Yoga Driving Tips

Remember, a relaxed driver is a safe driver.  And the best way to relax is to take a deep breath and close your eyes.  Put on some New Age music if you have any, preferably Ravi Shankar on the sitar or George Winston if that’s more your bag, something you can easily drift off to.

In order to fill your lungs to their maximum capacity, push your abdomen out as far as you can while inhaling slowly and deeply through your nose.  Make sure to undo your seat belt so your diaphragm muscle can descend and your chest cavity takes in as much air is it can hold.

Your feet are crying out to be liberated.  Can you hear them?  That’s good.  That means you’re attuned to the music of the spheres.  Now your toes can finally feel the gas and brake pedals underfoot.

It’s time to stretch your arms and legs as far as they can go.  Feel the blood tingling all the way up and down the length of your body?

Let go of everything that’s been burdening you for the past few days, weeks–even your whole life.  Let go of your fears about the future and the steering wheel.

Try not to get attached to the squeal of tires against the pavement or the screech of other drivers’ worn-out brake pads.  Don’t feel you have to judge other motorists swearing their heads off at you.  Let them work out their own unresolved issues themselves.

Soon you will feel oneness with them.

Just live for the moment, knowing it can’t last long.

Who knows?  You may never get another chance to be present again.

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Don’t Sell Yourself Short

I’ve often wondered if that expression is offensive to short people.  Come to think of it, I’m not so tall myself.  This is an outrage!  I demand that I change the title to something else immediately.

Pardon that psychotic eruption of unhealthily high self-esteem.  I don’t know what got into me.  It must have been the coke.

Have you ever seen the movie Sideways?  I watched it again last night with my students.  It was the third time I’d seen it, maybe even the fourth.  It’s based on a book by Rex Pickett that’s even better than the film; the sequel, Vertical, is also good.  I saw an interview with Pickett on the Tube of You and he said he wanted to make a movie out of Vertical, but since the director Alexander Payne owns the rights to Miles and Jack, the two main characters in both stories, and isn’t interested, Pickett can’t.  Maybe he should change his name to Kent (as in “can’t”) Pickett.

The story comes close to home, not because the main character is a lush (Bartender, could you bring me another bucket of gasoline?), but because he’s a failed writer.  Don’t get me wrong:  I’m grateful for the attention of everyone who takes the time to read these posts, especially those few devoted readers who keep me going.  I also appreciate comments, as it makes me feel as if I’m not writing on an empty basketball court in the projects with a chain link fence around it with graffiti sprayed on it by someone who couldn’t find a wall to record their illegible message on.

Of course, the good news is that the story, although based on Pickett’s own experience, had a happy ending in real life since Payne picked it up and turned it into a hit movie and made Pickett a rich man.  

I guess I’m just tired of beating myself up for not being as good or as accomplished as I’ve always wanted to be.  Mediocrity is a bitter zeppelin to swallow.  Or should that be “bitter blimp”?  The thing that astounds me about writers who’ve made it is how they can find the time to write novel after novel, full of characters and plots and resolved situations, while also managing to attend to the details in phrasing, word choice, and grammar that plague us all.

William Zinsser’s book On Writing Well has some useful advice for those of us who tend to get too windy sometimes.  I always crave for great books in order to feed myself with inspiration; instead I have to spend my time reading my students’ weekly speeches.  Each one of them has so many mistakes in it, the text should be surrounded with crime scene tape.  I used to grumble and curse a lot at the sheer number of appalling constructions and misuses of words, along with the addiction to the passive voice, avoidance of originality, and insistence on repeating things to add what sounds like contempt for the reader (in other words, an assumption that he or she is too dumb to glean anything by implication and needs to have every iota of the speech spelled out in big crayoned letters written on construction paper) in English, even though in Korean it may sound respectful for all I know.

Speaking of contempt, the thing familiarity supposedly breeds, I’m hoping I’ll finally be able to pull myself out of this country for a change.  Eight years is enough, to paraphrase the name of an old sitcom I never saw.  Despite its Westernized appearance (which I’m not necessarily advocating as a good thing), Korea has a culture that’s still downright militaristic in some ways.  That’s not to say that you have armed soldiers patrolling the streets–you’re thinking of the USA–but people here–especially men–internalize a rigid code of behavior that can make them a drag to be around.  I’m not blaming them; it’s not their fault they’ve been brainwashed; I have too, just by a different system.  Our brainwashing detergents are incompatible.  

To give you an example, most Korean businessmen dress alike.  They don’t usually wear ties (I do, but not in the summer, except when I go to the beach), but black slacks and white shirts are common.  Another curious thing is the limited template when it comes to car colors.  The rainbow boils down to black, white, and gray (they call it silver).  You go to a restaurant, cafe, or bar, and in many cases they’ll have the same songs playing over and over again on a loop, sometimes for months on end.  I’ve already told you about the smartphone pandemic, but I guess it’s getting to be that way everywhere.

As a foreigner, I get stared at a lot.  I’ve heard it’s much worse if you’re black.  And you can’t say that the Koreans who stare are just naive hayseeds.  They don’t stare that way at each other.  They seem to think it’s acceptable to be rude to foreigners, at least as far as staring goes.  Since I can’t speak Korean but am often in a hostile mood when in transit, I usually just glare at them or ask in English, “Why are you staring at me!”  That generally does the trick.  

It wouldn’t be so bad if I were stared at by beautiful women, but it’s always some passive-aggressive, middle-aged male malcontent with a chip on his shoulder.  I don’t know how they’re able to walk around all day without the chips falling off.  They must have great balance.

The other day I rode on a bus driven by a trainee, and I was pleased to see in the rear view mirror the light in his eyes as he took command of the vehicle as his instructor gave him pointers.  He had a friendly face, like a Korean version of Buddy Hackett.  I’ve had the privilege to ride on his bus a few more times since then, and he’s a capable driver who looks happy to be doing his job.  It’s an important one, and I salute him, trying not to hit the person standing next to me in the eye with my elbow.

Somehow I got sidetracked from the title of this post.  I guess what I’d like to say is that you shouldn’t let life push you around too much.  Success in humble matters certainly counts for something.  One of my favorite proverbs to teach is:  “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”  We can’t help comparing ourselves to people who seem better off than we are and feeling either resentful or slighted in response.  Or else we just think we’re no good and we punish ourselves with masochistic self-condemnation.

In a world where some people have serious problems that go on for decades, usually because someone else can’t stop messing with them (hello, Iraq and Afghanistan–how are you today?), it feels childish and self-indulgent to whinge about what I see as my own shortcomings.  My situation isn’t as bad as a lot of people’s, so I don’t have a right to complain so much.

I’ll also stop trying to be so pretentious, periodically reminded of how unappealing this tendency can be by Mark Peters (Wordlust), the only Twitter account I read.  As far as I’m concerned, he’s cornered the market on Twitter.  I’d join the service myself, only I don’t think I could ever match him, so I ain’t gonna, unless I can scrape up enough money to buy a mind-changer.

WordPress is good enough for me.  It’s nice to be part of the family.

Expiration Date

When you learn your days really are numbered,

and that’s not just something sadists say in movies

to give the good guy something to do

or generate sales of buttered popcorn,

you don’t panic or reach for an aspirin tablet

to gobble in an effort to stave off

that long-awaited heart attack,

but rather relax in an attitude

of tranquilized paralysis.

After all, death has been

patient enough to wait your whole

life for this moment, and so have you.

No.  Instead, take a deep breath,

and thank God or whatever the secular

equivalent of that tired concept is–

love, nature, life itself–that there are

still kind people left in this world; you’ve

done your part, and though the strongest muscle

in your body has kept you going this long,

it’s time for the meaning of forever to change,

at least as far as you’re concerned,

and for that thing that calls itself the ego,

the self, the soul, to shut up for a change

and turn into something else–a flower,

a fruit bat, a flatulent blast from a peat bog,

or a patch of moss on a stone grown cold

that refuses to roll anywhere anymore.

Dr. Helpful, Supershrink

Coping With Guilt

(Scene:  A psychiatrist’s office.  Two somber yet plush burgundy upholstered leather chairs with a coffee table in between them are the main pieces of furniture in the crimson-carpeted room.  The walnut walls are bedecked with certificates from prestigious universities that bespeak the doctor’s unimpeachable qualifications, while framed letters from distinguished patients she’s cured attest to her impeccable track record.  There are also some signs conveying some of her prevailing sentiments for the edification of her visitors.  One reads, “Absolute power assuages low self-esteem.”  Another proclaims: “The need to love yourself is the greatest gift of all.”  The legend below a picture of a frowning pixie-faced girl in a blue outfit suggests, “Only you can make you feel blue.”  Finally, near the entrance is a full-length poster of a clown doubled over that says, “He who laughs last laughs hardest.”

The doctor is in the middle of a therapy session with a regular patient, Macbeth, King of Scotland.)

Doctor

Can you tell me about the dream you had?

Macbeth

I was surfing on a tidal wave of blood.

Doctor

Good.  Describe the surfboard.

Macbeth

Well, at first it was black, then it turned red.  Then it morphed into a shark.  Only he didn’t have fins.  And he had Banquo’s face.

Doctor

Banquo-shmanquo.  I don’t want hear that loser’s name ever again.  Do you understand?

Macbeth

You asked me to tell you about the dream.

Doctor

Indeed I did.  But sometimes white lies are just what the doctor ordered.

Macbeth

How was I supposed to know that?  Doctor, you look so restless.  Can’t you have a little patience?

Doctor

Of course.  I must have had one too many espressos this morning.  So, tell me what else is inside your head.

Macbeth

I can’t sleep at night.  When I close my eyes, all I see is an hourglass full of human skulls raining down and forming a mountain.  The racket is deafening.  It just seems to get louder and louder.  The skulls at the bottom are crushed like seashells while the ones at the top get bashed in by the new tumbling skulls that smash into them.  There’s also a hole at the bottom of the hourglass with sand made of bones leaking out into a spreading pool of red.  The skulls just keep falling like coins raining down in a one-armed bandit whose player has hit the jackpot.

Doctor

Hmmm.  Strange.  Have you been taking the sedative I prescribed?

Macbeth

Yes, I have.  It only makes the nightmares worse.

Doctor

Mr. Macbeth, as I’ve told you before, you’re suffering from a guilty conscience–still!  What in the Sam Hill is wrong with you, man?  I mean, lighten the hell up for a change, would you?  Do you recall what we said last time about conscience?  Remember the line from the movie On the Waterfront?  You know, the scene where the priest played by Karl Malden is talking to Marlon Brando’s character Terry Malloy about his conscience?

Macbeth

No, I don’t.

Doctor

“Conscience–that stuff can drive you nuts.”

Macbeth

I’ll have to write that one down so I don’t forget.  (Writes in his diary.)  See Doc, that’s another thing–I can’t remember anything anymore.  Since I can never get enough sleep, I’m unable to process new memories.

Doctor

What are you talking about?  You remember your dreams.  In loving detail, I might add.  Unless you’re embellishing them to flatter your medical mentor.

Macbeth

Fair enough.  But the only reason I remember them is they’re incessantly recurring nightmares.

Doctor

Oh, come on, Fergus.  You have lots of phantasmagoric variety, a veritable treasure trove of nocturnal hallucinations to choose from.  I want you to keep taking the medication.  Double the dose if you have to.  Remember what we said, after all:  “Health equals wealth.”  By the way, did you send me another check for your last visit?  The first one you sent bounced right out the window.

Macbeth

Yes, I did.  You’ll have to excuse the bloodstains.

Doctor

(wagging her finger)  Ah-ah-ah, my dear king of the blues.  Don’t forget:  “Success means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Macbeth

Sorry–I keep forgetting.

Doctor

(rolling her eyes and sighing)  Oh, Mickey, Mickey, Mickey.  What ever are we going to do with you?  All righty, then. I’d like you to close your eyes. . .

Macbeth

Okay. . .

Doctor

Take a deep breath. (Macbeth inhales deeply, pushing his stomach all the way out the way his yoga teacher showed him to.)  Excellent.  Now repeat after me:  “Color red. . .”

Macbeth

“Color red. . .”

Doctor

“. . . is for the dead.”

Macbeth

“. . . is for the dead.”

Doctor

Perfect.  Now exhale until your lungs turn inside out like unsightly clusters of poppable seaweed.

(Macbeth releases a long, slow breath, his hands loosely gripping his kneecaps.)

Doctor

Very nice.  Now open your eyes.  (Macbeth opens his eyes.)  And say in a big, strong voice:  “I am not the bull.”

Macbeth

“I am not the bull.”

Doctor

“I’m the matador.”

Macbeth

“I’m the matador.”

Doctor

“I hold the red blanket.”

Macbeth

“I hold the red blanket.”

Doctor

“And the bull drops dead.”

Macbeth

“And the bull drops dead.”

Doctor

Very good!  (The doctor’s intercom on the coffee table buzzes.  She leans forward and presses a button on the device.)  Yes?

Secretary

Barack Obama’s on the phone.  He thinks he might have accidentally left his kill list behind during his last visit.

Doctor

(keeping a straight face as she pulls a piece of paper out of the breast pocket of her red suit jacket and flashes it at Macbeth, whose eyes widen and jaw drops.)  Tell him I’m afraid I haven’t seen it.

Secretary

Okay, I will.  Thank you.

Doctor

Ciao.

Macbeth

The president of the United States has a kill list?  May I see that?

Doctor

Sure.  (She hands it across the table to him.)

Macbeth

Wow!  It’s long.  How many pages is this?  (The doctor shrugs.)  What a great idea!

Doctor

Go ahead–keep it.  I’m sure he can retrieve all those names if he uses the mnemonic devices I taught him.

Macbeth

You’d think he’d have at least one extra copy for back-up.

Doctor

There’s nothing that’s certain but death, taxes, and human error.  (The doctor and Macbeth share a hearty laugh.)  There now.  Feel better?

 

 

Prey to Fraud

1.  Remote Control Freak

 

We bow our heads in prayer

to one who is not there.

We offer up our hearts

to that which is apart.

His virtues are so great,

we gobble up the bait.

Please feed us what you want;

we’ve given up the hunt.

A freely roaming flock,

we don’t believe in clocks.

And everything you say

will get us through the day.

There’s something about lies

that makes us feel so wise,

Allergic to the truth

from infancy to youth.

We no longer develop

as Jesus us envelops.

Still-born in ignorance,

we bask in impotence.

But he will make us rich–

son of a fucking bitch!

 

2.  The Fall Guy

 

Drink this brine, for it is my blood.

Eat this lead, for it is my body.

And after you’re done eating me,

go kindly brush your teeth.

And don’t go under the apple tree–

the snake pit’s underneath.

You’ve killed my ass so many times,

I can’t forgive you enough;

your species is made strong by slime–

don’t give me any guff.

But if you believe people

can rise up from the dead,

go nowhere near that steeple

and get outside your head.

You’ve got a knack for lynching folks,

a tried and true technique.

I’ve got no more time for your jokes–

go find another geek.