Wednesday, August 22, 2012

500 Posts

At a time when the internet is litered with dead blogs, I am proud to say that mine is alive and well over six years after its beginning.

This is my 500th post.  Here was the first one:
TUESDAY, APRIL 18, 2006 
Here I go, diving into the deep end of the blogosphere. 
Why, I wonder, would anyone want to read my ramblings about the three primary subjects of obsession for most people on the globe (here I am doing my best to deny cultural relativism)? 
But this is the age of the blog and everyone's opinion is valued and visible. So why not add to the mix? 
It's sunny for a change in Santa Cruz although more of the wet stuff is predicted. Where is Noah now that we really need him in California? Sun lifts my disposition. It's the day after Easter and the busyness of the past week. All I had to do today was help Molly with her income tax forms. 
One of these days I'll come up with a more clever title for this blog. At the moment, "Religion, Sex and Politics" seems sufficient. It has a nice ring to it and it can serve as an umbrella for much of my mental world (although I often spend more time ruminating about movies and music). Here I'd like to introduce the blog by saying a bit about each in turn. 
Should I have used the word Spirituality instead of Religion? That's a more acceptable term these days and covers a multitude of practices. But 22 years ago I decided to become a Catholic after devouring the writings of Thomas Merton and visiting the Trappist monastery, St. Joseph's Abbey, in Massachusetts. To the other Catholics I mingle with at Holy Cross Church, I no doubt seem suitably pious and devout. I participate in a variety of ministries. But what my fellow Catholics did not know was that at Easter vigil Saturday night, as I stood at the lectern to read a passage from Ezekiel, under my suit coat and shirt I wore a tee shirt emblazoned with the word "Heretic." My patron saint is Thomas who said "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief." Catholicism to me is a spiritual practice, much like meditation is for Buddhists (and I also count myself a member of a local Buddhist sangha). It's not a set of rules or answers. Religion for me is a language with which to describe the ineffable Mystery of ongoing creation. The Mystery is one, the languages are many. 
Sex is a topic about which I know least, despite my years. I have two failed marriages and not a few unsuccessful relationships in my autobiography. Surely sexuality and spirituality should fit together, hand in glove, but I'm still trying to figure out how. Suggestions will be appreciated. In the meantime, I find myself growing more cranky and cantankerous each day, alone and happy with my own company. 
Politics is easy: what's to like in the current situation? Those of us who marched three years ago in an attempt to stop the madness in the Middle East can feel self-righteous. But what good is that? Most of my friends feel like the character in "Network" who leaned out the window and screamed "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more." Venting feels good, but we're still fucked. Santa Cruz is a comfortable place for liberals and anarchists. We vigil and march and protest, and in recent words I've heard talks by Michael Lerner and Medea Benjamin. After Jesuit activist John Dear spoke last year, we started a Pax Christi group and it provides a monthly forum to study the issues, pray, and plan actions. The writings of Bill Moyers give me hope. 
I'll certainly write more about movies. I see about a half dozen a week, at the three theaters within a few blocks from my home and on Netflix DVDs. Right now I can recommend "Tsotsi" and "Don't Bother Knocking" as worth seeing. And music is equally important. I set out last year to find every song I ever loved and my iPod now contains over 7,500 songs, the soundtrack of my life. In the 1970s, I spent five years as a PR man in the music industry. My two younger children, Molly and Nick, both have inherited my love of music and are exceptionally talented. Nick makes hip-hop beats and Molly sings, beautifully I might add. 
And, finally, travel has been important since I first set out to see the world two years ago. I've been to India and Thailand twice each, and visited Vietnam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka last December. A year ago I spent a month at language school in Oaxaca and another couple of weeks traveling around Mexico. Last April I spent two weeks in Guatemala with Habitat for Humanity. In the summer I went to Europe for two months, visiting cathedrals in England and traveling to Barcelona and Rome, as well as Assisi, Siena, Florence and points north. I'll return to India next December with a group from Santa Cruz to stay at Shantivanam, the Catholic ashram in Tamil Nadu, as well as Ramana Maharshi's ashram. Before then, however, I hope to take a trip to South America and travel in the footsteps of Che Guevara. 
Ok, this is a beginning. I'm not sure if anyone will read these words, but let's see what turns up.
There have been a few changes.

In 2007, after several trips to Asia, I left California and became a permanent expat in Thailand.  The following year I began teaching English to Buddhist monks, and it's become the most rewarding job of my life.  Gradually I shed my identity as a Catholic Christian and now think of myself mostly as a Buddhist sympathizer.  Religious labels no longer seem necessary. Strangely, I gave up meditation after moving here, but have devoted myself to reading and studying the history of Buddhism and its unique incarnation in Southeast Asia.

Two years after the move, I met the woman who has become my third and final wife. She has taught me not only what it feels like to be completely loved, but also how to live in the enchanted Thai world of sanuk.  Taking care of her is my pleasure and enormously satisfying, although I must admit that her talents in this area are superior to mine.  I must be the most fortunate man alive!

The internet has become even more important in my life via MacBook, iPod, iPad and iPhone (my wife's, not my antique Nokia).  At 73, my body is slowing down and we travel less (though we saw Hong Kong last year and will visit Korea this December).  Sitting on my couch, I can plug into the world.  On Facebook I've connected with distant friends from every epoch of my life, beginning with junior high school. The latest films, TV shows, books, podcasts and musical sounds magically arrive via wifi; I read bulletins, views and opinions daily on the web sites of the world's newspapers and magazines. Sources to stay in touch with events abound and I manage to keep up with what's happening in the country of my birth, although my feeling of involvement is lessening.  More urgent and fascinating is discovering what's happening in this part of the globe. Learning of events and sharing perspectives with my friends through Facebook or Twitter is satisfying, no matter how many objections raised by the digital doubters.

My blog still looks the same six years on.  I found a style and colors I liked and have stuck with it, despite all the alternative possibilities offered by Blogger.  Photos have become more important and sometimes I feel the words only serve to complement photography that I'm proud of.  I write less regularly now, usually 2-3 posts per month, probably because I've said all I know to say about certain topics.  "Breaking News," however, is always just around the corner, and new insights are born, albeit more slowly.  Lately I've become very curious about "the narrative construction of reality" (Jerome Bruner) and humans as the storytelling animal, and will ponder this topic in future blog posts.  How to respond to the ravages of aging with dignity is also a challenge.  I continue to question who I am and what should I do just as insistently as I did when I was 18 and wet behind the ears.

This blog does not have many regular readers, and that's never been very important to me.  Maybe 150 individuals read an average post.  Nearly 900 have looked at "Pattaya: A Boneyard for Old Men," probably thinking it a guide to the girls.  A large number have seen my posts about Ajahn Brahm's ordination of nuns, Pali scholar Richard Gombrich's criticism of Thai Buddhism, and my wedding to Nan.  Over 300 read about Old MacDonald's farm in the Thai hinterland. And "Family Values" has attracted nearly 400, no doubt Republicans thinking it upholds their Victorian views.

Living in the large Asian capital city of Bangkok, a hall of mirrors and a garden of delight, is a constant wonder. I recommend becoming an expat to anyone who feels their arteries hardening and their heart turning to stone.   I've tried to chronicle my experiences here, but there isn't enough time to itemize all the surprises and mysteries I've encountered living in this city.  Certainly there are inconveniences in not understanding the language, and standing out in crowds like a tall white oddity, but the frequent epiphanies more than make up for it.  I moved here to avoid the rocking chair on the front porch syndrome (not to mention the "retirement" home), and I'm certain that it's knocked years off my age.

If you substitute Posts for People in the title of this video, you'll get an idea of my achievement!

1 comment:

Roxanne said...


I don't get to read your blog as often as I would like, but I do read and appreciate it.

Thank you for writing,