Monday, January 26, 2009

New Look

(Sunrise over the Atlantic -- Duck, NC -- August 2008)

I couldn't figure out what to write about today -- I have too many thoughts rattling around in my mind right now to focus on and write about only one. So, instead of regaling you with my philosophical prowess, I instead am changing the look of my blog for the first time since I started blogging last fall. Comments of course are welcome, as always.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Fanfare for the Common Man

As the week of pomp and official celebration winds down and the day-to-day work that will be required to heal and improve our nation begins, this musical composition seems particularly significant and inspiring to me. Perhaps it will resonate with you, too.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Journey Ahead

Yesterday, for the first time in my 38-year-old life, someone who I believe to be worthy of the office in all respects became President of the United States. As a group, Americans time and again have displayed an almost uncanny inability to choose a decent president, but I honestly believe that we got this one right.

Although I have been an Obama fan for some time now, my confidence that he is the right person to be our president at this moment in history grew even stronger as I listened to his inaugural address. The first thing that he did as president was to tell the American people, gently but firmly, that we need to grow up. And he is right about that.

His version of "growing up" would involve each of us doing many things that may well have become unfamiliar -- things like choosing cooperation, both in our political landscape and our daily lives, instead of continually dividing ourselves out of fear, anger, and pride; choosing to seek enduring solutions to our personal and collective challenges, instead of searching for the fast yet fleeting "quick fix" that ultimately fixes nothing; choosing the true strength that comes from recognizing, and doing, what is right and just, instead of the pseudo-strength that comes from answering every challenge with arms and hubris; choosing to believe that our preservation and prosperity depend on the preservation and prosperity of others, instead of believing that only we matter in a zero-sum game; and choosing an overall attitude of goodness and hope, instead of maintaining a mindset in which bitterness and cynicism are the norm.

I think that Americans, individually and collectively, basically are good people who want to do good things. However, I think that we somehow have equated goodness with weakness in our collective mindset, and as a result we have adopted a kick-ass, me-first, us-versus-them attitude to convince ourselves and others (but mostly ourselves) of our strength. Our 44th president was telling us yesterday, I think much to our collective relief, that our goodness-equals-weakness premise is a wrongheaded one. He was telling us that we can be, and if we hope to remain a great country indeed we must be, good and strong simultaneously. That's what I think he ultimately means when he talks about "responsibility."

Yesterday, President Obama offered to guide this nation on a journey to discover, or maybe simply uncover, our greatest selves. Having finally elected someone who is willing and able to undertake this task, hopefully we will have the good sense to go along with him for the ride.

Monday, January 12, 2009

What's the Opposite of Christmas in July?

(I'm on vacation!)

So, what is the opposite of Christmas in July? Why, a beach vacation in January, of course! I've been wanting to post these pictures of Jacob the "golden shepherd" and Amos the smooth collie mix for some time, but I only recently got electronic access to them. For those of you who, like me, are trying to find ways to endure the cold, I hope that these will warm you up. All photos were taken by my fiance J, who has a way with a camera, during our trip to the Outer Banks last August.

(Wave? What wave?)

BBFE-JWP ("best butt fluff ever-John Wayne Pose")

(I am happy)

(Very, very happy!)

(Hey, do you think they'd let me drive that dune buggy? Collies are excellent drivers!)

(Little Amos and the great big sea)

(I caught a sand crab. What did you catch?)

(We're not up to anything; we swear!)

(Ha ha -- you guys fell for that? Of course we were up to something!)

(Wow, that girl lab sure is pretty! And look at how she swims!)

(The answer to your question yes -- I am always this good looking)

(See, really, I am -- even with sand on my nose)

(Wow - what a fun day!)

Amos and Jacob say that they had an excellent time at the beach, and they hope that you had fun looking at their pictures.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

An Interview with the Manor Lady

("Watching the Flock," by Allan Houser)

Recently, Willow of Life at Willow Manor posted her interview with Steph of The Incurable Insomniac and offered in turn to interview those of her bloggy friends who were game. I volunteered for an interview, and Willow sent me five interview questions, which I answer below. If you would like for me to interview you, please follow the instructions at the end of the post.

1. What is your most marked characteristic? Inquisitiveness -- and I mean that in the generally-interested-and-curious sense, not in the prying-where-I-have-no business sense. I am intellectually curious about a wide range of topics, and when I have a question relating to one of those topics I must know the answer. I simply must. I am a seeker of truth. Questioning, analyzing, and learning are what make me tick.

2. What living person would you most like to meet, and why? I would most like to meet the Dalai Lama. A large part of my curiosity is focused on spiritual matters, and the Dalai Lama seems to me to be the most spiritual, reasonable, understanding, humble, and, well, inquisitive, of all those who are labeled "spiritual leaders" these days. I think that his brand of inquisitiveness is much purer than my own, though; by that I mean that ego and a propensity to judge others harshly do not appear to enter into his calculations, as they unfortunately sometimes do with mine. I can think of no one with whom I could have a more interesting and enjoyable spiritual discussion than with the Dalai Lama, and I also am curious about what it feels like to be in the same space with him. My guess is that he exudes a peaceful calm and an unshakable strength all at once, and I would love to find out if that hunch is correct (there's that inquisitive thing again)!

3. Apart from your loved ones, what is your most treasured possession? The sculpture that I use in my profile photo, which appears in a larger version at the top of this post. I had never heard of Allan Houser, who was an Apache Indian and famous sculptor, before I accompanied J when he went on a business trip to Santa Fe last year (our best trip together so far). However, when I walked into the Allan Houser Gallery in downtown Santa Fe and saw the distinctive style of the sculptures displayed there, I instantly realized that I had previously seen Houser's work in art museums in DC and NYC. I was drawn to "Watching the Flock" immediately -- the shepherd looked so wise and peaceful and content, and his dog looked just like my dog Amos -- but it was waaaaay outside my price range. The only sculpture I could reasonably afford was an abstract sculpture of an owl that fit very neatly inside the palm of my hand, but even that was pushing the budget. I left the gallery empty-handed, but I couldn't stop thinking about what I had seen there. The day before we returned home, I convinced J to go back to the gallery, at which point I fully intended to purchase the owl. But that serene shepherd and his dog kept calling my name. J could see that I was getting weak. So could the saleslady, who offered a reduced price that was still far more than I "should" have had any business spending. At that point, J, who is know for his parsimony, looked at me and said, "If you actually buy that, I will not sit beside you on the plane on the way home." But I thought to myself, and eventually said aloud, "This is art, this piece is asking me to give it a home (it has one of my dogs in it, for heaven's sake!), and if I don't do just that I know in my bones that I will regret it for a long time to come." So, I bought the shepherd and his dog, and J nearly shocked the life out of me when he decided to buy the owl in a show of art-appreciating solidarity. Watching the Flock therefore is an important, symbolic possession to me for many reasons. I have never once regretted the splurge.

4. What is your motto? Generally speaking, I find life far too complicated to be summed up in a motto-esque kind of way, so consequently I have never had a personal motto. When it comes to mottos more generally, the only one that's ever really moved me much is the motto of the Moravian Church in which I was raised -- "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, love." I like this motto because it encapsulates what I believe to be a sound philosophy not only for approaching religion but also for approaching life more generally. Seems to me that the world would be a better place if more people put that kind of philosophy into practice.

5. Before blogging, what, if any, was your main mode of personal expression? The work in progress known as my house. I've spent many an hour choosing paint colors, painting, renovating the bathrooms and kitchen (or more accurately overseeing renovations done by others pursuant to my specifications), choosing and placing furniture, and finding the perfect spot for each of the various works of art that has chosen me over the years. When J moved in, I got to integrate the possessions of two people with very different taste, which was challenging but fun. Although I've always loved to write, almost all of my writing prior to blogging was job-related. I wrote new regulations, amended existing regulations, drafted Federal Register notices for all those amendments, and wrote lots of legal memoranda. Although I enjoyed most of this writing, I thought of it as more of an expression of my analytical side rather than my creative side. Blogging has been a real blessing to me, because it has given me a creative outlet that involves using my beloved written word. For that, I must thank my dear friend over at The Gold Puppy for convincing me to venture into the blogosphere. I know it took a while. I'm so glad that you were persistent!

In conclusion, many thanks to Willow for sending me these questions. It has been a pleasure to answer them. Now, if any of you out there would like for me to interview you, just follow these instructions (remembering to send me your e-mail address if I don't already have it or if it is not listed on your Blogger profile page), and I will be happy to oblige:

1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."

2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. (I get to pick the

3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.

4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview
someone else in the same post.

5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask
them five questions.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Quote of the Day

(Original columns of the U.S. Capitol, now displayed at the National Arboretum, Washington, D.C.)

The management of my neighborhood gym each day posts a "quote of the day" above each of the water fountains. I've been reading these quotes several times a week for several years, and they range from kinda sorta OK to breathtaking. Here's the quote that hung above the water fountains this morning:

"It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society."
-- Jiddu Krishnamurti

I wonder if he is talking about--

a society in which money and power are valued more than the nourishment of mind, body, and spirit;

a society in which most people look outside themselves instead of within for validation and fulfillment;

a society in which, in pursuit of money, power, and validation, people deprive themselves of sleep and eat "convenience" foods loaded with hydrogenated fat, high-fructose corn syrup, and sodium (which constitute the bulk of the average inventory of an average grocery store);

a society in which technology has gotten so good and become so pervasive that everybody wants everything now and few people know how to prioritize or, perish the thought, set limits concerning what they can or intend to do;

a society in which, on the one hand, acceptable "entertainment" consists heavily of stories that glorify crime and graphic violence, usually involving guns, and on the other hand people wonder why crime is such a problem in real life;

a society that kills people for the most serious crimes, even though by its own laws killing is forbidden and its process for assigning guilt is admittedly imperfect;

a society in which, in the name of God, people divide themselves into groups that frequently insult, and sometimes even physically harm, one another;

a society in which many people have forgotten that mind, body, and spirit are connected; doctors tend to treat the part instead of the whole, the symptom instead of the root; and people always seem to be ailing with something;

a society in which many people will do almost anything to numb or otherwise mask any sensation or emotion that is not labeled "happiness" (take a look at the size of the pain-killer aisle at the drug store and/or the lack of unoccupied seats at your favorite bar if you don't believe me);

a society in which humans have polluted the earth, perhaps irreparably in the short term (i.e., a period that is easily conceivable by humans, as opposed to a period relative to the overall age of the earth) so that most of us can go anywhere we want, whenever we want, and do whatever we want once we get there;

a society in which we view all the items above as signs of "progress," even though people are suffering and dying from things like cancer and heart disease at much higher rates than in the past, and in which we now are susceptible to all manner of diseases that weren't observed at all 100 years ago;

a society in which so many people, both rich and poor, are bereft of spirit and overall health?

Does that kind of society sound familiar to anyone out there?

It is possible that the ongoing financial troubles, especially if they worsen, will more deeply entrench the kind of society described above, as people find ways to lay blame for their misfortunes and commit themselves to regaining all the money and possessions they have lost. On the other hand, it is possible that a long economic recession, or possibly even depression, will bring the members of such a society back to themselves, so that they see more clearly what is true, important, and good, both for themselves and their fellow citizens. If the economic downturn does the latter, it will have done us all a great service, in my opinion.

Regardless of one's personal financial condition or the overall fate of the US and world economies over the coming months and years, one always is free to choose which, if any, of the "sick" societal norms one wishes to believe and follow. Choice is a powerful thing, and it always is available. Always. How many things can you say that about? Go forth and choose wisely, my blog friends.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Some Dogs Will Do Anything for More Cookies

J's brother and sister-in-law and their dog, Sassie Sue, are fond of baking and decorating dog cookies to send to our dogs, Jacob and Amos. Last night, J discovered that our boys apparently will stop at nothing, even if it includes temporarily fraternizing with a cat, to coax our relatives who bake into sending more cookies their way.

Amos and Jacob apparently took, and added captions to, the two photos below. They then sent these photos to "Santa T" (aka J's brother) in an e-mail in which Amos pleaded for help and more home-baked cookies.

Although I find this behavior to be shameless in the extreme, I must admit that it is not bad work for a couple of creatures who lack opposable thumbs. I take this as further evidence that herding dogs really are the smartest dogs.

(Jacob pretending to be held hostage by Lincoln)

(Amos wearing the most pitiful look I've seen since the day I chose him at the animal shelter)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A New Year's Resolution to Keep

(Jefferson Building, Library of Congress)

I always have had trouble with New Year's resolutions. They always seem to involve doing something painful -- either giving up something pleasurable, like food (or some subset thereof) or wine, or committing to do something that one hates, like jog even though one has rickety knees. Most traditional resolutions also seem to involve setting up some kind of rule that one intends to follow rigidly. Although I think that rules have their place -- I am a lawyer, after all (and a Capricorn!) -- I also think that the resolution-type rules usually involve trying to impose rigidity where flexibility would be better suited.

Resolutions like those described above are not -- at least not for me -- easily sustainable over the long term. In fact, they seem downright destined for failure from the get-go. I think that I have known this for a pretty long while now, at least subconsciously, which probably is why I gave up the typical New Year's resolution charade many years ago. Most New Years Days in recent memory, I have found myself resolving not to make any resolutions. But that seems defeatist in a different kind of way, doesn't it? Surely, there must be a better way.

I've been thinking for a while now about what that better way might be. Since Christmas, that topic has constantly consumed my thoughts. Here is what I decided: this year, my resolution is to cultivate the principle of mindfulness when it comes to my thoughts and behaviors. I am going to identify ingrained thought patterns (including but not limited to things like "this is just how I am" and "I can't do that") and examine them for their truth or lack thereof. When I sit down to eat and drink and when I go out to exercise, I am not going to give myself hard-and-fast rules or weight loss goals of any sort; instead, I am going to ask my body what it really needs and wants at the moment. When I am about to speak or act in a way that directly affects another sentient being, I am first going to ask myself whether my intended words or actions comport with how, when I am at my kindest and most patient, I think that other beings ideally should be treated. My intention is to take the information that is gleaned from paying attention in this manner and use it to make more positive, compassionate choices concerning my thoughts and behaviors.

To me, putting this kind of truth-seeking and positive mindset into more regular use makes a lot more sense than "resolving" to lose 15 pounds by giving up wine and carbs and jogging with bad knees. But that's just me. . . .