Tuesday, October 30, 2007

An Ode to Forrest, Endodontics, and the Dalai Lama

A lot of firsts and milestones this past week.

Last night, I went for my first outside run at the new house. I've had my treadmill going, and while it's nice and all, I've learned that there's nothing like running outside among the long stretches of farmland. There was one point in my run where I found myself feeling as though I was in the movie Forrest Gump. The scenes where he's running through the Midwest...I swear, I was there. I even made a new friend...a huge Bull Mastiff who actually followed me for part of the journey.

This morning, I had my very first root canal. I'd rather have five pap smears consecutively than to have a root canal, but I went in and took it like a trooper, getting beat up on and then charged $500 for it. Um, thanks.

The best of all this past week - a very memorable personal milestone. Last Friday, I went to Purdue University for the day to see the Dalai Lama speak. After riding the shuttle bus from the intramural field and getting through a ridiculous amount of security, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I mean, the guy is referred to as “His Holiness.” You can’t help but expect him to be a little full of himself, as his very title means “Ocean of Wisdom.” But I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, I was shocked at his absolute normalcy, really. He’s small and unassuming and extremely real. He’s the antithesis of preachy, doesn’t have an ounce of self-righteousness, and says a simple “I don’t know” to questioning such as “How do you think we should end the war in Iraq?” Brilliant.

When the President of the University (who I also happen to love – she’s the University’s first female President, an astrophysicist, and new personal role model –https://engineering.purdue.edu/MEP/spotlights/PurdueWelcomesitsfirstFemalePresident) introduced the Dalai Lama, I got a little verklempt. I mean, how often do you get to see and hear a Nobel Peace Prize-winning (and deserving) spiritual leader and icon speak? Especially in the cornfield. His brother is a professor at IU in Bloomington (where the Tibetan Cultural Center was founded and continues to flourish, so we as a state luck out, in that respect. I knew this going in, but I didn’t really feel it until he walked on stage. Holy shit...there’s the Dalai Lama. It was a goosebump moment, without a doubt.

Even though I was surrounded by 2000 other people in an auditorium, I felt as though he was sitting in a fluffy chair across from me in someone’s living room and chatting with just me. That’s a gift, I believe. I think that the true greatness of him is his down-to-earth normalcy. That ability to be so “every man” while simultaneously being one of the most influential people in the world. Within the first five minutes of his talk, he asked the audience to excuse him while he took his shoes off and sat Indian-style on the chair. Then, he commented on how bright the lights were and took out a visor that matched his robe. He put it on like a baseball cap and kept right on talking.

The talk was titled “Cultivating Happiness” and it was all about how we, as a whole people, should practice more compassion. It also focused a lot on how individual happiness is just that - up to the individual. A life lesson I tend to learn again and again and try not to lose focus of. Just giving a crap about other human beings – trying to be NICE in a world full of shmucky materialistic fake crap – it matters. Being truthful, living authentically, not being something that you’re not. As completely hippie as it sounds, these things really do matter. They make or break a person’s happiness, and that happiness transcends.

He took questions from the crowd, giving his point of view on things from feminism to his favorite color (which happens to be green, by the way). On the topic of feminism, he said that he believed more women should be in power, as we are generally the more compassionate and therefore, more balanced, leaders. Bitch Magazine would've loved that one.

Someone asked him who he feels are the most memorable and friendly world leaders that he’s met to date. At a ripe 72 years of age, he’s seen a lot in his life. Two that he mentioned surprised me. One was Mao Tse Tung. He met him when he was only 21 years old, and this was around the time that he was exiled from China. Conceivably, this guy was his arch enemy, but he commented only on how “sincere” he thought he was behind closed doors. He added that he and Mao could’ve been great friends. And, beyond that, he didn’t say anything negative about him.

The second one that surprised me was his relationship with the present President Bush. He said, simply, “I love that guy.” And, in a room full of academe (a.k.a liberals), there were a few seconds of "I'm not sure what to do with that" silence. He went on to say that a lot of leaders he’s met in his life kept him at arm’s reach, seemingly insincere in their dealings with him. It’s almost as if many people think he’s capable of some special voodoo powers or something (which he also nipped in the bud early in his talk by laughing at the notion that he had “special powers” and those people who say they do – he usually doesn’t believe them). But, George W. was friendly from the get-go, and the Dalai Lama commented that even if he doesn’t necessarily agree with every political move he makes, he and George are good friends, and he’s always loved his sincerity.

He spoke quietly for a little under two hours, and as I left the auditorium, I knew that I had attended something once-in-a-lifetime cool.

It beat the hell out of my root canal.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Caffeine, Art, and Unmistakable Signs...

They say that you should pursue art that "speaks" to you. To really get your money's worth, you have to have some sort of connection to it. Otherwise, you might as well just buy something at Bed, Bath and Beyond to sling on your walls.

Today, during my weekly pre-class coffee stop, there was a featured artist on the walls of my favorite caffeinated watering hole. I believe it's the artist’s first exhibit, and one of her paintings spoke to me immediately. It’s not that I gushed over it as much as it just called out to me and said, simply, “look at me…NOW.” The painting is called, Leaving it all Behind. The artist's name is Madame Aradia. She has an interesting style; it’s kind of Tim Burton’esque, but it has that same willowy type figure that I seem to be drawn to (see my links at Bella Pilar). She’s not a girlie girl, I would guess, but more of an “I dye my hair black and listen to Evanescence” type chick. Either way, I like her stuff. It’s cool.

While I'd like to say that I'm a 100% practical, Virgoan, mainstream chick, I'm a big believer in signs, destiny, fate, and all that crap. I can't help it. It's just a part of who I am. A straight-laced Banana Republic tweed skirt wearing closet hippie. Without the patchouli smell, of course.

I think that signs show up in everyone's daily life - sometimes they're smacks upside the head - but most of us inadvertently ignore them. We hear things, see things, smell things, and feel more than we allow our brains to actually acknowledge on a daily basis, I'm convinced. I know that about 99.5% of the psychics I've visited (after a few glasses of vodka while out with the girls) were completely full of shit, but I do believe that we all have some sort of spirit guides that try to tell us things along our way. I guess some would perceive this as intuition. Others view it as common sense. The "you really shouldn't be doing this" voice in your head when you're jumping head first into something you know is going to be truly bad for you, but you throw caution to the wind anyway. That common sense intuition – and the tiny deviations in our path each day – have to be something other-worldly, giving us a bit of guidance in this crap shoot we call living.

Yesterday, when I saw the painting, I thought, “Huh...must be one of those moments.”

And then, as if the painting wasn't enough for one day, a business card was lying right next to it. And, there was only one. It wasn’t a normal business card, but rather a card with a simple website on it – it was for the National Novel Writing Month website. A seemingly simple idea – write 50,000 words (or 175 pages) in a month. Go ahead, the contest prompts...put out quantity over quality, and see what happens, along with a gazillion other aspriring writers. The prize? Jack squat, unless you think some notoriety among other writers is a prize.

I just started training for a yet unnamed half marathon last week, getting up in the morning and running my obligatory 20-30 minutes to get my body somewhat back in shape. November is one of the busiest months I foresee in a long time. Yet, I’m still wondering...what if. What if I actually can spit out 175 pages of low quality stuff, only to have it morph later on into a work of true art? What if?

The picture – it said, “If you spend your life looking back, then soon you will become but a ghost of the past, living in the future.” The business card? It said, “Write for you, just shut up, do it, and don’t regret.”

Four weeks and 175 pages? With three simultaneous jobs already? I don’t know about that...but the sign was duly noted.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sibling Loyalty and the SWAT Team

My sister posted a comment, and I believe she may have paid someone else to post another one. This is loyalty, people. The kind of raw, inexplicable sibling thing that is clearly unconscious. Siblings do that stuff. They tell you you're a dumbass in one breath, and then they kick someone's ass if that said someone is overheard calling you that same dumbass. I can make fun of my sister as much as I damn well please, but if someone else makes fun of her, I may land myself in jail. It's like some unwritten code. Bylaws of a sort.

When we were little, there was this kid named Timmy that lived in our neighborhood in Pittsburgh. Every childhood has a memory of the smelly kid, and Timmy was that kid. Well, I was about 5, I guess...around that age. And, I was sort of like a gerbil on crack, I've been told. I was probably chasing a bug or something when I walked in front of Timmy swinging a bat - that just happened to smack me in the head. It was one of those solid, aluminum-steel looking things. And, honestly, I don't even know if it was Timmy who was behind the great cranial homerun...I just remember him above all the other boys, as he was, well, really friggin smelly.

I went down with a thud. Out. Gone. And, to a sister that was only 3.5 years older than me, I'm sure I appeared dead. Killed by the smelly kid. So, my sister brutalized him, as I recall. Kids ran to get my Dad to tell him that I was dead, I'm sure, and my sister just wailed on Timmy. This is the story I remember, at least, and I like my version of it. My seemingly dead five-year old body just laying there in the makeshift baseball field, lifeless. And, my sister...beating the shit out of the smelly kid to revenge me.

It's what flashbacks in movies are made of, really.

Turns out I wasn't dead. I know you're shocked, but the big noggin went OUT...not IN. My Dad told me that as a parent, if your kid is hit in the head, you always look to see if a big goose-egg appears. If there's a bump, you're golden. If it caves in, you're screwed. I had the goose-egg. And, Timmy was beat up by a girl. It was a good day in steel town.

That's loyalty. It's the stuff that supercedes even parental love. It's when you get in a huge fight, proclaim your hatred for your sibling, then ask them to go to Target with you 2 minutes later.

So, thanks for the support, sis. I know you'll be first in line when I end up at Borders someday, doing a book-signing for three people. You'll be one of the three. And, I know you'll buy a bushel.

On the subject of loyalty and unwritten codes, we met our new neighbors last weekend. They haven't built their house yet, but they still manage to enjoy their acreage in the form of a big bonfire, complete with beer and friends. I had met the male counterpart before the bonfire and never suspected what he did for a living. He was painfully quiet. Of course, I am not, so he did a lot of listening. I thought, "maybe he's a school guidance counselor."

It wasn't until I was drinking beer and talking about how I had planned on ending the lives of skunks that I realized I was talking to the county's SWAT team. One even pulled his gun out and told me that I could use it to kill the skunk. (He was joking. I think.) Four or five of them....all drinking beer just steps from my property. At first, I retracted quickly, wondering if my record had followed me to Indiana. Then I remembered that it doesn't work that way.

They really are a tight-knit group of guys (and cop wives). They all seem to watch out for each other and have that really cool sense of camaraderie. Sort of like siblings, but without the parental baggage.

First, raccoons, and now, the SWAT team. I've learned to live among what I never dreamed I would have as neighbors. And, I didn't even snort like a pig and scream "I SMELL BACON!!!!"

Maybe I AM maturing.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007