Monthly Archives: February 2012

You can have my iPod

Recently I received a free iPod Touch, and I was very grateful for the gift and the gesture. However, I would never have bought one for myself. I never understood the Apple obsession, nor, in a more general sense, the need to always have the newest, fanciest electronic device.

My cheap, simple phones always seemed to far outlast my friends’ app-loaded devices in terms of battery life. All their little features sucked it dry. All I care about, really, is calling and texting. I can live without an app for everything. My mom and sister always insisted on fancy, expensive phones. My mom could never figure hers out. My sister would inevitably lose hers within a couple of months.

This satirical piece from The Onion makes fun of this widespread phenomenon: our need to have the newest — and therefore better — phone, TV, computer, etc. Sometimes, a newer device is better. But by how much? Does it really justify the price difference? Could you have gotten by just fine without it?

I understand that people love Apple products’ beautiful shininess. My designer colleagues find their software essential to their work. Some see the brand as representative of all that is great about America: innovation, progression, envy-inducing glamour. Personally, I prefer my old Samsung phone and my HP laptop — and don’t get paying hundreds more for something that can easily get broken, stolen, or quickly become obsolete.

Someone once told me that owning the latest iPhone made him feel part of an exclusive society. He was willing to stand in line for hours and pay as much was required to join this elite cadre. Whenever he saw someone else with the same gadget, he felt they were connected. We all get part of our identity from the things we wear, carry and own, but this is a little much for me (this same person felt the need to lease a BMW because it is ‘an adult car’).

Because of people like him (and me, and you), Americans toss about 130,000 computers every day and about 100 million cellphones a year. This adds up to staggering environmental problems. The point is that there are no green electronics. So while we can’t live without them altogether (or can we?), we could probably live with less.

Sail beyond the sunset

One of my absolute most favorite, cherished poems is  “Ulysses” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It is the ultimate ode to living life to the fullest: “I cannot rest from travel; I will drink life to the lees …”

It is about Homer’s ancient Greek king Odysseus, but anyone with a case of restless wanderlust and an innate need for adventure can understand this mantra: “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.”

The sentiment is echoed in this popular quote by Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” 

All of us have to find a way to make our dreams come true. Our main enemies are time and resources. This is my main concern, always in the back of my mind, every day. How can I live life to the absolute fullest while still fulfilling my responsibilities and being a practical, level-headed person? After all, I can’t just catch the next plane to Paris, however enticing that idea may be. I guess I could go Into the Wild.

Sometimes it’s difficult to know if I should act on instinct or be more logical; but if I am more logical, I am holding myself back unnecessarily? Am I conforming too much to society and constructing my own mental barriers? Should I drop everything and dedicate every ounce of energy to my dream, or should I simply send my intention out into the universe, like in The Secret?

When I was little I loved books like The Chronicles of Narnia, and I would often embark on my own make-believe adventures. Now I long to explore the world and connect with nature in uncharted territories (are there even any left?). Hopefully I can find a way to sail my own ship “beyond the sunset, and the baths Of all the western stars, until I die …”

Ulysses

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. All times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known,– cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honor’d of them all,–
And drunk delight of battle with my peers,
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
>From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
to whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,–
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labor, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.
There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me,–
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads,– you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honor and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,–
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred Lord Tennyson

I’m a princess

And so, if you were born in the ’80s, are you. Most of us who came of age in the ’90s have a Disney princess or two we strongly identify with. I’ve always had a strong visceral attachment to The Little Mermaid because I watched it on repeat when I had the chicken pox as a five-year-old (in 1989, the year it came out, I just learned). Now it’s like a comfort blanket that conjures pure happiness, much like the  It’s A Small World ride at Disneyland itself. It’s childhood magic at its best, right up there with Santa Claus.

I like elements of many of the princesses. Belle was smart. She always had “her nose stuck in a book” (I still somehow know all of the songs from all of the films). And she was kind (but weren’t they all?).

Jasmine was gorgeous, with her thick dark hair that hung past her perky, silk-encased exotic hips. She had those mesmerizing almond eyes. Who cares about her personality; I’ll be her. Or Kim Kardashian.

Ariel was a precocious 16-year-old redhead. She seemed brave, curious, and  a lot of fun. But Pocahontas was even more cool. She was strong-willed, adventurous, independent, and in tune with the natural world. I would have to say, if I had to pick, that she is my favorite.

Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty  all seem to be more one-dimensional, perhaps because they are more old-school, created in ’37, ’50 and ’59, respectively. Is it nostalgia, or was the last decade of the 20th century more special? For Disney, I think it was a golden age. But nothing gold can stay…

When you are old

Just want to share a poem that I love … one of the few I know by heart. It’s by Yeats and was inspired by his lifelong love, Maud Gonne, whom he proposed to five times — and I think banged just once. Ah, life.

 When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Vegas Nostalgia

I wrote both of these pieces a year or two ago, soon after I moved to Miami from Las Vegas. I was feeling rather wistful for a while.

Desert Lights

I shut the blinds on the incessant, high-grade sunlight and lie down. Replaying the night before, I wallow in the remembrance of desire. I drain my Grande Mocha Frappucino, picked up at the 24-hour drive-through Starbucks at around sunrise. Finally, I sleep.

In the afternoon, I go lay out. An unwieldy older lady lumbers around the pool, doing laps. “You’re lucky if you have family in times like these,” she is telling me, referring to the tsunami-like recession sweeping through our city. “I won’t be here much longer.” She’s been laid off and foreclosed on, but I’m fine. Cash covered the carpet in my rented, brand-new, freshly built townhouse at the foot of Black Mountain, with a sweeping view of the Las Vegas valley. A giant park was once planned, but it remains a stagnant wash. The neighborhood is nearly empty, and sometimes I go into — trespass, I suppose — the vacant houses, looking for traces of the strangers who used to be there. It’s like a set piece for a movie, or a ghost town. Except with flawless peach stucco facades.

I sip some wine in the hot tub as the twilight deepens and disappears. This place is only gorgeous at night. Suddenly, I’m awash in a sea of gems: emeralds, rubies, sapphires and diamonds. A familiar but striking panorama of silhouettes: the tall, otherworldy Stratosphere tower; the crisp pyramid with its pure beam shooting into space; the castle spires of the Excalibur, a childhood favorite.

I’m heading that way tonight. Out of suburban Henderson, where everyone has gone to bed, and onto the I-15, which sweeps around northeastward, taking you, eventually, into Utah. My exit is Sahara, up in North Las Vegas. Past the Tropicana, Flamingo and Spring Mountain, which take you to the Strip.

Richard is sitting on his couch, rolling joints, downing Red Bull, blasting Kanye West and half-watching Entourage. He’s mad at me for taking so long. He wants me to buy him a drink.

In Rain at the Palms, I lose him a couple of times. I can’t ever get him to leave. Finally were in the parking lot elevator, and he clutches his chest in pain. He’s had one too many somethings.

I take him home and he immediately passes out. I’m alone on his balcony in the warm, strange pre-dawn. There is a couple arguing on the street below; a homeless person. The corner 7-11 is open and busy. To my right is a pawn shop and bail bonds. To my left, the irresistible lights.

The Bull-Dozed Water Park of Pre-Pubescence

Time moved in a slow daze
the water park had closed last summer
not for renovation, but forever,
due to defecation
floating feces in the wave pool
a resultant mass exodus
or perhaps someone had lept from the Bonzai Bonzai
accidentally or suicidally
I recall the flashes of lime green light as I hurtled
through the Black Hole
Alanis Morisette singing all I really want
as half-naked, ungainly strangers meandered barefoot
over wet cement as if we were an ancient people
children stayed in the shallow end
our coming of age was at the other end
from the top of the slide you could see out
over the dead brown dirt and otherworldly facades
you went down so fast your back got scratched
and every ride felt like it could be your last
Dip n Dots were the ice cream of the future
pastel pink, mint green, snowflake white
melted together in a plastic cup
while you’re too young to care
how your suit makes your ass look
and whose boobs are bigger
I had a rose red one piece with ruffles
over the hips and a brightly colored floral print
that pleasantly deceived butterflies into sitting on my stomach
my cousin’s best friend Alicia would be a beauty queen
but back then she had braces
and the boys in back of us in line at Raging Rapids
told her she would only be pretty without them
at twelve I was invisible, but at thirteen even policemen called me jailbait
but where did Wet n Wild go? Forgotten like a bygone era, an adolescent fling,
a dead great aunt, and now, poor Vegas lacks its oasis.

I like it hot and sweaty

I love to sweat. Whether from basking in the midday sun (yes, I lay out in the sun), an outdoor run, a dancing marathon, or a sauna session, breaking a sweat feels cleansing and refreshing.

Sweating is a purifying act that cleanses the body and clears the mind. We are saturated every day with toxins from air, food, environment and water, and sweating allows us to get rid of them — chemicals and heavy metals like urea, nickel, excess zinc and ammonia.

By opening up the pores, enhancing circulation and washing away dead skin cells and bacteria, the process of sweating is beneficial for the skin and can result in a glowing, healthy complexion.

I recently experienced a lovely day at The Russian and Turkish Baths, one of my favorite places to visit in Miami. This underground labyrinth is modeled on the baths found all over the European and Asian continents and the ones originally indulged in by the Ancient Greeks and Romans.

Underneath a Miami Beach resort called The Castle, these baths are relaxing, and, according to the Miami New Times, a great place to meet singles. You wear a swimsuit and, for $35, can stay for hours. The baths are open every day until midnight and have a cafe/juice bar, a gym, a relaxation room, a hot tub filled with ocean salt water, an aromatherapy steam room, a hammam, a cold ‘polar bear’ room, cold water showers and pools, hydrotherapy rooms, opportunities for massages and treatments (like platza) and various other hot saunas like the infrared sauna, which penetrates deep into your cells.

Here are some benefits of infrared saunas:

  • Causes weight loss
  • Helps treat cellulite
  • Improves your immune system
  • Improves your strength and vitality
  • Helps cure several skin diseases like eczema, psoriasis and acne
  • Strengthens the cardio-vascular system
  • Helps control your blood pressure
  • Detoxifies your body
  • Gives you more energy and relieves stress
  • Helps treat burns and scars
  • Relieves pain (joint pain, sore muscles, arthritis)
  • Helps control your cholesterol level
  • Helps treat bronchitis
  • Helps treat hives (urticaria), gout, tissue damage, prostate hypertrophy

I happen to think that the FDA and the American Cancer Society and the like are incredibly corrupt. They think antiperspirants are fine and declared that people who think otherwise are perpetrating a hoax. Antiperspirants often contain strong chemicals and aluminum, which has been linked to breast cancer and Alzheimer’s. It is not good to block your pores under your arms because your body needs to cleanse and this area is near your lymph nodes. Here is an article that explains further, but it is buried under four search term pages sponsored by these corporate-funded institutions that claim this is false. It is up to you to do the research and figure out what and who you want to believe.

I use this natural deoderant and it works great. As in, I smell good. Give it a try.

On a similar note, I love real rosewater and jasmine spray for my skin and hair, roll-on essential oils and this natural perfume — all found at Whole Foods. The majority of perfumes and colognes can be carcinogenic.

Your skin soaks up whatever you put on it — so go as natural as you can, and make sure to work up a sweat as often as possible.

Living in a virtual space

I have been thinking lately about how the way we physically interact with our environment on a daily basis has completely altered over the past century. A big chunk of my life, for example, is spent typing on a keyboard. The sensation of lightly tapping and swiping on touchscreens would be totally novel to our ancestors.

While none of us, myself included, want to give up the convenience and connectivity that cell phones and laptops provide, there may be something we are missing out on by not using our hands and bodies in other, more arduous and complex ways. For example, just by writing by hand, the old-fashioned way, can stimulate cognitive development in ways that typing cannot.

Studies have shown that creating objects with your hands can combat depression by enhancing creativity and self-esteem, releasing feel-good chemicals and encouraging new neural connections. This Whole Living article makes the case for taking up a craft or hobby – one that doesn’t involve staring at a screen.

“When we knit a scarf, for instance, [neuroscientist Kelly Lambert] says, the brain’s executive-thinking centers get busy planning, then the happy-anticipation zone begins to zing with activity, talking back to the executive top brain and reaching out to other parts that make us dive our hands into the action … If we’re just plonking away at a keyboard, a rote motion that doesn’t promote the kind of neurogenesis (aka new learning) that comes with trial and error, “we start to lose a sense of control, which creates anxiety,” Lambert explains. But when we repeatedly do things with our hands that have a tangible result, “we get better at them and we have more confidence.”

I also feel my subconscious has been trying to tell me something via dreams. As a child, I loved to climb super high trees. As a teen, I loved to rock climb. Now living in a totally flat state, I haven’t been able to fulfill this seemingly innate urge. Last night I dreamt I was clambering up walls and flying from building to building – a euphoric sensation. In another dream, I was painting on a canvas – something I’ve wanted to try for a while, despite not being trained in oil painting nor technically being “an artist.”

I also often have dreams of playing soccer, a sport I loved and played for years before suffering a knee injury. My physical body – and it seems, my inner essence – really misses the feeling.

I recall a documentary (I believe it was 2012: Time for a Change) where a yoga practitioner notes that yoga is so important for the modern person because of our rigid, frontal-facing lifestyle. Many of us sit for 8 plus hours at a desk, then sit in the same position in a car, then come home and sit in front of a TV. People aren’t used to stretching and exerting the various parts of their bodies – a situation that is detrimental to the body as well as the mind.

Also, by being obsessed with chronicling our thoughts and activities via social media, our focus on just actually enjoying the present moment is diluted. In extreme examples, the middle-aged housewife lives vicariously through the reality TV and HBO series she just can’t miss, the young boy spends hours upon hours shooting virtual enemies instead of engaging with his peers in the outdoors. Or, the career-driven, image-obsessed adult is so fixated on their gadgets — like Arianna Huffington mused about recently — that they literally miss what is going on around them.

To close, I came across this short Letter from the Editor entitled “Will Facebook alter How we Think?” in a magazine called The Week which echoes these thoughts:

Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg and his fellow visionaries, my daughters have 150 more friends than I did at their age. Nearly every waking moment holds the possibility of a status update, a text, an IM, a YouTube link, or other communication from the matrix. I look upon their busy digital lives with some wonderment, but no envy. As a teen in that ancient prehistory before social media, I spent at least two hours outdoors every day, regardless of weather, engaged in some mindless ballgame or other, running everywhere I went, and glorying in my sheer physicality. When I flirted with girls and joked with my buddies, we were face to face at the corner or at the park; when I retreated to my room, I could ruminate on matters large and small, and focus for hours on one thing—music, my homework, a book. I read lots of books. My daughters used to love books, too, but now that their laptops and their smartphones are always pinging, there is less time for that. Someone somewhere always has something to say.

Even as an aging Boomer, I’m not wholly immune to digital cocaine: I’m online all day, and I’d weep if you took my iPad away. The revolution swallows us all. Still, is it silly and backward to wonder how the onslaught of nonstop input—most of it trivial—is altering how we think? Before GPS, scientists have found, people made intricate “mental maps” that guided them to destinations; with use, the spatial region of the brain actually grows larger. Rely on GPS, and your unaided ability to find your way withers—and so, perhaps, does some of your gray matter. If we rely on Facebook et al. as an interface with reality, what withers? What shrinks?   — William Falk

As we live increasingly in a digital world – no longer, like Madonna, in the material – this is definitely a worthwhile question to consider.

Goodbye blue butterflies

Today I read a heartbreaking story about how the Miami Blue Butterfly has vanished from its last Florida refuge. “The pale blue butterfly – about the size of a quarter – was once ubiquitous in the hardwood hammocks, pines and scrub along the Florida coasts from the Keys north to Tampa Bay on the Gulf Coast and Cape Canaveral on the Atlantic. But the region’s development after World War II slowly shrank its habitat until by the early 1990s it was found only in the Keys … No confirmed Miami blues have been seen on Bahia Honda since July 2010, and with each passing day it becomes less likely any exist there. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last August issued an emergency listing of the Miami blue as an endangered species and three similar butterflies – cassius blue, ceranus blue and nickerbean blue – as threatened.”

This is a case in point of a tragic situation that is playing out all over the world. In the U.S. Midwest, fireflies and bumblebees are declining at alarming rates. Soon I will be visiting one of the last areas where tiny bioluminscent organisms cause the water to glow — one of the many natural wonders I hope don’t disappear forever.

There are many animals — like the Sumatran tiger, panda bear, coral reefs — that are on the brink of extinction.The specific causes of these species endangerment are myriad — nonnative species, light pollution, chemical pollution, climate change — but all come down to habitat destruction due to development and human encroachment.

I know there is no easy answer. There are around 7 billion people on the planet who need a place to live and food to eat. Somehow, the symbiotic balance went awry. I hate to think of the suffering of the precious, inimitable creatures of the world and to know that the staggering biodiversity of our beautiful planet is in decline. I wish there was some way I could help.

To quote Brian May, former guitarist for Queen, in a speech he delivered to a room full of scientists, astronauts, artists and musicians (full transcript, entitled “What Are We Doing In Space?’ is found here; scroll down to read, it’s a great message):

We need new lands, do we? The Earth is no longer big enough for us? Right? So, briefly … shall we look at the damage we have done already to our own beautiful planet … a planet uniquely perfectly suited to our needs, and the needs of all the creatures who, as Richard Dawkins has reminded us, each at the pinnacle of their evolutionary path, worthily share the Earth with us. Looking at our planet from afar … it looks so peaceful, clean, gentle, unsullied. It evolved over millions of years, with its flora and fauna, its delicate balance of emergent LIFE. But this paradise, this Eden, is not showing us the hurt it has endured, in the mere couple of hundred years since Man became all-powerful. It’s hard to imagine, now, what the Earth was like, just 300 years ago, before we covered it with roads, concrete and fast food chains.

It was literally teeming with life. It’s said that when Captain Cooke first dropped anchor in the Seychelles, there were so many turtles in the sea, you could walk on them all the way to the shore.

It’s said that when the last rail was laid on the first railroad across the USA, you could travel from coast to coast and there was never a time when you couldn’t see buffalo.

Where do we even start to assess the impact we have had on our planet? Garik Israelian pointed out to me that, ironically, we have produced so much light pollution, that most of us can no longer see the stars from where we live … so maybe we have to go into space to see them!

A few months ago I wrote this poem after witnessing a lone butterfly fluttering around my apartment complex parking lot. The article I read today made me think of it:

Yellow Butterfly in a Parking Lot

Like something from a distant time, that doesn’t quite belong

Suddenly running into your childhood friend in an unfamiliar town

Or finding an old hat you haven’t seen in years

Two yellow wings aflutter on a Monday workday morning

Looking for a bush to land on in an asphalt parking lot

As it looped, seemingly confused, without a friend in sight

The Miami cars sped past. I couldn’t look away.

I too was late for work. But I couldn’t leave this living thing

This vestige from the natural world that looked so lost and so afraid

And as I drove away and looked behind, two men with big shears

Weed whackers and leaf blowers, went to work on the single sidewalk shrub

And my golden miracle was gone

Don’t buy it. Share it!

I just read a fascinating article about the rise of the new sharing economy. Reading it was, to use a cliché, a breath of fresh air. I was getting so sick of constantly hearing about new products being pumped into the market place, of rampant consumerism, about the way so many people find it necessary to own a car and an iPhone. Environmental destruction  is largely occurring due to our society’s insatiable, wasteful quest for more.

In the sharing economy, the goods that are already out there are shared in a consumer-to-consumer model. This is a win-win: it is more economical and more eco-conscious.

In a Ted talk, a tech entrepreneur named Lisa Gansky made a very valid, if shocking, point: people, on average, use their cars only about 8 percent of the time (and probably could get by with using it a lot less). Cars are, however, the most expensive thing people own/lease next to their residence. Enter a slew of car-sharing start-ups.

Airbnb is one of the fastest growing companies out there. Craigslist and eBay have been a hit for years. There are several other companies that exemplify this concept in different ways. Some are for-profit, others not. Some are completely free (you can borrow someone’s bike for a few hours, for example) while others cost, but cost a lot less than buying new.

So you could borrow a boat, BBQ, or Park City condo the few times you really want/need it instead of paying for it new and then having it lie around unused for years.

I really like this concept of using what already exists instead of generating more and more. I find it a good way to, if not completely eschew capitalism and consumerism, to at least find a happy medium, a compromise. I think it also forces people to stop mindlessly acquiring and really think about what they need, perhaps focusing more on experiences rather than things. I came across an infographic that illustrates how my generation, while still in the pursuit of the American Dream, equates it less with owning a car and a house as status symbols of having made it and more as finding a unique path to fulfillment.

Speaking of American Illusions, this other infographic kind of shatters a few of them. And speaking of coconut oil — okay that’s completely off-topic — but here are a ton of awesome things it can do.