Archive for May, 2010

My Philosophy in a Pie!

Posted on May 30, 2010. Filed under: HowTo, Musings, Philosophy, Science |

…Chart, anyway. I am often asked…well, sometimes asked…OK, almost never asked…what my beliefs are. I like to imagine I am asked this, because I like to answer it. There are several ways to approach the topic of “beliefs”. One is through the door of Philosophy, which is a rewarding door for me. The thing with hypothetical doors is that one doesn’t know where they may lead. This is probably equally true of the door from my office to the hall, but I have more practice in imagining and believing in the hall than I do in philosophical concepts.

This being said, when I imagine my imaginary answer to the philosophical question in traditional western philosophical terms, I wonder if I can speak intelligently about my belief system using classical philosophical stances. “I’m mostly a ‘this’, I say, with some ‘that’ and ‘the other’ thrown in.”

“So why not”, I asked myself, in a whimsical mood, “throw all those philosophical urges at a pie chart, and see what emerges?”  I made a philosophical pie, and here it is!

Actually…it looks more like a cake, doesn’t it? One of those sponge cakes with colorful marzipan frosting? Should I retitle this post “Philosophical Cake”? No? Alright, let’s go on…

If you really, really want to know what each of these points of view means, defined according to “scholars” on the subject, then here’re some links:   Relativism * Pragmatism * Existentialism * Solipsism * Other

If those are not enough for you, then HERE is a list of all the belief systems in the entire Universe! (Well, all those that the authors of a particular Wikipedea article deemed worthy.)

I believe a little bit of each of those as well; some more than others. What, really, IS Philosophy, after all? A point of inquiry, some say. A world view; others. A stance, I say; a starting point. Somewhere to plant my metaphorical feet at points along the journey, always subject to change and revision. We go through life, and try to understand some things about it. That’s all there is!

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The Bakery

Posted on May 25, 2010. Filed under: Culture, Musings, Philosophy |

I had just put a new battery in my car (in the Sonoran Desert, batteries only last about two years) when it started not starting. What could it be? First, the “emissions” light came on, then, it wouldn’t start until about the third or fourth time I tried. Brand new battery! I’m not a mechanic, by any means, but, this could not be happening, I surmised, as I had a Brand New Battery! Unless…it was…the starter! This possibility had floated through my mind whist sitting in a parking lot after having met the incoming president of an organization I work for (I do fun things for them like make a website for them on WordPress! And before you say anything about that, the websites I make for groups are much better than my blog, here. I like a nice plain blog. But I can customize a WordPress theme with the best of them; unique header and all!) and turning the key in the starter.

NO sound came from the car; not a click—nothing. Turned the key the other way, and the radio worked fine. So it wasn’t the battery. As I looked across the street, whilst getting up the nerve to telephone the auto assistance club, I noticed an independent repair shop. About three doors down from that; a car rental agency. Oh, good. I’d be able to get home.

Um…by now, you might be wondering why I titled this post “The Bakery”. As I gazed at the auto repair shop, I realized I hardly ever go to small, independently owned shops of any kind anymore. There are not many where I live; I was sitting in a commercial area with a lot of different kinds of shops. Nearer home, in a newer area, there are mostly chain stores. I usually take my car to the local brake repair chain, as they do all sorts of other work as well.

If it came to it, I could walk across the street to the little auto shop. Of course, I knew nothing about them. They might be impeccable business people, or…not. I felt a tremendous wave of goodwill towards them, though. They were small. They were independent. They must be nice.

I grew up in a residential/small business area in San Francisco. In fact, my parents ran one of the small businesses, across the street and down the block from our house. On the corner, without having to cross any streets (which I wasn’t allowed to do until I was 7) sat “The Bakery”. It actually was called “Wharton Bros. Pastry Shop”, but everyone in the ‘hood referred to it simply as “The Bakery.” My family bought all their bread there. They did not buy supermarket bread like most of my friends’ families. When we had need of a cake (my mother always made her own pies) it cam from The Bakery. From the age of six, or so, I would volunteer to make the necessary purchases. I did this for the most selfless of reasons; my only motive being to help my family…well, OK, not quite.

Whenever I walked into The Bakery, Florence or Janet or Betty (they worked there for years!) would exclaim: “It’s little Muse!* How are you today, Muse?”

“Fine, thank you, Florence. May I have one loaf of white; one loaf of wheat, sliced, and four Bear Claws, please?” (I was a polite little kid.)

“Here you are Muse, and there’s your cookie!” —Aha, you see the deeper motives of my altruism. They always gave me a cookie, and they knew my favorite kinds. Super-Duper Supermarket, where I often shop these days, doesn’t give me a cookie. Their “Bakery” department’s offerings don’t taste as good as those from “The Bakery”. Even the natural foods store I shop at, while wonderful, is part of a chain. No one knows me. No one says: “Here comes little Muse!*” (Well, it would be weird if they did that, at this point.)

When I lived at the top of my state, in the mountains of northern Arizona, I did get to know the folks at the natural foods store. Joan would address me by name, and give me samples to try. It was a little like “The Bakery.”

When I was very young, before I knew how to talk, but did know how to walk, my favorite outfit, apparently, was a diaper and a pair of my father’s socks. I don’t know why I liked my father’s socks, and I can’t imagine how they stayed on my feet. Perhaps they made me feel closer to him. What my parents didn’t know, on this one particular day, is that, not only had I figured out how to get down the stairs to the front door all by myself, I could also OPEN the door, when it was left off the latch, as it often was in those days.

On this day, my mother must have been distracted by something, because there I was, out on the avenue in my father’s socks and not much else, headed for the only place I knew nearby: The Bakery. Even then, they knew who I was there. Even then, I knew this was the place for cookies! Fortunately I was quite single-minded, and had no destination in mind that involved crossing the street. My mother was startled to receive a phone call. Florence was on the line: “We have your little Muse here!” Mother, embarrassed, hadn’t had time yet to notice I was gone! I must have moved pretty quickly down the block.

It didn’t take long for mother to come fetch me. Long enough, though, that I had time for a cookie! Needless to say, our front door was not left off the latch anymore after this, and it would be several years before I learned how to unlock it myself.

I often think of the fate of a similar toddler to what I was, in my current neighborhood. No bakery; nowhere to go…cars! I never gave it a thought at the time, but I knew I was safe, and warm, and cared for with Florence and Janet and Betty. Years later, as I was getting ready to leave the neighborhood and home, the management tried putting in a little coffee bar and some tables and chairs. It became crowded; catered to a different clientele. Florence retired. Betty moved away. Janet didn’t seem quite so happy. Eddie Wharton, the owner, had died and left the business to his son. I think it did well for a few years. What was a neighborhood mainstay I’m sure gave way to larger markets with more efficient methods. I sit here, 1000 miles away, and realize I don’t know what occupies the property now. I don’t know who lives in my childhood home. I haven’t been back there since my mother passed on; she hadn’t lived there either for several years.

As I was writing this story, it occurred to me that I could use “Google Maps-street view” to peer at the corner of the street where I lived. So, just now, I saved the draft of this post, and opened a tab to peek. I didn’t remember the address of The Bakery, so I typed in my old home address. The house looked exactly as I remembered it. I scrolled down the block, and noticed a point on the map marked “Tony’s Automotive”. Interesting, as staring at a small automotive shop is what started all my small-business type reflecting. But I scrolled a little further, and realized Tony’s is around the corner, next to Torri’s Mexican Restaurant (still there!) On the site where the old Wharton Bros. (it was always spelled “Bros.”, not “Brothers”–saved signage, I guess) was…a sign that said…(in old-fashioned red lettering) “The ORIGINAL Wharton Bros. Pastry Shop”! It had re-emerged!

I couldn’t resist. I scrolled around the corner to where my parents’ business had been. It is now a…supermarket. The kind that has a “Bakery” department. I wonder if any little muses stroll into that market, or if they prefer the “original” shop across the street. Does someone give them cookies?

* You do know that’s not my actual name, right? Other names have been changed to protect the guilty. :)

Update: Tuesday, May 25, 2010: OK, this has me a little shaken. I wrote the above post over the weekend; planned to post it on Monday. On Sunday evening I received an email from a childhood friend that emails me perhaps twice a year. I’ve known her my entire life. Imagine my surprise when I saw the subject line: “Wharton’s Bakery”! (I’m not making this up; honest!) I’d hardly thought about the Bakery for years before writing the post; had not been to my old neighborhood for even more years. I remembered that Google Street View is months out of date, by design, in order to protect privacy. This is the email, in part:

Leslie and I were in the city a couple of weeks ago and walked down Border Street. Wharton”s Bakery changed hands about 18 months ago. It is now called Heavenly Cakes. They no longer blow their wonderful bread baking aroma all over Spring Avenue, but their desserts were scrumptious.

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Look(ed) up Cinco de Mayo…

Posted on May 5, 2010. Filed under: Culture, HowTo, Travel |

…because I heard on the news today that it was invented in California! Today, the fifth of May, is a big-deal Mexican-American holiday, particularly in border states like Arizona and New Mexico. I sort of assumed that people of Mexican descent had been celebrating it for centuries!

Here is the Real Story:

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not the celebration of Mexico’s independence day. The El Grito de la Indepedencia (Cry of Independence) is held annually on Sept. 16 in honor of Mexico’s independence from Spanish rule in 1810.

Cinco de Mayo is the celebration of freedom from a different oppressive European empire: France.  The holiday actually commemorates the Mexican army’s win over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

The holiday was invented in California in 1863, to draw Latinos in the US together. Now it is widely celebrated in the border states, and is becoming more widespread all over the US. The only Mexican state that celebrates it, however, is Puebla. Nearly every restaurant here in Arizona is offering Cinco de Mayo specials today. Our largest furniture retailer is having a Cinco de Mayo sale!

We celebrate by eating, drinking, and listening to music, as with many holidays. This year, it is especially poignant to recognize Mexican culture with the recent controversy over illegal immigrants. US people of Mexican descent have a long and proud heritage in our state, and whatever its origin, I celebrate the fifth day of the fifth month. ¡Olé!

National Blog Posting Month

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Look up! It’s Hedgehog Awareness week!

Posted on May 4, 2010. Filed under: Culture, HowTo, Musings, Science, Travel |

Admit it, you knew this, didn’t you? I must be the only one who’d blissfully gone about my business, until a startling headline in a forum caused me to look up at it.

I first became aware of Hedgehogs (before they had their own week) upon first having had Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland read to me. I was very young. The scene where the Queen played croquet using flamingos for mallets and hedgehogs for balls upset me terribly. The parental unit reading me the story attempted to indicate this was nothing but a charming bit of nonsense, consistent with the wonderful world of wonderland. I wasn’t buying it. How COULD the Queen, evil as she was, treat them so?

Later on in life, I became charmed, myself, by the creature’s ability to roll itself into a ball, and even allowed myself to be amused at Alice’s Queen’s exasperation when the croquet balls WOULD unroll themselves and go scampering away.

Now, it seems, they are endangered. There is a catch and release program alive and well in England (They’re actually released in Scotland. I have visions of Scotland becoming overrun by live, furry croquet balls.)

Things are looking up for the odd little mammals, thanks to the good work of this society.

Happy Hedgehog Awareness Week to you! :)

National Blog Posting Month

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Look up…and dance!

Posted on May 3, 2010. Filed under: Culture, Health, HowTo, Music, Philosophy, Spirituality |

This is unusual for me. I went to attend a meditation at a spiritual center (OK, that part is not unusual) and it was a lovely evening, and several people had come early, including myself, and they were dancing on the lawn!

They invited me to come over and join them. We were in a secluded area (yes, this was of importance to me) and so…I did! It was free-form dance, to the sort of ethereal music coming from the center. It was wonderful. I was reminded of such moving meditation practices as Tai Chi Chuan, or Ecstatic Dance. I’m just not generally a body-oriented person, and I dislike couple dancing, although I like line dancing or ethnic dancing.

It’s kind of bizarre to think this, but in moving my body, I became less conscious of it, and almost out of it all together. It is a great practice, and I suggested we have a dance meditation once a month. Me! Suggesting that!

Of course, sacred dance has been part of spiritual practice for many centuries. When I lived in the “hippie commune” ;) some years ago, I was introduced to the film Meetings with Remarkable Men, about the life and quest of Gurdjieff. Although dated, and, well, “Man”-centered, it still is a remarkable film, and changed my viewpoint profoundly at the time. Here is a short clip of one of the dance sequences:

I was just always kind of shy, dancing this way, and until tonight, I no longer had anyone to dance with. I will leap about in my living room from time to time, but it’s not the same. ;) If the clip intrigues you, the entire film can be found here. It’s about more than dancing; it’s a deeply personal and fascinating spiritual journey through rather remote and esoteric mystical communities.

I looked up, looked beyond…and danced! :D National Blog Posting Month

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Look up: Party Time

Posted on May 2, 2010. Filed under: Culture, Games, Musings, Spirituality, Travel |

I went to a party today. An organization I work for holds a party for its members twice a year. It’s location a little hard to find, so they say:” “Look for the Balloons!” in the invitations.

How did balloons come to be associated with parties? Why are there balloons, at all?

I don’t like these parties all that much. They are very noisy, and it’s not my favorite way to meet strangers. I’m not supposed to only talk to people I already know, either. I’m meant to “circulate”.

“The first rubber balloons were made by Professor Michael Faraday in 1824 for use in his experiments with hydrogen at the Royal Institution in London.” See? I knew I liked balloons for a reason! They’re meant for physics experiments!

The way I “circulate” at most parties is to stay in one place, and people come and go around me. I don’t run around the room saying “hello” to everyone I know. I don’t take official leave. I’m kind of rude, socially, actually.

“Balloons made from animal intestines have been known of throughout history.”  Sure! Let me blow air into a piece of wildebeest gut, and send it soaring!—Well, one does what one can for entertainment.

Still, people seem to like me well enough at these events; I don’t lack for conversation. I’d rather not yell the whole time, but it’s only for a couple of hours. And then there’s the food. There is usually great food.

There are two sad things about balloons. One is when they POP and scare little children (and unsuspecting adults). Worse, though, is when I see a child holding onto her balloon by the string, and she inadvertently lets go, and it goes floating away. I want to cry along with her!

Our organization is all about lectures and seminars and discussions about science and consciousness. Exciting, but, at the same time, rather dry. It is thought by some members of the governing committee that it’s a good idea to allow our attendees to socialize; to “let their hair down.” I take a look at three people busy letting their hair down. I giggle to myself. All three happen to be bald.

And there’s the “other” kind of balloon, too; the kind that humans can ride in a basket under! The first time I saw that kind of balloon was while watching the Wizard of Oz float away in one, leaving poor Dorothy and Toto behind! For a definitive and accurate history of ballooning, I refer you to Monty Python’s excellent series on the topic

The thing is, I don’t really understand parties. There are a lot of things I don’t understand, and this is one of them. Why are they fun? Granted, one gets to see people in a different context than usual. Perhaps see some people one hasn’t, for a while, or meet some interesting new folks. But, drink in hand; stories flying high–does this sort of social engagement really promote friendship? or business “networking”? Or–what?

My neighboring state, New Mexico, has a balloon fiesta each year; one of the largest and best known. It’s quite a sight! Look at the photos. And then, look up! You might just see one float by. Find your own story. Let your thoughts grow lofty with the air currents. Who knows? Perhaps balloons carry our wishes and desires to the gods!   National Blog Posting Month

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Look up: Amy the Artist

Posted on May 1, 2010. Filed under: Culture, Health, Music, Musings |

I arrive, as I usually do, about 50 minutes before the rehearsal was to start. She is there, as she generally is, comfortable behind a bush next to the wall of the school where the events are held. I see her shoes and part of her backpack before she emerges as if from a cloud.

“Hey,” I say. “Happy Friday.” I start to unlock the door of the conference room, as she gathers her possessions and brushes off leaves and pollen. She only waits there on nice days—not too hot; not too cold. In the rain, she stands huddled in the doorway, or if too hot, she finds some shade.

I enter the room, leaving her outside. My job at this moment is to arrange the chairs for the meeting to come. I know she will enter when she feels safe and ready. It is an OK neighborhood, full of interesting shops, but sometimes it attracts washed-out hippies and those who could use a good detox before they make sense. I’d be there by myself if it wasn’t for her. She has her horn, ready for the rehearsal, in one of her three bags. She comes early for the rehearsal because that’s when the bus comes.

I start to move chairs, as she claims her seat for the night. “Too much stuff”, she says as she finds places for the items she has with her. She helps me arrange the room. Tonight, it’s a little difficult; she sighs and takes breaks. “This seems a bit harder” I say, “when the weather starts to warm up.” We have a routine. She takes one end of a table, I the other. It takes two of us; if she hadn’t come, it would have had to wait until another orchestra member showed up.

“How’s your week going?” I ask, as I usually do. “Alright. I guess.” I tell her she needs to work on her delivery; her tone is not convincing. “I couldn’t get permission to serve on the committee,” she says, “There are an awful lot of rules.” I’d asked her about joining the planning committee last week, she was going to “see”. She’d been on the Board of Directors of the orchestra some years ago, when I first came to town, and always had good ideas, I’d thought. A couple weeks ago, she’d told me she lived at a “shelter”, quite to the east and south of where we now were. She’d gotten permission to come to the rehearsals, but they were pretty strict about curfew. “I can understand why”, she’d said, “Some people there need that kind of structure while they’re rebuilding their lives. If they were allowed to stay out all hours, who knows what trouble they’d get into?”

“Drugs?” I ask. “Or running around with the wrong crowd?”

“That, and just sort of forgetting where they live and why they want a better life”, she replied.

She: Besides, there are all sorts of things I need to do in order to live there. I have to clean, and attend all these prayer services. I’ve always been sort of an agnostic, but, anyway, I don’t really embrace their kind of religion.

Me: Have to pay the price one way or another, I guess…

She: Yeah.

She: One thing I really like that they do, though, is feed people.

Me: Oh yeah? Who do they feed, and where do they do it?

She: You know that vacant lot on Willow and 23rd?

Me: I know the general vicinity.

She: Well if you drive by there most days, you just see the lot. But on Tuesdays and Fridays it becomes a portable kitchen! We all have to work there, but I really like it. We feed anyone who wants to come up and get food, and then we give them each a food box, asking them what they need for their families that week. I like being able to help in that way, particularly the children. The food is donated, and they have toys for the kids. It’s funny, though. It seems the kids don’t really value the toys. You’d think kids that had so little would be thrilled to get a new toy.

Me: I wonder if some of that is because of feelings about their situation.

She: Maybe. These homeless kids are pretty hard on their toys. You might be right, maybe it’s suppressed rage or sadness or something.

She: I like working there, giving to the community. The part I don’t like is we’re all required to have a prayer together at the end of the day. None of the words are ones I would say, and it’s kind of embarrassing to have to stand in a circle and hold hands.

Me: Sounds really good, though, helping people.

She: Yeah. Makes me feel like I’m doing something.

We’re about to move a table out of the way, There’s a glass and a bowl on it, and I go to move them off, first, as I’m afraid they’ll fall as we’re moving the stand.

She: It wouldn’t be good if we broke their stuff!

Me: No. Another group I work with has meetings at a church. One of the members broke their offering bowl when moving some stuff. The group is a science organization, and I found it was sort of ironic that we broke their collection plate.

She: What did you do? (clearly alarmed).

Me: Oh, it was only kind of bent, really. One of the members was able to straighten out the metal, and polish it up. It looked pretty good, and the church wasn’t too mad at us.

She: What kind of science organization?

Me: Well, it presents various topics to general audiences. The goal is to provide speakers and discussions even a non-scientist can understand.

Me: We have guest speakers, and we just had one from the U. (named the name) getting ready for the science conference there.

She: Oh, I know him (she’d attended the U. Graduated from there.) There’s a science conference?

Me: There is! They have it every other year; all the even-numbered years right here, sponsored by our University. They study brain science and consciousness, and they’re very interesting.

She: I never knew. Are you going?

Me: For part of it. It’s kind of expensive…

She: Oh, yeah, that is a consideration.

Me: The lobby and exhibits are free, though. You could wander around and read cutting-edge research if you want. Just the seminars are kind of pricey.

She: Maybe.

She: I might get a place in my brother’s house in a couple of weeks. He had his kids living there, but they’ve moved into their own place now. His house needs some work, but he will eventually get around to painting a room I can stay in.

Me: Weren’t you living with your brother a few years ago?

She: Yeah. I had to leave when the kids moved back in.

She: Did you see those framed embroideries in the lobby? They remind me of Byzantine mosaics depicting the twelve disciples. (She’d been an art and music major at the University. She often offered up these gems when something in her awareness intersected with her education.)

Me: Really? I just knew I liked them. Though modern, they have a sort of old-world quality.

She: Sculpture in that era was also often….

She leaves off. A guest cellist has come early to the orchestra rehearsal. I introduce myself, and him to her. She greets him, but I know this is the end of our conversation for the night. As the Arts Administrator, I will be busy for the next 2 hours. I draw the cellist further into the rehearsal hall, a little anxious that he not notice her next activities. We have a deal. I pretend I don’t see her using the microwave oven in the small kitchenette, and she pretends I don’t notice her heating up what she’s brought for her dinner. (The use of the kitchen is not included in our contract with the school.)

I welcome our guest; show him to his place. More members start to show up, and I introduce them as well. The rehearsal proceeds; she plays very well. I catch her eye a couple of times, but, as is usual, I am approached by members as soon as the rehearsal is over. They need information, or to tell me how I might possibly do an even better job. By the time they’ve left, except for a couple who help me move the chairs back, and wait with me as I turn out the lights and lock the gate, she has disappeared into the night. She generally finds someone to give her a ride home. I have never done this; her shelter is miles away from where I live.

A friend who sometimes drives her home tells me that she has to be dropped off several blocks from the house she lives in. The administrators don’t want to alarm the neighbors with a lot of coming and going.

A couple of days later; I send the group an email about some vital information for the upcoming concert. She’ll get it today, or maybe tomorrow. She makes a point of going to the library to check her email several times a week. I hope the room at her brother’s works out. Things are looking up.  National Blog Posting Month

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