Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Happy Birthday Debbie!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


No one knows what happens when we die, except those people who have died, and they are dead, unless they have come back to life, which does happen sometime. Still, I wonder if saying one does not 'believe' in heaven or hell is akin to saying one does not believe in gravity, or the existence of subatomic particles. We speculate. It's as silly not to believe in heaven and hell as it is to believe. But it's also absurd to talk about these states as if we know what they are, and if they exist, definitively, unless one has been there.

I can't help thinking we are all hell-bound. For all the times I have forgotten God, hell is where I belong. Salvation is not a guarantee, not something to be counted on. My belief in Jesus Christ as Savior would be severely compromised if there was nothing for us to be saved from. If I believe in Jesus, I believe what he says, including his talk of the the afterlife and the last judgment and the 'wailing and gnashing of teeth.' My Christian faith comes with some conditions, and belief in the afterlife is one of them.

But it is just that--a belief. If someone asks me, 'Is there a heaven? Is there a hell?' I will continue to answer, 'I don't know.' But if someone asks me, 'Do you believe in heaven and hell?' I will continue to answer, 'yes,' because I do. My belief is not proof of existence. Still, I would rather live as if there were a hell than die and find out I was wrong.

So, I try to live as if heaven and hell exist, as if my actions in this life have some consequence beyond this life, as if we are playing for keeps, and every play counts. If this life is all there is, I would cash in my chips now.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Merry Christmas! I wanted to post my latest creation in preparation for the upcoming gardening season--a cedar light box. The 105 watt CFL and aluminum foil-lined walls keep my little seedlings of peppers, eggplant, spinach, zinnia, and hollyhock (and in a couple months, tomato, sweet pepper, cucumber, and zucchini) bathed in light. I actually moved them up, 12" closer to the bulb, after the picture was taken. The light box is built into a 3'x3'x7' cedar closet in Debbie's basement. I used a ballast from an old lamp and bolted it into the ceiling, and fed the wiring along the outside of the closet. It is on a 12 hr. timer. We'll see how they grow!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Message from Sri Lanka

This excerpt on the nature of happiness/unhappiness came from an email sent by my dear mate Tim who is presently on a 3 month retreat in Sri Lanka. I'm thinking he's had a few insights from the monks there and thought I'd pass it along:

The only point I want to mention is one that in Buddhism is central to
understanding why a vast proportion of what we think is good for us,
is in actual fact the very cause of so much unhappiness. As such I
think it’s worth making an attempt to communicate to the people I
love. I’ll use an analogy: think about someone who has been smoking 10
cigarettes a day for 5 years (or much less). It has become a habit to
the body and mind and smokers will often say it’s relaxing and
enjoyable. What has been shown is that as soon as habitual smokers
finish a cigarette they start to feel withdrawal from the nicotine,
and over the following minutes and hours they start to crave another
one. A sense of dissatisfaction with their current reality of NOT
having a cigarette develops as they start planning when to have the
next one, and imbuing the cigarette with all these positive qualities
(it’s relaxing; it’s pleasurable) and this object becomes anticipated
as the cause for future satisfaction/happiness. The sense of
dissatisfaction with the current reality of NOT having this
pleasurable object grows in direct proportion to the anticipation of
having it. Then finally, when you smoke the cigarette you feel a wave
of satisfaction and happiness flood over you. We call it happiness,
Buddhists call it suffering; the suffering of change. The feeling of
pleasure arises from the movement from dissatisfaction to relative
satisfaction, and the kicker is we attribute this relative
satisfaction to the object itself. So we start craving the happiness
it provides. We are all habituated to our objects of craving, whether
smoking, eating, TV, sex, whatever. We’re stuck in a pattern of
wanting the next ________ to make us happy. But it’s this very act of
grasping for the next thing and seeing happiness as an inherent
quality of that object (rather than how we relate to it) that leads us
to feel dissatisfied with what we have, where we are, and who we’re

And the crazy thing is we aren’t even aware of this underlying sense
of dissatisfaction. Ask a smoker if the habit causes suffering and he
might say yes, but only because the government taxes is too high. But
the happiness and relaxation he experiences when he smokes the next
cigarette is only relative to the dissatisfaction of NOT having it.
Give a cigarette to someone who’s never had one and ask them what they
think. I’m willing to bet they won’t say it’s a pleasant experience.
By making happiness all about having/consuming objects out there (be
they people, things or simply experiences) we are setting up a
perpetual cycle of unhappiness. But as most will tell you, if you
don’t already know, giving up smoking is anything but easy. For the
short and mid-term it involves discomfort. Breaking habits is not
rocket science, everyone can do it. It’s just hard.

The good news is that if we want to find a more sustainable, and
genuine form of happiness it’s within our reach, but it doesn’t
involve getting the bigger, better next best thing. It starts with
acting ethically, being kind to ourselves as well as others, and
recognizing that lasting happiness doesn’t come from something outside
of us and can’t simply be willed with positive thinking, no matter how
much we want it or how hard we try. It takes practice and a lot of
it. Reality is reality and our culture has kind of shifted the goal
posts a little; to sell more, and make more money. We need to be
willing to develop awareness of this reality; the reality of our
inter-dependence with all things, of life’s impermanence, and of our
habitual and instantaneous tendency to impute the causes of happiness
on things out there. From my understanding true, genuine happiness
requires a solid foundation. Not an illusion. And sadly, so much of
what we’re advised to seek out for our refuge, our protection, is
anything but solid. It’s here one minute, and gone the next. The
beer is great that night, and painful the next day. The dessert
tastes delicious but leads to calories and guilt. The TV program is
distracting but seldom enriches our lives. Going out with friends is
enlivening but if you did it every night you’d be exhausted. It’s not
that any of these things are bad, they’re not. It’s not they’re not
good fun, they are. But maybe there’s something else out there which
offers a little more consistent contentment and satisfaction, and
arises from within, not without. Maybe… and that’s why I’m out here
and that’s what I’m trying to figure out. Ps. If you’ve got this far
in the email, the chances are it’s a question you’re curious about

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Why do Xmas cards never show a woman in a shit-covered cowshed squatting a baby out into a rotting feed trough?" --Warren Ellis

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Fall From Grace

Tiger Woods has had quite a fall from grace, losing sponsors, etc., as a result of his recently exposed infidelity--ie, 'moral failing.' It amazes me how people who can climb so high on the corporate/political/career/achievement ladder can fall so far. I guess it shouldn't surprise me; it is simple physics.

St. John Climacus in 'The Ladder of Divine Ascent,' as well as the Desert Fathers, warned of the treacherous downfall of those would-be saints who had ascended to such spiritual heights, only to fall from the rungs due to pride. Pride is the antithesis of humility, the necessary pre-requisite for salvation, and humility gives birth to compunction--true sorrow for our offenses against God. I try to keep this in mind when I forget how to please God.

The spiritual path is a dangerous think of all the years spent struggling and sweating, only to be brought down in the blink of an eye! Fame and power, in my mind, seem to facilitate the opportunity for such a dizzying descent. What did Chris Rock say about a man being as faithful as his options? We've all made mistakes, and Tiger Woods is not exempt, no matter how good he is at golf. But "to much who is given, much is expected." And how much more the rich, famous, and powerful have to lose in the game of life!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Regulars

I was (in what seems like another life ago) once engaged to a very talented photographer whose most notable project, published in The New York Times Magazine, was a series of portraits of regular patrons at McGlinchey's Tavern, the bar where she worked in Philly. It was aptly titled The Regulars.

We get 'em at Starbucks, too. The Armenian father (doppio macchiato) and his son with Down's (Tall iced coffee); Nick (doppio espresso), who will talk and talk to you, no matter how busy you are. The atheist with the lazy eye (sugar-free vanilla coffee base double blended frappachino). The (Grande-in-a-Venti) chef at Chambers. There are quite a few; they are all creatures of habit.

What makes us attach so strongly to our quirky little expressions of self-identity? Does ordering a wet cappuccino every day give a sense of comfort, like Linus' blanket; does it make me "Wet Cappuccino Man?" Is it a "I-like-what-I-like-and-that's-what-I-like" thing? Sometimes I think they are all having a contest, who can be the most regular, the Best Regular, that guy who people can say "he's been coming in here and ordering the same drink for twenty odd years," the guy who walks up to the counter and the barista can ask, "the usual?"I'll call it Cheers Syndrome...sometimes people want a place to belong, their place, where "everybody knows your name."

I guess we are all that way with our own little things. For me it was Bob's Diner in Roxborough. I lived in the neighborhood, was on familiar terms with the waitresses, always ordered the same thing--two eggs scrambled with toast and hashbrowns with onions, and coffee. I wanted to be a Bob's regular, to be able to say "That's my diner" and "this is what I order." And I was, to an extent; as I kept buying breakfast there. When I ceased handing my money over, I was no longer a "customer," and as such, my existence outside the diner did not count for much.

Years ago I submitted a few poems to (when it was run by the "International Society of Poets") and was thrilled when they wanted to publish my poems in an anthology that I could purchase for a small fee. Oh I felt so special. Publication meant recognition, and recognition meant my work was not insignificant. I, by association, was thus not insignificant as a person, since I and my Work are one. I exist, because the world recognizes that I exist. Or so the reasoning goes. I never did pay for that anthology, and later learned the meaning of the word "vanity publisher."

Are the attempts to curry familiarity with the employees behind the counter at a corporate owned coffee shop through loyal patronage a kind of prostitution? You give me $X, I love you for thirty minutes. Or maybe an escort-client analogy is more fitting...You give me $X, I am your special lady for the night. Your money is as green as the next guy's.

You give me $4.50, I'll make your drink just the way you like it and you can feel like a V.I.P. for the day, that you are acknowledged and accepted and that you are signature special. "I pay, therefore, I am." Your life is not insignificant. They know you here. You're not like everybody else...after all, you're a regular.

copyright Sarah Stolfa

Monday, December 7, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Dislikes and Likes

I'll tell you a few things I don't like seeing. I don't like seeing people holding signs that have "GOD" and "HATES FAGS" in the same sentence. I don't like seeing American flags in churches. I don't like seeing "ABORTION KILLS" bumper stickers on cars, not because I don't believe it isn't true, but because the abortion "debate" in America is not so bumper-sticker-cut-and-dry. I don't like seeing people putting other people down, nor seeing people suffer embarrassment or shame because of who they are or what kind of life they have chosen. I don't like being affiliated with any political party or labeled "liberal" or "religious."

* * *

Things I do like: growing vegetables from seed; drawing garden plans on the back of napkins; day-dreaming about grow-lights and lettuce growing under frosty cold frames in December; getting deals on Ebay; riding my bike to work; getting free trash-bound food from work. I like my Honda, and making tea in my tea pot. I like that we have freedom of religion, and separation of church and state.

* * *

My bebe is so cool. She is the coolest girl in school. She's a good person and sharp too, not too churchy and loves God and is a simple girl, a good teacher, nice hair, good smell, beautiful teeth, she's my sugar mamma and i'm her handy-man. She loves learning new things and everybody likes her, I can't think of one person who would say, "Ah Deb, what a phony!" I can leave her alone with my mom. She's got this sexy haircut, ow! She doesn't nag and helps me remember things. She's a good driver, and a cool aunt. She's so cool she bought her wedding dress online for $150. I am so proud of my bebe.

this is what we do at work.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Breaking: A Play in 3 Acts

Setting: the living room.
Characters: Michael, Danielle
Danielle is sitting in an armchair, looking out the window. Michael is making coffee in the kitchen nearby.

M: You're quiet.

D [distant]: It's quiet outside. I was just following suite.

M: Mm.

D: May I have a cup?

M [Michael brings the french press over to her and pours her a cup of coffee]: Here you go.

D: Thank you. [Pausing] I'm sorry if I was short earlier, in the car. The snow always...I don't know. It is so light, and empty, and deceptive.

M: What do you mean?

D [solemnly]: It melts.

M: Yes?

D: I am a unique snowflake...absorbed in a seamless blanket...I liquefy above freezing, and evaporate when the sun comes out. Three states of being...and not one to lay claim to. I'm nothing, Michael.

M: [silence]

D: So much white. What an aberration.

M: Hon, you're not nothing.

D [putting down her cup]: Ah, but I am. I melt. I evaporate. On the ground, each snowflake has unique company. This sea of white, like drops in the ocean. Is it one thing? Is it a million separate things? Oh, I am a part of this human family. You. Me. Your mother. Papa. Isabelle. That bag boy at the Acme. The whole lot of us. One seamless blanket. We form separately in the sky, and fall to earth, and become One. We don't even see each other anymore. We are so close!

M [putting his arm around her]: That is what family is. A blanket, as you say. That's a good thing, Danielle. To be close.

[Danielle stares out the window and brings her finger to her lip, and says nothing. She lifts the window slightly, and pinches off a few flakes of snow from the ledge, and places them on the radiator.]

D: And here we are.

M: Close that window, please. It's cold.

D: No, Michael, look! Two and I. Clumped together with our friends, our family. The rest of pristine humanity freshly fallen on the asphalt outside. Watch with me, please.

[Slowly, the small clump of snow begins to melt. Water dribbles down the side of the radiator. Danielle stares intently at a few drops remaining on the top. After a few moments, these shrink, and disappear. Danielle gets up suddenly, knocking the porcelain cup against the saucer.]

D [panicky]: Where am I? Where am I!?

M: Jesus, Danielle, calm down. You're right here.

D: No, no I'm not. Don't you see! I was there. My white gown. My flesh. Boiled to blood. Dried to ash. Blown away!

M: Come on.

D: Michael, you tell me I am something, I am a unique snowflake, and I will walk out this door and never look at you again.

M: Jesus!

D: Where is saw it! Disappear. In the span of seconds. How much more, my life? Our life! Like they say at funerals, "ashes to ashes, dust to dust..." What does dust become? Will it burn?

M: D, I have no idea what you are talking about.

D [pacing, talking to self while biting fingernail]: I was here, and now I'm not. You are

M: Honey, sit down. You're here.

[Danielle suddenly rushes over to Michael and embraces him, kissing him with force, as if to consume him, then pulls back.]

D: I am a snowflake, Michael, and God is rubbing me between his fingers. In a split second, his heat consumes me. I lose my composition. Nothing stays the same. Reincarnating! No. One life. it. If you put a snowflake under a microscope...and watch it melt...does it change shape? You know, molecules and what not? God is rubbing me between his fingers, Michael, I know it. I feel so close to annihilation. I can feel the fire behind the door. Remember, the Dark Knight? "In their last moments, people show you who they really are." I am a broken link, Michael, a coward. And I am being consumed...

[Michael pulls her close, and strokes her hair. He thinks she is crying, but her eyes are dry, and unblinking. She looks out the window at the snow falling gently outside.]

M: Listen. You're not a coward. You're the bravest woman I know. And you're here. I'm here. This is real! We aren't snowflakes...we're human beings. Flesh and bones! That doesn't melt so easily. Will we die? Maybe some day. But not today. No! We're here.

D: Here. I have no idea, Michael...where that is.