Sunday, December 19, 2010

We Are the Dupes

There's a protest against censorship on the steps of the Met today, because of the Smithsonian banning of David Wojnarowicz' video, 'Fire in my Belly,' above.

I, for one, am disgusted.  I am disgusted because people are such goddamn dupes. 

You don't have to censor art to get rid of it.  All you have to do is ignore it.  'Censorship' was the best thing to happen to Wojnarowicz' work; tens of thousands of people have now watched this video who would otherwise never have heard of it.

We're still completely missing his message, however.

For those of you who are confused as to exactly why an ant-covered crucifix offends some people; it's because the message of Christ is that he was crucified and resurrected.  Ants imply the presence of rot; Christ, allegedly, didn't.  But we, the people, crucify each other every day and leave the corpses to rot.  That's the message.

David Wojnarowicz died of AIDS in 1992.  Today, there are saviors dying of hideous diseases all around us, but we're ignoring them on behalf of self-righteous protests, for and against 'censorship.'  We are allowing ourselves to be overtly manipulated by the forces which profit from people's deaths.

Because do you know what ELSE happened this week?  Republicans, on behalf of the wealthiest .1% of us, filibustered a bill that would have provided healthcare to 9/11 first responders who are dying of cancer. 

They did this because it is in the financial interests of the ruling class for the other 99.9% of us to be distracted and at each other's throats.  While we're blaming our neighbor for being bigoted, immoral, intolerant, depraved, degenerate, lazy, and generally a Bad Person, we're ignoring the ways in which ALL of us are being exploited by the plutocracy which is destroying this country.

Artists: Christians are not the enemy.  Christians: Artists are not the enemy.  I know that it is scary to realize that YOU could be the one abandoned by the system when you fall ill, lose a job, or help someone else at your own expense, but sticking your head in the sand doesn't change the reality.  Your neighbor is your natural ally, whether he be a starving artist, an offended Christian, an illegal immigrant, or a dying firefighter--as long as you look at who is REALLY pulling the strings, and refuse to be distracted by trivialities.

Wake up.

Friday, November 05, 2010

In Praise of Facebook

What's with all the Facebook bashing?  'Facebook users are narcissistic.'  'Yes, and also immature.'  Facebook 'friends' aren't real friends!  Get over it!  Move on!  The rest of us have. 

Well, I love Facebook, and I'm not ashamed to say it.  I love it because it satisfies two of my primary neuroses--wanting to know how people are, in perpetuity, and not wanting to pester them. 

I was beyond delighted, the first time I was 'friended' by someone from elementary school.  I had been looking for that girl for twenty-five years.  Just because we're not seven years old and living down the street from one another anymore doesn't mean that I stopped liking her; it's a real thrill to know that A. is doing just fine, is happily married with two kids, and living in Dallas.

Is this so strange?  Reading the comments in this letter, I get the feeling that there are a lot of people out there who can't understand it.  They regard Facebook as an onerous burden, or a popularity contest, or a haven for the self-involved.  But it seems to me that there's nothing less self-involved than being interested in other people, whether you see them every day or not.

The reason I love it is that it takes so little effort.  What's narcissistic, as well as time-consuming, is emailing a thousand people five times a week; Facebook is great because you can ignore it. You can share as much or as little as you like, and everybody out there is free to take it or leave it.

Also, it helps me to avoid one of my existential terrors--that of Calling At A Bad Time.  Thanks to Facebook, I will never run the risk of inviting someone to see the latest Harry Potter film when they're on the way to their mother's funeral.  I can limit my guest list to people who are not in labor.  I can send congratulations, condolences and silly jokes at the right moments, not the wrong ones.  How is this not a fabulous thing?

Of course my Facebook 'friends' aren't all my friends.  I'm not an idiot.  It's a good way of helping me decide who I want to get to know better, however.  If I 'friend' a new acquaintance and discover that she's a member of 'One Million Strong For Sarah Palin,' that saves me the price of a cup of coffee.  
I'm not going to 'defriend' her, though.  Since Facebook is such a minimal-impact medium, it perplexes me when people feel a need to purge their 'friend' lists for trivial reasons, such as 'I don't know who all these people even are,'  or 'We haven't spoken face to face in three months.'  The only things that will cause me to defriend you is: 1) I don't know you, and you keep sending me press releases for events in cities that I never visit; and 2) I know you very, very well, and you know what you did.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tipping the Proletariat

Memo to Greg Beato: go pick on someone in your own tax bracket.
But if tipping isn’t exactly a rational exercise, it is an ingenious and metaphorically valuable contrivance. It gives plate-schleppers a chance to act like entrepreneurs. It gave men who can’t afford dessert a chance to act like philanthropists. It imbues the players on both sides of a transaction with a greater sense of autonomy. A waiter isn’t locked into whatever limits his boss might set for him — he can partially determine his own fate. A customer can exert some power in determining the ultimate value of his dining experience.
Greg, forgive me, but you've tipped your hand there.  "It imbues the players with a greater sense of autonomy."  Not the real thing. The reality of tipping is that it places the livelihoods of the lowest wage earners at the mercy of the whims of the self-righteous.

Ask yourself; how many waiters do you know who have health insurance?  Bartenders?  Baristas?  Estheticians?  Hairdressers?  Have you ever taken a moment to consider the economic realities of life in the service industries?

Let me clue you in.  A massage therapist who works at an average spa (as a not-so-random example) is a contract employee.  That means they receive a flat rate per service provided, which averages between 20-35% of the retail price of the service.  If there are no clients, they do not get paid.  They receive no guaranteed minimum salary, no sick leave, vacation, workers compensation, health insurance or overtime.  When they blow their backs out working on an overweight client or catch the flu from a sick one, they're two weeks away from indigence.

Your average waiter or barista has it even worse, because employers use tipping as an excuse to pay less than minimum wage.  It is perfectly possible to work a 9-hour shift without even a bathroom break, and net less in wages than your average customer just spent on dinner.

Under these circumstances, tipping is not just a 'metaphorically valuable contrivance.'  It's bus fare, groceries, diapers and the gas bill.  When a client exercises her option not to tip, she is making a unilateral, uninformed decision to deny basic sustenance to the person who has just fed her, cared for her, and relieved her pain.  Is this liberty, or is it exploitation?

As one Facebook friend put it: "The way service providers are treated certainly reflects how people feel about service--as though it were a terrible fate, but one that was deserved, thereby justifying the Darwinian bully attacks."  It rarely occurs to the American consumer that service might be an honorable vocation, not a desperate option for the ignorant and the feckless.
Greg Beato rails against making tipping automatic; in this way, he declares, we lose our option to 'starve the beast' of taxes, Big Government, and all the ills thereof.  So why is it, Greg, that 'starving the beast' all too often requires starving the ones who barely glean a living from the crumbs it drops, rather than those who gain the most from its excesses?

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Long Silence

I almost need to steal the title from Franklin's latest post: Patience With Everything Unresolved.  In fact, I almost need to steal Franklin's template.  Being is becoming, and blogs are becoming something else.

It's not that I haven't had anything to say.  I've shamelessly blogged my way through several major life transitions; maybe it's in the nature of the current one to be different.  In any case, I'm not making any promises. 

Briefly, the news is this: I've decided to become a physical therapist.  It's a doctoral degree that will take me five or six years to complete, including prerequisites.  Although I've got two bachelor's degrees already, they're--surprise!--virtually useless.  I recently sent for my transcript, and its dominant theme is 'Course Of Study Undertaken By An Adolescent Mind.'  People under twenty-five should not be allowed to go to college, I swear.

What this means is that I will be broke and working my ass off for the foreseeable future, which will not be a big change.  What will be a big change is that when I'm done, I will be employable at a solid middle-class salary for the first time in my life. 

This could not have happened if I hadn't become thoroughly and irremediably disgusted with the state of the art world.  It should come as no surprise to anyone that I am an idealist--stubborn, possibly naive, certainly foolish.  Art represented part of an ideal to me, and I invested a big chunk of my soul in it, along with considerably more money than my actual income. 

And 'art,' as practiced by the self-styled elite of the global art scene, is a giant confidence game.  I used to think I could either change it or create a niche for myself within it; now I think that my values are incompatible with its founding principles.  Continuing to sacrifice my time, money and attention to this cynical game doesn't make me a dedicated artist, it just makes me a chump.

I've long been aware that I have three vocations--artist, writer, and healer.  For the last couple of decades, I've been weighting the 'artist' as the primary part of my identity.  Letting go of that is a wrench to my ego, but necessary to my soul.  I will have a studio again, I will paint again, but maybe not for a good long time.  Now is the time for exercising my lazy but adequate left brain, and taking the adventure that comes.  

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Consciousness Painter

'Sunset Holocaust,' Elisabeth Condon, 2009
Acrylic on canvas, 118.10 x 78.74 inches

Every now and then I meet an artist who reminds me that with all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, art can still be a meaningful occupation.  When I do, I often notice that artistic mastery is a non-linear process.  Elisabeth Condon is the real deal, and in the last couple of years her work has hit an exponential curve.

Over a year ago, I was lucky enough to visit Elisabeth's studio in Brooklyn with my critique group.  I'd seen her exhibition at Lesley Heller Gallery in 2008, and one painting in particular had impressed me; it started to become metaphysical jazz, blurring the boundaries between space, time and consciousness.  But it was hard to tell if this was an accident or not.

During her crit, it became clear that Elisabeth throws the entirety of her heart, mind and soul into her work, and she's got a lot of these things to throw.  The details of her trajectory make up a respectable résumé--influences ranging from Chinese scroll paintings to Dr. Seuss; trips to China, residencies in Miami, Spain, Yaddo and Taiwan; figure painting intensives, architectural studies, paint pouring. If I were a real art critic, I'd feel obliged to trace these influences in sober detail.

But I'm not.  I'm just another painter, who believes that great art transcends both biography and intellect.  "The Chinese believe that paintings must have chi," said Elisabeth, and her paintings have tons of it.  They come at you like a tidal wave, immersing you in the full experience of color, sucking you into spaces which twist and bulge and drop away, altering the fabric of your mind.

 'Gaoxing, Beijing', Elisabeth Condon, 2009
Acrylic on canvas, 118.10 x 78.74 inches

The paintings she was working on when I went to her studio were a quantum leap beyond the work in her Lesley Heller show; bigger, freer, less literal and more graceful.  One of them, an enormous blue poured abstraction, was half finished.  In standard crit group fashion, we suggested she leave it that way.  She replied, "I can't, I just can't."  Elisabeth doesn't hold anything back.  Art doesn't occupy a cool, political corner of her life; it IS her life.  And her life is a joyous and generous one.  

Since then, things have only gotten better.  In her best work, the distinction between abstraction and representation becomes meaningless--form, space, color and architecture dance among themselves as limpidly as thought.  Standing in front of one, you find yourself remembering experiences that aren't necessarily yours.  Elisabeth's work communicates directly, without any need for translation. 

Monday, April 12, 2010

After Art

Art is not the end of the line.  I used to think it was, but that was just my ego talking. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

'Tis the Voice of the Asshole

Some asshole gets hold of the intercom:   
Two South Jersey Wal-Mart customers who heard a racist message broadcast over the store's public address system say the whole ordeal is no laughing matter.
Sheila Ellington and Virginia Tinsley were shopping inside the Washington Township Wal-Mart along Rt. 42 in Turnersville, N.J. just before 5 p.m. on Sunday when they say a man came over the PA system and said: "Attention Wal-Mart customers: All black people leave the store now."
"It was a disgusting comment," Ellington said. "Once I heard that, I was absolutely shocked and appalled."
Why do we listen to assholes?

Statistically speaking, we are less likely to be overrun by Mongolian hordes, Roman legions, conquistadors, or renegade cowboys than in the vast majority of human history.  In most countries, rape and kidnapping are frowned upon as a means of obtaining wives.  Brute force is no longer the final word in most social interactions. 

At no other time in history have we had quite the luxury of shrugging off the perspectives of assholes, in the way we do now.

And yet our bruised psyches do not believe it's true.  Thousands of years of brutality have left their mark; we still behave as though the Voice of the Asshole will inevitably be followed up by an unanswerable blow to the head.

As a result, the psychic power of assholes is magnified beyond their natural scope.  Thus I propose a mantra: call it the Mantra of Emerging Civilization. 

The next time you hear some asshole broadcasting his assholery to all and sundry, say to yourself, "Dude, you're an asshole."  Then mentally flip the switch.  Turn off the Glenn Beck in your head. Consign Rush Limbaugh to the trash heap of history.  Open your mind to a new era of freedom.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Pain and Ignorance

The more I learn about chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia, the more it is clear to me that medicine is still in its infancy.  From the New York Times:
The cause of this disorder is unknown. Physical or emotional trauma may play a role in development of the syndrome. Some evidence suggests that fibromyalgia patients have abnormal pain transmission responses.
It has been suggested that sleep disturbances, which are common in fibromyalgia patients, may actually cause the condition. Another theory suggests that the disorder may be associated with changes in skeletal muscle metabolism, possibly caused by decreased blood flow, which could cause chronic fatigue and weakness.
Others have suggested that an infectious microbe, such as a virus, triggers the illness. At this point, no such virus or microbe has been identified.
Pilot studies have shown a possible inherited tendency toward the disease, though evidence is very preliminary.

Could this be any more vague and tentative?  We're only about a decade away from dismissing the whole thing as 'crazy woman syndrome.' 

Fibromyalgia is one of the reasons I became a bodyworker.  I saw people close to me suffering from it, and I saw the medical establishment making their suffering worse through ignorance, indifference and judgement. I may not be able to cure people's pain, but at least I can do someone the honor of taking it seriously. 

People with chronic pain, for the most part, cope with it by coping.  That's not a tautology.  Coping is a fluid process, different for every person and at every time.  Exercise may help, or not.  Pain medication, ditto.  Massage, sometimes.  Acupuncture, heat therapy, yoga may work, then stop working.  It never ends.

One thing I have observed, in over a decade of giving and receiving bodywork, is that there seems to be a powerful and complex relationship between fascia and the nervous system.  I have noticed that often the subtlest forms of bodywork can have the most profound affects.  I don't pretend to understand the mechanism behind it, but there are a couple of areas where I'd like to see some research done.

One is network spinal analysis.  The theory behind it is that by stimulating the spinal cord in areas where it attaches to the spine, you enable the body to release spinal tension and adjust itself.  After one treatment by an NSA chiropractor, I found my hips releasing the turn-out stress of twelve years of ballet training, and re-aligning in their natural forward-facing stance.  This chiropractor reported that many of her clients saw significant improvement from conditions as serious as MS, from treatment over time. 

The other is the M.E.L.T Method, a simple self-care technique that uses balls and rollers to rebalance and hydrate connective tissue.  It is now primarily used by athletes and personal trainers, but the results I've seen have been so dramatic that I'd like to see more research into its effectiveness on fibromyalgia and other chronic pain syndromes.

The more bodywork I do, the more it seems to me that the mind/body dichotomy is meaningless.  I'd describe it as a mind/body continuum.  At the very least there is a constant feedback loop going in both directions, both consciously and unconsciously.  An adjustment at any point in the loop can have wide-reaching effects; my interest is in finding the most efficient points of intervention.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Satan Unmasked

Jerry Seinfeld was always abhorrent. It is simply that it took most people a couple of decades to notice:
The one star who appeared to be immune from the curse was Jerry Seinfeld who enjoyed relative success in stand-up comedy despite ill-conceived endeavors such as Bee Movie. But now with his new near-universally loathed show The Marriage Ref his legacy seems more threatened than ever.
'Seinfeld' was not a brilliant sitcom.  It was evil and vile.  It was wilfully and self-righteously shallow, trivial and vain.  It was not funny.  It was vicious in its banality.

I may have watched an episode of 'Seinfeld' in its entirety once or twice, but I never managed to do so without feeling that I had been spiritually spat upon.  Most of the time I did not last for more than two or three minutes.  Even now I feel my stomach seize up if someone tunes to a rerun in my vicinity.

The fact that Jerry Seinfeld's new show is being universally panned merely demonstrates that our collective consciousness is catching up with reality.  Smarmy, facile spite is not only destructive of the fabric of society, it is not even good for a chuckle.  

Friday, February 26, 2010

Spiritual Necessity

It's about freakin' time.
What’s missing is art that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand. A lot but not all of this kind of work is painting, which seems to be becoming the art medium that dare not speak its name where museums are concerned.
It's sad, really, how over the top was the reaction to Roberta's editorial. Jerry Saltz's Facebook page exploded with expressions of gratitude from hundreds of artists.  The Brooklyn Rail posted a remarkably militant expression of solidarity:
We would go a step further and state unequivocally that many of these individuals have not only shirked their public responsibility, they have turned the museums into playgrounds for an elitist group of trustees and globetrotting art fair devotees, stocking their exhibitions primarily from “powerful galleries.”
Parallels to the financial institution debacle did not go unnoticed:
Sometimes the art world actually lags behind society, and the bursting of its preachy-self-indulgence bubble follows rather than leads the collapse of the economy's credit bubble by a couple of years. In the money world, anybody could borrow any amount for practically anything. In art, anyone could claim to be addressing any social issue with just about any work, and curators believed it.
So the question remains, why should we care? 

In my opinion, Roberta's much-quoted phrase 'intense personal necessity' does not go far enough.  It conjures up a vision of the obsessive, solipsistic artist working alone in the studio, churning out quirky, useless objects for purchase by wealthy people.  Given the dire economic conditions in which we find ourselves, fighting a battle to bring more painting into museums seems a little quixotic, and I say this as a painter myself.

Artists, as a whole, are pretty good at dealing with poverty.  We have to be. To look at the 'art' in museums, you'd never know that artists today have meaningful responses to real-world problems; you'd think we were a bunch of useless, smarmy man-children.

What is truly disgusting about the museum playgrounds is the way in which they siphon energy, resources and attention from artists who are working not only out of personal necessity, but out of spiritual necessity--responding to the world in ways that expand our ideas of what is possible.  Artists like the members of Urban Farm Syndicate:
Our goal is to turn Central Brooklyn’s biggest problem into its greatest resource by working with landowners instead of against them. 13% of the Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood, for example, is vacant land. This vacant land creates opportunities for crime, vermin and dumping, and drives down property values. We believe this land also has the capacity to give rise to the very things that grow a community: dignified living wage jobs; a thriving local economy based on delicious, healthy food and an enduring educational resource for local schoolchildren and academia alike.
Or artists doing what we always do, going into neighborhoods that might as well be war zones and revitalizing them:
Artists are being pushed out left and right, publications folding, galleries closing, all while more and more MFAs continue to be churned out than can possibly be hired on by Manhattan’s service industry. Space is at a premium. Do we continue to go even further east into the cramped, treeless, concrete, PCB infested jungle of Bushwick, eventually reaching East New York’s hour-long commute for valuable studio and exhibition space? Or do we begin to explore other venues west of the Hudson? In the wide-open (*gasp*) NEW JERSEY!? In our case, we're going with Jersey.
Contrary to the apparent beliefs of the curatorial set, 'meaning' does not reside in facile, arcane references within a pile of visual koans.  It does not reside in unintelligible wall text.  It most certainly does not reside in the cynical manipulation of political and economic systems to grab a share of money and attention that is totally disproportionate to the quality of one's contributions.

Spiritual necessity is about a lot more than making objects.  It is about allowing the world to change us, as much as we change the world.  Most artists don't plan to become community organizers, entrepreneurs, healers or activists; it's what happens to us when we the irresistable force of our creativity meets the immovable object of the physical world.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

How Not to Be a Terrorist

Glenn Greenwald describes Joe Stack's manifesto as 'perfectly cogent.'  Except for his conclusion that 'violence is the only answer,' I tend to agree.  Partisan ideologues are running in circles, each trying to blame his act of terrorism on the Other Side, but if you bother to read what he wrote, it's clear that it's not that simple.

Contrary to the various labels that the pundits are flinging around, Joe Stack was not a populist.  Neither was he a Communist, a Tea Bagger, or a liberal.  He was a smart, creative guy who empirically discovered that Big Systems in this country are designed to drain him dry--specifically, the smart, the creative, the independent and the non-conformist.  They drain everyone else too, but they work much faster and more viciously on people like Joe.
Item: The Labor Department estimates that up to 30 percent of companies misclassify employees as 'independent contractors' in order to avoid paying Social Security, unemployment, health insurance or worker's compensation.  Among the most often misclassified workers are truck drivers, construction workers, home health aides and high-tech engineers.

Item: The United States has the highest documented incarcaration rate in the world.  Over half are imprisoned for non-violent offenses.  

Item: A homeless man get a 15-year sentence for stealing $100 and returning it, while corporate officers who steal billions from taxpayers, investors and their own employees keep the money and write the laws.

Item: The average debt of a medical student who graduated in 2009 is $156,456.  
Item: The Catholic Church.  

I could go on, but as Joe Stack has clearly demonstrated, that way lies madness.

So how do we cope with the fact that institutions which supposedly exist to sustain and connect us--schools, corporations, churches, and government--have turned into parasitic monsters which extract ever more and give ever less, using our finest characteristics--honesty, intelligence, compassion, creativity, discipline--as levers to enslave us?

The reason terrorism does not work, as an instrument of change, is that fear paralyzes the mind.  The best weapon against institutional thuggery is not violence; it is the freedom of thought and action which emanates from a mind at peace with itself.  This is why institutional thugs bring out their most vicious tricks when confronted with a decent person who thinks for herself. 

This is also why we cannot look to institutional leaders to get us out of this mess.  They created it; they have a vested interest in sustaining it.

So I have a few suggestions.
Learn to care for yourself--really.  Learn to eat well, exercise well, meditate well.  Learn to live on less, even if you still have a job.  Revel in joys that are free. 

Quit looking upward.  Quit looking for someone to hire you, fire you, take charge, change the rules, enforce the rules.  Quit waiting for the grant, the donor, the collector, the award, the promotion.  Stop buying lottery tickets.  Consider long and hard before you pay for another degree.

Connect laterally.  The person you see as your competitor is potentially your ally.  That guy who might take your job, could be your business partner.  Collaborate, encourage, experiment and assist. 

Nurture love and meaning wherever you find it.
 I suspect that before much longer, systems and ways of living we took for granted will vanish, or undergo a radical transformation.  We can either give way to panic, violence, rage and despair, or we can take the opportunity to heal ourselves, our society and our planet.  It's up to every one of us to decide.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Way back in the Dark Ages, I used to be a College Republican. Not only that, I was a Young Conservative. Of Texas. I spent more hours than I care to remember, actually going door-to-door to get out the vote for some of the most--well. Let's just say that my disgust with the conservative movement was an organic process, derived from direct personal experience of the hypocrisy, chauvinism, bigotry and overt, shameless greed of those who espoused it.

One of the salient characteristics of College Republicans was their knee-jerk submission to authority. I was one of the few true believers--manning the table on the West Mall, attending meetings, debating liberals and making friends with them. Most College Republicans were members of fraternities and sororities, who joined solely in order to boost their resumes. But when the order came down, they went to the polls and voted for the approved candidate, whether they knew jack about the issues or, overwhelmingly, not.

When I eventually defected to the Young Democrats and associated ilk, I found the opposite problem. They were constantly getting side-tracked by trivial issues and splitting into factions. In any group of ten, you'd find fifteen irreconcilable opinions. This may have provided infinite opportunities for personal growth and self-expression, but it was hell on getting things done.

Which brings me to the current moment.

People with financial and political power don't get their power by accident. They know how to seize it and they know how to keep it. Since power is their priority, they don't take their eye off the ball, and they don't give it up for petty concerns like a landslide popular vote, a ruined economy, forty million uninsured, skyrocketing medical bankruptcies or a destroyed city. They're only in it for themselves, and they don't care what happens to you.

Nevertheless, we and Obama have to reckon with them, because they've got 1) tons of money; 2) a huge propaganda machine; 3) the SCOTUS tilting the balance in their favor. Acting as if they'll just go away because they lost an election is naive and foolish.

Progressives, quit your bitching. Quit whining about how Obama has betrayed you, how he didn't fix the economy in 30 seconds, how 60% of the population wants a public option, how this healthcare bill sucks and we should just junk it and start over. What are you, twelve? Did you really think that the Presidency was a magic wand that Obama could wave and recreate the system? Did you think that the stupid, the greedy, the spiteful, the easily manipulated and the sociopathic power-mongers would just go away?

Look, this isn't a joke. This recession isn't going away any time soon, and by the time it does, our lives will be radically different. We have the choice to come together and rebuild our nation into something approaching a decent place to live, or we can keep crying for the moon while the forces of evil quietly suck us dry, separately and alone. There is no place for ego, grandstanding or apathy in this crisis. If the country goes down, we all go with it.

The healthcare bill in Congress isn't perfect, but it makes a start at stopping the most egregious abuses of the current system, while putting pilot programs in place to start improving it, slowly. That's huge. Get on the horn to your representatives and threaten them with disembowelment if they don't pass it.

The Diet-Free Life

My new job, at The Balance Health Center in Philadelphia, has invited me to do a series of workshops. I'm planning for a weight loss through wellness seminar, tentatively entitled 'The Diet-Free Life." Since I can never be content with a few words when several hundred thousand will do, I have started a Diet-Free Life blog, complete with Facebook fan page.

Most of my friends don't need to read such things, of course, but some of you might get a kick out of watching me trying to write in a pithy, concise manner.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Empty Houses

Like so many others, this recession hit us really hard. Both Joe and I are self-employed, so when the work dried up, we didn't even have unemployment benefits to tide us over. Recently the unthinkable became our best option--we sublet our Brooklyn apartment and moved in with extended family.

And do you know what? It's kind of fun. Olivia's G-ma is great to live with and has plenty of space to share. Aunts and uncles and cousins drop by, bring breakfast, loan us their baby furniture, recommend yoga studios. Joe fixes their electrical wiring, I share recipes. There's always someone to talk to.

All around the country, people are losing their houses--their big, big, empty houses. They're filling dumpsters with the stuff they bought to fill those houses up. I wonder how many of them bought houses to fulfill some vague dream of 'home,' derived from movies and children's books, full of laughter and games and roaring fireplaces? And I wonder how many people rattle around in them, wondering when the fun is going to start?

I think too many Americans have used their wealth to isolate themselves. They put up gates around their communities, shop online, live in suburbs and drive alone in SUVs built for eight. The more money you have, the more you don't have to interact with anyone you don't want to deal with. And ultimately, even your friends are too busy and far away to visit.

A number of years ago, I leased out my house, put my stuff in storage and floated around the world for a few years. I got good at being a houseguest. I kept my possessions to a minimum, cooked for people, listened, gave massages, and moved on when it was time to go. Since I am relatively introverted and like to control my own space, this was a challenge. But I was fine, my friends were happy to have me, and sorry to see me go. (They're still my friends, so I'm pretty sure they were telling the truth.)

This recession was a long time in the making, and our culture as a whole has a lot of hard lessons to learn. One of those lessons might be that relationships take more effort than possessions, but they give you more in return.

Personal Update

Mandala calendars have sold out! Thanks to all you lovely people who made my first commercial venture a success. If you sent in an order and have not received yours, please let me know ASAP--all orders were shipped.

Our family is living in Philadelphia for the time being. The NYC economy just wasn't working for us. (We weren't working for it, either.) We may be back in a few months, but we don't know. Meanwhile we can be contacted at the same phone numbers, email addresses etc.