Books are people too

At a party recently, I happened upon a guest who was being admonished for the T-shirt she was wearing. A bunny sat reading a book with the caption, “Books are like people, except interesting.”

As a “people” I can see why the other guest was, if not offended, at least guiding the book-loving guest toward social norms. Announcing at a party that people are boring isn’t the best way to “make friends and influence people,” as Dale Carnegie teaches.

As a book lover, I also have a certain understanding of the message. For me, the T-shirt simply said, “I love to read.” That’s trigger for my interest and this guest and I had a nice, long discussion on the types of books we read. I found her interesting. Did she find me interesting? I can’t say.

But I do know that going to a party and talking about books and some of my other favorites subjects like history and politics make me “serious” and, I have accepted by extension, boring. Once while expounding on a favorite subject at two in the morning at Bob Evans after the bars closed, I looked up and saw a pleading look on my companion’s face – “shut up” it said. I did.

So we book readers sometimes find light conversation boring and in return they find our book and study interests boring. We don’t all share the same interests, of course. But those who continually read generally have some topic that they want to process in conversation.

One person’s boring is another person’s interesting.

Books are people too

What’s interesting to analyze here is the statement that books are more interesting than people when it’s people that write books.

This subject has come to mind to me in our “FaceyTweet” (term stolen from a recent birthday card) world. Much of our communication today is brief and disconnected from a larger topic or conversation. People still read books which are, in contrast, extended stories, extended conversations.

Recently I discovered a new author and environmentalist and am reading a book of his essays. I’m on page 284 and feel a strong connection with the author and am highly inspired both by his ideas and writing style. I might find this same connection in the people around me, but it can take awhile to engage others in a way to get to this type of conversation.

Yet occasionally I engage new faces in long conversations, especially when there’s an interest in common or that person can educate me on his/her interests. Those around generally find it odd and I have the socially unacceptable feeling of hogging a person’s time.

Book readers, I propose, don’t dislike people. They just prefer people who can engage in extended, cogent conversations on a shared area of interest. As with all people, book lovers are looking for connection even though it may seem otherwise when they are ignoring you behind a book or a T-shirt that suggests they’d rather be reading a book.

Secret reading

When young, my interests drove me to read material way past my education level but I slogged through them because of my need to understand. Authoritarian states and cults were of great interest to me both then and now. In 1983, my 16-year old lunch companions couldn’t understand why I was reading a book titled 1984. So I hid a lot of what I read. In a way, I still do.

Possibly my secret reading and interest in cults have a connection – the social environment, at least in this country, responds quite negatively to introversion and independent study, regardless of the number of degrees we confer upon the populace.

In college, I had a friend who said I was her “intellectual friend.” Wouldn’t everyone in college be an intellectual friend?

Had I been born male, I think I wouldn’t have had to read secretly. Young girls reading about cults and thought control in Mao’s China is quite odd, at least where and when I was raised. As a boy it might have been considered odd too, but I seem to recall boys reading a lot about war history and these topics might have been considered extensions of that interest.

Talking to book people

Talking to book people can be tricky because you don’t know in what area topics of interest lie. However, book people in my experience (which is definitely biased), have lots of interests as one book leads to another.

Book people, in talking about books, are generally talking about ideas. Idea conversations seem far removed from the here and now which is why some don’t like this type of conversation. You’re talking about something that’s not “real.”

Books are written by people so book lovers do find people interesting. A better T-shirt might be “What are you reading?” Then book lovers and party goers with something in common can share interesting conversation.

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Business Language, Business Culture

In 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected president and promised a “revolution,” my pre-teen brain was already cynical. Sure, a revolution, I thought. Every politician is going to change all that’s bad into all that’s good. Revolution was the usual campaign fodder.

In 2008 as the economy collapsed, I realized that Reagan was true to his word. He did seed a revolution both politically and economically that has become the fabric of our culture.

What was the revolution?

The revolution, I believe, was to sanctify greed under the cover of business. As was broadcast during the recent US election, since 1980 the incomes of the top one percent has grown much more substantially than the other 90 percent.

Greed is a word that seems to have been retired, like the 8-track tape. Bigger is better so there is no sense of overextension, except in the area of food. The 1980s also brought bigger portions with lots of corn syrup and most Americans today struggle to maintain healthy weight. We struggle with high-caloric food abundance but never translate this into other areas of our lives.

Children as Assets

This topic rises to the top of my mind again after hearing an NPR interview after the recent Florida school shooting. Interviewed was GOP Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota. Upon being asked, “What if anything should Congress be doing about mass shootings?” he replied:

You know, I think number one, you have to recognize that our most valuable assets are our kids.

Valuable assets?

Why must we preface protecting children from assassination by first stating they are “valuable assets?”
Is it not enough to want to protect children because, simply, they are children?

Business language is now the lingua franca in the US and it even extends to the lives of children. This week my cynical mind had relief as I heard another politician refer to children as precious.

Yes, precious, not assets. Why couldn’t Senator Rounds simply say that children were precious?

Paul Kingsnorth

While I was stewing over the comment “children as assets,” the universe placed another cynicism-relieving voice my way. While in the bookstore soothing my overworked soul with impulse book buying, I came across Confessions of a Reformed Environmentalist.

While I haven’t finished all the essays, it’s nice to hear a strong voice who can argue convincingly that the environment should be saved simply because it’s the environment. In his essays, Kingsnorth explains how the environmental movement shifted from protecting the environment to protecting humans, meaning protecting our current human way of life. In that way, the environment is viewed as an asset to be protected and “sustainability” means assuring the ability to live in the future as we do now.

What’s refreshing about Kingsnorth is both his intelligence and courage in saying that his connection to the environment is enough to want to save it. He’s resisting the language of business culture which must justify saving trees under a, what I will call, return on investment model.

Feelings are suspect in a business culture and Kingsnorth addresses that head on by not only busting the myth that humans are rational, but also by explaining that feeling is what makes life “life.” In other essays, he shares his love and awe of the environment.

Off the ledge

While I know that most of those around me love life, their families and the environment, somehow business culture still dominates so we are coerced into justifying basic life premises with business return on investment models.

Our business model is based on a paradigm of continual, positive growth. Personally I don’t believe this is sustainable and corporate America becomes unduly stressed. Everyone today seems to have irritable bowel syndrome which I like to call “American Food Syndrome.” Possibly I should label it “American Stress Syndrome.”

Kingsnorth in his essays quotes late economist Leopold Kohr who reflected on bigness saying, “instead of growth serving life, life must now preserve growth, perverting the very purpose of existence.” We are there.

No one I know would consider their children to be assets. Yet, we are still caught in the continual growth cycle which allows us wonderful tools and assets, but precious little time to enjoy them.

My own observation has been we are destroying the environment to create the optimal indoor experience from homes to cars and all of the distractions that keep us in them. I find that odd.

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Donald Trump is a Kitten

As soon as I put my gym bag on the floor, my new seven-month old kitten was sitting on it, playing with the straps. I could scold him, but for some reason he thinks it’s just more fun, me chasing him with a spray bottle or piece of paper. Playing with the bag is fun, being chased for doing it is even more fun.

When I kick the spiral toy out of my way in the kitchen, we’re playing soccer. All objects on the kitchen table are fun to push onto the floor. Napkins and toilet paper are the best fun around as you can unravel them then roll around in them on the floor.

Furniture, that’s a launching pad for attack on the other members of the household, two older females, one feline one not. Stalking is also easier with furniture barricades.

How do I explain to this good-natured, playful kitten that walking on the table is very, very bad and I’m very, very serious when I say don’t do it?

The flawless flow of the household has been aggressively disrupted by this ten-pound ball of fur. Doesn’t this kitten understand it took years to develop that perfect set of habits that assures optimal use of time and resources? His “playful” actions are upsetting the entire routine.

As Napoleon Dynamite would say, “Kitten, you’re ruining my life!”

This Sounds Familiar

Thinking of the disruption of my life by the energy of a new feline brings to mind our president, Donald Trump. Like my kitten, he’s a disruptor.

Metaphorically speaking, Trump has knocked things off the table, ruined the furniture and rolled in the toilet paper all the while acting like it’s the best fun he’s ever had. Like my kitten, he doesn’t understand that for those disrupted, this is serious business; this is real. You may not need toilet paper, but I do.

“Trump, you’re ruining my life!”

In response to Trump, there has been great polarization. The positive side of polarization is that is activates dormant issues that truly need to be resolved.

The negative side, clearly, is the waste of energy by people who choose to bait but have no true desire to find common ground. When this occurs, it’s a stealing of energy by what I call “psychic vampires.”

The Solution

Possibly for those disliking the Trump disruption, strategies I use for the kitten may be of use. The kitten’s playfulness is both his greatest asset and his greatest liability.

  1. Doors – In order to keep the kitten from disrupting activities that might truly cause harm (like getting stuck behind the washing machine), doors are useful. I simply close the door and the disruption ceases. While shutting someone out seems an avoidance of issues, don’t underestimate the power to cut the disruptor off at the pass. Possibly the wall Trump has promised can be built a few thousand miles north of its original location.
  2. Distraction – Playfulness as a liability means that I simply need to toss a squeaky or jingly toy to an area away from the center of activity and off the kitten goes. He’s a smart kitten but this is his kryptonite. He can’t resist. This clearly works for Trump as well although he seems to use it in reverse, to keep his detractors away from the center of activity.
  3. Sleep time – While a kitten doesn’t sleep much, it’s still a great time to do things that don’t create a lot of kitten-stimulating noise. I’m not sure how much Trump sleeps, but possibly late-night sessions with whispering can help those that want to progress in a somewhat straight line achieve some forward motion.

Laser Focus

Those with cats may know that they enjoy playing “laser.” You point a laser pointer at the wall and floor and they run after it. At first I felt a bit guilty about this as there’s no way to catch the laser so it seems kind of cruel. The cats seem to know in some way they will never catch the laser but never tire of the chase which removed my guilt. They like it and it helps them burn off some of their hunter energy.

In a way, we all are chasing after laser points, ephemeral and non-existent images projected before us so that we go running. Like cats, we never seem to tire of the chase no matter that we never catch the dot.

Trump the disruptor seems to have created a world of laser pointers projecting red dots over all the walls and floors. Trump is both the kitten chasing dots and the owner projecting them. He seems to chase his own dots.

Trump is a kitten – a kitten who got a hold of the laser.

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Marketing Mindfulness

In a new documentary on Lady Gaga, she explains that fame is not what she expected. “It is,” she says,” lonely, it is isolating, and it is very psychologically challenging because fame changes the way you’re viewed by people.”

Words, too, can be famous. One of my recent favorite words that became an adjective for all that could be sold is “artisan.” How can a pre-packaged, frozen-and-reheated cheese sandwich ever be considered artisan?

Artisan, thankfully, appears to have had the Andy Warhol promised 15 minutes of fame and no more. When I see “artisan” in the future, hopefully it will be attached to product hand-made and not mass produced, at minimum.


Mindfulness is another word achieving its moment of social fame. And like Lady Gaga it may be feeling lonely and isolated. Like other words that reference states and not objects, the word mindfulness is certainly open to interpretation. Yet it’s usage appears to be applied much like “artisan” as a word that evokes pleasant emotions toward the object being promoted.

For example, I received an email from Scholastic promoting “Food Mindfulness During the Holidays.” Seeing mindfulness in this context is very heart-warming. Scholastic is helping parents teach children to be aware of what they are ingesting, a great lesson at any age.

Yet this usage still seems one step removed from the concept as I understand it in terms of meditation. For me, mindfulness is exactly as it reads – awareness of the mind. It also includes awareness of the senses. The awareness of the mind is what opens the door to understanding beyond the mind as the mind creates certain traps that prevent us from full understanding of our true nature.


Whenever you bring awareness to what you’re directly experiencing via your senses, or to your state of mind via your thoughts and emotions, you’re being mindful. And there’s growing research showing that when you train your brain to be mindful, you’re actually remodeling the physical structure of your brain.

For me, mindfulness is as discrete an activity as golf. When you are golfing, you are not bowling. When you are mindful, you are not involved in your mind but observing it. Watching TV isn’t mindful to me but you can be mindful during a TV-watching experience.

Meditation is also used colloquially to be any deep attention to a matter. For me, meditation is also a discrete activity which can occur in other activities but is not those activities. Golfing is not bowling; neither activity is meditation.

Fame Monster

As Lady Gage explained, fame changes the way people view her. Likewise, when words are famous it changes the way they are viewed. Through use in marketing, mindfulness can be viewed differently than it’s pure form in spiritual practice.

Mindfulness is based on a certain concept of “mind” that doesn’t truly exist in Western culture. We see brain as mind. We also have such a strong focus on individuality and uniqueness that observing the mind is very threatening to the sense of self.

Like Lady Gaga, “artisan” and “mindfulness” may feel lonely and isolated. Possibly they are now hanging out in a group therapy session with love and god. If they are, they are in good company.

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Transgender Gods

Myth is how we define the religious belief of the past which we no longer believe. Myth branches out into folklore, legend, fable and parable which are all identified as “stories” and not truth. Myth, however, was once the prevailing religious belief.

Did the Greeks and Romans believe in their gods the way we do today?

This is a sensitive subject in our human existence. Throughout the last several thousand years, not sharing belief with the prevailing group in power could often result in death.

Although we’re living in a Twitter and Facebook world of brief, incoherent and abbreviated communication, we still read books that are hundreds of pages. We still desire complete and comprehensive stories.

Will this result in spiritual/religious beliefs as the only stories? Are we returning to the past?

If our beliefs are like books (and many beliefs have a corresponding book), then individuals not sharing in the story aren’t a character in the book and in a sense are non-existent. That may explain why they are so easily exterminated. They’re not real.

It’s kind of like your beliefs make you Harry Potter but you find yourself in the midst of London in a Tale of Two Cities.

Bring Back the Gods

While I have affinity with Far Eastern religions, I don’t formally subscribe to any organized religion. Yet, when younger I came to realize through the understanding of Greek and Roman mythology that the many gods of their pantheon represented more of my human existence than my culture’s beliefs.

In most of my daily existence, I encounter situations and personalities that demand unique and varied responses. The world is filled with characters and the belief system of my culture doesn’t represent even a few of those characters.

A “bring back the gods” movement seemed in order so that we could have gods that laughed, cried, were like your best friend, your siblings, your loving or difficult spouse, the controlling manager at work, your crazy president, that quirky college roommate, and, of course, the sociopathic ex. Everyone has one of those.

We need more gods.

Transgender Gods

When Bruce Jenner became Caitlyn Jenner, my internal comedy sketch writer went into action. I imagined in the sketch Bruce having a coming out party to be Caitlyn and then learning that as a woman, he was now expected to bring a potluck dish and clean up after the party. Someone vomits and he’s sent to the kitchen to get paper towels. You’re a woman now, Caitlyn, and this is woman’s work.

Possibly Caitlyn Jenner likes those things. Possibly she even identified with those very things I, as a woman, deem unearned responsibilities. (On the other side of gender stereotypes are unearned assets. We all match a few of our gender’s stereotypes both good and bad.).

The transgender movement confused me at first as I don’t desire to be male. But as I consider all the gender roles we unique individuals confront daily, I realize that transgender individuals dissolve the idea of gender as a prescribed life path.

If there were no prescribed gender, there would be no gender roles. We are then individuals who may or may not like to defend a nation, cook for others, clean up after the party or grill the steaks. Maybe we are nurturing and also like to defend the nation – we don’t have to identify with one quality over the other. We don’t have to choose between qualities that in the world are deemed to be dualities. Qualities aren’t opposites and neither are individuals.

If we were to project new energies into the belief system, I would hope they encompass the transgender energy of individuality.

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Female power and creative partnerships

How many female creative partnerships can you name?

McFey and Pohler
Stanton and Anthony
Laverne and Shirley
Thelma and Louise
Cagney and Lacey
Romy and Michele

Who else?

How about five famous male partnerships?

Lennon and McCartney
Jobs and Wozniak
Batman and Robin
Simon and Garfunkel
Key and Peale
Laurel and Hardy
Holmes and Watson
Woodward and Bernstein
Jeeves and Wooster
Ben and Jerry
Mick and Keith
Tom and Jerry
Romulus and Remus
Nixon and Kissinger

And the list goes on. Even the children’s television show Sesame Street has a male partnership – Bert and Ernie.

Historically women struggled for lives outside of the domestic sphere which may be the lack of creative partnerships; yet in our age of technology, the partnerships are still primarily male. Our lack of creative partnership seems to be related to our imbalances in political power, even though we’ve made progress.

Hillary Clinton

Even writing “Hillary Clinton” I can feel people cringe. The election is over, I know. In the back of my mind the question is still there – why do people hate her so much?

In questioning the hatred, I’m not suggesting she was the best candidate or deserved to be president; however, what was chosen in contrast to me represents a visceral undercurrent of our culture which came to light in many ways.

Having watched Clinton for her 22 years on the public stage, I know she was hated from the very earliest days. What has continually struck me is that she is disliked for no particular reason.

During the election, two ethical issues were targeted toward Clinton – the Benghazi attack in Libya and the use of a personal email server. The irony of the personal email server is that it appears to be the only email server not hacked by Wikileaks during the 2016 election.

For so many years in politics, there was not much more. But when you heard people react to Clinton both in 2008 and 2016 on why they did not like her, it wasn’t these issues. People just didn’t like her personally. I still recall a 2012 NPR story where a man was asked why he was voting for candidate Romney. “Obama is a socialist,” he said. “And Hillary is . . . Hillary.”

Did he not like Hillary the person or Hillary the woman?

People speak of mistrust of Clinton, dislike, evilness, and other assorted non-specific reasons. But what is it they really don’t like?

In 1992 when Hillary Clinton’s husband was running for president and her mothering was questioned, she replied, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life.”

That comment increased dislike of her and has always led me to believe that Clinton’s evil persona was due to engaging in law and politics rather than traditional female pursuits. During the 2012 election, Clinton won some points by shedding tears. That cemented the idea for me that Clinton’s issue was lack of feminine vulnerability.

What finally crystallized for me recently is that dislike for no reason is simply that – not a reason but a feeling. Clinton evoked FEELING, something very much associated with females.

What feelings did she evoke?

She evoked all the ugliness, nastiness and egotism of modern politics. We felt through her the ugly, the evil, calculated coldness of politicians. Hillary, the female, was the receptacle for a host of negative back-splash. While she tried to be “good” by planning, preparing, smiling (something the female candidates were asked to do from viewer feedback) and wearing light colors, she carried all the bad feelings we have toward politics.

In contrast, the male candidates latched into different energies to make segments of the population feel good about themselves. Hillary made people feel bad; the male candidates, including her main nemesis Bernie Sanders, made people feel good.

Tracy Flick

Digging into my own psyche, I relate by thinking of Tracy Flick in the book and movie Election. Ambitious and calculating, she’s a detestable creature who plays by all the rules, studies hard, has clear goals and ultimately wins.

She’s a winner – why do I hate her?

Like Clinton, she is upset in the high school election by a planted male contender, a popular football hero (Sound familiar? Although in Flick’s case, she is ultimately deemed the winner.). This male is a kind, sympathetic character who through a turn of events passes the win to Flick. Had he voted for himself, he would have won.

In a third point of contrast to our ambitious female/popular male is a female contender who through a separate turn of events runs against both Flick and her brother the football hero. She’s the lesbian rebel who calls out all the phoniness of the election and tells the truth – the election benefits only the winner.

Had the lesbian not been suspended by the principal for upturning the table, she would have won the election. A female hero! But she was tossed out by the authorities.

The lesbian anti-hero was refreshing and unique while the rule-following Flick was a stomach turner. That’s how people felt about Clinton. I can feel their dislike.

Creative Partnerships

How does this relate to creative partnerships?

Women don’t appear to bond to each other in the sphere of politics and power although they do in the spheres of entertainment and social issues.

When strong, ambitious females meet, they do not like each other. When males see other strong, ambitious males they tend to respond favorably. Men make heroes of other men in all spheres of modern and ancient life including entertainment, sports, politics and religion.

Barack Obama is now a god to some on the left, the voice of peace and reason in a crazy time. Yet Obama, like all of his predecessors, was a politician who did both positive work as well as the dirty work of his role including mass surveillance of his people, drone assassinations and occasionally cavorting with tyrants.

Females in power are faring quite poorly right now. In a Los Angeles Times article on female heads of state, only 33 were calculated to have risen to power through election (rather than family succession). Of the 10 elected in the 2010s, two have been deposed.

If women don’t admire each other and form creative partnerships then we will always struggle for balance in political power. Female political power and holding of power doesn’t have to be male – it doesn’t have to be Hillary Clinton and Tracy Flick – but will be that way if that’s what females admire. While we can say it’s Hillary-the-person and not Hillary-the-female we dislike, I don’t see any other female in this country receiving admiration that would lift her to the role of president.

For women to rise in political power, we have to like what we see in the mirror.

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The Cat on the Mat

By Angela Slezak

“Just keep returning to the mat,” my meditation teacher often says. “Just keep returning.”

Over time, I’ve come to understand this. It’s not about a “good” or “bad” meditation experience. It’s about returning which trains us to be still. As with anything you learn in life, practice is essential. Sitting in meditation is, in fact, called the “practice.”

Returning to the mat is difficult. There are so many things to do – buy groceries, cook food, do laundry, get an oil change, work and everything else that is part of maintaining a modern life. Have I just reminded you of something you forgot to do?

Then there are the pleasures I want to have that also take time – visiting with friends, enjoying a long bike ride without schedule, trips outdoors, watching movies, reading books and a host of other activities. What is life without pleasure?

One day after a sit, I left my mat on the floor rather than putting it away immediately. With stealth and opportunism, the cat appropriated the mat without even stirring my attention. The little brat.

The cat returns to the mat every chance she gets. Why is it so difficult for me?

As Chinese martial arts models animal behavior for defense postures, returning to the mat can model feline behavior. Cats relax in a manner quite envious to humans; it can take me a full week away from my work life to near the level of relaxation a cat can achieve in minutes. Massage can help speed up the process of relaxation.

Cats grooming, I believe, is actually massage. That we project our pre-sleep tooth-brushing with cats licking their toes is to apply human motivation to animal behavior. Living with a cat who excessively “grooms,” comfort’s role in “grooming” has become even more obvious.

Likewise, feline owners may have learned that full cleaning of a litter box is a human projection of the need for a clean, germ-free bathroom. Cats, in contrast, want their smell in the box. If you take it away, they will return the smell immediately.

Unlike felines, we’re not drawn to the mat as our territory marked by our smell. Yet the mat is a sort of boundary where we are safe to be still. Cats tend to sleep in the same place for periods of time, possibly in the same way we should return to the mat to remember and accumulate stillness.

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