July 29, 2010

The Curious Case of the Blue Bicycle

Six years ago, I bought a bicycle at a garage sale. I was living with my parents that summer in their townhome on Alfred Hitchcock Street. At least that’s what I call it. It’s actually S 154th St. It forms the terminus of their subdivision, a very normal circa 1990’s development, with all the streets coming down the hill and ending there at 154th. On the opposite side of the street, for four blocks, stretches and endless row of pastel duplex townhomes – all – exactly – the – same. But I wasn’t consulted when they bought it and even had I been, I’d have had no say, so when I needed a place to live the summer before I moved to Lincoln, I couldn’t quibble (much).

I was selling the five-bedroom ranch in Gretna and buying a one-bedroom condo in Lincoln, just a mile south of the University of Nebraska. I was not about to invest in an outrageously expensive parking pass (which really only amounts to a hunting permit), so instead I invested in a five dollar bicycle at a garage sale just up the street from my parents’ home. It was pink, or, more properly, magenta. It was an old cruiser, with only three speeds, a wide, brown leather seat, fenders, and a basket on the back. I’ve never been a pink girl, but for five dollars, I wouldn’t quibble (much). The cute boys at the Monkey Wrench, the bicycle shop in downtown Lincoln, told me it was from Poland, manufactured sometime in the Sixties, and somewhat unique.

I rode that bicycle back and forth to work and endured much guff for it from the tough military folk at the ROTC office where I was secretary. They called it a “Dorothy” bicycle. (Never mind that in the Wizard of Oz, it had not been Dorothy who had a bicycle with a basket on the back.) I crisscrossed campus between classes, dodging pedestrians who never heard my calls of “Left!” thanks to their ubiquitous mp3 players. I took a tumble once, when one of them dodged the wrong direction, sent me off the curb, over a bump, and flat on my back on the concrete.

The untouched young man actually pulled his earbuds out as he stood over me as asked “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” I gritted. “I’m fine.” I was also terribly pissed off and wanted him to go away before I peeled myself off the pavement and did him an injury. He hurried away sticking his fingers back in his ears.

That bicycle was my main mode of transportation for over a year, until one night as I bounced home along the cracked sidewalks of 16th St, the chain bounced right out of the basket. I never found it. Nor did I get around to replacing it as promptly as I should. A week later my magenta bicycle was stolen from where I had parked it outside of Anderson Hall. I reported it to the campus cops, but nothing ever came of it. I trudged around campus for a month, lugging my heavy backpack, and missing the big basket, teasing and all.

When next I was in Omaha, I went garage saling again with my folks (it’s a family hobby). In short order I found another bicycle. Oddly enough, it was the exact same type, only blue and lacking the basket. It made me happy, as I had greatly enjoyed its pink sister. There must have been a dearth of Polish cyclists in the area in the Sixties. I paid twenty dollars this time for the blue three-speed cruiser with the black seat, and another fifty to have the Monkey Wrench boys put a basket on the back, but I still thought it a good deal.

Over the next five years I’d add LED lights on the front and back and a bell on the handlebars. When the basket would come undone, I’d stop into the Monkey Wrench and they’d replace the zip-ties that held it to the frame. Eventually, I secured it more permanently with a bungee cord, now worn and frayed but still doing its duty. Every spring I shelled out for a tune up and was always amazed at how much better it rode. I never fixed a tire (and miss a chance to visit the cute boys at the bicycle shop?) or oiled the chain myself and I always stored it outside in the rain and snow and sun.

Don’t let that cause you to think I didn’t appreciate my bicycle. I did. On all accounts I found it rather perfect. It would spend long hours parked in front of Architecture Hall, and it would always cheer me to find it still there when I emerged in the wee hours of the morning. Even in winter, I rode all but a handful of days. When I was hit by a car on East Campus and the basket and all its contents sent flying out in the middle of busy Holdrege St, the sturdy frame didn’t bear so much as a dent. The bruise on my thigh lingered longer than it took to repair the bent spokes on the rear wheel.

When the time came to move to California, I was rather disappointed to learn a bicycle can cost a hundred dollars to ship, especially if you have to pay someone to disassemble, pack, unpack, and reassemble it for you (and having never learned much about bicycle maintenance it would certainly have been necessary). For a twenty dollar bicycle with a fifty dollar basket and a five dollar bell, I just couldn’t justify the cost. Spring turned into summer and my August departure date grew close. I hadn’t ridden since May, having lost the key straight off my keychain somewhere between Chicago and Denver. The bicycle sat chained and unloved at the rack behind my brick building all summer.

Until last Friday, that is, when my father came to help me move some furniture and brought a pair of bolt cutters with him. He cut the chain and I thought no more about it, having no need of it that weekend. On Monday morning, I walked the four blocks to work much as I had the past two months. But when I came home Tuesday night and noticed it gone, I let out a quiet curse. I had been trying to sell it, true, or just give it away to a friend I thought would appreciate it, and here it had been stolen. Who would have known that this week, of all weeks, the chain had been cut off? It was hardly visible there where the weeds had grown up about the wheels. It made me sad not to see it there anymore, despite my recent neglect.

Today is Thursday, and my coworkers and I (in the three-person Office of Rural Health) walked up to get a burger at the new place on P St, just across from the Monkey Wrench. As we walked back, I was lamenting the loss of my old blue bicycle and the magenta one before that. Two bicycles in six years isn’t so bad, I thought, especially as neither was very expensive. As we reached the corner of Fourteenth, I glanced to my right at the bicycle rack in from of Jake’s Cigars.

“There it is!” I cried, practically on the heels of “I hope whoever got it is making good use of it.”

We walked over and I checked the blue frame for the telltale gold bell and frayed bungee holding the basket on the back. Sure enough, it was my blue bicycle, rusted bits and all. Nor was it chained to the rack. We glanced into Jake’s but saw no patrons and no one staring back at us clustered around this old bike. So I re-stole it.

“We’ll see if anyone comes out after us,” I said.

“I’ll take care of them if they do,” Mike offered with a grin.

We all agreed on the walk back to the office if whoever had ridden it there had believed it was theirs legitimately, perhaps having bought it from the thief unwitting, they surely would have locked it up. I may have stolen it from someone quite innocent, but I can’t bring myself to feel sorry for them. They can’t have paid very much for it, even if their intentions were good. It’s more likely I stole it back from the thief who stole it from me in the first place. And although I don’t need it and shall be looking to give it away soon myself, I didn’t hesitate to dish out a little of their own medicine. I didn’t entertain Tom’s advice to call the police for more than a moment, not for such a petty thief (who might very well be a neighbor). It would only have ended in a he-said-she-said scenario anyway.

So now my blue bicycle, twin sister to my magenta bicycle, is returned to me. When I get home tonight, for the first time ever, it will go up to my apartment rather than being left down at the bike rack. Now that it is returned, I wonder if I should not ship it to California after all, if just for sentimental reasons.

After all, it feels as though I have found it three times now, rather than just one.

July 27, 2010

Freedom From Hope & Fear

An essay for a competition on the subject of death, written June 15, 2010 .

I have no hope. No hope for heaven, no fear of hell. No hope for a better rebirth and no fear of worse. I know I will die. I seek no reward nor escape from any punishment. This life is all I have. And though I tell myself I could be wrong (what if I’m wrong?) I never seem to find enough faith or reason in such belief to spur action. Nor do I think I should.

How selfish is it to think “I am helping you so I can go to heaven?” How moral is it to believe “I will not hurt you because I don’t want to go to hell?” And we call this religion? And we call this religion good?

Heaven and hell exist here. Better and worse lives are but a second away. Do not pass the bardo, do not collect two-hundred good karmas, go directly to now. Reward and punishment are as constant as the daily movement of air through our lungs. I need nothing else.

This is not nihilism. If what comes after this life does not matter, then only this life matters. And in this life there is much to be done. This is the energy and urgency and motivation of all deeds.

It is fair to ask “If you have no fear of punishment, what stops you from doing harm?” The answer is myself, only myself. Because I am, like you are, not alone in this world. We should not make enemies of our neighbors. I have seven billion neighbors.

Others may follow with “If you have no hope of reward, what prompts you to help others?” The answer is that they do, always they do. I could hide in my selfishness, like a turtle in her shell, never doing harm but never rendering aid. But no shell is thick enough to shield the screams of a suffering world. The only relief is their relief.

I have no hope for joy other than this. My heart will stop beating, my blood stop flowing, the twitch of electricity in my mind will fall silent. My body will be burnt to ash and scattered. There will be no joy in me for that. But there is joy here, now.

There is pain, too. Endless, untold oceans of suffering. They got that bit right, these religions. So they sit in hard church pews praying for redemption and on soft cushions meditating for freedom. Escape, escape, escape.

They are not wrong. Prayer too can be joy. And meditation can be relief from suffering. And these things spread, like waves in the ocean, crisscrossing the ripples of a child’s smile and a baby’s laugh, spreading from shore to shore. They touch you and me.

But only so long as we continue to stand in the ocean. When I am gone from here, I will feel them no more. The ripples from each person’s life may continue after they are gone. Like a stone disappearing below the surface of the waves, nevertheless felt. We are all stones. Some sink with hardly a trace. I do not seek to make waves. I will not hinge today’s happiness on something so fickle as tomorrow’s sea.

I live my life hopelessly, as much as I can, but also fearlessly, as much as I am able. I will try (oh, how we try!) to harm none and help many. I am concerned with today’s joy and today’s sorrow. I heed no promise of after.

I do not advocate this for anyone. I do not say it is the way. It is simply how I must live.

In the languages of India, “mind” and “heart” are one word. My mind and heart are one in this. My reason and intuition agree. What I know, as best one can know, and what I feel are twinned.

In hopelessness, there is no despair. In fearlessness, there is no valor.

It is only freedom.

July 26, 2010

Sharing & Needing

“Is it weird? Seeing someone else with your car? You’ve been so good about sharing it. If it were me, it’d be weird, leaving the car I’d had for ten years,” Lacey asked as we stood by the car in question on my darkened street last night. I’d just given her my standing oval mirror and a small jewelry table.

I shrugged. “No, not really. I’ve had practice learning what I can live without. I lived a whole summer in a tent once.” A rather palatial tent by the standards of such things, with access to a bathhouse and meals provided every day, but it was still a tent.

The truth is, for all my many character flaws, sharing is not one of them. In fact, I like to share. It makes me feel useful, so you see, it’s not entirely altruistic. I like to be helpful. I like to show people things and teach them how to do stuff. There are limits, of course, and I can be impatient when it comes to showing someone the same thing for the third time, but I can usually stifle my annoyance and manage it with a smile.

If someone has a question, I’m right there with an answer, sometimes rather too quickly as I’ve been known to answer questions that weren’t addressed to me. I’ve discovered this enthusiasm isn’t always appreciated and learned to linger in the back of the classroom, only supplying an answer after others have had ample opportunity. And I have no particular attachment to things, or most things anyway. If you need a quarter or a book or a ride or even a car, if I have it, then you have it. I once gave my friend John my gigantic calculus textbook. He bought me a pop every week during class for the rest of the semester and I thought that an equitable exchange (the treat was certainly more fun than calculus had been).

Lacey is buying my car, the 1999 Hyundai Accent I bought brand new when I was nineteen years old. I’m the only person to have ever owned it. It’s blue and has a spoiler on its hatchback, which is absurd, but I rather enjoy. I would have given it to her, had I not needed the money. As it is, we didn’t even quibble over the price. She gave me a down payment and we’ve been sharing it until I leave. This week, I’ll see she gets the title paperwork and that’ll be it. The car will be hers, faded bumper stickers, stained seats, new tires and all. I’m glad she’s so excited to have it.

I sold my furniture to Barbara, who had “Best Grandmother” embroidered on her tee-shirt and spotless white sneakers. She just moved in upstairs.

“What would you like for it?” she asked. “I don’t want to insult you with too low a price.”

I shrugged and looked around. “I don’t know.” It’s my home, and it’s comfortable, but it doesn’t amount to much.

“How about $50 for the couch and the dining set?” she offered. “I can pay you next week when I get my social security. My grandsons can help move it on Sunday.”

“Yes, that’s fine,” I agreed. I probably would have agreed to the price of having the grandsons come take it away (especially if they were legal, cute, and it was hot enough to merit shirtless furniture moving, but that might have been asking a bit much).

It’s all gone now, along with the cobbled-together entertainment center and the last tall bookshelf. My house is a vast (500 square foot) desert prairie, with the occasional chair or box popping up above the faded Berber carpet. My cat sprawls languidly in the middle of the floor and surveys her domain, when she’s not stalking amongst the ruins and exploring the interiors of cardboard caves.

Elisabeth stopped over and bought the DVD player and a computer monitor. Dad came this weekend and helped move a few more things. He’d had a tetanus shot the day before and it was making him tired in the evenings, but he still wanted to help. My family is like that, so I guess that’s where I learned it. We took a load of boxes over to their garage and then he fell asleep on the couch in front of his big screen television, with little Lucy curled up next to him because Mom was away at quilt camp. He would snort and she would twitch her multi-colored ears and it was all very cute. When I finally went up to bed, I had to clear several boxes of craft supplies from the daybed in what was once the guest bedroom, the one I’ve generally thought of as mine.

I’ve always shared, ever since I was little, but these last few years I’ve also felt I needed less. I attribute that to my practice. I shop less and I buy less, partly because I have less money, but also because I don’t feel the need. I don’t feel sad when I can’t afford something I want. I really don’t want that much anymore. A few years ago, I would have been annoyed at the conquering army that is my mother’s craft supplies taking over what was ostensibly “my” space, the only bit of that house I’d ever felt was at all private. Now, I just shift the boxes and climb into bed. It doesn’t matter. How much space do I need for my glasses and mala and toothbrush anyway? Maybe mom should just get rid of the daybed. I won’t be visiting as much and when I do, I can sleep on the couch.

I also recognize that my sharing is as much about my ego as about the other person. I work on cultivating good intentions and not being pushy. Very shortly, sharing will take on an entirely new meaning, as I gain a roommate and his two-year-old son. I won’t be able to share entirely on my terms anymore. There is an opportunity to learn from that, if I can stay open enough to recognize it.

Compassion, we are often reminded means to “suffer with” another. Buddhism speaks about it often with its emphasis on suffering. But there is also sympathetic joy. There is also the smile I find on my face when Lacey posts a picture of her “new” car on Facebook with the caption “I LOVE IT!” Sometimes I think we could do well to talk about that feeling a little more.

I was watching a commercial about teeth whitening while Dad slept on the couch with the cat. When the woman on the screen smiled, I smiled. I didn’t even recognize it until the third time. We suffer, it’s true. But we’re also hardwired for compassion and sympathetic joy. We wince when someone else gets hurt and laugh when someone else laughs even if we don’t know the joke.

Sharing is a way of training for that empathetic response, which is why it’s so much more appealing to share in-person, with someone you know than to just drop things off at a thrift store for a nameless stranger. My friend Noreen might not need that shirt as much as the women’s shelter, but if I give it to her, I get to share her pleasure in having it. If we could find a way to incorporate this aspect into our charities, if our communities weren’t so divorced from the needy in our midst, we could harness a great deal more generosity.

Part of being generous comes from feeling wealthy. I don’t have much, by the standards of American society, but it feels like a lot to me, so sharing is never a burden. When I take boxes to donate to Good Will, I don’t feel like I’m giving up anything. Practice has helped me lessen the poverty mentality that makes us believe we need more than we do. I actually don’t need a car or a couch or ten pairs of jeans. That I have (for now) a car and a couch (there’s one waiting for me in California) and two (I gave the others away) pairs of jeans, makes me feel very fortunate. So there’s that, too – feelings of wealth and good fortune and sympathetic joy.

I’m going to my bankruptcy hearing today, but you know, I don’t feel particularly unlucky. I’ve got enough in my pocket for a piece of pizza on the way. I can pick up a little milk on the way home to share with my cat. When I get to California, I’ll have enough to buy a nice mattress, one big enough for two. My practice has helped me discover this and refine it. I may suck at meditation, but this I can do.

And here’s one way I can share it with you.

Guest Posting On Gender

My friend Jake has graciously included me as a guest post on his blog, Notes From A Small Place, in an ongoing series about gender and the body. And, no Jake, I don't even quibble about anything in the introduction, but I'd be happy to argue over the meaning of the word 'the' if you're looking for a good conversation. :-)


July 23, 2010

Geeks To The Rescue

I usually don’t post about news, pop culture, or current events here on the blog. After all, this blog is a journal, which means it’s all about me, me, me. Uh-huh. But there is something going down in San Diego I feel everyone should be aware of: Comic-Con. Well, not Comic-Con specifically, but what happens when two worlds collide, namely Comic-Con and the Westboro Baptist Church.

Now, if you don’t know what Comic-Con is…well, all I can say is I’m sorry. But for the uneducated amongst us, it’s the geek version of the holy pilgrimage. Comic-Con is the largest gathering of science fiction, fantasy, anime, video games, and comic books fans in the world. While there are several Comic-Cons, it is the International San Diego Comic-Con, held since 1970, with over 125,000 attendees in 2007, to which I refer. And it is going on right now.

As for the Westboro Baptist Church is a hate-group (Wikipedia’s word and mine) founded by ultra-fundamentalist “Christian” pastor Fred Phelps. They like to protest. A lot. And they are particularly well known for protesting soldiers’ funerals with signs that say “God Hates Fags” and “God Hates America.” As far as they are concerned, God is killing our troops because of America’s tolerance of homosexuality. Well they showed up to protest Comic-Con for the “worship of false idols.”

Well, Geekdom protested them right back. The photo below is of the Westboro protestors. And the one below that is the Comic-Con protestors.

Here are some links to blog coverage of the event from Bleeding Cool and Comics Alliance.

I am by turns saddened and sickened, rolling on the floor laughing my ass off, and greatly encouraged. My personal favorite is the homemade protest sign that reads “Hallo. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” Partly I love it as one of my favorite quotes and partly because it has nothing to do with anything, which just strikes me as so damned appropriate.

To all the folks at Westboro much loving kindness and to all of Geekdom many, many, many thanks!

July 22, 2010

Dear John Letter

Dear Home,

I want to thank you for a wonderful six years. I have truly loved living with you and I am not sure I shall find something that suits me quite as well anywhere else in the world. I will remember you with fondness and miss you very much.

When I first stepped across your threshold six years ago, it’s true you had seen better days, but I could see you had potential. The lack of light fixtures didn’t faze me, nor the mysteriously missing bathroom sink. Even the stained floors and badly painted moldings couldn’t hide the wonderful potential I saw in you. Even on a cloudy day, you glowed with a wonderful west light that has never failed to brighten my outlook. I loved your age and you majestic view and knew that together you and I could make a home.

I was a little apprehensive, of course. New relationships can be scary and I’d never been in an urban apartment before. It turned out I had little to fear. You taught me just how wonderful urban living can be and I shall be forever grateful for that. I’m actually in better shape now and more in touch with nature here in the heart of the city, thanks to the long walks and bicycle rides you encouraged me to make every day.

I have many wonderful memories of lazy evenings watching the sun set behind the Capitol building and the dark silhouettes of the mighty oak trees. You always gave me the best views of approaching thunderstorms. We had some good parties and dinners. You were good to my friends and always respectful of the neighbors, never being loud or disruptive. I only wish I could have spent more time with you these last two years, but you know my work kept me at the college far too often. Yet you were always here waiting patiently for me, with a soft bed and a warm drink.

Not only have you been great for me, but you’ve been good to my cat as well. She loves the undivided attention and freedom to roam in her own exclusive territory. You’ve always given her the light and views of small, fluttering animals she craves. And you never complained when she added a new stain to your long-suffering carpet.

I only wish I could take you with me, but California is not for you. They have earthquakes there and brick buildings don't hold up so well. You’re much better off here. And how could I ever separate you from your beloved city and all the things you’re close to, not to mention that beautiful view of the State Capitol?

But my life has changed. We knew this day would come. I have changed and it’s time to move on. There are new and exciting things waiting for me in California and I can’t give that up, not even for you. You were there for me when I needed you the most and I shall always cherish the comfort and shelter you gave me. Now it’s time for you to share that wonderful sense of security with someone else.

I know right now you’re feeling empty, but don’t worry. Very soon you’ll have someone new. They’ll fill you with furniture and books and laughter. Maybe you’ll finally get those new windows or that refinished floor you’ve always wanted. I know they’ll take good care of you and love you just as much as I have.

I’d like to say I’ll come and visit you, but I just don’t think that will be possible. I’ll move out, someone new will move in, and we’ll all move on. That’s the way it should be. But I want you to know I love you and I’ll miss you. Thanks for all your unwavering support these last six years.

Your Loving Resident,


July 21, 2010

Ugly, Petty Things

“People were gracious to give you the extension that they did…” My thesis mentor wrote in an email.

That festered in my mind for a full day. What he sees as a gracious extension is to me an unprecedented and onerous requirement sprung at the last minute by a callous committee who utterly failed to so much as attempt to provide some idea of their expectations beforehand.

Of course, that’s not entirely fair. That’s anger speaking. And pride. And disappointment. And lots and lots of ego. And it’s not something I even want to admit to feeling because it’s ugly and petty. But you know what? Sometimes our feelings are ugly and petty.

For Buddhist there are a lot of teachings out there about how to deal with negative emotions, but it’s all presented in the abstract. “When anger arises, do this…” It all sounds so simple. We are told to “cut the storyline.” It’s good advice. When my mind starts going on, yet again, about how damned unfair the entire thing is or how I just don’t know what they hell they… cut the story line. The storyline won’t help me actually accomplish the task.

But when does cutting the storyline become repression? It’s still there, festering in the back of my mind. And lately it’s been pushing itself forward. It's a fist closing around my heart, choking off my breath while the thought runs through my mind “Is it always going to be this way? Is this ever going to change?” And in that moment of desperation I wish to be anywhere but here, doing anything but this and yet simultaneous stare at a future of this instant without end. Panic freezes me into brittle stone as fear chews a hole in my chest.

Then I breathe. Let go. And when letting go doesn’t work, I push it away and stomp on it. I reassert the stubborn will that, as of yet, has never found a problem it couldn’t outlast. It’s not a permanent solution. The shadow still follows me around, but it is once again a shadow, not a full-grown monster. And it all happens in the blink of an eye, sitting in front of my computer in my sunny living room.

Most bizarre of all, I know what the problem is and I know what the solution is – intellectually. Putting this knowledge to practical use has always been the most difficult thing.

I know intellectually I am struggling with motivation. I see this entire project as an imposition from outside and I am an intrinsically motivated individual. This generates resistance and resentment. I also know what role fear plays. A teacher and good friend of mine hit it on the head many years ago when she noted I react most strongly and most negatively when my competence is threatened. I’m smart and I’m spoiled and I’m used to getting it in one. I don’t like feeling stupid. When I fail to understand I am also likely to fail to act, frozen into depression and confusion.

Despite all of this, I am approaching the end. But the process has been so long and so fraught with suffering that I now find myself gripped by a panic that my entire life will be this way – periods during which I feel my feet securely under me only to have my every effort once again dismissed as worthless by people who have authority over me but neither understanding of nor caring for me.

Perhaps, ‘worthless’ is a bit of an overstatement of fact, if not of feeling, but it is the feelings I am struggling with. They are strong emotions of resistance and incompetence, of being devalued and coerced. As many times as I cut the story line and attempt to refocus on the task, the feelings remain.

And I’m not going to “sit with it.” I’m not going to “delve into it,” because I can just feel it waiting to rise up and swallow me. I don’t have time for a nervous breakdown today, thank you.

The only course of action I feel open to me at this point is to just finish it. Do the best I can, finish the thesis, turn it in, show up at the defense, and then wash my hands of it and walk away. Maybe then I’ll be able to let go, to cut the story line, to sit with it if I still need to. Perhaps it’s not a healthy plan or even a good one, but for now, its the plan.

But what about next time? This surely isn’t the end of unwanted projects. It’s not the last time my competency will be threatened, just as it wasn’t the first. I claim I want to learn, but if I can’t put up with feeling stupid every once in a while (or constantly), how deep is my actual commitment to learning? Do I really want to set myself up for a lifetime of this?

The weary answer is yes. If I want to live a life of inquiry, then yes. And I’ve got one thing going for me – this entire problem is all in my mind.

Sure the work is bad enough, but that’s just a question of effort. I can write every section over again a dozen times if it comes down to it. It's only putting words on paper, typing on a keyboard, arranging and editing on a computer screen, all of which is totally within my ability to do.

The rest of it, the motivation and resentment and anger, that’s all on me, which means it’s entirely within my ability to control. Not easily, and not well (obviously), but it’s something I can learn to handle. And though my professors might be surprised to find, it is something I have learned to deal with, better this year than last year and all the years before.

That’s the Third Noble Truth, the cessation of suffering. It’s the path, too. There are ugly and petty things on the path, things we’d rather not encounter on this so-called journey to enlightenment because they’re not very enlightened. They’re not things we “should” feel. But isn’t that the point? Isn’t that why we’re on the path?

As for the thesis, there’s no turning back now. The damn thing’s all but done. And if I think this was bad, wait ‘til I get to my doctoral dissertation. Yeehaw. I'll lean a little more on that stubborn will I have in spades.

My mentor was right about the “gracious” bit, and if I’m obstinate enough to force myself to really look past the storyline, I can even see it that way sometimes.

July 19, 2010

The Peach Delusion

Buddhist Geeks is a favorite podcast of mine I make time for less often than I should. Today over a lunch of peaches in yogurt and granola, I was listening to BG 177: Working With Sexual Energy with guest Christopher Titmuss. Towards the end of the podcast, Titmuss muses on the meaning of the word “geek,” giving it the classic technical twist (though now “geek” has been updated to apply to any subject about which one has an almost obsessive passion, be that Buddhism, pizza making, or Star Wars).

“You know, people who have good knowledge of technology, and thank goodness for you all. What one has to be careful about is too much in the world of technology—information, the small-screen television, computer, or cinema too—could be reducing the heart’s life, the feeling life.”

Basically, what Titmuss is talking about is the Middle Way or keeping balance in one’s life, traveling between extremes. Of course, when the Buddha first propounded the Middle Way he was speaking specifically in relation to the extreme of hedonistic luxury in which he had been raised and the harsh asceticism practiced by many spiritual seekers, including the Buddha, in India at that time. Having tried them both, he found neither led to the cessation of suffering and so proposed the Middle Way between extremes. This Middle Way has since been applied as a navigational aid between all sorts of dualities (the very existence of which many Buddhists, especially the Zennies, will refute as delusionary mental constructs, but that’s beside the point).

It reminded me of the saying “You can never have too much of a good thing.” This is commonly applied to all sorts of indulgences, such as peaches, chocolate, new shoes, and good books. However, common sense dictates we can, in fact, have far too much of any of these, as rising rates of obesity, diabetes, credit card debt, and bankruptcy indicate. But is it really a question of having “too much,” or is it more about what is or is not a “good thing?”

The Second Noble Truth is the truth of the origin of suffering, which is commonly labeled as desire, craving, or attachment (and their antonyms aversion, distaste, and hate). However, another, deeper answer is also put forth – suffering is caused by ignorance. We ignorantly believe that the satisfaction of our desires will lead to happiness or a cessation of suffering. But this is not the case. Desires are rarely satisfied and when fulfilled, they often only give way to new desires. I was hungry, so I ate, and in a few hours I was hungry again. The problem is not that I was hungry, nor that I ate, nor even that I became hungry again. The problem is in believing the cessation of hunger will lead to the cessation of suffering, or even further, that hunger itself is suffering.

Now, I know a lot of folks are going “Wait a minute. What do you mean hunger isn’t suffering. Are you telling me if you’re starving to death you’re not suffering?” Well, to a certain degree yes. In a 2006 interview, Pema Chödrön once spoke about the different between pain and suffering with Bill Moyers

PEMA CHÖDRÖN: “[O]ne of the principle teachings of the Buddha was that he said, ‘I teach only two things. Suffering and the end of suffering.’ So this conviction that sentient beings could be free of suffering, they could end their suffering. That doesn't mean physical pain. It doesn't mean outer circumstances being unpleasant. It means what you do with the things that happen.”

BILL MOYERS: “What do you think he meant by suffering? And what do you Buddhists mean by suffering?”

PEMA CHÖDRÖN: “Well, that's a complex question, but it doesn't mean that we could be free of that, if fire burns you, it won't hurt. If you get cut, it won't hurt. It also doesn't mean that if someone you love very dear, deeply, dies you won't feel sadness. And it doesn't mean that bad things won't happen to you anymore, you know? ... So it's all about that the end of suffering has to do with how you relate with pain. Let's distinguish just for semantics, the difference between, let's call pain the unavoidable and let's call suffering what could what could lessen and dissolve in our lives. So, if there's sort of a basic phrase you could say that it isn't the things that happen to us in our lives that cause us to suffer, it's how we relate to the things that happen to us that causes us to suffer. …Putting up with little cares, I'll train myself to work with great adversity. So in other words, the premise there is that if you work with two, feeling hot and feeling cold, you work with mosquito bites and aisle and middle seats. And at that level, notice that you're hooked and work with not escalating it—"

BILL MOYERS: “So you escalate the anger.”

PEMA CHÖDRÖN: “So I escalate the anger, you know? My teacher Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, he calls it pouring kerosene on the fire, you know? In an attempt to put it out, you pour kerosene on the fire.”

In this way, hunger is not suffering. It’s just hunger. Suffering is the mental state that follows along behind it. “Man, I could use a cheeseburger right about now. I’m so hungry. When are we gonna get out of this damn meeting? I wish that damn guy would shut up so we could get the hell out of here. I’m hungry!” On and on it rolls.

Now we might think, well, that’s just the hunger of a spoiled, middle-class, American. What about the people who are really starving? What about the mothers in Africa who go hungry so their children can eat today and go to sleep still worrying about if they’ll find enough food to keep them from starving to death tomorrow? What about the extremes?

I have heard a story attributed to the Dalai Lama. He tells of meeting a monk who came out of Tibet many years after the Chinese invasion. This monk had been imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese for many years, beaten and starved. “Where you afraid?” the Dalai Lama asked.

“Yes, I was often afraid.”

“You were afraid they would kill you.”

“No. I was afraid I would no longer be able to have compassion for the soldiers who were torturing me.”

I’m not saying you or I could be as strong in the conviction of our compassion as this monk, but I’d like to think we each have it in us – that we have the ability to endure physical pain and still love, to endure pain without compounding it with anger, hate, and suffering. We can endure hunger, pain, disease, old age, and even death. More than endure, we can dwell in nirvana even as our body aches or our heart grieves. This is what the Buddha taught.

So what does this have to do with “good things?” Just this – as we delude ourselves into believing the satisfaction of our desires will lead to the cessation of suffering and creation of a lasting happiness, we also delude ourselves as to what are “good things.” Generally a “good thing” is classified as something we want. I want peaches in yogurt. Therefore, peaches in yogurt are a good thing. Likewise, a “bad thing” is something we don’t want. I don’t want rain. Therefore, rain is a “bad thing.” But we all know rain makes the grass grow, right? And the cows eat the grass and make the milk that gets turned into yogurt and yogurt is a “good thing,” especially when it comes with peaches, right?

We need to fundamentally reevaluate what is “good” and “bad,” or perhaps do away with such ideas altogether (although in everyday use the words may still be useful) and focus instead on what is helpful and what is harmful. What leads to suffering and what leads to the cessation of suffer? I would posit the later includes things live love, compassion, wisdom, and equanimity. So if those are the only truly “good things,” can we ever have too much of them?


But often we mistake even these things, or we have the wrong kind. Infatuation, for instance, or desire for a certain person and the feeling they evoke is often confused with altruistic love. Compassion must be tempered by wisdom lest it become “idiot compassion,” a kind of enabling behavior that despite our best intentions fails to lift others out of suffering. My friend Danny Fischer recently pointed out (by way of his Facebook status) that "The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." (Bertrand Russell) Therefore, even wisdom is problematic. As for equanimity, there is a danger in cultivating a calm demeanor as a way to insulate ourselves from the world rather than stand steady as all around us falls to pieces.

It is very easy to mistake these “good things” or helpful things because, in the end, we want them too. We want to love, to have compassion, wisdom, and equanimity. So we convince ourselves we know what these are and we pursue them. (“Look! Over there! It’s compassion! Get it!”) It is in that pursuit mentality that suffering arises. In truth, we don’t have to pursue these things at all. We already possess them. But we don’t think we do. We don’t recognize the buddhanature within ourselves. We are ignorant of this truth.

Ignorance is the root problem. Ignorance gives birth to delusion that gives birth to desire that gives birth to pursuit that gives birth to suffering. And this path has been trod so many, many times, it has become a ravine so deep sometimes we cannot even see the top.

It is the great paradox of Buddhism that we are simultaneously all awakened buddhas and all ignorant suffering beings. The traditions tell stories of those practitioners who were awakened in a single flash of insight. The question is not how do we get to the flash, but what do we do in the meantime? Because if we go chasing after it, it just becomes another pursuit, another desire, another source of suffering. (“Damn it! I’ve been at this for fifty years! Why the hell aren’t I enlightened yet?!”) In the meantime we have to live our lives. That’s where the Middle Way comes in, and the Noble Eightfold Path, and the multitude of other Buddhist teachings.

“Putting up with little cares, I'll train myself to work with great adversity.” We can learn bit by bit what is helpful and what is harmful, what eases the suffering of the world and what contributes to it. And awakening my creep up on us like fog on the water or arrive in a flash like lightning in the sky. In the meantime, it's okay to enjoy the peaches and call them good, but don't delude yourself into believing that if you could just have peaches in yogurt or [insert this moment's desire here] every day you'd be happy and never suffer.

Don't make your happiness contingent on an 'if.'

July 13, 2010

Family Stories

Aunt Cheryl is a photograph of a smiling, statuesque, blonde in a wedding dress on my Grandma Elaine’s wall. She was my father’s older sister and she died of leukemia nine years before I was born. Dad and I sat in the Runza near my folk’s home, eating ice cream after a particularly violent movie and talking about things. Dad went to college at Oklahoma University for a couple of years. He’d decided on OU because their out-of-state tuition was the same as Nebraska’s in-state tuition and also because that’s where Cheryl had moved with her husband, Gene. I suppose it may also have had something to do with the fact that Oklahoma was several hundred miles farther from the small town where Dad grew up, but that’s just speculation.

“When did Cheryl die?” I asked.

“Christmas Day, what was it, ’70, no, ’71.” Dad doesn’t talk about Cheryl much, but when he does it’s not with any particular sadness. More often than not, he’s laughing about something she and Lana did.

There’s a story he often tells about the crescent shaped scar on his forehead. They were all down the street playing at Lana’s house. She and Cheryl must have been seven or eight. Dad was four. They were all playing around the swing set, one that included an old two-seat glider, the kind of swing two people sit in, facing one another.

“Come closer,” they told him, “come closer.”

“And WHAM! They hit me in the head. I had blood all down my face so they told me I couldn’t play with them no more and sent me home. When they went inside and Lana’s mom asked ‘What happened to Roger?’ they told her ‘He was shot by Indians.’ So Lana’s mom went out looking for me, but I’d already walked home. Mom didn’t drive then, so Lana’s mom had to drive us to the hospital to get stitches.” He’d tell it with a big grin on his face and a laugh, even though he’d been the one bleeding. Dad never was bothered by a little blood, even his own. Fifty-five years later he carries the scar from the round end of the metal pipe the glider was made of, but not a grudge.

My Dad is a big man. (Possibly bigger because he’s my Dad.) He’s six foot three and built like the linebacker he was in high school. He has big hands and broad shoulders and extra weight ‘round the middle. For decades he played basketball four or five times a week and if he never quite got rid of the extra padding, he did get impressively powerful calves in compensation. About a decade ago his knees finally went and the basketball with them. He may now be slowly losing the war with his weight, but he still comes across as a large man, rather than fat. He also has a full head of reddish-brown hair, now liberally sprinkled with salt, but showing no signs of retreating.

His older brother, Doug, is built along the same lines. He’s a slightly taller, balding, and immeasurably harder-lived looking version of my father. Cheryl had the same tall frame, though a bit more refined than her brothers. All three children took after their father in that respect, rather than their petite mother, my Grandma Elaine.

I’ve seen other pictures of Cheryl, of course, most often with Lana or Susie or some of the other cousins or girlfriends. Grandpa loved to take pictures and Dad has inherited the huge collection. He’s been slowly digitizing them over the years, before they fade away to nothing. I’ve even seen the photographs from Cheryl and Gene’s wedding, but it’s usually that one photograph from Grandma’s wall that I think of when I picture Aunt Cheryl.

“I guess they didn’t have bone marrow transplants back then,” I said to Dad between crunchy bites of ice cream cone.

“No. She went into, what’s the word, recession?”


“Yeah, she went into remission once, but it came back.”

“I transferred back up to UNL my junior year, when OU raised the out-of-state tuition rates because they were getting too many out-of-state students. That woulda been in ’70. My buddy Scott and me went down there for the Oklahoma-Nebraska game next year and we visited Cheryl and Gene. She’s lost all her hair and we’d tease her about that. She had a wig, but she pulled it off to show Scott like ‘See!’ I went home for winter break and Mom and Dad were already down there. Cheryl said she didn’t want me and Doug there. She didn’t want us to see her like that. Then we got this call that she changed her mind; she wanted to see us. So we borrowed this big Cadillac and me and Doug and Sue and Steve, and I think Boomer was born by then, we all went down. But when we got to the hospital, the room was empty. I guess they’d tried to call us, but we were already gone. Finally a doctor showed up and told us she’d died.” He recounted it all matter-of-factly. These were all just steps in the progress of events, absent of emotion. I hadn’t expected otherwise. My family is like that - matter of fact.

“Is Cheryl buried in Valentine?” I don’t remember ever having visited her grave any of the times I’d been to the Valentine cemetery with my parents or Grandma.

“Yeah. We stayed at Gene’s and then drove back to Valentine the next day. Mom and Gene drove up together. The funeral home in Valentine flew down and Dad flew back with the body.”

“What kind of funeral home has a plane?”

“I don’t know. I guess it was some buddy of Dad’s, someone he knew in Valentine with a plane. I think the last time I saw Gene or any of his family woulda been in ’73. This buddy of mine and me were driving across the country in my Roadrunner. We stayed with one of his relatives in Las Vegas and then drove over to Oklahoma on Route 66 and saw Gene and his family. They were real nice folks, real nice, but strange. Like his mom had this boyfriend. His dad was dead. This guy was like lawyer of the year in California in ’58, and now he was living in this shack out on a lake in Oklahoma during the summer that didn’t have no electricity. And in the winter he’d live with the mom. Well, when we came through that last time, he wasn’t dating the mom no more. He was dating the daughter. He’d bought her this fancy car and was taking her out and stuff. Real strange,” he said, shaking his head with a sort of bewildered grin.

I suppose in 1973 that was strange. Today it’s just the plot for a soap opera.

I got a letter from Gene years ago. He’d read in the Valentine newspaper that the granddaughter of Elaine Sanford had won a bunch of medals at a district academic decathlon competition. (Only in small town newspapers do they publish news about the athletic and academic achievements of the grandchildren of life-long residents, even when said grandchildren have never living in the town.) He sent me a letter to say congratulations, that my Aunt would have been proud of me. I wrote him a thank you note and that was that. We’ve never met.

“When did you meet Mom?” I asked. I knew they’d been set up on a blind date by Mom’s sorority sister and her boyfriend, now husband. I met them once, at my Grandma Elaine’s funeral in Valentine. We’d finished our ice cream ten minutes ago, but Dad didn’t seem in any hurry to head home.

“That would have been January of my junior year.”

“And when did you guys decide to get married?”

“Oh, ‘bout a year after that. I think we told our families at Easter. We were going to get married in August, after I graduated from summer school.”

“But Dean had to go to boot camp for the National Guard,” I recounted. I’d heard this story before. They’d changed their plans so my mother’s older brother could be there. “So you moved the wedding to June and then Dean was sent early and gone anyway.”

“Yeah, but it was nice, ‘cause then we got to live together in Lincoln that summer while I took summer classes. Your mom weighed a hundred and three pounds when I married her. I think I weighed around two-hundred and forty-two. By the end of the summer I weighed two-hundred and seventeen.”


“Well, I was playing basketball every day at noon. I’d get out of my classes and go over to the Coliseum with a bunch of other guys. They didn’t have air conditioning. So I was exercising and sweating a lot.”

“Why didn’t you guys stay in Lincoln another year after you graduated so Mom could finish college?”

“Well, I had a job waiting for me in Valentine,” Dad said with a shrug, referring to the family business. “Business was good at that time and I had a job to go to. That’s probably what we shoulda done, but at the time Mom was going for archeology.”

“I know. That’s so much cooler than accounting,” which is the degree Mom ended up getting years later, after almost a decade of night school.

“But what do you do with a degree in archeology? She’d come down as pre-med, then switched.”

“Yeah, but that was her mother’s dream.” Grandma Del had dreamed of being a doctor, but then she’d gone and eloped at the age of seventeen. It had been semi-miraculous they had allowed a married woman (gasp) to finish high school at all. She’d pushed that dream onto her oldest daughter, but it hadn’t stuck.

Dad nodded. “We bought that house on Cherry Street,” the one where he’d lived during high school. The one with the pool in the back that the other high school girls had come over to swim in. Remembering that made him grin. The house on Cherry Street is still there, though the pool's been filled in.

“Mom and Dad had moved out to the Red Barn and put in that double-wide. We probably shouldn’ta bought that house, but that we got a real good deal on it. We didn’t need that much space. Then when a buddy a mine came and said he wanted it, we sold it and moved out to the Red Barn, put in a foundation and a house on the other side from my folks. Then one day, we been married five years, and Dayle walks in and says ‘I want children.’” He holds his big hands up in the air then slaps then down on his thighs as if to say “Whatcha gonna do?”

I laughed. “That sounds like Mom.” Brandon and I were both meticulously planned, right down to the spacing of our births. Afterward, Dad was sent to the doctor to ensure there wouldn’t be anymore and that was that.

I’ve long thought the fact that my parents waited to get married and then waited five years to have kids has helped ensure their marriage has been so stable. They knew each other as adults and they knew each other as a couple before they threw kids into the mix. So now that we’re long gone, while they haven’t gone back to the way it was before I’m sure, they weren’t shocked to finally meet the stranger they’d been living with for twenty years.

Dad often tells me that most of his high school classmates got married the summer after they graduated. “And it wasn’t just ‘cause they wanted to,” he’d say. His buddy George, who runs a concrete business there in Valentine, already has grandkids in college. I think George is still with the mother of his children, but not all of them are. Some of them have two or even three families by now.

Meanwhile, our family has only grown by one, my sister-in-law April, in the past few years and shows no signs of expanding further. Sometimes I think it’s a pity. My folks would make excellent grandparents and I’m now their only hope for that. At this age, my Dad was the father of two. But we’ve been a family of adults essentially since I learned to drive. Even when we still all lived in the same house, we all had different jobs and different schedules and made our own decisions.

“Thanks for the ice cream and the movie.”

“You’re welcome. I figure I won’t have very many more chances to take you out and to the movies. At least not for a while.”

“Nope,” I agreed.

July 07, 2010

Meaning Less

Yes, that’s right, I am about to commit the greatest sin modern American consumer culture knows: I am moving to Los Angeles without a car. My car is now officially sold. My buyer, a close friend, brought a down payment of just over half the price this afternoon. We’ll share the car until I move and I’ll sign the title when she makes the final payment next month. It will be the first time I am officially car-less since I turned sixteen. In Car Capital USA, to boot.

I don’t think it really sunk in before. I was looking at rentals in the San Gabriel Valley with the belief that if it didn’t work out, I could just pick up and move at the end of the semester. But how precisely am I going to do that? Move eighteen boxes of books on my bicycle, one at a time? Unlikely. Now I realize, if I’m going to move, I had best just move and be done with it. My craigslist hunting patterns have changed as a result.

It seems my best bet will be to find a two-bedroom within the seven-city range I have set myself. Small two-bedroom homes are far more plentiful than single accommodations in this suburban area, and usually comparably priced to the few newer one-bedroom apartments. I can afford it for up to a semester on my own if need be, though I’ll start looking for a roommate immediately. But once there, I could put down roots.

I look forward to that with absurd joy. No one should enjoy moving, but I do. For me settling into a new space is a design exercise, an exciting new puzzle. Bookshelves and futons dance in my head. Doing it all on a shoestring just adds to the challenge.

I take pride in my surroundings, as well. I see them as a reflection of myself, and one far more telling than what I wear or how I do my hair or the music I listen to. It’s how I judge other people, by the titles of the books on their shelves, the arrangement of their furniture, and the politeness of their pets. There are hidden messages there which can tell you much about a person.

We all judge each other. I don’t necessarily mean that in the derogatory sense of the word. Some people say you can tell everything you need to know about a woman by her shoes, which has always struck me as patently ridiculous. But then, I can tell almost everything I need to know about someone by their dog, so perhaps it’s not so outlandish. The Venerable Hyun Gok, a Korean nun I met at the University of the West during my visit this spring, judged I was a very independent person after apparently examining my hands.

Communication happens on more than just a verbal level, the level of words whether spoken or written. It also encompasses more even than body language, facial expressions, or hand gestures. Everything we make has a message. Information is Beautiful has a great infographic about the meanings of colors among different cultures. The array is staggering. Even supposedly ‘functional’ objects convey meaning. If one sees a set of stairs, one assumes they are for climbing, that they lead somewhere. Just not in the house Sarah Winchester built. So we take meaning from clothing and possessions and personal taste and buildings and almost anything at all, including nothing.

Naturally, I took meaning from my car. It’s a little blue Hyundai Accent hatchback with a spoiler on the back. I bought it new when I was nineteen years old. It’s cheap, yes, and not very powerful, but it can hold a truly impressive amount of stuff in the back for such a little car. And I like the color. And, yes, I even like the spoiler, although it’s the last kind of car that would need one. It's existence was added to the conglomerate of my identity. And I’ll be leaving it behind.

What does that mean for me? Absolutely nothing.

Meaning is assigned. We give things meaning. They don’t actually have meaning of their own. So much in our lives goes entirely unnoticed, though we see it and hear it, our attention skips right past because it doesn’t mean anything to us. Just like until this afternoon, the reality that I won’t have a car in California didn’t mean anything to me because I still had a car. Then things changed.

And what does not having a car in California mean? Absolutely nothing, but it does have some functional repercussions. This cause will have many effects. If I can stop pondering what it means (that I’m eco-friendly, or poor, or just really foolish) for a moment, I might actually be able to figure out what it does. Knowing that is the basis of wisdom, the place from which good decisions can be made.

Sometimes meaning less means doing more.

July 06, 2010

First Love

This weekend there was a Star Wars movie marathon on television. I haven’t watched Star Wars in a long time, and that, for me, means over a year. Yes, I’ll admit it. I’m a geek. The Original Star Wars Trilogy are my favorite movies of all time, unsurpassed to this day by countless other fantastic offerings. Seeing bits and pieces on television this weekend I was reminded of just how good they really are.

I don’t mean that in a fanatical way. These movies aren’t perfect. In fact, they’re rather flawed, from bad acting and bad directing to cheesy props and poor (though good at the time) special effects. But despite all these flaws there is a genius in the story that simply resonates. No one can even go so far as to say the story is particularly unique. It is the prototypical “hero’s journey” practically unchanged since humanity’s earliest myths. It is Beowulf and the Odyssey and King Arthur and a thousand other legends recombined in a brilliant and unique fashion for a medium (the special effects world of modern science fiction film) just then coming into its own.

For me, Star Wars was my first real escape. These were the first films that absorbed my mind so utterly that for a little while I could forget who and where I was. If you think this sounds like escapism, you’d be right, but it wasn’t just my life and my problems I was escaping, but my very self. For a few hours at a time, I didn’t have to be anyone.

When I was a teenager, I would have migraines and stay home from school. I would put the movies in and fall asleep on the couch listening to the dialogue and brilliant music. I came to know them so well, I could literally watch every scene with my eyes closed and quote every line of dialogue, no matter what language they were. These films were my security blanket, my drug when nothing else worked.

When I was younger, I may have identified with the so-called main characters of this story, Luke, Leia, and Han, but they never fascinated me so much as another three, Obi-wan, Yoda, and Vader. The three Jedi (one former) were the characters I watched for on screen, whose actions I pondered waiting for sleep at night. The first three fought and were prepared to die, but in the end they won. While these three, they sacrificed without hope of victory for themselves. Obi-wan bought time for the heroes to escape. Yoda died of old age without knowing whether he had trained a true Jedi or another Sith apprentice. Vader sacrificed himself following a life of horrible evil for love of a son he had never known.

I took two things from these characters. First, to never to weigh the likelihood of success against the worthiness of the goal. Or, as another great actor put it, when told to fight the fights you can win: “You fight the fights that need fighting!” And also, that even the most deeply flawed individuals can do the greatest of things. Each of these characters was flawed in his own way. Obi-wan Kenobi’s arrogance contributed to Anakin Skywalk’s fall to the Dark Side and his guilt ate at him. Yoda’s fear almost prevented him from training Luke. Darth Vader’s anger pervaded his every thought and deed. Yet in the end, each of them put aside their flaws to do something good.

I haven’t thought of them in a long time. Well, except for Yoda who seems to ride around on my back sometimes, whacking me upside the head with his stick. Ever since it is these kinds of stories, these kinds of people, the ones willing to sacrifice without hope for themselves, that draw me into novels or film or television. Star Wars was the first story I ever found that.

And you never forget your first love.