your heart

from mine to yours
our minds do meet
through esoteric doors

a blog inside outside within
this cyberspace portal
that connects the winds

of eyes and thoughts
through electronic dots

That's as far as I got, at which point I realized I should write it down, but in the process of doing so, I lost the original transmission; whatever vibe I was tapped into was interrupted. So, wanting to continue with it, thinking it had possibilities for becoming a poem, but wasn't quite long enough yet, I had to play around with the words after that, figuring out a way to finish it, to complete the idea, to formulate a meaningful message out of it. You can read the rest of it here.

But those first few lines were completely spontaneous, fueled entirely by pure unadulterated feeling and intuition. Perhaps this is why the second part of the poem is slightly rough, because I had to think about it, lost a little bit of the original rhythm and flow, which originally poured out of me as effortlessly as water, but still I think it worked out. I actually like the poem a lot, and perhaps with some slight modification, think it has a lot of possibilities for a song...I'm feeling sort of a Sade ambiance to it. Don't think I'll be going there though, I've already embarrassed myself enough already (it's that drunk blogging, kids, don't try this at home), but I do nonetheless see its potential.

Well anyway, been thinking about spontaneous poetry, about what it is, and how to increase your chances of producing more of it, if that is even possible.

The difference between spontaneous poetry and regular poetry, is that spontaneous poetry occurs randomly in the moment, where it pretty much writes itself, is taken down verbatim, as is, like a live conversation, with little to no editing. Regular poetry is usually planned, where you decide to write a poem, choose a specific topic, brainstorm different ideas, and play around with the words, until you get it just right. There may be several drafts, words changed around, and it generally involves a lot more editing.

My poem was half and half. Though because the first part was completely spontaneous, the second part flowed very easily from that. It didn't take much time at all, and very little editing, having the foundation already laid, it was mostly a matter of maintaining the right tempo, without diverging from the poem's essential feeling and purpose: that of conveying my experience of blogging.

It came to my attention that spontaneous poetry is pretty much in the same category as what I have previously called random insights and creative soul fire. The only difference between the two is the outward form in which they take: one is poetry, the other prose. Both are spontaneous ideas, originating as an epiphany, a flash of creative inspiration that seemingly appears out of thin air. A spontaneous poem is a random insight put to verse, usually a rhyme, but not always; though the one essential ingredient it must have, is a natural rhythm and flow, where the words arise out of a place of deep emotional feeling and intuitive understanding, with a clear and truthful inner voice that speaks directly from the heart.

As to whether or not it is possible to stimulate or inspire your ability to produce spontaneous poetry, or random insights in general, I'm thinking it's not something that you can force to happen, because after all, if you could it would no longer be spontaneous, but you can at least be more prepared for when it does happen. Best way is to improve your memory, concentration, and ability to relax, and to always have a pen and paper handy, or a voice recorder, whichever works best for you. But the better your memory and concentration, the less likely you'll lose your focus, the richer your experience will be, and the more vividly you'll be able to recall the memory, so as to write it down at a later time without losing the essential message in the process, but the sooner you do so the better.

*This is post 17 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

30 Day Challenge Update

The month is winding down, and my 30 day challenge is almost over. Not sure if I'll devise a new challenge for October, but if I do, it will more than likely be very different than this one. Which in case you weren't following, was to perform 500 push ups, walk 60 miles, read 5 books, and publish 20 blog posts.

Well, I can tell you right now, that I am not going to complete this entire challenge. It looks like all that I'll be able to accomplish will be the reading and blogging portion of the challenge, which in itself is a noteworthy achievement. Eh, not really, but you know what I mean, it's better than nothing.

1. Walking and Push-ups.

Funny thing is I thought the walking part of the challenge would be the easiest. It should have been. I was off to a great start, but I ended up stubbing my toe really bad the second week in, that I could barely walk, put me out of commission for over a week. And then we got hot weather again, back into the hundreds, and at that point, even though I was able to walk short distances, I was so far behind, that I would pretty much have to walk 20 miles a week just to catch up, and with the hot weather, I didn't feel that I had the energy to do it. So that's that.

As for the push ups, I set the bar way too high there. I hoped this goal would motivate me to do more push ups, but what I failed to mention was that I hadn't done a single push up for months prior to setting this goal. So, after doing my first few sets, it sank in that I was not physically prepared to do this particular segment of the challenge. In this case, it wasn't just a matter of mind over matter, but matter not being able to keep up with the expectations and demands of the mind. In other words, the body has its limits. I know that I could complete this goal, but I needed more time. I needed to start with a smaller goal. Sometimes, it's not just a matter of thinking yourself into being able to do more, sometimes you really can't, or at least you need more time to prepare, with proper rest and conditioning. That if you don't listen to your body, and stop and rest when you need to, you'll end up injuring your body as a result. Oh well. Next time, I'll make sure I can do 100 push ups, before attempting to do 500.

Lesson learned: Be prepared. Know your limits. That's a good rule of thumb.

2. Blogging.

As for the blog posts. I'm fairly certain I'll be able to reach this goal, only need four more posts this month after this one. So no problem there, but I will say that it has been very difficult for me to do. There have been many days, including today, that I had absolutely no desire to write. I had no great ideas, nothing really exceptional worth sharing, and very little energy to share it. Like I said before, had it not been for this challenge, I wouldn't have published half of what I have. But when all is said and done, did I publish anything really great as a result of this challenge, that I wouldn't have done otherwise?

Not sure. I need some more time to go by, in order to look back and assess the merits of what I have written. I'm my very own worst critic. But sometimes what I initially don't think much of, in terms of what I've written, when I look back on it in the future, I see that it wasn't all that bad. Sure, maybe it was a bit rough, could use a some editing, maybe there is more that I could add to it, important ideas and examples I failed to mention, to expand upon it for clarification, but overall the basic draft that is there, isn't as bad as I initially thought it was. This tends to be the case more often than not.

Was this challenge really worth it? Yeah, I think it was. I'm sure there are lessons to be gleaned from this experience, of working under pressure, that I'm still processing, but will probably fuel some great ideas later down the road.

3. Reading.

As for my reading challenge, so far it has been kind of a disappointment. As of today I've completed 4 of the 5 books I set out to read, and am half way through the 5th book, but for the most part, I only enjoyed two of the books, namely The Fools Progress and The Hidden Persuaders, and even those I only gave 3 out of 5 stars to. So, in other words, haven't read anything exceptionally great this month, and no 4 or 5 star books in quite some time. The alien book was okay, but nothing special, nothing new. And same goes for that Henry Miller book. Though I will say that The Colossus of Maroussi is best read aloud, slowly like poetry, something I wasn't able to do consistently, because it would have taken twice as long, but even so, I didn't really get much out of it, it kind of dragged on, was pretty much a lot about nothing. Kind of like this post, eh?

4. The 48 Laws of Power.

*This is not a review! If you want to learn more about the book, a summary of what it's about, click the link. This is just a long rambling post of some of my first impressions, which for the most part, are not good.

The 5th and final book to read on my list, that I'm not sure if I will even finish, and may very well find a substitute for, is The 48 Laws of Power. I have mixed feelings about this book. Some of it is great, other parts I hate.

I've read 250 pages of it so far, and I've reached a point where it has become sort of a drudgery to read, mostly I think because I'm feeling rushed into reading it faster than I should be. It's due back to the library in a couple days and I cannot renew it. And I'm finding that it's not the kind of book you can speed read through without losing something in the process. You don't just read it, but actually need to study it. I wouldn't be surprised if there are whole classes dedicated to it, where people spend months reading and discussing this one book alone; and is certainly not something that one masters in one reading, let alone, in one week's time. You need more time to think about it, to absorb the ideas slowly. I mean, I could finish this book if I really wanted to, but my retention and comprehension would not be at 100 percent, probably not even 50 percent, because I ended up skimming over parts of it, so what would be the point.

However, that being said, not only do I have mixed feelings about the book, but I also have my doubts about its author, not sure it is wise to take advice about how to acquire power, from someone who has absolutely no real power himself. And aside from his observations of celebrities as a writer in Hollywood, pretty much the majority of this book appears to be something the author extrapolated from other books, rather than being based on anything he ever had any firsthand experience with himself, beyond being just a spectator, and not an actual participant. He's just a writer. He's not that rich. Hasn't worked in politics, or business management, or leadership prior to this book, beyond what has materialized as the result of it. Not that it discredits the book, but I think it hurts the book somewhat, and just that you might want to consider the source before implementing its advice, that's all.

It's comparable to some unemployed whiz kid who lives at home in his parent's basement, and never worked a day in his life, writing a book about how to get rich quick. He may have read every book on the subject and condensed the most essential material into his own book, but while the ideas may have a certain degree of soundness to them, they also may ring a bit flat coming from someone who has never actually applied them in a way that materialized the kind of results he promises. Where he's more of a poseur than a master. That's the vibe I get from The 48 Laws of Power. Just my opinion.

Another thing that kind of soured me to this book, is that when I first received it, I knew nothing about its author, but shortly later, I decided to look him up, and found a video clip of an interview with him on YouTube, and I was not impressed. The guy, although certainly smart and literate, also seemed like kind of a clueless schmuck. Does that make sense? Like some guy who got really good grades in school, but is kind of a goofball away from the books. Doesn't really have a "power vibe" going for him. Eh, but what good are first impressions, and from a video clip no less? I'm sure there is a rule in the book somewhere, about looking beyond appearances, and not underestimating your opponent, etc. etc. Yeah yeah yeah, I know. Just saying, I wasn't impressed with this guys video presentation of himself.

I guess I'm just a bit weary of this book. There's definitely some good material there, I'm not saying there isn't, though not sure it is really something you'd want to emulate in its entirety. Maybe some of it, some of it has relevance beyond the sphere of power, and more along the lines of personal productivity and success, but not all of it, and not for the reasons given.

I can tell you one thing, I have absolutely no interest in acquiring the kind of power spoken of in this book. The only reason why I'm reading it, was to get a better understanding of the psychology of power holders, not to become one of them, but to better defend myself against them, as more of a defense against deception and manipulation. Because the way I see it, The 48 Laws of Power, would more appropriately be called the 48 laws of Despotism, or how to be a Tyrant, without looking like one. "Smiling faces, smiling faces, sometimes, they don't tell the truth." so says The Undisputed Truth. It's the kind of book that would appeal to aspiring dictators. But this is also a good book to read if you are interested in understanding the mentality behind psychopathic power, the mental framework of those seeking to gain the whole world, only to ultimately lose their souls in the process. Okay, what I mean is, I think there are higher callings in life than seeking absolute power for absolute powers sake. This book does not explore them. They don't even factor into its equation. This is a book for the 'greed is good' crowd.

Still, I may finish reading it, but I definitely need more than a week to really get the most out of it. So I'll probably have to read it again some other time when I have more time and can do so at a slower pace.

*This is post 16 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge.

Monday, September 24, 2012

This Record of my Journey

"I give this record of my journey not as a contribution to human knowledge, because my knowledge is small and of little account, but as a contribution to human experience." - Henry Miller

This was from Miller's book The Colossus of Maroussi. It's in reference to that book, but is also how he perceived his fundamental role as a writer overall.

I share it because it expresses pretty much how I feel about this blog.

But what is the difference between the two, between a contribution to human experience and a contribution to human knowledge?

Well, I suppose it is comparable to the difference between art and science. While there is certainly some overlap between the two, namely in that both involve observation and experimentation; but art is more about creative self-expression, aesthetics, and the search for personal meaning. And science, is more along the lines of data collection, impersonal analysis, and verification of the facts; just the facts, without the poetry, all done in a very methodical manner, where personality, or personal meaning, plays no role at all.

So, in this way, I would say the personal blog, and this blog in particular, is more in the realm of the creative arts than the sciences. Even with all my theorizing and observations and analysis, it is more poetic than scientific, being that it is mostly a matter of personal opinion and the sharing of my personality, and thus, more of a contribution to human experience than human knowledge.

I do hope to inspire and teach those who read this blog, but there are not any definite fixed answers here, more of a sharing in the creative process of my own explorations and discoveries, which are very tentative and experimental.

The mistake people often make is in considering one more important than the other, or thinking that one could survive without the other, or would be better off without the other. Art (and by art, we also mean metaphor, so we must include spirituality and religion) and science, experience and knowledge, intuition and logic, heart and mind; both are valuable, both are essential. One without the other, is diminished, lopsided, an incomplete perspective, much like a missing eye, or ear; like the blind leading the blind, and the deaf pretending to hear.

The reason why I prefer reading personal blogs, particularly those that integrate theory and philosophy with personality, is mostly being that no one else will ever completely duplicate another's life, they will always be much more original than the majority of all impersonal blogs out there, who rarely offer anything innovative, but are more often than not simply rewriting material that is already widely available elsewhere, essentially reinventing the wheel each and every time. If I'm looking for just the facts, I will tend to look at books, newspapers, and other professional publications. I turn to blogs, for entertainment and inspiration, not for a rewording of information that I can get from more reputable sources.

However, from the perspective of the blogger, all blogging is writing practice, and all writing practice is good practice. So from that point of view, it doesn't matter if you're reinventing the wheel, or revealing a groundbreaking discovery, it's all writing practice, and therefore it's all good.

But from the perspective of the reader, I'd rather read a blog that says something I can't read anywhere else, and for me, more often than not, that is to be found on a personal blog; not a blog that attempts to be a non-fiction book, newspaper, or an encyclopedia of facts already published elsewhere. Which is not to say that there aren't any exceptional blogs of an impersonal nature, but they are few and far between. Unless you've got something new to bring to the table, or can at least reinvigorate the information in a much more entertaining, stimulating, and engaging manner than previously done before, you'd be better off writing about your pet, or what you ate for lunch today, at least it would be original. Even though we may both have pets, or have the same thing for lunch once in awhile, no one else shares the same exact story as you, it is uniquely your own.

Or, better yet, a good rule of thumb is, either write from the heart, write something innovative and smart, or don't write anything at all. That's what I try to do, not that I always succeed, or haven't reinvented the wheel a few more times than necessary, but I do at least try.

*This is post 15 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The First Day of Fall

Today is the autumn equinox, the end of summer, the beginning of fall, one of only two days out of the entire year (the other is the spring equinox; and the exception is the equator) in which the sunrise and sunset are exactly 12 hours apart.

It is a time of balance, of evenness, but also an indicator of change, marking the crossroads of transition on the horizon; of cooler and shorter days, and longer nights; and perhaps different moods and insights. It also marks the transition from the astrological signs of Virgo to Libra, which not coincidentally is associated with truth, balance, and the scales of justice.

I'm no astrologer, but I'm thinking that the astrological signs are less about the stars, and more about the earth, being based on actual observable truths found in nature, associated with the different seasons, and the subtle and not so subtle differences between the months; physical truths, having corresponding psychological and philosophical truths.

For instance, you could say that October has its own vibe, which in large part is influenced by such things as the weather: temperature, moisture, and ratios of color and light; which in turn, influences our psychology. What is interesting about the astrological signs, is that rather than just encompassing one month, they each overlap two months, where for instance, Libra is part of September and October, Scorpio is part of October and November. And I think the reason this is so, has a lot to do with the solstices and equinoxes occurring in the latter part of the month. So that the astrological sign reflects this change, this transitional point, and carries the torch over into the next month.

For me, I was born in the fall, in late November. Born on the cusp between Scorpio and Sagittarius. I have the probing, secretive, passionate mind of Scorpio, and the philosophical, adventurous, lover of geography, books, and travel of Sagittarius. And of course, there are other astrological factors, not just sun sign, but moon sign, and rising sign, etc. I've got Libra rising, Sag Moon, so that covers all of fall.

Is astrology bullshit? Who cares. The qualities are true, irrespective of astrology, and the interest is authentic. So no harm is done.

But I will say that I am especially fond of the fall, and that not only is it my favorite time of the year, but it is when I feel most alive, or rather, I feel like in some way I'm actually born again each time the fall comes around. Does this have anything to do with the fact that I was born in the fall? I don't know.

I was kind of interested in finding out how people feel about that, that is, do you feel the same way about the season in which you were born? Do you feel a special relationship to it? Is it your favorite season? How does it effect you? If you're not sure, you'll have to pay closer attention next time around.

The question is whether or not, or to what extent, the time and season in which you were born, has a lasting effect on shaping your character and destiny. For that, I could not say for certain, and I don't think it really matters all that much, but what is interesting, is to take notice of the actual physical changes of the seasons, and how, or to what extent they influence our internal mental and emotional states. In this way, astrology can be used as a key, like the tarot, comparing what it says, with what you actually see and experience yourself.

*This is post 14 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge. For two related posts, I refer you to my "Autumn Equinox 2010" and "Cycles," where I wrote much more extensively on the subject. No need to repeat myself ad infinitum.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Of Skulls, Buddhas, and Fading Memories

Here are some pictures I found, from one of my trips to Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History in the early nineties.

These are pictures developed from film that I photographed today with my digital camera; so they have today's date, but are actually over twenty years old, being essentially pictures of pictures. All photos, except for my portrait with the skulls, were taken by me. And the Tibetan art, are of actual live exhibits, sculptures and temple motifs, not merely pictures hanging on the museum's wall.

I share them because I think they are interesting. Plus these pictures were misplaced for over a year, were buried in a folder in the bottom of a wine box, which I finally found today, and thought they'd make a good post.

 Copyright © Effortless Flow. All rights reserved.  

Yes, that's me in the center. I was 14 years old then. It's kind of a dorky picture of me, or maybe it's just the lighting, but regardless of that, I really like this picture a lot. It's actually one of my favorites. I like the skulls. I'm trying to remember what this exhibit was from, and unfortunately I'm not absolutely positive, but I'm thinking it may have either been African (Sub-Saharan), or Polynesian or Micronesian, possibly depicting the Papua New Guinean headhunters. But that's just a guess, as my memory is a bit fuzzy, and I never labeled the picture, though it definitely wasn't from Egypt or Tibet; don't think it was Cambodian, but who knows, maybe it was. I'm sorry that I don't remember more.


I remember really liking this picture when I took it. It was from the Tibetan exhibit, as are the rest of the pictures. Back then, at the time these pictures were taken, I remember that my favorite exhibits at the Field Museum were the ones from Tibet and Ancient Egypt.


I remember being really enchanted by this, was kind of a mystical experience for me, and for a moment felt like I was actually transported to Ancient Tibet. I felt an instantaneous attraction toward the religious motifs of Tibet the very first moment I laid eyes on them. Not long after this, I read Alexandra David-Neel's Magic and Mystery and Tibet, and have had a long standing fascination with Tibet ever since.


*This is post 13 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge. I do have a few more museum pictures, some of which may be worth sharing, just have to locate them, they're buried somewhere in a box. If so, that'll be another post, though not necessarily this month, but whenever the time is right.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Hottest Place on Earth

Did you see the news headline a couple days ago, about Death Valley, California, overtaking Libya, for the hottest place on earth, with a record temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit?

When I first heard about it, I didn't really look into it much, and thought it just happened, you know, in September; which I thought was quite odd for such a record to occur then, rather than the middle of summer. Well, apparently this record was not set recently, but way back in July of 1913, but due to some disputes about the accuracy of the results, which ended up invalidating Libya's record altogether, it took this long to finally verify it.

The hottest it's been since then in Death Valley, was 127 degrees Fahrenheit, a record set back in 2007, though it regularly reaches 120 degrees in any given summer. I guess they don't call it Death Valley for nothing.

Anyway, I was just thinking about this, in light of the fact that I do a lot of complaining here about the heat, which I've done more times than I'm sure you've cared to hear about. Well, it does get hot here, but nowhere near as hot as that. I couldn't even imagine what it would be like to endure 134 degrees. Though I suppose it would be something like that Twilight Zone episode "The Midnight Sun" about the earth moving progressively closer toward the sun.

The hottest it got this year in my city in Arizona, was I think only about 110 degrees. Only. Yeah. When you live here, triple digits are normal, and a high of 95, is only 95, and not a heat wave. But the hottest temperature I ever experienced in my life, and since living here, was 116 degrees. And I had to go out in it, it occurred at a time when I was taking the city bus to work, and transferred buses, waiting outside in that heat for over a half an hour at a time. It was horrible. Miserable. The air feels thick, heavy, suffocating, literally feels like you're being baked alive in a furnace, like you can barely breath, like your blood is boiling and you're slowly melting from the inside out. It's hell. It really is. And that was only 116 degrees. Imagine it being 134 degrees, wow, that's 18 degrees hotter, it would probably kill you in a very short period of time. Don't think I could take that, I'd have to be air lifted out of there, or perish.

As I've mentioned before I'm a Northerner by birth, moved out to southern Arizona in my early 20s, primarily in search of adventure, and to escape the long cold sunless winters of my home state. Well, something has happened to me over the years, I've changed in one notable way, and that is, when I first moved out here I used to love the hot weather, the 90s and 100s were comfortable to me. I spent a lot of time outside in the heat and it didn't bother me at all, but now I hate it. And not just hate it, but find it almost impossible to function in it, where it makes me feel sick, weak and lethargic, like I'm constantly running a fever, but as soon as I get into a cooler environment I feel fine, back to normal. I read twice as fast, my concentration is improved, I feel calmer, clearer, more energetic, and just better all around. The extreme heat makes me stupid and lazy, and muddles my thinking. It's true. Of course, being that I don't drive a car, and enjoy walking and being outside in nature, I am forced to go out in the heat anyway, but I'm finding that I'm becoming more sensitive to it, can't tolerate it like I used to, and it is becoming almost unlivable, where I'm forced to hibernate a significant part of the day indoors for half the year. It sucks. Is not the kind of life I want to live.

But then again, as much as I hate the extreme heat, I would say that I equally hate the extreme cold. The one thing that most compares to the unpleasantness of being outside in 116 degree heat, is the flip side of it, being outside in subzero cold. One you freeze, the other you melt, but both are equally uncomfortable. Don't want to live in the freezing cold north, or the hot as hell south. Got to find a balance somehow. I'd say my ideal temperature is about 76 degrees Fahrenheit.

I am so looking forward to October. You know how I wrote about how happy I was that it's finally September, thinking that it will start cooling down now, well it has to some extent, we've had a couple days in the upper 80s, several in the upper 90s, but today and tomorrow we're back up to 100. So, I'm really looking forward to October, hoping that we do not see any more triple digit days, and maybe, just maybe not too many more days in the 90s because it is really wearing me down.

*This is post 12 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge. Yeah, I know, this post sucks. It's sort of a nothing post, but it's all I got, for now, so take it or leave it, but I refuse to fail this self-imposed challenge.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Spontaneous Poetry: Blogging

do i touch your heart

from mine to yours
our minds do meet
through esoteric doors

a blog inside outside within
this cyberspace portal
that connects the winds

of eyes and thoughts
through electronic dots
we meet together

in this secret spot

a code is shared
where feelings and ideas
are transmitted through the air

do I touch your soul
seeking to find that magic glow
of creativity and inspiration

illuminated by the screen
like a telepathic conversation
that feels like a dream

*This is post 11 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge. Copyright © 2012 by Cym @ Effortless Flow. Do not re-post without giving credit!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

These Feet Were Made For Walking

I'm a walker. Though hiker sounds much cooler doesn't it? I enjoy walking and being outside as close to nature as possible. I also live car-free, so walking is something that is an everyday reality. But for me, walking is not just a matter of exercise, or about simply getting from point a to point b. No, each and every time I go for a walk, no matter how near or how far, it is an adventure. That is how I look at it, and that is why I love it so much.

I'm also a fan of travelling light. Don't enjoy carrying a heavy pack, or being overly encumbered. The lighter I travel, the more enjoyable the traveling tends to be. But at the same time I also like to be somewhat self-contained, you know, being prepared, carrying the things I need, but doing so as lightly as possible.

For this lightweight type of hiking, I've found that my favored type of walking shoe is actually a trail running shoe. I feel most comfortable in a running shoe, but a trail runner is more durable than a regular running shoe and has a better sole for off-road conditions. I also sometimes like to run a bit during walks, and even though I walk more than I run, it's nice to have a shoe that handles both activities well.

Well, I finally I bought a new pair of trail running shoes, and so I thought I'd take this opportunity to tell you about them, what they look like, what they cost, and what my overall opinion of them is.

I've been wearing the same pair of New Balance 806 trail runners for nearly six years now. Yeah, can you believe it? Well, it wasn't my only pair of shoes, but I got a lot of mileage out of them. I'm also a lightweight person, weighing less than 120 pounds, and am not hard on my shoes. Perhaps it is because of my early kung-fu training, but I am very light on my feet, and so, despite frequent use, my shoes tend to last me a long time, as does my clothing.

It's been awhile since I've shopped around for trail running shoes, and man are they ugly. I mean, it seems like running shoes these days are getting brighter, tackier, looking more and more like clown shoes each year. What is up with that?

I'm someone who prefers more earthy and neutral color tones, browns and tans and olives and blacks. While I adore the color purple, I do not want to wear purple colored running shoes, nor bright orange, or florescent pink for that matter. I want a running shoe that looks like it belongs outside, that blends in with the outdoors, that feels at home in nature, not looking like a circus freak show, or a brightly colored walking billboard with neon lights. Yeah, it's hard. Have you looked at the latest models of trail runners? It's not pretty. Well, obviously there are other factors involved, not just about appearance, but fit, price, durability, and function. How do they feel? Do they hold up well? Do they fit well? How much do they cost? But as much as those other factors are exceptionally important, if I hate the way something looks, it sort of trumps all else.

Well, to make a long story short, I finally settled on buying a pair of Montrail Fairhaven. A hybrid road/trail running shoe. They retail for $120, and I found mine on Amazon.com for $60, plus free shipping. Good deal.

My new trail running shoes. 
I took a chance, buying them without trying them on first, but it turned out well. They fit perfectly. You always want to go at least a half a size up for your hiking and running shoes, to accommodate foot swelling and thicker socks. So I usually wear a 9.5. And good to know that the Montrail Fairhavens run true to size with plenty of room in the toe box. They are actually the most comfortable, well cushioned, and superbly ventilated trail runners I've ever worn. It's like walking on air. Seriously. And my feet don't overheat or sweat in them like they did in my old pair. Plus they make me an inch taller, which is always a good thing. The longest walk I've done in them so far, is about five miles, and that was the first time I wore them, no breaking in needed, had absolutely no foot soreness in them at all. I've only run short distances in them, like under a mile, and that too was very comfortable; they're definitely an improvement from my last pair. But I do plan on doing some longer hikes in them, once it gets cooler, and I'll let you know what I think.

New shoes (left) old shoes (right)

I read good solid reviews about them all around. The only thing negative about them, is some people thought they weren't very stylish; there extremely comfortable, durable, good quality shoes, but there also kind of ugly. Well, I'm not sure I totally agree with that, there not that bad, but you know what, the more I thought about it, I thought what do you expect, it's a running shoe, have you ever seen a running shoe that wasn't kind of ugly? I mean, let's face it, I don't think we'll be seeing any running shoes winning any fashion awards any time soon. While the Fairhavens are what you might call plain looking, at least they're not overly conspicuous, or too tacky looking. In other words, they don't look like clown shoes, and that is what I like about them. And like I said, they are very comfortable.

If I had to pay full price for them, I probably wouldn't have bought them, but for 50 percent off, it was a great deal, and I expect to get at least a solid two or three years use out them. So overall, I'm very happy with these shoes, and would definitely recommend them.

*This is post 10 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Think Before you Shop

I am what you would call a very strategic and deliberate shopper. I do not make impulse purchases. I always go grocery shopping with a list, knowing exactly what I intend to buy beforehand. Which is not to say that I always buy the same things every single time, or that I never diverge somewhat from my plans, if for instance a product is unavailable and am forced to choose a substitute, but just that I prefer to think ahead of time about the things I need or want and how much money I intend to spend, and not making those kinds of decisions in the store.

The only exception to this would be while shopping at thrift stores and yard sales, where I may have a general idea of what I'm looking for and how much money I am willing to spend, but since you never know exactly what you are going to find in such places, there is much more flexibility and openness to the process. Although when it comes to possessions, I pretty much know my needs and wants, and usually make my decisions based on an items longevity and usefulness. I ask myself, how much do I really need this? Will I get a lot of use out of it? How much value will it add to my life? I carefully weigh the pros and cons of each item, determining whether I foresee it being over time more of a burden or a benefit, and make my decision accordingly.

In all other cases, if I'm thinking about purchasing something that I am unfamiliar with, or have never used before, I always do research about it beforehand, usually reading product reviews about it online, and learning as much about it as I can, so that I can make a more informed decision. This is how I shop, and has pretty much been the way I've shopped since about the age of 18. I think maybe I was a bit looser with my money when I was a kid, being more impulsive, less frugal, but I didn't really have much money back then to work with, so there wasn't much to choose from and very little to lose.

As it is now, I rarely shop at all. My shoes and clothing last me a long time. Even though I gave a thrift store example, I don't shop at thrift stores very often, maybe a couple times a year, depending on what I find, but only go when I really need something. The only store I regularly go to is the grocery store, and I never go shopping for fun, or to just see what a store is like. I don't particularly like shopping, and normally only go shopping when I actually need something, or know what I want beforehand. Which means that, for things other than food, drink, and basic necessities, I do much of my shopping online, and that doesn't happen much either. I don't have a lot of disposable income, so whenever I do buy something more expensive or luxurious, I always plan it out really well, making sure it's worth it, and that I'm getting the absolute best bargain around. An example for this, might be a new pair of shoes, backpack, or computer.

I finished reading that book The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard. It was good, but you know, very dated, but still useful. I'm too lazy to review it. It's a huge topic, much like copyright, don't have the energy to go into it more thoroughly at the moment. Maybe another time. But I will say that it makes me want to never watch television again, primarily to reduce my exposure to commercial advertisements. Almost seems like TV was invented specifically for advertising, like the whole thing is a conspiracy to control your mind, to get you to buy stuff you don't need, and the television is the primary agent used to achieve that end.

Of course, not all ads are bad, nothing wrong with promotion, particularly if the information is factual and not an act of deception and deceit. Unfortunately most ads are to some extent illusionist tricks, not meant to inform, but to misinform, hoping that you take what they say at face value, buying their product without researching the information for yourself.

An advertisement makes me aware of a product, but I never base my decision to buy something on an advertisement alone, preferring instead to get my information from independent testers and product reviews. And in the case of food, the way I see it healthy food doesn't need advertising, it sells itself. It's only the processed crap you don't need that needs convincing, where they actually spend more money on the packaging and advertising than the actual substance itself, which pretty much says it all. So it's safe to say, that if you see a food product advertised on TV, even if it claims to be "all natural" or "organic" you probably shouldn't buy it, or should at least be more wary of buying it. That's how I feel about it anyway.

I'm pretty much an advertiser's worst enemy, in terms of being their least ideal customer, someone who makes all their financial decisions and consumer choices from the perspective of rationality, frugality, practicality, and foresight.

I do not say this to toot my own horn, toot toot, but as a recommendation of a smarter way to shop.

*This is post 9 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Of Writing, Prospects and Pitfalls

The prospect of writing 20 posts in 30 days is turning out to be a very difficult challenge for me. I mean, there's still plenty of time left to do it, I'm not dangerously behind schedule yet, though I should be at the halfway point by now, which means I'm currently behind by two posts. But the idea of having to post something here everyday, or nearly everyday for the remainder of this month, is becoming quite a chore for me, simply because I don't feel I have much to say.

Lately, I've been feeling uninspired more often than not, haven't really had any brilliant ideas, or exceptional experiences, or eureka moments. I'm pretty much all tapped out, creatively, intellectually, intuitively, and other than my need to keep reading and exercising, have no master plans whatsoever, for either my life or this blog; which is something that is really necessary for me to have, or else, I've got nothing, no point to my existence, no purpose, no strength, no courage, nothing. I'm not a fan of nothingness, or of not knowing. Not a fan of Zen, either. Taoism only slightly, mostly in relation to health and longevity. It's like I'm just searching around in the dark, without a map, with no idea what I'm looking for or where I'm going, and I don't particularly like it.

The blog reflects this confused, bitter state of mind, where mediocrity is more often the norm, not the exception. With not much to say, or passion for saying it, writing is difficult. I mean, there's what I've posted, it's better than nothing, that is, if my goal is to post 20 posts, better to post 20 mediocre posts, than one exceptional one. But in the end, the exceptional post will be the only one that stands out, and survives the test of time; the mediocre ones are more likely to be deleted and easily forgotten. But then again, could be that if it weren't for those mediocre posts, the exceptional ones maybe would never have had the fuel they needed to get written. Fact is, if it weren't for this challenge I probably wouldn't have posted half of what I have. Same is true for most of the blog, the drive to keep it going, to keep posting even when I feel I haven't much to say, with the hope that with all the extra writing and thinking practice, it will eventually evolve into something better. What is the point? What is the harm? You may at times find yourself thinking that your blog is a waste of time, but whatever it is, it is still ultimately writing practice, and that's never a bad thing.

So I guess it's all good. You see, I look upon blogging perhaps differently than others. I'm not trying to create great posts every time, or to only publish polished essays, or to create this unique brand hoping to attract a large audience to it. I don't particularly want a large audience. I feel that my ability to write freely here, depends on keeping the audience small, ideally under 100 regular readers at the most, but even that's kind of pushing it. 100 readers, but not necessarily 100 commenters. I have mixed feelings about comments. I am more comfortable being read by a small audience that never comments, than I would be by a larger audience that never comments. On the one hand, it's nice to have some interaction with your readers, and to have some idea who is reading your blog. But then again, too many comments, like too many readers, might actually put me under too much pressure, making it more difficult to write. It's sort of a catch-22, I suppose.

I don't currently have 100 regular readers, though I sometimes have more than 100 unique visitors, most of which are not regular readers, more likely accidental passerby's never to be seen or heard from again. But the prospect of having 100 regular readers that never comment, might make me feel like I'm being stalked, being probed by the NSA or something. Yeah, I got the dirt, the esoteric secrets, the proof of aliens among us, and I'm one of them. Just kidding. No, I am not a paranoid schizophrenic, or a drug addict, beer is my only intoxicant, I don't even take Tylenol, but as the old cliche says, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they really aren't out to get you. Not that I care, bring it on! I watch the watchers, whose to say YOU are not the one being probed, and lured into a trap? Just kidding. Don't mind me, I just have an overactive imagination, and a finely developed sense of humor. Blogging is my laboratory for exploring weird thoughts.

Yeah, I'm using this blog more so as a creative brainstorming journal, more along the lines of a diary of an aspiring polymath and creative genius (who in reality is a barely literate, undereducated fool; can't blame me for trying though), not some kind of magazine for mass consumption, or a business that doesn't make any money. To me, that is just foolish. A business that doesn't make any money (whataya, stupid?) and yet costs money to run, in terms of the time and energy needed to run it.

Which makes me wonder how some of these blogs, especially those that aren't making any money from it, how they are able to blog so prolifically, you know, not only publishing everyday, but several posts a day. How do they do it? And why do they do it? It's one thing to have a blog, and post a few times a week, quite another to make it the center of your life. Seems to me the only way a person could keep that up, is if they don't have much of a life away from their computer. Don't have a job, don't spend much time outside, have few hobbies or social outlets, just pretty much live on their computers 24/7. It's kind of pathetic actually, the one's that post around the clock, that feel the need to schedule posts in advance, like their on some time clock with an urgent deadline, and blogging as if their life depended on it. I wonder about the sanity of those doing so.

Well, for me, 20 posts in one month is not really overkill, but it's certainly not something I plan on continuing in the long term. It's way too much work, for nothing. I would rather do it naturally, effortlessly, because I have a real passion and enthusiasm for doing so, because I have something genuinely meaningful and interesting to say, not because I feel obligated to.

Though that being said, the whole idea of this challenge was to temporarily force myself to contribute more, with the idea that maybe by doing so it would stimulate something new and interesting, something that laziness and lack of ambition and of not having a clear objective, would prevent from ever seeing the light of day. Meaning, that sometimes when you think you've got nothing to say, the very act of forcing yourself to write something can stimulate words that you never even knew you had, powerful ideas that were always there lingering behind the surface, unseen, untouched, untapped, and completely unaware of.

Writing can sometimes draw these ideas out, is a way of summoning the creative muse, awakening the inner genie, stoking the creative flame of knowledge and introspection. Everyone has a lot more going on in the innermost depths of their hearts and minds, that often remains concealed in the shadows, never seeing the light of day. Untapped potentialities and possibilities, that the only way they are ever discovered, is by giving them a vehicle of expression, giving them a body from which to be seen, and a voice to be heard through the magic of the written word.

*This is post 8 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Shepherds and the Sheep

You know, I never did write anything about 9/11 this year. I have before, but I guess there is not much more for me to say, because in all honesty, that day really doesn't mean much to me. What I mean is, I was not personally effected by any of it, nor did I feel like my life, or the way I look upon the world changed in any significant way as a result of it. Although I did have a cousin that was there at the time, not far away, at her office in the Garment District of NYC. She lived in Brooklyn at the time, commuted to and from work on the subway system, and of course with the subway shut down, she was one of those people evacuated out of Manhattan on foot. So I had one family member personally effected, who was there at the time that it happened. But as to myself, the day does not carry as much weight for me, as it surely must for those who were actually there and personally effected by it.

Well anyway, the one new thing I would like add, in relation to 9/11, is that for the last few years now, I've got into the habit of watching a 9/11 documentary that is shown each year on that day, commercial free, on the History Channel, called 102 Minutes That Changed America. It's pretty good. I mean, I don't mean to make light of it, trivializing it in any manner, but being a huge fan of disaster films, you know, movies like The Day After Tomorrow, The Poseidon Adventure, Deep Impact, Daylight, etc., I thought that documentary was actually one of the best disaster films I've ever seen, and would love to see it on an IMAX screen.

Although I've seen it so many times now that much of the shock factor has kind of worn off, but the first couple times I saw it it was a very emotional experience, you know, very surreal and powerful; was very well done. If you haven't seen yet, I'd recommend it. You can actually find it on YouTube, but the picture quality may not be as good, and it's something that you really need to see on a large screen to do it justice. But if you'd like a preview of it, you can view it here.

The primary insight I would like to share with you, is an observation I made this time around while watching 102 Minutes that Changed America that I don't recall noticing before. Is that in this film, after the first tower came down, and the people were being evacuated in the streets while in a noticeable state of panic and shock, just how much they reminded me of a herd of cattle or sheep, and the law enforcement personnel were like the shepherd's managing the crowd as if they were sheep. How when in a situation of extreme chaos and panic and large scale disaster, just how helpless most people become, where they have no idea what to do, what direction to go in, and have to be told what to do every step of the way.

Of course this is not a new idea, I've intellectualized about it before, but this was the first time that I actually noticed it happening before my eyes, where it really sank in and I physically experienced the emotional depth of this insight. Nothing more to add to it really, at least not now, but just wanted to share this insight with you, and about how seeing this was extremely educational in itself, and is worth watching the film just for that.

*This is post 7 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge. With more soon on the way, either later today, or tomorrow. Oh, and I'm so fucking irritated, and embarrassed that I misspelled "shepherds," as "shepards." And I cannot fix it without deleting the post, but I won't, as a reminder to be more diligent next time. Google spell checker, why did you fail me? 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Itsy Bitsy Spider

Actually, it's the largest spider I've ever seen in my life, witnessed tonight, a couple hours ago, while sitting outside on the patio: my first Tarantula sighting!

Okay, it was pretty cool to see, but not up close, let me tell you, I almost had a heart attack. I'm sitting out there in the dark, barefoot in sandals, because I stubbed my toe really bad, it's all black and blue, can barely walk; it should be better by tomorrow, hopefully, because I've got a lot of miles to walk. Anyway, I'm sitting out there not more than twenty minutes drinking a beer, reading a book with my headlamp, sneaking a peek at The Hidden Persuaders; yeah that's what I was looking at at the time, and thinking to myself, hmm, maybe one of these nights I'll sleep out here. True story.

Well, pretty much right in the midst of thinking that thought, I see something out of the corner of my eye move to my left inside the patio with me. My first thought is that it was a lizard, a little gecko, totally harmless; either that, or a maybe a cockroach, but no, I shine my light over at it, and it's a HUGE spider, no exaggeration, in fact, the largest spider in Arizona, a Tarantula. It's the first one I've ever seen in the wild, and it was right next to my foot, literally inches away. Makes me wonder where it was that whole twenty minutes I sat outside. Perhaps under my chair, behind my foot? Who knows. Good thing it didn't run up my leg, or else, I very well may have screamed bloody murder, and had the police called to the scene. Seriously. It was after eleven o'clock at night, and very quiet and dark outside, anyone screaming is bound to attract attention.

What did I do?

I immediately stood up on my chair, tapping on the window for help. Yeah, cowardly, I know, but that is what happened. Hey, I was injured, in open toed sandals, encumbered by beer and book, wasn't about to leave them out there, I needed help.

So anyway, after getting inside, I managed to take a few pictures, but they're not that good, as they were taken through the sliding glass window and screen. I didn't have my camera outside with me, or else, I would have attempted to photograph it from my safe perch on top of the chair, and there was no way I was going back out there. But at least I captured the moment as best I could. The spider pretty much froze in this spot next to the wine box for like five minutes, and after that it walked around a bit, acting like it was going to leave, but actually at one point, it circled back, and was right on top of the screen door of the patio, acting like it wanted to come in! It was a pretty exhilarating moment!





The thing is though, I don't know where the spider ended up, for all I know, it could be hiding in a corner, taking up permanent residence. So, all I can say is, I'll be wearing enclosed shoes from now on; that's for sure. And turning on the patio light before going outside. Yeah, I'm a big baby. Like I said, I don't like spiders.

*This is post 6 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge. What is up with all the spiders that have been showing up on this blog? Seems like a lot, doesn't it? I'm not even planning it, I'm just reporting what I see, whether it is in real life, or in my dreams, spiders have been showing up a lot lately. Wonder what I'll see next?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Five Books in 30 Days

Here's a picture of four of the books I intend to read this month, minus the one I just finished yesterday and already returned to the library, forgetting that I intended to photograph all five books together as a sort of collage of this month's reading challenge. Oh well.

Books I'm reading this month. 

In case you cannot clearly see the titles in this picture, here's a list of them:

1. The Colossus of Maroussi by Henry Miller (c. 1941).

2. The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard (c. 1957).

3. The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene (c. 1998).

4. Alien Agenda: Investigating the Extraterrestrial Presence Among Us by Jim Marrs (c. 1997).

And the 5th book not shown here, that I just finished:

5. The Fool's Progress by Edward Abbey (c. 1988).

I've read a couple of other books by Abbey, really liked his Desert Solitaire, but despite the majority of favorable reviews, many calling it his masterpiece, I was not that impressed with this book, and actually, in some ways am kind of turned off by Abbey after reading it. It's a novel, with some fictionalized elements, but is mostly autobiographical. You know, I like a lot of what Abbey says, about civilization and nature, and share many points of view in common with him, but am really turned off by his womanizing ways; and really, he was totally what you would call a dirty old man, sex addict, adulterer, kind of a sleazy bum actually, with poor hygiene, and a lot of unhealthy bad habits overall.

Actually he reminds me a lot of Henry Miller, his writing, personality, and lifestyle, especially his relationships with women, and are both what I would call the quintessential dirty old bastards. Not that it has any bearing on my evaluation of the book, but I'm also not a fan of men with thick beards, dirty finger nails, or who wear jeans without underwear. A neatly trimmed goatee is alright, but in my opinion at least, hairy men are turn offs, as are hairy women. Just a personal pet peeve of mine, nothing more, don't take it personally, if you happen to have a thick Gandalf beard, it doesn't make you bad person, it's just not my preference. It's kind of gross actually. If I were a man, I'd keep it neat and tidy, not looking like a hairy neanderthal man who neither baths nor shaves. Just saying.

Okay, I'm getting a little off track here. Pardon my superficiality, but I'm just telling you my immediate reactions, what comes to mind personally. The book has a lot more going to it than that, but this is what stands out in my mind. Not so much the part about the facial hair or bad hygiene, but more so his treatment of women. I'd still recommend the book. It was a good book in many ways, I just wouldn't call it a masterpiece. I gave it three out of five stars. And in his defense, apparently my opinion is in the minority, so take it or leave it. There are a lot of things I like about Abbey, and also a lot of things I don't. Maybe most of my objections don't even faze male readers, but as a female, I am just really turned off by the way he related to females, seeing them primarily as sex objects, at least as narrated in his essays and novels, and The Fool's Progress especially; it's hard to get past it. I mean, I can appreciate everything else about him, but on this point he loses much respect. Do I like his books? Yes, for the most part. But if he were still alive today, and I had a chance to hang out with him, would I? Probably not.

Regarding the other books, am pretty excited about all of them, were actually books I had on hold at the library for several weeks, that all came in around the same time; and are in demand, probably can't renew them, so I'm kind of forced to read them this month, or else I won't be able to finish them. That was actually part of the motivation for setting this goal of reading five books in 30 days, because I kind of have to, or else, have to wait a couple months for another chance. So I probably will. Plus two of the books aren't very long, both under 250 pages, notably: The Hidden Persuaders and The Colossus of Maroussi. That'll help. The most difficult will be in reading The 48 Laws of Power in a week or so, but am extremely interested in it, and will not be able to renew that one, so hopefully that'll help.

I just started reading The Colossus of Maroussi, and it's not a novel, but is actually a travel narrative of Henry Miller's real life travels through Greece. Perhaps it is premature to call it, but so far, it's great, quite possibly his best book ever, and something I would recommend. I would say that if you like Edward Abbey, you'd probably like Henry Miller. They write in a similar style, are both exceptionally knowledgeable and philosophical people; I'm just kind of sensitive to their sexism and promiscuous lifestyles, dislike it very much, but you know, if you look beyond that, there's still some good writing there. I wouldn't want to know them, but I'd still read their books.

*This is post 5 of 20, part of my "20 posts in 30 days" challenge. Yeah, a lot of reading to do, among other things. Can't wait to get to "The Hidden Persuaders," it's been on my "to-read" list for years. And the one about the aliens should be fun; I'll save that for last.