Living the Dream

Hola Everybody,
MLK’s message has been distorted, no doubt. So today, instead of rehashing the clichés, I will try to recount how this man’s work and message has affected my life. Take the following quote and substitute “Democrat” for “moderate” and you get an idea of where MLK might stand today:

First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. — April 16, 1963, Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Living the Dream

01-16-17_-the-legacy_-reflections-on-mlk-day

 

Modern psychology has a word that is probably used more than any other word in modern psychology. It is the word “maladjusted.”… And certainly we all want to live well-adjusted lives in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But I must say to you this evening, my friends, as I come to a close, that there are some things in my own nation, and there are some things in the world, to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon all men of goodwill to be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation, discrimination, colonialism and these particular forces. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to religious bigotry. I must honestly say to you that I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I must say to you tonight that I never intend to become adjusted to the madness of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. — Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., December 7, 1964

[Note: Names and certain details have been changed in order to respect confidentiality]

It’s not much, it’s a small patch — a lot — in the middle of a Brooklyn block. The lot is teeming with children on this hot NYC summer day and there are flowers, and a playground. There’s even a wooden stage and on some evenings, you can come to this lot and watch plays, or listen to music. Towards the back of the lot, there’s a patch devoted to growing vegetables, and Don Pedro, an aged and gentle man tends to his “children,” this year’s crop of corn and tomatoes. There’s talk of building a casita, so that the people of the neighborhood can use the lot in the cold winter months.

To step into this little green oasis in the middle of the stark urban decay mixed with the signs of encroaching gentrification that surrounds it, is to be transformed. And I smile because it wasn’t always like this.

As I sit down on one of the benches, I reflect back to several years before when this lot was a rat-infested abandoned lot where crack addicts and sex workers took care of business under the cover of overgrown weeds. I never imagined it at the time that it could become something like this — a safe place for children and the people of the neighborhood.

Not even me…

I once worked as an community organizer for a national organization. The pay was miserable, the hours long, and it was a thankless job, but I took it because at the time, I hadn’t been able to work for almost two years. The collateral consequences of my past served as an obstacle to gainful employment. I had to quit graduate school as a committed relationship was coming to an end. It seemed as if everything I had worked for for years was imploding. So I took this job as an organizer and they put me in the Brooklyn neighborhood I was raised — Bushwick.

Organizing is a very difficult job under any circumstances, but on top of trying to convince a largely disaffected population to get involved, I also had to convince them to pay me for the opportunity to do it. The organization I worked for ran on membership dues and collecting those dues was a large (too large in my opinion) part of my job. Now, I have a lot of experience in separating people from their money and in the beginning, I was getting members left and right. Then, one day, a woman gave me five of the last ten dollars she had because she believed in what I was saying. After that, I said fuck the membership dues.

By then, I had become disillusioned with the organization and with the people I was trying to organize. People didn’t care and nothing was being done. I came to Bushwick hoping to make a difference, but the neighborhood had changed tremendously since I had last set foot there and, well, shit wasn’t working.

One day as I walked by an empty lot, I decided that I would concentrate on that. I really didn’t have a plan, but somehow that lot called to me. I began by knocking on every door on that block. My pitch was simple: I would ask people how they felt about the lot, what they would do with it if they had the power to change it, and then tell them that there was a group composed of their neighbors working to make such changes. Basic organizing 101 type-shit.

I knocked on every door on that block and I got, like, five people who were interested. One of them was a former girlfriend from my high school days who had become a teacher. Ibis was her name and she would become my champion. She was the true organizer, fast on her feet, full of energy, and aggressive. Three were church women who wanted to make their neighborhood safer. Lastly, there was Doña Maria, who would become my leader, my muscle. Doña Maria could browbeat anyone into submission. She was that block’s Universal Mother, who knew everybody’s business, and she joined my group because she was watching me walk up and down the block, and demanded to know, “What the fuck” I was up to.

The abandoned lot was really Doña Maria’s idea. She led me to the front of the lot and told me that if I really wanted to do something, “… do something about this fuckin’ lot.” And that’s how it started. Ibis printed up flyers, started a database of members, and was in charge of recruiting. Doña Maria and her daughters made sure people on the block joined, and the church people convinced their pastors/ ministers/ priests to let me address their respective congregations. My personal story is pretty much a variation on redemption and I would use that as part of my orientation. Soon, my ragtag group of women had managed to create a stir on the block, people were getting interested, but the majority was still laying back, checking out to see if this was the real thing. There were also the drug dealers who “owned” one of the corners who watched me closely.

In my experience organizing is recognizing that at first people — strangers really — are a crowd. They are simply people thrown together by economic or political forces. A crowd can eventually become a group — an informal network of people loosely connected through these same circumstances. Eventually, that group can become a force once they get to know one another and learn of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

My crowd had become a group very quickly and was now evolving into a force to be reckoned with and I needed to help them realize their power. I noticed a street lamp wasn’t working, so I made that our first campaign. My group did the research, found out who to petition, and they got the streetlamp fixed. Now, maybe to you it doesn’t sound like a lot, but for my people, it was a big thing. They had effected change. They had tasted power and now were thirsty for more.

The next step was to get the city to clean the empty lot. This is where lives were changed. It was decided by the group that best course of action was that we hold a protest and during the protest, a police officer pushed one of the church ladies. Now this particular individual was as far removed from me, politically speaking, as could be. She probably was very conservative, socially speaking. But that officer unwittingly created my fiercest, most radical member by his action. She was outraged that she was treated that way. In being subjected to an injustice personally, she became aware of the systemic justice that could be seen everywhere in her community. She became my militant.

Slowly, one step at a time, that group was successful in taking over that empty lot and creating a community garden. Today that garden has the seal of the New York City Parks Department and it can never be taken away. That community garden transformed that block, driving away the drug dealers on the corner and the sex trade. Shortly after that, I was fired from my job for not collecting membership dues and by that time, the group had grown into over a 100 members and growing. Neighboring blocks saw what was happening on our block and became interested. When I held a community meeting to tell my people I could no longer work with them, they held a block party and collected funds, pooled all this money, and offered it to me.

Of course, I refused the money. I told them to use it for the community garden to plant something for me. Doña Maria, always the hard-ass, told me that she always knew I would leave them, and then she smiled as she took me in her arms. When I left, the group was strong and in reality, I wasn’t leading jack. They were leading and teaching me. It was time for me to move on anyway.

A year later, they created the most beautiful garden. I love that garden.

Did that garden change the world? Did Bushwick change? Did it make that much of a difference? I don’t know. I do know the process changed lives. People saw themselves as agents with power. They were actors. They became the group that eventually took over an abandoned building and created affordable housing units. There weren’t the same people I first met.

One day I ran into Doña Maria, who had become an organizer herself and I asked her, “Why do all this if it isn’t going to make a difference?” Her answer is what drives me; it’s what gives my life meaning. She told me that it didn’t matter if you effected change. She told me she would fight even if she knew her struggle would be useless. When I asked her why, she told me we come from a people who fought. She said resistance is our legacy our heritage and she thanked me for reminding her of that. “I fight because the other choice is to let these motherfuckers fuck me. That’s why I fight, Eddie,” she told me.

I was reminded of her words as I sat in the community garden, the noise of children at play filling the air. And I knew she was right.

MLK was a controversial figure, especially so during the last year of his life. By then his house had been firebombed, he had been stabbed and assaulted with a brick, and younger people in the civil rights movement ridiculed his nonviolent stance. The right wing, who always hated MLK, and had by then, wired his home and hotel rooms, and the established Democratic Party had even asked him to hold a moratorium on civil rights and to stop the marches because he was doing a disservice to his country.

These words, spoken toward the end of his life, still hold power for me:

There is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly. You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites, polar opposites, so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love. — Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, 1968

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Tags: Social Activism; Martin Luther King, Jr., Community Organizing; Social Justice; Social Movements; Civil Rights;

Excerpt:

Take the following quote and substitute “Democrat” for “moderate” and you get an idea of where MLK might stand today:

… I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action…

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Nuyorican Christmas Story

Hola Everybody…
This post is an annual tradition here at the [un]Common Sense blog…

During the 60s & 70s a Puerto Rican identity movement1 encompassing music, literature, and the arts in general was born. Salsa wasn’t merely a musical genre, it was, in the words of Panamanian Salsa musician/ activist, Ruben Blades, an “urban folklore” that ignited throughout barrios all over the world (and in far off places such as Australia, Japan, and Germany, for example). The term “Salsa!” was layered with meaning and was the Latinx equivalent of the African-American “Right on!”

Young Latinx, mostly New Yorkers of Puerto Rican of the Puerto Rican diaspora, instead of breaking away from their roots in rebellion, embraced them and built a movement on that foundation. Instead of feeling shame for who we were and where we came from (as we were taught in schools and by the dominant culture), we took the multi-layered cultural and physical manifestations of what it meant to be a Puerto Rican and used that nexus as a rallying point for cultural pride.

One of the most popular albums at the time, was Willie Colon’s reinterpretation of traditional Puerto Rican holiday music, Asalto Navidad, and the cover featured Willie Colon and his famous lead singer, Hector Lavoe, stealing from a Christmas tree (yes PRs have a sense of humor). Any PR worth his salt had a copy of this album and it was played during the holidays for decades later. Every time I hear this music, I am filled (as I’m sure many from the Puerto Rican diaspora are) with the holiday spirit. It was a time of little in terms of material possessions but rich in the things that matter most: family, friendship, and community.

The following is a story from that time…

The Rosarios

My family ca late 60s/ early 70s

 

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.
— Albert Camus

It was a time of change and turmoil: the Vietnam War raged and it seemed as if all the institutions we took for granted — marriage and gender roles, civil rights, the meaning of freedom — were being challenged and re-envisioned. The strategies used by African-Americans and Latinx in the struggle for human rights were being co-opted by a wide range of groups: women and the burgeoning LGBTQ movement were marching for their rights, the American Indian Movement (AIM) was forming, and states of consciousness were being explored. In short, it was a time of change and the times were a’changin’.

It was a year I would never forget. I was about sixteen, in the process of reading every “great book” ever written, helping put out an underground newspaper. My siblings and I were young and full of life. We had many friends and our home was the center of activities for our vast network of friends and family.

This particular year, however, was a difficult one for my family: our stepfather was arrested on a trumped up charge after a scuffle with the police and sentenced to a year in jail (police brutality ain’t new, folks). He was our breadwinner and that meant that our main source of income was gone. Compounding our financial difficulties was our mother’s pregnancy, she would eventually give birth to our youngest brother the following June.

As the oldest child, I had always felt a deep and conflicted sense of protection toward my mother and siblings. I had to grow up fast because it was expected of me to be more than a big brother; I had to be a power of example for my younger siblings. To be honest, I resented that responsibility. But a part of me felt I should be doing something to contribute and it was frustrating. What disturbed me the most, however, was when I caught my mother crying. Though I sometimes resented having to be the adult in my interactions with her, my mother was nevertheless a strong woman who managed to make her place in a world that was both hostile and violent towards her. If she was despairing, I surmised, that meant things were really screwed up.

My sisters helped by working at a local supermarket after school. For a time, I worked delivering groceries and my sisters staffed the cash registers. Of course, me being the radical of the clan, I was promptly fired for calling the Puerto Rican owner an Uncle Tom and an oppressor of his own people. I mean, c’mon, he was selling cheap outdated meats (changing the dates) and overcharging mostly working poor Puerto Ricans and Blacks.

While we never starved, we grew up knowing too well the meaning of food insecurity and wish sandwiches. My mother shopped daily because we couldn’t afford groceries for the week. Sometimes we would get our groceries because my sisters would not charge up the register on the down low when my mother shopped. Things became worse at the onset of the holidays. We called a family meeting and we all agreed that, with the exception of our youngest brother, we would forego gifts for Christmas. My mother didn’t take this too well and it pushed her to her dark side, sending her toward bouts of sadness interspersed with rage. A condition that Nuyoricans often called ataques de nervios (nervous attacks).

We made do just as many other poor families in distress coped at that time: Many worked at low-paying factory jobs or for slave wages in the garment center. Others went on “welfare” and augmented that small and humiliating pittance by small-scale attempts at entrepreneurship. Sometimes my mother would buy a bottle of rum, or some other item, and raffle it off at the Bingo parlor: if everyone paid in a dollar, she would be able to earn a profit and offer a prize. We also had an extended family and they would help as best they could, though they too were often financially extended and living from paycheck to paycheck.

In short it was getting to be a sad holiday season. The house became less full, as our situation served as a basis for shame and, as we gradually dropped off our activities with our friends, the ensuing quiet was disturbing. Then one day, the Friday after Thanksgiving, we took out the old artificial tree. We all share a warped sense of humor and my sisters and I started joking about how “lonely” the tree would look without any gifts. Soon we were cracking each other up, trying to outdo each other by coming up with the most twisted reason why we should, or shouldn’t, put up the Christmas tree.

In the end, we decided to put it up and, and while playing traditional Puerto Rican Christmas songs, we slowly got into the spirit of things. Soon enough, the house rang out with laughter and song and friends were called up to come and help. I don’t know if my perception is clouded by bias or the passage of time, but I swear that old tree never looked so beautiful. We really put our creative energies into fixing up the house too: we gift wrapped doors, put up mistletoe, strung lights on the windows — we created the best display on that block in Brooklyn’s Bushwick section.

Still, the tree did look lonely — or rather, bare — without gifts. So someone, one of my sisters I think, came up with the idea of collecting empty boxes and wrapping them up as gifts. Of course, as was usual in our household, we took the sentiment to an extreme. Our rather large artificial tree was soon dwarfed by a mountain of elegantly wrapped “gifts.” My sisters went as far as researching Christmas gift wrapping and the wrapped boxes became little works of art. People would visit and comment on how “beautiful” the tree looked and we would laugh because we knew they were only saying that in part because of the many “gifts.” It was our own little private joke.

I have to admit that while our circumstances were extremely difficult that year, I can’t remember a more joyful holiday season. Soon our apartment sang once again with the sound of young people and friends and family. And the tree seemed to take on a life of its own, to radiate joy, it attracted people, and it was true that many people would come and visit. I guess maybe everyone else was having a hard time and the joy in our house was sort of like a warm fire to ward off the chill of winter in the Land of the Snow. The tree became almost like another family member that we tended to and nurtured. People would visit and you could tell immediately that the joy was infectious. The “joke” was a constant source for new comedic material and we would create even more elaborate “gifts” to put at the base of that tree.

Nuyoricans celebrate Christmas Eve — Noche Buena. Christmas day is for the children and for the adults to nurse hangovers. That year, a huge Christmas Eve party, attended by everybody-and-their-mother, capped that holiday season. Unbeknownst to him, the owner of the supermarket where my sisters worked contributed the ingredients so that my mother could make her famous pasteles1 (a Puerto Rican mashed plantain/ meat dish) and pernil (pork shoulder). All our friends and family attended and the party lasted well into Christmas morning. I don’t think it snowed that Christmas, but I remember that the party became the basis for several legends — a story time delight to be recounted for years to come. It became a marker for community events as in BC and AD: Before and After “The Christmas Party.”

The party itself was rambunctious — more rambunctious than normal. I believe that the reason why poor people are adept at partying is because they know all too intimately the vicissitudes of life and whenever the opportunity arises, they party with an almost religious fervor. Of course, there was plenty of drama that Christmas Eve. Old jealousies and rivalries were re-ignited, people were caught in compromising situations, and quite a few made fools of themselves. There was my stepfather’s aunt, who insisted on flashing her undergarments at everyone and poor old Fito who would never live down the fact that he got so drunk he pissed on himself. I mean, he just slid down the wall and pissed on himself, and laughed his ass off while doing it. Really. I thought my mother was going to stomp him, but luckily a timely intervention of family and friends saved his life.

The party was a microcosm of the full catastrophe of the human condition in all its shining glory. In other words — a good time was had by all.

Finally, Christmas day came, and it was time to clean up the house and dispose of all the “gifts.” I started collecting the empty boxes to throw them out, but mother stopped me. “You can’t throw out the boxes!” she yelled out, an alarming note of hysteria in her voice. We looked at one another, fearing our mother was about to have another ataque de nervios, but then we saw her smile.

We had to tear through all the empty boxes in order to find the real gifts my mother had hidden into that huge pile. I will never forget my gift that year though I have had many materially richer Christmases since: it was a digital watch with an LED readout that was fairly new and trendy at the time. I know it didn’t cost much, maybe $5, but I treasured it and wore that watch for a long time.

Why share this story?

For one, the experience taught me a lesson that was the greatest Christmas gift of all: that you always have a choice with how to respond to adversity. Yes, the fact remained that we sometimes were hungry and our clothes weren’t the best. There were times we couldn’t afford basic needs or even school supplies. But we learned to face these hardships with humor and strength of character. That year could easily have been much worse, but facing our hardships in a realistic but joyful way — that lesson would stay with me for the rest of my life. For me, this is the taste of life itself. The One Taste.

So, if you ever catch me smiling, try to remember where that smile comes from. It comes from the knowledge that material gifts are essentially empty. I smile because I know the pretty boxes are empty but my heart is full…

Happy Holidays! Y que vive Puerto Rico libre!

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Notes

Some excellent books on Puerto Rican identity and the arts:

Aparicio, F. R. (1998). Listening to salsa: Gender, Latin popular music, and Puerto Rican cultures. Fredericksburg, PA: Wesleyan University Press.

Berrios-Miranda, M. (2013). Is salsa a musical genre? In L. Waxer (Ed.), Situating salsa: Global markets and local meanings in Latin popular music (pp. 23-38). New York: Taylor & Francis.

Rondón, C. M. (2008). The book of salsa: A chronicle of urban music from the Caribbean to New York City (F. R. Aparicio & J. White, Trans.). Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Algarin, M. (Ed.) (1994). Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe. New York: Henry Holt and Company.

  1. For excellent and alternative, healthier (including vegan and vegetarian options) Puerto Rican recipes, check out Erisbelia (Eris) Garriga’s books. She offers some really great and delicious recipes [LINK]

Sunday Sermon [Redemption Song]

Hola mi Gente,
I usually post this around this time of year… it’s a Thanksgiving tradition of sorts on this blog. Sometimes, when I think this too self-indulgent, or passé (I am a walking cliché, it seems), someone will send me a message usually beginning like so: “I read your blog and I never comment… ” (LOL!) And it never fails, someone will tell me that reading the following helped them, or they shared it with someone they thought it could help. So… here goes.

Redemption Song

C11-713225My life is my message

 

The cliché that life is stranger than fiction is true enough. And believe me: my life has been pretty much strange. Thanksgiving Day has its own personal meaning for me, as I am certain it does for everyone. Actually, Thanksgiving Day has layers of meaning.

On one level, my development as a person of the Puerto Rican diaspora was marked by holidays that were always an opportunity to celebrate our music, our unique forms of dancing, and kinship ties. Therefore, we Puerto Ricans — or at least my family and the community I was raised in — subverted the mythical (actually genocidal) Thanksgiving and give it their own meaning. And as humans, that’s what we do best, we create meaning.

Thanksgiving Day is also now primarily identified as a secular all-inclusive day of expressing appreciation for life and having gratitude for the things we need to live a happy and healthy life. As a Latino, the cultural values of extended family ties and Thanksgiving evoke childhood memories of large (and often hilariously insane) family get-togethers.

However, for me Thanksgiving holds its most significant meaning on a very personal level. You see, it was on this day twenty-seven years ago that I experienced the first of a series of awakenings that would drastically change my life. The exact date is November 26, 1990 and it often happens that it falls on or near Thanksgiving Day. A couple of weeks before that fateful day, on a cold, drizzly November day, I was so overcome with despair that I considered and attempted suicide. It is actually a little funny: As I climbed over the rail on the Brooklyn Bridge’s pedestrian walk (it’s not easy to jump off that damned bridge), I was so skinny from malnutrition and years of substance abuse that a strong Nor’easter wind knocked me back on my ass to the pedestrian walkway. I saw this inability to take myself off the count as the ultimate failure which gives you an idea of my state of mind at the time.

I walked away from that only to opt for a more torturous suicide: the daily act of chasing that White Lady, Heroin. Ensnared by my warped thinking, I had this fear that I would botch up my own suicide and merely succeed in paralyzing myself, condemning myself to chase drugs from the disadvantage of a wheelchair. In fact, I remember another addict who was in a wheelchair. I decided I would make someone else put myself out of my misery.

And though I speak lightly today of that time, I was so miserable. I do not believe in a God in the traditional Christian/ Judeo sense — an anthropomorphic omnipotent super being. Yet back then I would pray each night that some Higher Power would find it in its mercy to take my life me my sleep. Still, every day I awoke to my pain and despair. I would always wake up sick and broke, but somehow manage to spend $300 by the end of the day, feeding a merciless heroin habit.

If you are wondering, I fed my drug habit by ripping off drug-dealers, never a safe proposition. One day a victim of one of my swindles threatened me with a gun. I grabbed the gun by the barrel, put it to my forehead, and begged him to shoot. All I asked was that he made sure to kill me because, “You would be doing me a favor, motherfucker.” This occurred in broad daylight in the middle of a crowded New York City street. I remember a crowd forming and people screaming; but what I remember most was thinking that this was my way out. “Do it,” I yelled. He pulled the trigger and…

Nothing happened.

I don’t know if the gun jammed or if it wasn’t loaded, whatever the reason, the gun failed to discharge. My would-be “assistant suicider” freaked out, yanked the gun from my hands, and walked away. I called after him, letting him know he could get another chance. That’s how much I wanted to die. And, I thought, I could do nothing right.

That wasn’t the worst of it, my life continued to bottom out until November 26th, 1990 when I experienced an incident so traumatic it would change me and my world in an inexplicable way. Actually, most people would consider the events that transpired on that cold, dreary November day as a defeat. Very simply, after being released from New York City’s infamous jail, Rikers Island, for exactly fourteen days, I was re-arrested. It was also that last day of my active addiction — the last day I took a drug.

I didn’t know it then but it was the beginning of a new life: a life that today is far from perfect, that has suffering, illness, death, and many challenges, but also contains an invincible of joy at its core. This is part of the reason I do the work that I do. I know from personal experience that even the worst of us have the potential to liberate ourselves from socially constructed or self-made prisons. And let me be clear: we’re all “doing time” in some way, we all wear shackles. To a degree, we all enact patterns of behavior or carry the proverbial baggage.

No, I am not a religious person. My personal view is that religion is for people who are afraid of hell and spirituality is for those who have already been there. I simply try to be the best person I can be on a daily basis and oftentimes I fall short of the mark. However, my intentions are usually good and my direction somewhat orderly. I try to live a life centered on compassion for others, personal growth, self-actualization, and passion for social change.

On that day, twenty-seven ago, I had no way of knowing of the possibility of life as it has manifested itself for me today. These past few years have been challenging. A lot of that has to do with being unemployed. At one point, I almost lost all my property in storage, my cellphone had been cut off, I was living with my sister… well, you get the idea. Yet, I still managed to maintain some measure of sanity and actually find some serenity. In the midst of all my problems, I never picked up a drug and was even able to find some measure of happiness. It’s a happiness independent of any person, place, or thing. On the surface I can be sad, happy, angry, disappointed, depressed, disgusted — I can be experiencing any number of attachments — but at the center, at the very core of me, there is an invincible joy greater than any drug-induced high I have ever experienced. And believe me, coming from me, that’s saying a lot.

On that day twenty-seven years ago, sitting there in the midst of total failure and utter humiliation, I came undone. And that was a good thing, because in experiencing complete obliteration I became open to something more than my small self. In emptying myself, I came to see that what I perceived as the void was in reality my innate and boundless potential as a human being.

I am genuinely grateful. As I said before, I have experienced sadness, frustration, happiness, love, rejection (the full catastrophe!). I could easily surmise, if I were so disposed, that my life, that life itself, sucks. But that’s a coward’s lie. Life is a gift — probably the most precious of gifts. My life today is like a redemption song — a song of freedom. And at the very least there is nothing worse (or better) than that fateful day twenty-seven years ago. Today I woke up and I am… here… and for that I am most grateful.

May you all have as much to be thankful.

My name is Eddie and I am in recovery from civilization…

Labels: Addiction, Freedom, Hope, Hungry Ghosts, Recovery, Redemption, Self-actualization, Substance Abuse

Excerpt: … after being released from New York City’s infamous penal colony, Rikers Island, for exactly fourteen days, I was re-arrested. It was also that last day of my active addiction — the last day I took a drug.

Thanksgiving With the Rosarios

Hola mi Gente,
The following is something of an annual tradition here at the [un]Common Sense Blog.

Thanksgiving, for reasons I won’t get into now, is one of my favorite times of the year. Yeah, we should call it Thanks-taking for the crimes against our First Nation brothers and sisters. But Puerto Ricans are the ultimate fusionists and we make everything our own. Thanksgiving in our home was a celebration of our culture — our food, our music, and family ties. I love Thanksgiving most of all because all the great childhood memories.

In any case, I love the ritual of breaking bread together and honoring gratitude — giving thanks. I’ve heard it said gratitude and sadness cannot coexist and that’s been my experience. And right now, I need a lot of gratitude, man. And with that, I offer the following story…

Frankenstein’s Turkey

11-23-16_-thanksgiving-with-the-rosarios-frankensteins-turkey

[Note: an animal was harmed in the making of this post]

 

It really was too much — embarrassing beyond anything. Everybody on that B60 Wilson Bus was staring at us and the best my uncle could do was laugh that fuckin infectious, jolly laugh of his. He thought it was hilarious and, sensing my embarrassment, he laughed harder, causing the other passengers to stare more intently.

There it was again, a movement from the cause of my embarrassment. You see, in Puerto Rican neighborhoods, it wasn’t uncommon to purchase live poultry from el vivero — a marketplace selling live fowl. Usually that entailed picking or asking for a particular chicken and the proprietor would take it out of its cage, go to the back, and “prepare” it for you.

But this was the day before Thanksgiving and my mother had insisted I accompany my uncle to the nearest vivero to buy a live turkey. At the time we were living in the then mostly African American Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York Avenue (right across the street from the back entrance of the Pitkin Theater) and the nearest vivero was a bus ride away. My uncle Onofre, Tío Nofrín as we called him, was already in his cups though it was still early in the day, and he insisted in a live turkey to take home. This was unusual, I thought at the time, because normally we would tell el vivero to prepare the bird for us. But my uncle insisted we take the fucker live, so el vivero, with a look that seemed somewhat peeved, put the turkey in a large brown paper grocery bag, and off we went. No sooner than we sat down on the crowded bus, the turkey, perhaps sensing this wasn’t going to be a good day, began making a fuss and engaged in repeated and often violent attempts to escape the paper bag. This in turn caused all the passengers to stare, which made my already slightly inebriated uncle to laugh out loud.

He obviously thought it was hilarious, the passengers were alarmed at the tipsy Puerto Rican with a live turkey in a large brown grocery bag, and I wanted to die from embarrassment. You see, part of growing up in a society that sees ones culture as different or alien, is that there’s an internal tension between the very strong pull to assimilate (and escape alienation) and the tug of cultural pride. I was raised to be proud of my Puerto Rican heritage, but I decided that I drew the line at live turkeys on the B60 Wilson bus.

My uncle Nofrín, already a happy-type person sober, became even happier the more he drank. And the happier he got, the more he laughed. He had this patented outburst, “Ayyyy Coo-Coo,” an idiomatic expression that didn’t mean anything except that it usually followed a punch line to a joke/ prank or when something outlandish happened. For example, if grandma fell on her culo in front of everyone, you can be sure Tio Nofrín would follow that up with a hearty, “¡Ayyyy Coo-Coo!” and start cracking up. So here I was with Tio Nofrín, wrestling with a live turkey on a crowded New York City bus laughing his ass off and yelling out, “Ayyyy CooCoo!” every time the turkey attempted to break free of the paper grocery bag. Embarrassing.

But I’ve been a little unfair to you, my dear reader, and I need to backtrack just a little at this point because I’ve started this story at the wrong juncture. This particular Thanksgiving actually began with my sister winning a raffle at the local Catholic Church where we took our weekly catechism classes. The prize? She won a large truckload of groceries. We were so happy! The fact was that while I can’t say we never starved, there were times when we were growing up that food was scarce. I guess this is what advocates now call “food insecurity.” I know all about food insecurity. For example, “wish sandwiches” (mayo spread on white bread accompanied by a wish for meat) weren’t uncommon in the Rosario household and it was rare that we had enough capital to do food shopping for a whole week. My mother often had to scrape up dinner on a day-to-day basis. So the prospect of having a whole truckload of groceries was something my siblings and I saw, as Martha Stewart would say, “A good thing.”

My mother is a proud woman. Even as a child, I often marveled at how my mother could walk down the worst ghetto street and still manage to appear regal. To borrow the South African phrase (used in the Paul Simon song), my mother walked as if she had diamonds on the soles of her shoes. She had a way of holding herself, an attitude, so natural it didn’t offend people. People just assumed she was entitled to that regal bearing. She walked straight, with perfect posture, and her manner, though imposing, was unaffected: head held high, her perfectly sculpted nose, and those cheekbones to die for, adding a sublime beauty to that imperial pose. When she barked out an order, people listened and though she was in actuality a petite and small woman, she always seemed taller than her actual size. And while it was true we were poor, my mother would dress us in the best clothes — clothes bought at a fraction of their original price at used clothing stores and Salvation Army centers located near upscale neighborhoods. And she taught us to walk in that same way. In fact, to slouch in front of my mother was sacrilegious.

That’s why, perhaps, when my mother saw all these groceries being carted into our third-floor tenement walk-up, she became enraged thinking it was charity. She managed to insult the priest and was about to order the delivery boys out of her house before we could convince her that my sister had won all that food in a raffle.

So what did my mother do? Did she squirrel away the food, making sure we would have groceries for, like, evah? No! First, she gave away two of the (three) Butterball Turkeys to neighbors in bad straits and then proceeded to call all of our tribe for a big, family Thanksgiving dinner.

And that’s when she charged my uncle and me to “go get a turkey from el vivero. When we finally arrived with the live turkey, a great clamor ensued. First, my mother wanted to know what had gotten into my uncle that he would be crazy enough to bring a live turkey to her house. Her instructions were clear, she enunciated in tones usually reserved for intellects hovering at the idiot level. I feared she would task us with returning the damned thing, but then my grandmother insisted that she could “prepare” the turkey. After all, my grandmother reasoned, she had been raised in small Puerto Rican town, and slaughtering and preparing food wasn’t something foreign to her.

A quick, impromptu family meeting was held in order to decide how to go about preparing the turkey and soon a full-scale heated debate broke out which culminated in my grandmother rushing out, grabbing the poor turkey by the neck, and spinning it violently above her shoulder. According to my grandmother, this was a sure-fire way of killing the turkey, a technique apparently used for generations in Salinas, the town she was born and raised.

Unfortunately for the turkey, this twisting only resulted in a wicked crook in its neck, which became immediately noticeable as soon as my grandmother let go and it started running wildly around the apartment seeking a way out of its predicament. I felt so bad I almost opened the door for it, but the turkey was doomed, and with his neck now at a right angle to its body, I doubt it would’ve been able to exploit an escape opportunity even if it recognized it. At this point, half the family was in determined pursuit of our potential meal and the other, younger half was screaming traumatized. I’m sure some of my cousins still have nightmares of screaming turkeys with crooked necks. The only one who was clearly enjoying himself was Tío Nofrín who was yelling out “¡Ayyyy Coo-Coo!” as he joined in the chase of the wayward turkey.

Eventually, someone caught up to the turkey and it was then decided that the best, most merciful course of action would be to slit its throat, an action that my stepfather, Vincent, promptly committed. However, all this accomplished was that the turkey, resuming its valiant quest for life, ran spraying great splotches of turkey blood everywhere. Eventually, the turkey was finally subdued and apparently murdered and a large pot of water was set to boiling in order to plunge the turkey in for the removal of its feathers. No sooner than the turkey was plunged into the boiling water that it quickly jumped out and again made one last attempt at life. This time, everyone was traumatized, screaming in horror. Finally, my grandmother, clearly upset at losing face when her fool-proof turkey killing technique was shown to be ineffective, grabbed the poor fellow, and with one last pull on its deformed and mutilated neck, finished him off.

Suffice it to say the turkey no longer gave anyone trouble and before you knew it, it was de-feathered and prepared in the pavo-chon Puerto Rican style (a turkey that tastes like a lechon). Soon all the aunts, all high-strung drama queens and creative culinary geniuses, were busy preparing the dishes they were best known for (and getting on each other’s last nerves in the process) and the rest of the family settled in for fun and games.

You have to understand that I come from a family of cheaters. For example, my grandmother, bless her soul, was a notorious card cheat. Mind you, she wasn’t a good or adept card cheat, in fact, she was quite bad at it. But a card cheat she was, and in our family cheating at games is actually allowed. What isn’t allowed is being caught at cheating (the sole exception to this rule being my grandmother). People who marry into our family have a difficult time understanding our ethics, but I assure you we have our moral standards, they’re just somewhat nuanced and, well, “complicated.”

We’re also a family comedians and pranksters and if you happen to commit a gaffe, or do something particularly embarrassing, you will forever be associated with that action/ event. For example, one friend of the family had the tenacity to stick her finger into some food an aunt was preparing and she was quickly chastised with a whack to the head with a large metal ladle. From then on she was known as “La Lambia” — the greedy or starved one. I have an aunt who’s predisposed to exaggeration (actually she’s compulsive liar) and part of “family fun” was asking her questions about events we all knew she would exaggerate and then make fun of her for her exaggerations. One part of the family, my mother’s sister’s brood, were known for their bad tempers and were called the “Pissed Offs.” Another part of the clan was called the “Mini Munchkins” because they were all short.

Individuals were similarly stigmatized. For example, I was affectionately known as mal tiempo. Literally translated as “bad time,” it is a phrase normally used to describe natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods.

One of my sisters was called “La Princesa” (The Princess) because of her beauty and pretentious airs. Also, if you were an unfortunate victim of an accident, that too was fodder for humor. One cousin, who accidentally shot himself in the foot, was ragged on for that for years. Even something as mundane as taking a shower during family get-togethers was fraught with danger, as a cousin would invariably rush in with a Polaroid camera to snap a picture, or a brother or mother would dump a pail of iced water on an unsuspecting bather.

Suffice it to say that fun and games in my family was in actuality an excuse to engage in all manner boundary trespassing, psychological torment, cheating, hysterical and inappropriate demonstrations of affection and anger, and ridiculing. And you know what? It was hilarious! As long as you weren’t the butt of the joke, of course. And every year, there would be a different theme and a different butt of the holiday joke.

So here it was Thanksgiving Eve and the music was blaring, the home warm with all the cooking, fogging the windows, and you could smell all the great food being prepared. Family members were all engaged in the joyful activities of family holidays when the men decided they would all venture on a “Boy’s Night Out” outing, much to the expressed dissatisfaction of the women. One of my earliest lessons as a young man was that one should never anger the women on my mother’s side of the family, for they are a ferocious group of women-warriors. In any case, the men went out and they took me along with them because they wanted to school me in the ways of men. Going out, for the men, meant going somewhere where there was liquor, loose women, and illegal gambling. Apparently, being man meant being able to hold your liquor, no matter how much of it you imbibed, and demonstrating your virility by flirting with/ picking up women my mother would kill for even thinking of looking at me.

And this particular night, the night before Thanksgiving, there was a lot of gambling going on. At first, my stepfather, Vincent, was making a killing. One thing though, while sober, Vincent was a model of stability, however, once inebriated, he lost all self-control. Instead of quitting while he was ahead, he instead lost all his winnings and his paycheck to boot. This I knew was bad news, but Vincent was beyond listening to my appeals. Eventually, he convinced my uncles to lend him money and in that way help him win his money back, and he went on another winning streak, only to commit the same error, managing to lose the money loaned by my uncles.

It was 5 AM in the morning before the men began to sober up and come to the realization that they would eventually have to go back home to a group of assuredly angry Puerto Rican women waiting for them. So they came up with the following plan: they decided it was best for me to go upstairs first in order to scope out the situation. No sooner that I walked into the apartment that I realized things were worse than even I expected. Most of the women were sitting at the kitchen table silently seething, waiting for the men to return. You could actually see the waves of anger emanating off their bodies, distorting the air like heat waves.

I went back downstairs and dutifully gave my status report and most of the men balked at going upstairs, thinking (quite wisely), discretion was the better part of valor. But Vincent, who seemed to not have sobered, guffawed, got out of the car, and with a swagger announced he would show everyone who wore the pants in his home and proceeded upstairs. I followed, fearing the worst.

There was this long flight of stairs that reached up to a small foyer-like area to our apartment, and it was here where my mother confronted a clearly incoherent and inebriated Vincent. Somehow she surmised he was gambling, had lost his money, and was drunk, and she became so incensed, out of anger she pushed him. Vincent, still drunk from the huge amount of rum he had imbibed, didn’t stand a chance and he went down that long flight of stairs landing in a way that no human body should land, his neck now at an angle eerily similar to the turkey’s neck the day before.

I turned to my mother, said, “You killed him.”

My mother, “I did not!”

Me, “Ma, I saw you push him. Look at him I think his neck is broken.”

My mother, “Don’t you say that! I didn’t push him, he was so drunk. He fell on his own!”

Me, “No he didn’t mom, you pushed him!”

At this point my aunt, the compulsive liar, who up until now had been asleep, appeared out of nowhere and said, “I saw everything and Lydia didn’t push him, he fell!”

Before I could continue, several of her sisters and my grandmother came out and all stated, though not one of them had witnessed anything, that Vincent had fallen of his own accord and they all gave me this look that clearly indicated it was dangerous to persist in this line of reasoning.

By this time I resigned myself to the reality that the whole conversation was a moot point and went downstairs to check on Vincent. I was certain he broke his neck, but no sooner that I called his name that he opened his eyes, smiled, and managed to get up. I guess it’s true that White Jesus loves children and drunks because to this day, I don’t know how he survived that fall.

Right then, I felt rather than saw something fly over my shoulder and land with a loud crash. My mother, in her anger, had thrown the turkey, which had been slowly roasting in a low-heated oven for several hours, down the stairs and it crashed, pan and all, and broke into several large greasy chunks of turkey parts. Thanksgiving, which had begun on such a high note, had now been ruined and we didn’t even have a turkey. My mother and her sisters quickly dressed and left the house, the rest of the men probably getting similar treatment outside.

My sisters, and some of my younger cousins, immediately gathered and started an impromptu choir of wailing and crying because Thanksgiving had devolved into a dysfunctional madness and the turkey had now died — yet again. And I was so upset with Vincent that I told him he was responsible for all the crying and for the ruination of Thanksgiving dinner.

Upon hearing this, Vincent seemed to sober up a little, pulled himself up, said, “I’ll fix this,” and began picking up the pieces of the turkey.

I was beyond shocked, said,

“How the hell are you going to fix this, Vincent, that turkey is done!”

Vincent,

“You’ll see,” he mumbled as I left to go outside for a walk, unable to take it anymore.

When I returned, Vincent and my sisters were busy trying to sew the turkey back together again and it was so funny, I had to laugh and we all started laughing. I mean, this turkey was all discombobulated, legs akimbo, stitched all together like some horror story monstrosity. And true to form, we christened the turkey, “Frankenstein’s Turkey,” and while attempting to put it together, one of my sisters chuckled and intoned, “It’s alive! It’s alive!” and we all started laughing in earnest.

Eventually, when the rest of the family finally returned, my mother saw us all laughing, took one look at the turkey, and she started cracking up. I mean, it was impossible to look at this thing and not laugh. And that’s how we spent that Thanksgiving, eating a horribly tortured and reconstructed turkey. And believe it or not, we often reminisce about that day, thankful that we have these stories to tell. And while we have had “richer” thanksgivings, under better economic conditions, that was still one of the best turkeys we ever had because we had it together.

May you have much to be thankful … Happy Holidays!

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Sunday Sermon: The Rapture

Hola Everybody,
According to some brilliant asshole, the rapture was supposed to be upon us starting yesterday, September 23rd. It seems like the rapture is upon us, proving that conservative, fundamentalist Christians have been right all along. Now, don’t you feel like an idiot for not purchasing this Rapture Survival Backpack© — Ha!

Jesus is Gonna Kick yo Ass

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Quick! Look busy — Jesus is coming.

Every once in a while (in the U.S. that means every day) a religious nut predicts the end times are upon us. Google “rapture” if you want the details. If you’re too lazy, I’ll explain…

Pretend you’re a big time Hollywood executive and I tried to pitch you the following story:

“Okay, let me start with some context. It’s the 21st century, but millions of people still believe in this invisible Super Ghost who lives somewhere way, way up in the sky somewhere. You see, he created everything, sees everything, knows everything, and knows everything that had ever happened and will happen. Think: a divine Big Brother — a huge security camera in the sky.

The people who believe in him think of him as a magic helper who protects, punishes, and watches over them. It’s a take on the Santa Claus thingee: He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake (and engaged in revolutionary activities), and so on.

Yet even though this ghost has, like, all the superpowers of all the superheroes rolled into one, he’s in actuality very insecure. He demands that you follow and pay tribute to him or else you get an eternity burning in a non-stop, super-duper fire, boiling in lava-like shit and being constantly stabbed by devils with pitchforks. Oh yeah! I almost forgot, two thousand years ago he sent his only son (which he conceived by fucking a married virgin) to earth in order to redeem humanity from their wickedness by getting him nailed to a cross (that whole Gospel According to Mel Gibson treatment).

Now, bear with me because this is where the story gets interesting: after two thousand years of watching humanity slaughter itself, getting really fucked up, and having wild orgies, and basically just slacking off, The Son plans to return to earth from outer space. But before he does, he’s going to beam up to Heaven all those people who have continued to have faith in him. Yup, levitate them right out of their clothes, wherever they are — on an airplane, asleep, having sex, on the toilet, and (get this!) from the freaking grave! That’s right, corpses and cadavers blasting out of the ground! Think: Saw meets Night of the Living Dead, with some touches of Superman and Terminator thrown in.

Meanwhile, the people left behind are freaking out. I mean, imagine you’re on an airplane to South Beach for a weekend of debauchery and suddenly the pilot fuckin’ disappears! Flies right by your window!

Dang!

Then you look and you see hundreds of naked people whooshing by (of course, we’ll make them up to be gorgeous-size zero-big-breasted-no ass-having-blonde-white-babes and maybe throw in an old dude just for laughs). And then the plane just nose dives, crashes smack into the side of a mountain. Families are broken up and companies have to close because, like, the entire sales department just flew through the AC vents out the window!

Meanwhile, the people left behind are in a mass panic and MSNBC-CNN-FOX is blaming it on the Muslims and the liberals. The president is pissed because he thinks it’s some secret pentagon weapon he wasn’t informed about. Cut to a religious secretary as she tells him, ‘Mr. President, it’s the Rapture.’ Since he’s secretly a Hitler-loving groupie narcissistic fascist, he’s never heard of the Rapture. The secret service sweeps him away to an undisclosed location where they fill him in on the details.

And this is just the first seven minutes! In the rest of the movie, the people left behind are going to suffer a seven-year nightmare of wars, plagues, attacks from supernatural creatures, asteroid collisions, and rivers of blood… ”

Would you buy a pitch like that? Well, considering the really inferior crap that gets produced these days, maybe a studio would produce such a story. Wait… you mean they made that movie?! Damn! LOL

Seriously, if I insisted that I actually believed the story to be true, most of you would have probably called security and have me kicked to the curb or shot by a posse of Colin Kaepernick-hating cops, right? Right? Right?

As many as a hundred million Americans admit that they believe in this story, which is known as the Rapture, a scene lifted out of the last book of the Bible. Yeah, that part, the crazy, hallucinogenic part. The part with the Apocalypse and its Four Horsemen, the Whore of Babylon, a seven-headed dragon, and crap that looks straight out of a badly crafted segment of Lord of the Rings.

It’s hey-Zeus (!) on steroids come back to kick some major Muslim (and Jewish, Atheist, and Wiccan, and… etc.) ass!

If you’re a Christian and never heard of the Rapture, then shame on you, you didn’t read the Bible all the way through to the end. In any case, this book isn’t for believers of the rapture. It’s for you, Heathen! Unbeliever! Doubter! Satanist! Secular Humanist Socialist liberal! If you’re curious about what 100 million of your neighbors find so compelling about the Rapture, then this book will do the trick. If, on the other hand, you’re the kind of person who values reason rather than myth, then this book will literally make you laugh your ass off.

Quick! Look Busy!

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Sunday Sermon [Courage]

Hola Everybody,
Yes, I haven’t written in a while and that includes writing that doesn’t usually appear here (my short stories and nonfiction essays). I have to find my niche in this world… somehow.

Here’s a poem by Anne Sexton that inspired me. They are particularly poignant considering the poet’s own life. The last two years have been challenging for me and I can relate to the words that follow Hope it inspires you as well.

Courage

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It is in the small things we see it.
The child’s first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

Later,
if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

Later,
if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

Later,
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you’ll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you’ll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.

— Anne Sexton © provided for educational purposes only

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…

Tags: Poetry, Anne Sexton, Courage, Transformations

Excerpt: Your courage was a small coal/ that you kept swallowing.

Everything is Everything

Hola mi Gente,
Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Hope you have an exciting, fun-filled summer!

Dependent origination is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea, I admit, but there’s something to it… or not. LOL

Dependent Origination

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The fear of letting go prevents you from letting go of the fear of letting go.

 

This is the doctrine at the heart Buddhism. You see, my dear reader, it goes this way: you are an unstable collection of coincidences held together by a desperate and irrational clinging. There is no center — no center at all. Everything depends on everything else, your body depends on the ecology, your thoughts depend on whatever conditioned debris floats in from the media, your emotions are mostly from the reptilian end of your DNA.

Your intellect, dear reader, is a chemical computer that can’t add up a zillionth as fast as a pocket calculator. Even your best side is a superficial piece of social conditioning that will fall apart as soon as your significant other leaves after emptying the money in the bank account, the economy fails and you get the sack, or you get conscripted into some village idiot’s war, or they give you the news about your brain tumor. To name this combination of self-pity, vanity, and despair “self” is not only the height of conceit, it is also proof that we’re a deluded species.

We are in a trance from birth to death. Burst the balloon and what are you left with? Emptiness.

It’s not only us — this radical principle applies to the whole sentient world. While dependent origination is somewhat hard to take (or grasp), it does have a compelling point: stop for a moment, still yourself, listen — in other words, pay attention just a little — and you will find yourself on a planet you no longer recognize. Those needs and fears you thought were the very foundation of your existence turn out to be no more than bugs in your software.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…