As a professor of Critical Thinking at Crafton Hills College in Yucaipa, CA, my entire academic life I have been constantly receiving similar feedback on my observations and opinions, something along the line of, “I have not really thought of it that way before.” Jimmy’s intention is to develop critical thinking skills, look at things a different way and to question everything. I speak and write of all aspects of life, from Buddhism to twerking, from the spiritual to the profane, from meditation to pornography. It all makes for great conversation and analysis.

So sit back, read and/or listen, and question me as we learn in the tensions of life.

Reflections On Culture From A Travaholic

Traveling is a drug and I suppose I am a mild addict.  The thrill of the unknown, the independence, the not knowing all the whens, wheres, whys and hows; the challenges, the adventure…my name is Jimmy and I’m a travaholic.

I am actually afraid to go back home.  Seriously. It will be a forced sobriety for which I am not prepared. I fear ruts. I fear mundane. I fear the known. I fear certainty.

I keep wanting to push my departure date back yet I know I am just putting off the inevitable: The support group called Reality and facing my addiction.

Please do not get me wrong—traveling can be very stressful and difficult, particularly when you are among non-English speakers. I happen to be in Italy at the moment where the people are quite understanding and help you as much as they linguistically can—as they withstand my fumbling ciaos, gratzes and the occasional arivederrcis (I am quite certain I am not spelling those words correctly but I don’t say them correctly either and I appreciate consistency).

I find the best part about travel is watching people and observing how they live.  I am not a “places person” rather I am a “people watching person.” I would rather watch the people going in and out of, say, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, than actually go into the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

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When you watch people who live quite differently than you do it provides a point of comparison and contrast. For many years now I have understood the concept of culture as a somewhat arbitrary system of customs and rituals that are neither inferior nor superior to others—culture is just a way to do things and then we call that way of doing things “normal”—which is our bad. Nothing about a culture is truly normal. In fact, no social behavior is totally normal.

When you travel it brings this reality much more into focus.

Hence, I cannot separate out the “cult” in culture.  Back in my religious days I threw the term “cult” around with reckless abandon. Essentially, any doctrine that was not consistent with my own was essentially a cult. Was I really once that narrow-minded? Yes.  And call me whatever derogatory slang you will today though I highly doubt narrow-minded would be one of them. Traveling not only expands us in a geographical sense, it opens and expands our minds as well.

I am coming to realize now that EVERY culture is a cult.  It manipulates and brainwashes one into believing what is “right” and what is not. In fact, if  you were to examine the Latin roots of each word, cult and culture, you would find the same basic idea –CULTivating and tilling while preparing to be grown.  Each and every culture provides a basis for meaning, relevance and importance for each of our lives and then we come to really believe in these things as truthful.  It is as if we are the growing seeds in the fields of culture and come to expect a certain way to be watered, tilled, pruned and nurtured. The fields of culture and its farming rituals then permeate us as we become one with the field of culture. It is then not difficult to understand why our own culture can be so invisible to us as it is us and our everyday reality.

Anthropologist Ernest Becker went so far as to say culture is a complex symbolic creation of humanity to distract us from our awareness of our ultimate demise.  In other words, we create a bunch of bullshit (please understand my definition of this word)—and assign importance to it—to help us forget the fact that all of us are going to die and no one knows what happens next.  Thus, we create religious systems, designer jeans, status cars, entertainment, athletics, consumerism, etc…for the simple sake of helping us momentarily forget the fact we are all going to die—and dying frankly sucks.

Culture provides a background and narrative that offers meaning to an otherwise meaningless existence.  I observe this all the time when I see, read or hear of an untimely demise and the survivor’s struggle to find a meaning as to why this may have happened.  Scholarships, trust funds, “Amber Alerts,” or even “Megan’s Laws” are created to provide a context and framework for these types of deaths. Yet, the reality is this: The person just died.  No rhyme. No reason.  It’s going to happen to all of us eventually. And if there is a purpose? We could not possibly know it so what would be the point of trying to figure it out?

Death happens. So don’t smoke and wear your seatbelt…hedge your bets so we can make this thing called life happen for a while.

The creation of culture is actually a rather elaborate and reasonable strategy to help humanity cope with this problematic issue.  Culture can distract us and soothe us. We can get lost in movies, athletics, and entertainment and come to believe it actually means something – the fact is it’s just all bullshit – that is, it appears and acts to be something much more than what it actually is.

“Wow Jimmy, so cynical.”

Not at all. Not even close. When you travel and watch how others live and realize it is all just one big arbitrary system of ways to do things, you are now FREE from the shackles of culture. You can recognize what is important and what is not for yourself.  You can fully appreciate each and every moment like you never have before.  You can appreciate your loved ones like you never have before. You can take advantage of what cultures have to offer while realizing the ultimate meaningless of it all.

I am quite certain we are all familiar with the term “ethnocentrism,” meaning one believes his/her own culture is superior to all others.  I would love to declare a new word in the English language that is defined as, “Believing all cultures to be human creations designed to assign value and meaning to our lives, with all being both equally effective in some respects, as well as problematic.

I am accepting suggestions.

Afterward: I am now back from Italy in the lovely confines of Santa Clarita dealing with my domestic sobriety and traveling addiction. However, this travaholic looks forward to squeezing out every last drop of adventure and pleasure all the different cultures have to offer in the very near future.

Ciao…for now.

Ferguson

Ferguson.

As in Ferguson, Missouri. That last time I witnessed such huge a racial divide among Americans was the O.J. trial with Rodney King just a few years prior.

Unfortunately, Ferguson and these other deplorable events only symbolize and brings to light what brews in the minds and hearts of some people 24/7, 365.

It seems that everyone has a strong opinion on the shooting of an unarmed African American young man and the subsequent rioting and pandemonium -along with the ultimate finding of innocence for the police officer who shot Michael Brown, Officer Darren Wilson.

I will offer you my take in a moment, though allow me to meander a bit here, first. I will Golden Snake, if you will.

I have “friends” (Facebook has really changed the meaning of the word thus I use quotation marks to qualify the meaning) who are on both sides of this issue. My more conservative friends tend to side with the police officer while my more liberal friends tend to side with the victim of the shooting –I find this disturbing.

This is all so predictable. The gun toting, law and order, ‘US-of-A-is-number-one-crowd’ so predictably sides with the police. The bleeding heart, ‘Give-me-your-tired-your-poor-USA-is-evil-crowd’ so predictably sides with the rioters and the victim in this case.

I find this bias all so VERY troubling…it is as if our ability to view reality is skewed by our deeper philosophical beliefs and predispositions and, subsequently, we have collectively lost the ability to critically think, discern, and evaluate such instances in a fair and objective manner.

It would seem we want to make events fit our reality rather than allow events to inform and guide our reality.  We will stretch, reshape, and contort pieces of such events and shove them into the puzzle of our personal mental schema in order to create a simple and uninterrupted map of our values and beliefs. In other words, we interpret events to fit our personal predispositions, bias and prejudices.

Critical thinking can be such a bitch.

Of course, we all have our own personal biases and prejudices. I, for one, am not a fan of law enforcement –I think you would only have to read my blog for 5 minutes to figure that out. It has been my experience that law enforcement in America has turned into an aggressive, bullying, “us vs. them” system that is running amok and out of control. Are there good cops? Of course.  Yet I contend most are not and have little to no concern for the greater public interest and welfare.

There. I said it. Now back to Ferguson. Appreciated the opportunity to meander.

You might think that I would obviously then side with the victim in this case given my prejudice. Perhaps, but it is not due to my prejudices. Acknowledging my personal beliefs and prejudices does NOT automatically mean I believe that an asshole cop overstepped his bounds in this instance. In fact, I believe he did not. First we have to be able to place our own personal shit aside and judge cases based on their own merit.

So what is my opinion in regards to Ferguson? I thought you would never ask.

We do not have a law enforcement racial problem in our country nearly as much as a law enforcement power problem.  Does racism in law enforcement exist? Of course it does. When one of my old neighbors told me they were quitting their lucrative job to join the LAPD, specifically in the city of Compton, I curiously asked him why. His EXACT response? “Cause I want to kill some niggers.”

Yep, racism exists. Particularly among hot headed, testosterone-driven, suburban white dudes.

Yet, it has been my experience that police officers love to use their guns, batons and flashlights –on anyone at anytime and therein lies the problem –racism only exacerbates a more fundamental problem.

One might opine they are assholes first and racists second. They seek violent opportunities first and foremost. By the way, I do not buy the “few bad apples” argument. This is a systemic problem that is growing worse.

Countless numbers of non-African Americans have either been killed by law enforcement or just gotten the shit beat out them (please do not click link if you have sensitive sensibilities) for no good reason. Whether it be cops high-fiving each other after punching out a Caucasian women or killing a Caucasian homeless man with their fist (while he was crying out for his father, no less) many police officers use their badge to work out their personal dysfunctional anger issues.

Tell me, and if you are in law enforcement, please respond. Why in the HELL did the police officer have to shoot and kill and a young unarmed man, hands in the air, EVEN IF the police officer felt threatened?

Could not a stun gun have been used just as effectively and save a young life? Pepper spray? If I have an ant problem in my home I purchase ant spray and solve the problem…I do not blow up the damn house. Both would work, yet the latter is entirely unnecessary.

We do not solve problems by utilizing the most extreme measure first. If my car breaks down I don’t run out and buy a new one…I fix the problem.

Not to equate a human life with ants or a car, but I think you get the point

I am not suggesting the officer was not following protocol…apparently he was.  Yes, I side with the victim yet I also side with the officer in that he was doing what he was trained to do. My point is that this shooting protocol is what needs to change. The entire system needs to be changed. Officer Darren Wilson was doing what his training taught him to do. But come now, death in this instance? Absolutely pointless, meaningless, and unwarranted.

In another case of police violence, the officer who killed Eric Garner in New York City with a choke hold, was exonerated while the person who shot the viral video of this chokehold was found guilty of an earlier gun possession.  Hmmmm.

I guess police officers do not like it when you film them doing their job…poorly.

A racial problem? Perhaps, but far and away it is much more a power problem.

A couple of years ago I had a former California Highway Patrol Officer in one of my courses. After listening to one of my rants concerning law enforcement he claimed that I had no idea how hard a job it is. To which I responded that I agreed with him –it is a very difficult job -which is why I believe all officers must have a Bachelor’s degree and/or be at least 26 years of age before we give them one of the most powerful positions in society.

Will this solve the problem? No, but it certainly would be a good start.  It is very difficult to be EDUCATED and a power hungry racist.

What saddens me is that most protestors see the problem as skin color first and power second. If we all wait for members of our personal ethnic background to be viciously attacked to have our voice be heard, the problem will never be solved. White people need to stand up for black victims and vice versa. We all need to stand up for reasonable and civilized enforcement regardless of the ethnic background of the victim. Until then, our numbers will be weak and ineffective.

I was having a conversation with a friend last night who said she has had nothing but positive encounters with police in her life…which thrilled me.  As one who has needed protection in her life, I get it and am so grateful to hear that. Yet, why have I -a hardworking, tax paying, law abiding citizen (and one who apparently does not need much protection)- NEVER  had a positive experience with a police officer?  When we see a police car on the street our reaction should be one of relief and solace; why the hell is it the other way around? I see a police car and I feel they are out to get me for some chickenshit reason.

We are a crazy gun loving culture and law enforcement reflects this. Did the Ferguson officer do something wrong? Morally yes, yet legally no.  It is this type of “shoot first, obtain facts later” protocol and policy that needs to change.

As much as I hate to acknowledge it and wish it were not so, rioting works in the short term. It gets people’s attention and is an outlet for people so frustrated they feel they have no other alternatives. And until law enforcement changes their “shoot first, ask questions later” policies, I am afraid Ferguson is just the beginning. With new videos of police brutality popping up everyday, the problem is no longer hidden behind the closed doors of the good old boys club. We now see you and we are appalled.

Things That Go Bump In The Night. Oh. That Was My Head.

Life. FCBEdamned life. Perhaps Forrest Gump’s mom was right, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

I was scheduled to leave Europe on Monday and head back to Los Angeles after several months abroad. Bittersweet? For sure. As much as I love the conveniences of home and the safety of routine, traveling is a drug and I am an addict (please read my next still unpublished blog…written but not yet posted, coming soon).  Alas, it is a Tuesday evening and I am still here in London.

Missed my flight and all.

On Sunday evening, the evening before my flight home, I went to bed and woke up in a UK Hospital Emergency Room.  I do not remember most of it. The story goes that I woke in the middle of the night, fell right over a coffee table and face planted right eye first into the corner of either the coffee table or radiator (blood spatters are currently being investigated by Dexter). I was staying with my daughter Rosie and her man Nathan when they heard a thud. Thinking I was just getting ready for my early morning flight in a loud (and rude) manner, they thought nothing of it until they looked at the clock and saw it was 2am…4 hours before I was to get up.

They jumped out of bed and saw me leaning against the radiator with blood everywhere, while kneeling in a pool of it. I was out of it…as if I was the recipient of a circa 1995 Mike Tyson blow to the face. I do not remember the paramedics arriving, nor the ambulance ride, nor the emergency doctors examining me. My first recollection was when I felt a needle go through my skin over my right eye, 17 or so stitches to close up a bleeding and gaping wound.

I lay in a hospital room as I begin to come to consciousness.  I recollect the man across from me was screaming in pain. Dejected, sick and hurting people were all around me.  As the morning progressed, I began to make sense of things. As my eyes first opened I saw my daughter Rosie and her man Nathan, gently touching me and loving me, the look of concern on their faces. I looked them squarely in the eye and told them both how much I love them

What you must know is it is not necessary for Rosie and Nathan to see Rosie’s dad in a puddle of blood to come to life and nurture and assist. Since my September 5 arrival in London, they both have been here to serve, assist, love on and just hang out with me. The fact that they were both there for me in my hour (minute?) of need is only symbolic of who they are as people.

Do things happen for a reason? NO ONE can know the answer to that question though I tend to be on the “no” side of that equation.  However, if events do have purpose (after all I have been known to be wrong from time to time) I have a pretty good idea of why this happened -please indulge me on this one.  The last few months are a time in my life when I have come to the stark realization that I am in a major life transition.

I blogged about these things before, yet this week’s events confirm all I have said.

Life is coming full circle. It seems the first third of our lives -or so- we are dependent on others for nearly everything. Of course that changes greatly from the first part of our first third to the last part of our first third….but I think you get the point.  Our second life third is the time when everyone is dependent upon us: Partners, children, aging parents, etc…yet the final third of our life we begin the reverse process: We begin to become reliant on others once again. Like returning from whence we came.

Now, to be fair, I am not quite in the process of my final third -at least I hope not- and many still do depend on me, yet that corner is turning and I see it as clear as day.  On the final night of my 3 month journey of discovery and change while teaching and traveling throughout Europe, I made myself completely vulnerable…literally bleeding out to death…with the only hope of salvation becoming completely dependent on the actions of others.  My blood representing spilled life -my life energy gushing from body- with only the hope of others. When the others are your offspring and her partner, you realize the wagons have turned and here you are.

I hear the inner voice, “Get used to it buddy. And thank FCBE you have the good fortune to have the others in your life.

I now look in the mirror and see a broken -literally- man with a black and red eye, a swollen forehead and a look of defeat -at least physically. Yet if you look deeper you see a man who is changing, knows the change, feels the change, and, yes, even welcomes the change.  I welcome the beauty of a new season and the challenges it shall bring.

Oh, and did I mention I am deeply in love with my daughter and her man? Deeply, and man I mean freaking deeply.

I read a meme on Facebook today that said, “Crying is not a sign of weakness, it is sign that you have been strong far too long.

The last 24 hours I have lived that meme. I have cried. Not due to any physical pain but due to the realization that my love for some people in my life runs deeper than I could ever have known.  Or imagined. Or realized. Wow do I love Rosie and Nathan. Wow do I love my family. Wow do I love my life partner. Perhaps crying is perceived strength leaving the body while the tears make room for the real strength of love and humility.

Sure in life we never know what we’re gonna get, yet I know what I got in my family. And, at this vulnerable moment in my life, nothing else really matters.

I am still in the UK attempting to get clearance from the medical authorities stating it is ok for me to fly.

So I wait…at Rosie and Nathan’s London flat of course. Feeling overwhelmed, in some physical pain, but full of love and gratitude.

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(Afterward: I am now back at home in Santa Clarita both waiting to have my stitches removed and for Rene’ to get back from the UK as she came out to check on me. I look forward to her return on Tuesday. Damn life. You just never know what you’re gonna get. And maybe that is why I love it so much.)

The Art of Reflection

Reflection: Such an important part of the human experience. I believe it is through the process of reflecting back on our lives, seeing what we have done, that works to help propel us forward and see what is coming ahead.

This is why near the end of each semester I ask my students to reflect back over the course of the previous months and provide me with the “Top Ten” things they have learned during that period.  These “Top Ten” items can be a theory, a concept, a particular course discussion, interactions, literally anything they may have learned and found helpful, beneficial, important or just interesting…anything at all.  Most students do not really have ten such items (can you remember even two things you learned in a particular course? Didn’t think so) yet most have a least a few legit experiences that academically wooed them in some fashion.

So now, as I near the end of my semester abroad in London, I am challenging myself with this same type of reflection.  My “Top Five,” as it were. With journeys to Spain and Italy still ahead, I’m certain there will be more experiences to be reflected upon. Yet in the nearly 3 months I have been here I have learned a few things, from the humorous and the mundane to the more serious and personal.

First off…

5.  I like to have ample water at the base of my loo. I know this sounds odd but everywhere I travel in Europe the toilets have about a cupful of water at the bottom of the john.  I really cannot explain why, but I appreciate a good water barrier between my “contents” take off and landing.  In the US we have a couple of buckets worth of water making for smooth, enjoyable, delightful and rather peaceful loo experiences.  Ahhhh, the little things we take for granted. While taking a walking “loo” tour of London (it was my daughter’s boyfriends idea…I swear) I explained my loo preferences to our guide when she stated that one can tell a great deal about a culture by their toilets. Without going into detail, in America everything is bigger and more mellow, as the contents can buoyantly rest within the large and luxurious serene water currents. Hmmmmm….something to think about.  Think that’s bad? You should of heard her take on German toilets.

4.  No matter how non-judgmental and accepting we may think we are of other people and cultures, traveling reveals our prejudices and bias.  I am coming to terms with the understanding that I have this self-perceived notion that I am a very accepting person, who does not stereotype or judge others customs and practices, to be highly untrue. It is as if traveling holds up a mirror that we must see our true reflection. I am as guilty of “bias confirmation” as anyone, meaning we tend to see life they way we prefer to see it, not how it really is. We pay attention to only those select experiences that confirm our prejudices.  If my stereotype of Europeans is to be rude, my biased perception will only pick up on rude acts while filtering out acts of kindness -as these do not coincide with, nor confirm, my bias. Traveling helps us to see life, including our self, as it really is, not how we prefer to see it.

3. Britain is our parent while the United States is its rather immature adolescent child. What do I mean by this? Britain is so much more mature than we are, period. I suppose if you look back into history this makes sense. We were the teenage kid who rebelled and ran away from home.  Yes, we struggled to gain independence and get our feet on the ground -and we are doing quite well for ourselves about now, but make no mistake: Britain remains our more mature and wiser parents.  Brits can drink openly in the parks here and no one gets too drunk, acts belligerent and wants to fight outside.  Most of their street police officers do not carry guns. I also think of Britain as remarkably more secular as they have come to find out what America is only beginning to find out: You do not need the fear of punishment nor the promise of reward to be kind, decent, and civil with each other. They are polite, respectful and appropriate –the way my grandmother used to be –well, not really, but you get the point. They have matured. They have figured things out.  We are adolescents with zits on our face by comparison. One day we can only hope to be as grown up and grounded. One of my favorite comedians, Adam Carolla, frequently asks the question concerning the British, “Why are they so much better than us?” Maturity, Adam, maturity.

2. There is no doubt my calling in life is to be a college educator.  I feel as though when I teach I am completely and totally myself. Now perhaps some of my students may disagree with me on this, and believe my calling should be a prison guard or something far worse, yet I just love what I do. Having now had the opportunity to really bond with these young people as they are thousands of miles from home, is an experience like no other. They are old enough to be treated like adults, yet young enough (most of them) that they are still trying to make sense of the world around them. Like a child touching a hot stove, they are experimenting with what they can and cannot do, finding their limits, their boundaries and themselves. They are open and accepting of new ideas- I love that!  An old friend of mine, Craig, a Florida State graduate, once told me that the biggest thing he learned in college was how to drink correctly -and we was not joking- to learn that there is a time and place for everything, how much you can handle and so on.  This is not to say everything is professorial flowers and fairy dust…not by a long shot. This has been one of the most difficult semesters I have ever taught and I am as ready for this semester to be over as any of my students. It is just the good so outweighs any bad, leading me to….

1. I do not know how to grow old. Well, I do know how to grow old year wise -I am doing a splendid job with that, thank you.  I guess I mean more like acting old, or even older. I have always had this notion that as you age certain “things” must follow.  Things like you must dress differently, as in wearing your pants somewhat higher over the belly. Or that you must hate the contemporary music that the kids like. You must be disgusted with new fads and youthful practices as you gain an overall more discriminating and mature palate in life for the finer things.  You should be content with simply smoking your pipe (tobacco, of course) while reading the New Yorker in your living room chair on a Saturday Night. Nope. Does not work for me. My calling to teach college is due to the fact I really love being around young people. I have a lot of friends my age, who are great and I must confess it is quite nice to be able to use the full range of my vocabulary, but the exuberance and energy of youth is electrifying and cannot be compared. A student, Jessica, recently wrote me and said, “I learned this semester that a professor can be genuinely cool.” And the great part is I am just being me. I don’t care about cool. I believe all people are cool when they are completely themselves, no matter the personality or traits.

A couple of years ago another student, Patricia, who observed me at an end-of-class get together at Johnny’s Tacos interacting with students, asked, “So, tell me the truth. As you interact with these guys is that really you or are you just bro-ing it down?”

I had never heard the term “bro-ing it down” before but I knew exactly what she meant.

I was not “bro-ing it down.” That was me.

And as I soon head back for the States, I will continue to reflect on life and all that I learn from it.  From loo’s to life’s calling to “bro-ing it down,” this thing called life can  be such a kickass adventure.

Reflection. Just do it.

Cheers.

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Jimmy’s Got A Gun: Thoughts On The Right To Bear Arms

A funny thing happens when you get out of your fishbowl and can experience life outside the water for a bit.

Expanding personal experiences has a way of changing you.

As many of you know I have been living abroad in Europe since late August.  It has been my observation that although many parts of Europe are very westernized, you can still detect very distinct cultural differences when contrasted with the United States. Whether it be driving on the “wrong” side of the street or treating the local bars like we treat our bathroom experience -everyone must go at least once every day to maintain health- there are some cultural variances from the US to be sure.  One area of very strong distinction is a rather fundamental one: The attitudes towards and use of guns.

I never really thought much about guns and have not carried strong positions either for or against their use or ownership. I have reacted to anti-gun advocates who seem to pop up after a school shooting, yet this has far more to do with condemning anyone who would use a tragedy to seize an opportunity to promote an agenda –not to mention living in a country of re-actors as opposed to pro-actors, the latter being my preferred set of people. Yet now I can reflect outside the bowl on the dry, primarily gun-less, lands of Europe.

One could argue America is built on a philosophy of gun rights.  The right to bear arms is as fundamental to American cultural practices as hot dogs and apple pie, and to many perhaps a much tastier and sweeter experience.  When I came to find out that even British POLICE OFFICERS (sorry for screaming, yet this is a biggie) do not carry firearms, I was stunned. Speaking of stunned, not even stun guns….only pepper spray.

Of course this does not apply to all police officers, just the rank and file ones that you and I are most likely to run into on the streets. You know, the ones who roam the blocks, eat crumpets and do the most community policing.

I asked myself how in the world can a police officer do his or her job, even if it is in the less dangerous positions, without a gun?

The truth is that they can…and, in Britain’s case, they do.

This has caused me to reflect long and hard about my personal philosophy concerning guns.  For a large metropolitan city like London, it is exceedingly safe with low crime.  Somewhat contrary to what my intuition might suggest, the criminals are not running amok taunting the unarmed police officers; not having firearms actually works well for public safety in the UK.

I have come realize that I was born into a gun-obsessed culture. Guns are an integral part of the US cultural landscape and are woven into our basic social narrative from a young age. Little boys and girls are birthed into a type of gun mania. Although I never allowed my children to play with fake guns, as soon as they were old enough to point their index finger out with their thumb up and yell, “bang!” they did. Why? Certainly we are not born into this world with a genetic knowledge about guns, rather they are so pervasive through all forms of media that many children are enthralled with them as we marinate them in a violent stew of gun use since day one.

One would be hard pressed to find, let’s say, a tribal African child playing with said pretend gun, in fact, it would probably be impossible.

And so this cultural sheep wandered right into the pen of violent gun culture. As soon as we started having children I went out and purchased a short barrel shotgun for my families protection -due to living in the very dangerous and violent streets of suburban Santa Clarita. Of course, statistically speaking, this shotgun has a far greater chance of doing great injury and harm to myself or family members than it ever will protecting them, but what is sound logic and reason when we have a second amendment ethos with which we must contend?

“I’ll give you my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands,” declareth the National Rifle Association. They just better hope they are not one day prying it from their child’s cold, dead hands -which is the far more likely probability.

So now I am rethinking my gun culture. In many respects the gun cat is out of the gun bag in the US, thus following a UK model would likely not work…at first.

“But Jimmy, what about guns to protect us from a potentially tyrannical government and attacks from foreign invaders?”  Well, frankly, if we were to be attacked, nuked or taken over with tanks and heavy artillery, I hardly believe my lil old shotgun will fare well in that battle. This would be like suggesting we should not ban aspirin because Ebola is coming -a mere band-aid for a gushing wound. Good luck with that.

Another major factor in my rethinking of the role of guns in society is the seemingly great rise in police officer shootings of innocent victims.  It seems there are new stories everyday of mentally ill, homeless, and otherwise innocent individuals getting shot by police officers who seem to be looking for any excuse to use their guns.  Perhaps there is no greater example of law enforcements lustful infatuation with their Smith and Wesson then when a manhunt was underway for a 6 foot something, 200 something lb., African American man named Christopher Dorner in Los Angeles in February of 2013.  Eager to use their firearms, police officers unloaded over a dozen rounds of ammo into the car of two innocent victims…both 5’ tall, diminutive female Hispanics, who they mistakingly believed to be Dorner.

Forget the disparity in gender, color, stature, or ethnicity: The vehicle they shot at was neither the make or color of Dorner’s.

Whoops, their bad. Another example of men thinking with their gun and not their brain.

Many (I did not say all) police officers are assholes anyway, and what can be worse than an asshole with a gun? And to my dearly beloved traffic cops, why in the world do you even have a job? Let alone a gun.

But Jimmy, many more police officers are also being shot at these days.” I agree. This gun stuff does seem to be working well for either side now, does it?

I realize statistics are just numbers waiting for an argument, though did I mention the fact that the US has 10.3 gun deaths per year per 100,000 people while the UK’s number is a mere .25? Wow. Only Japan and Hong Kong have less.

So, let me play a little cause and effect game if my math is correct. In the country with guns there is over 10 times more homicidal gun violence than the country (essentially) without guns. So guns are…NOT good for society? I think this to be simple logic a child can perform. I realize we can all perform statistical gymnastics in any manner to obtain our agenda and objective…yet I have no agenda and objective. I just want a better and more civil society and gun proliferation does not seem to be working.

As I observe UK law enforcement, they are quite friendly, helpful and seem to not possess US arrogant bastard type “attitude.” For example, I found myself one day on the bus to Belsize Park when I approached 4 officers to inquire as to if this was the correct stop for my destination. Each of them eagerly assisted and interrupted each other to explain to me the various exits and directions- nice as hell.  Imagine how I felt when I saw a police car nearly hit two jaywalkers when he slowed down, waved and yelled, “Sorree!!” (By the way, London has no jaywalking laws…perhaps another Brit tidbit that would work well in the US of A).

That shotgun has been sitting in my closet collecting dust for about 27 years now. I shot it once, at a can in the desert.  The attack on my family never came, thank FCBE. But if it did, I would have been ready.

But maybe being ready is not worth the costly price we all must pay. And if the UK is any example, it is not.

It is soon time to get back in the water. And this time the water will have one more inhabitant quite critical of its current gun state of affairs.

“Want A Friend? Be A Friend.” Or, “What Goes Around Comes Around.” Or, “Jimmy’s About To Get All Buddha On Your Ass.”

I have just returned from Edinburgh, Scotland where my friends Laure and her fiancé Vincent, both hailing from Paris, hosted and toasted me for a couple of days.

It is nice to have international friends in international places, for all parties involved, because, as a loving father once said, “If you want a friend, be a friend.”

Allow me to explain.

It all began with Laure’s plan to pick me up at the Edinburgh/Waverly train station at 11:30pm on a Thursday night as I arrived to my Scotland destination by way of London’s King’s Cross station. However, like most of life, things did not go as planned.

An undisclosed “incident” happened on a train in front of ours and we just flat out stopped…for about 2 hours. Of course I contacted Laure, via Facebook, to let her know that I would not be there at the time planned. Long story short, she kept vigilant about keeping up with the situation online so she could time her 35 minute bus ride to the train accordingly. As I arrived, about 1:30am, greeted by Laure’s smiling, welcoming and friendly face, one could never tell by her demeanor she was completely put out and her life disrupted by this American -and now had to take another 35 minute bus ride home just hours before dawn.

I stayed with her and Vincent until Sunday morning. During this time, I was wined and dined, not to mention given first class tours of the city, including Castles, forests and, of course, a Scotch Whisky distillery (the Scots dropped the “e” from their Whiskey as to distinguish themselves…see what you learn when you drink?). In short, I was treated like a Scottish king as I slept in my own room with internet, a down comforter and a teddy bear dressed up like Obi Won something or other from Star Wars.

It cost me nothing.

I suppose there may be a bit of personal payback involved for a trip Laure took way back in 2008 to California when she stayed with us for a few weeks. Yet, then again, when she handed me the keys to her condo in Paris and left for a few nights in 2011, literally giving up her entire home for me, I believed that “debt” to be completely paid: Karmic transaction complete.

Laure and Vincent are, what Rene’s father would call, “good people.” Yet, I keep meeting “good people.” Why?

I have had a fairly pervasive theme in my life lately, namely the idea of what goes around comes around, reaping what you sow, or the energy you send out to the universe will “Karma-cly” metabolize the energy you receive back in (as a side note, the notion of Karma for some is about what awaits each of us in the next life via reincarnation…I am using the term in a more liberal Buddhist sense). Perhaps it is the act of travel that allows the curtain shielding this universal truth from sight to be pulled back and revealed. This reality of Karma is always present -yet it is frequently hidden by the rote scheduling and banality of our daily existence.

Just as an aspirin will cure a headache or water will quench your thirst, travel exposes life’s truths in a way no other medium could possibly reveal.

Travel brings about both vulnerability and strength. To travel as a stranger in a strange land, at least for this sojourner, brings about powerful feelings of vulnerability and insecurity. I typically live in a world full of control, my surroundings quite familiar and my routine as set as they get. Yet it is vulnerability, brought about by a break from routine and the known, that precedes every victory in life. Be it the prizefighter who is the object of incoming strikes and blows from unknown locations moments prior to victory or the marathon runner whose cramping legs seemed impossible to overcome just prior to crossing the finish line, we come to understand that we only become stronger when we subject ourselves to both risk, even calculated risk, and vulnerability.

It is the one who fears and avoids vulnerability at all costs that never grows and expands: Just as muscle needs to be brutally torn and stretched in order for it to grow bigger and stronger, so our psyche needs to be splayed and challenged in order to expand our minds and be introduced to life’s often clandestine and clouded, yet beautiful, offerings.

Yet there is another major benefit to vulnerability, via travel, as well. When we become vulnerable we come to realize that self-sufficiency will not be enough -we must reach out to others in humility and trust.  It is a difficult for this self-sufficient man to admit, but needing others is a good thing…a really, really good thing. When we need others it connects us to humanity in general and we learn people can be really, really good.

Then when we reach out to others who are in need and vulnerable, we are sending out that cosmic energy that will return back to us in our most tender and susceptible moments.  I read somewhere that is better to give than to receive, but make no mistake- both are necessary in life and both offer us sweet rewards.

So as I expand and “vulnerable-ize” myself, I allow Laure and Vincent to give and add some currency to their universal cosmic bank account –perhaps I should have charged them for my stay? (Even Buddha can’t get in the way of good, capitalist principles!)

Want a Friend

As a wise man once said, “Want a friend? Be a friend.” It will result in more than just companionship and international friendships; it will open up a world of discovery and some new found cosmic kindness -this time by way of Laure and Vincent.

 

The London Professors: When Communication and Psychology Collide

episodewhateverPlease join the podcast for a discussion with fellow London and Human Sexuality Professor, Dr. Ken Guttman, as we discuss sex (duh!), education, studying abroad, and what students should call us…amidst many other topics.  Though you cannot tell, his eyes are beautifu, believe mel. Help me Jordan!

 

The Lovely Trickles Of Life

There are some major challenges many of us take on in life.  In my experience none has been so daunting as taking on the challenge of parenthood some 26 year ago.  I suppose it would not be quite as daunting for those who care little for wanting to be a present parent who strives for excellence, yet this is not the case for neither Rene’ nor I: We wanted to be as good as we could be…still do.  This is not to say we were excellent parents, it is only to say we tried to be excellent parents, it was important to us –and I suppose our children’s therapists will have the final say about that.

Now, 4 adult children later, we are starting to see trickle in, ever so slowly, the fruits of our labor, the product of our efforts. These trickles generate from a circular and flowing life spring, identified by many a philosophy or religion as karma, cosmic justice, or simply reaping what you sow.

I have heard it said that you can determine  -in the majority of cases- whether a parent was good or bad parent based on whether their adult children like them or not (key word being ADULT as every 13 year old girl on the planet is obliged to hate their parents for a sizable amount of time).  Chances are if your adult children want to either avoid or even do physical damage to you, well, probably not such a good job in the nurturing department. If, on the other hand, your adult children still want to hang with you and even serve you, job well done. And, of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this.

That being said, as I share the following it is in no way presented as a self-aggrandizing means of arrogance or boasting in the parental department -quite the opposite. It is shared with my readers from a man who is not getting any younger, not getting any stronger (though, dammit, I am still gonna try!) and finds himself more dependent on life’s little crutches, be it reading glasses or hand rails, while starkly realizing his dependence upon the assistance of others is only going to increase in the upcoming years.

It comes from a humble and thankful place. It comes from a needy place. It comes from a place where trickles of love, kindness and assurance are not wanted, they are truly needed.

So last night when my daughter Rose, who is “babysitting” me during my nearly 3 month stay in London, observed that it was a ridiculous £4 to do a load of laundry at the local launderette, continued to promptly fling a 10 lb. sack of my sweaty socks and underwear on her back to take on her 30 minute bus ride home, where she could more inexpensively do my laundry herself, well, I felt a trickle of family love and kindness.

When I received the following short and sweet Viber message yesterday from my daughter Tess who is currently studying in New Zealand: Dad, thanks for quizzing me on every book I finished reading when I was little. Short, sweet, and touching -and I felt an oh-so-slight, yet ironically strong, trickle of love and appreciation.

When my son Jordan recently recognized me in a social media update another trickle of assurance was felt: Jimmy is on his way to live abroad in London for a few months and to potentially follow in his sons footsteps by doing some continental hitchhiking afterwards. He gets to step out of his comfort zone and meet a new part of himself, maybe even get to a Rainbow Gathering. At the same time he’s got a cool blog and podcast he has been consistent with updating for well over a year now, something I have been trying to do since the seventh grade.

Of course, I must mention, that the cool blog and podcasts would have never have been possible without his brilliant technological trickles of assistance.

And, of course, when my youngest Stevie says he want to be rich by age 30 and he  will be able to take care of his mom and dad with no worries, even though I will not hold my breath -I still feel the trickle of happiness and love.

These observations are written by a man who is watching his 81 year-old father, hardly able to get out of bed anymore, negotiate his final time on this earth. Observing his growing frailty acts as a mirror for my own life as this may be my fate and destiny as well – should I have the good fortune of many years on this earth.  I consider that perhaps enduring the suffering of growing old is an equitable trade off for a mere few more breaths.

Why? The trickles make it worth it.

My observations are written by a humbled man who is still desperately searching for his own identity in his post parenting days. It is written by a man whose affinity for the good things in life –travel, dance, good food and good wine- does not mask the realities of what awaits each of us in the long haul.

And, in the end, it is the family and friends we all love that hold it all together for us and with us. May I be so fortunate as to feel the trickles for many years to come.

The trickles are far worth the daunting challenge of parenthood.

photoJordan, Rene’, Stevie, my 83 year old Uncle Les, Rosie, her man Nathan, Tessa, and me.

 

 

Some People Find Happiness, Jesus or Themselves: I Found Ro

I found Ro. That’s right. You heard me. I found him. And I feel damn good about it.

Let me explain.

I am currently in Paris, France.  (It seems weird to add “France” to the word “Paris” as the city has a unique way of standing on it’s own with no need for identifying its larger boundary -as opposed to Perris, California I suppose).

This time around I am with a group of about 20 twenty-somethings yet, ironically, in the context I find myself I am merely a fellow traveller along with them. I am not their “boss” or leader – I am, in many ways, a type of peer with them. I strangely feel like Rodney Dangerfield in “Back to School” or Will Ferrel in “Old School” as I travel on a pretour trip through Europe before I begin teaching for the semester in London (do I have to add England?). In any case, here I am while our leader and guide is all of 25.

Though the old man of the group, I feel in many ways I am as vulnerable and as very much a travelling “newbie” as they are.  This came to light this morning.

We arrived last night and I had some dinner with some French friends (and 5 twenty somethings, btw) and actually had a rather pleasant first night after not sleeping for nearly 35 hours.

It was when I awoke this morning and decided to go visit my French friend Ro, who lives on the outskirts of Paris –only a mere 40 minute train ride from where I am staying- that I realized my traveling vulnerabilities.  As I found myself straying from my twenty something tour package and opting to venture out on my own, I was in essentially the same place I was about 3 years ago when I visited Paris for the first time- alone, in a strange city, with a strange language, with strange geography of which I knew absolutely nothing about.

I experienced some moderate anxiety concerning my traveling to see Ro.  What if I get lost? How can I communicate with anyone?  I then realized I am in a big city with civilized human beings and a train system that is very internationally friendly. What is the worst that can happen? I am forced to eat bread and cheese until an English speaking French person can give me a hand? It is not like I am in the deserts of the Sudan – not knowing how I will survive Ebola and have to decide which insects to eat for survival.

Thus I put on my big boy traveling panties and off I went.

I safely made it to my final train exit when things got a little tricky. The directions provided went like this: “Exit on the right through the tunnel.”  Wait…did that mean the several tunnels that encounter each stop immediately when you get off the train…meaning I would have to go the far right immediate exit? Or did it mean enter any tunnel and when you exit the train station to go to the right? So, like any good grammatical contextual analyzer, I decide to read on and see if it offered any additional clues:

“Then pass the glass building while following the street on the left.”

Fine. I will exit the train station and look for a glass building and just head that direction.

I looked left. A glass building! Well, kind of. It was definitely more glass than your average Paris building but could it really be considered a “glass building?”

I could only guess what a “glass building” meant to a Frenchman in comparison and contrast with what it means to me…a California surfer-type with little interest in building design yet has seen his fair share of Los Angeles glass buildings.

Just look for a glass building, Jimmy, do not freeze with directional analysis paralysis,” I informed my meta-self. “Just go with your gut.

The problem was that only in Paris are most buildings made of 100 year-old bricks and cement with very few windows –as if windows were designed as an afterthought by engineers who decided that a small view may be a good idea, for some much needed ventilation at the very least. I determined that if you find any building that has more than a few glass panels in Paris it could be considered a “glass building.”

Yet still, was I looking for a building with a few extra windows or the damn Crystal Cathedral?

So I followed this glass building with suspicion. Again, I did what any good contextual analyzer would do, I read on for the next clue.

“Turn right at the bakery,” it read.

Great. Every corner in Paris is a bakery with mouthwatering carbohydrates and fattening cheeses. However, I became wary of the suspicious “glass building” I was following as it appeared to lead me to a residential area hence, no bakery. So I walked back to where I came out of the train station and went the other way. And, alas, I saw THE glass building. There was no mistaking this one –glass from bottom to top.

I guess glass buildings are like porn –hard to describe though you know it when you see it.

Now where was the damn bakery? I walked a couple of blocks not knowing at which bakery to turn right at. So I looked for more clues:

“Just past the hotel,” it read.

I do not know the word hotel in French though I saw a logo on a building that seemed “hotel-ish” and, lo and behold, a bakery just beyond it.

I am freaking Columbo mixed with Sherlock Holmes with a dusting of Hardy Boys,” I thought with smug satisfaction.

Not really. But I was pretty proud of me as I continued to successfully avoid the potential of Paris Ebola.

But my work was not done. Not even close. I had to meander a few more turns and buzz a door that had the number 11 on it, walk in, go up the stairwell on the left to the second floor and knock on the first door on the left.

I did all of this successfully…or so I thought.

When the door opened it was an old Frenchmen with a filthy apartment who did not speak a lick of English.

“Ro? Is Ro here? Do you know Ro?”

“Beswee boo doo doo oiu oo0 Dubai,” I heard…or something like that.

It is so strange how when two people do not know each others language keep talking to each other as if repetition will bring sudden linguistic enlightenment.

“Ro,” I repeated. “Ro. Is he here. Where is he? Do you know Ro. Ro. Ro Ro.”

My nonverbal skills kicked into full gear. It is at times like this I wish I was a feminine woman –trained in the art of nonverbal subtleties- searching for some universal nonverbal common ground and understanding.

He appeared a very kind man as he knocked on the neighbor’s door and a woman answered. He then again said, “Beswee boo doo doo oiu oo0 Dubai,” to the woman. I spelled out Ro’s name on a sheet of paper he provided and she smiled and pointed up another floor.

“Thank  y ..ahhh…Merci,” I proudly told her, quite proud I could finally use one of the three words I know in French.

As it turns out those weird French people consider the first floor the ZERO floor and our third floor is their second floor.

I went up and knocked –on the third floor door, not the second, as some things Americans just have flat out right- and out walked Ro.

I did it. I survived the rough jungles of Paris.

I am that good.

An hour of conversation later, I departed and just went back the same way I came.

So this 51 year-old did what any 20 something admittedly could do much better –navigate through a strange city with a strange language with strange people- yet I feel so accomplished and satisfied as if I told my 51 year-old neurons to quit carving that neural rut. I told my neurons to live a little, to carve new paths.

Damn, I want to make my neurons my bitch.

I feel younger already. Watch out twenty somethings –you have a match. Why?

Because I found Ro.