The Latitude and Longitude of Human Experience In The Information Age.

The intrinsic value of our youth–where ideals beget hope, goals, and who we could become in life–and its diminishing returns are a brutal reminder of us in our heyday.  Enter nostalgia, the leading cause of alcoholism.  Okay, I probably can’t cite that as factual but it certainly could make sense.   Remember when hope, goals, and who we were, were as simple as riding the breath and not something we had to continually practice?

In a bar in Hell’s Kitchen, I sat sipping on a Shiraz and talking to two friends that recently discovered that they were eerily compatible and should date.  In talking about relationships and waxing philosophically about life, I made one of my most peculiar confessions.  I confessed to having strange sensations, which can only be likened to the vibrato of harp music within my soul, upon hearing certain types of information.

This phenomenon began in a geography class in junior high school during Coach Martin’s commentary of spatial interactions that lead into an example of tornadoes.  I wasn’t sure if it was hormonal or if I found Coach Martin sexy.  I hadn’t recalled thinking he was particularly fascinating before that, but then again I never had a vibration throughout my body to anything anyone else had ever said before.  I hung on to his every word, mesmerized at my own latitude and longitude of human experience.

It wasn’t until I was on the phone with my credit card company in college grappling with the consequences of default that the phenomenon occurred again.  Phone systems were much less sophisticated back then and actual people–the customer service type–actually spoke to you.

“Let me just verify that we have your most current information on file, Ms. Ben.”

Her voice wasn’t particularly nice, a Southern monotone, but as she launched into the verification of my identity the harp started.

“Your address is….”

“Your phone number is…”

“Your last charge was on..”

“Your mother’s maiden name is…”

She read off my information as I sat, vibrating from the inside, reveling in my personal information.  Was this a fetish?  I scribbled fetish on a post-it to research at the library later (pre-Google days). Was I a homosexual?  I scribbled homosexual down on the same small yellow paper.

“Ms. Ben?  Is this information correct?”

“It is, thank you.”

It happened several other times in college when someone spoke with  great intellectual gusto.  This type of massaging of my soul made much more sense to me–I clearly had a thing for intellect that was irrelevant of its host.

As the world moved into the information age, whoa, you can imagine my information-gasm. Everything and everyone of great intelligence at my fingertips.

I confessed to going inside the bank (when I never truly needed it) because at Chase their customer service advocates pull you to their desk in an effort to convert you from one account holder to multiple.  In this process they verify your information, and despite having been in there a few days earlier, I let whomever read back to me my most current information for the mere feeling it provides me.  I also confessed to most days feeling numb.  What was this weird physiological response to my identification?

“I totally get it,” my friend replied.  “It’s like a confirmation of your existence in this big ol’ world.”

All of a sudden, my confession made more sense.  It wasn’t weird at all, but simply my way of assessing my extrinsic value, and as a business student I can tell you it’s less valuable (than intrinsic).

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Me, Myself, and Ignorant Ego.

There’s much said about ego, but I really like this Buddhist take on it.

“The ego needs activity in order to exist. Like and dislike, attachment, aversion, greed and hatred are the main overt activities of the ego. The more desire and aversion we have the more alive we feel, the more real and concrete the ego seems. In reality, the ego depends on desire, its life-blood is desire. The ego and desire are like the two sides of a coin — one cannot exist without the other. The ego is projected desire, and desire is projected ego.”

I supposed, with the above, I can’t really delve into ego until I jump into desire.  Desire has many levels of intensity but it’s always about the abandonment issues of ego-identified self.  A grasping for something that will always, more than likely, be just outside attaining.  If it is attained, well, there will be other desires to drive us to the facade of purpose.  Who am I if I am not my desires?  After all, it is desire that pierces through the chatter of the crowded mind and once its gone can you live with the echo?

I’ve been told, on several occasions, that I write a lot about the past and the future.  Certainly, I’ve been known to hide away in those places observing their contrast.  Something as fleeting as a smell can project the liveliest of person from my past onto the white-wall of my mind leaving me to rewrite a riding-into-the-sunset moment where the future is more aligned to the happy ending of today.  The problem becomes that no matter how I approach time with the knowledge that it is not, in fact, linear, my ego constructs linearly against me.   For an intelligent person, I’ve got an ignorant ego. The strength of that ignorance is quite astounding at times, but luckily for me I’m not really the clingy type, which allows me to break free – even for a short while – from the stronghold of “I”.  But, the realization of this division leaves me weak and wanting to prevent ego-death.  Who am “I” without the illusion of “me”?

Even in scanning this post the paragraphs – separation of thoughts and ideas – begin with “I” and ends with “me”.  The muck I must go through on my journey won’t be easy to clean off my boots, but there is a soul at the door of delight that begs to be touched standing on a humorous welcome mat.

“It follows that in this surface or desire-soul there is no true soul-life, but a psychic deformation and wrong reception of the touch of things. The malady of the world is that the individual cannot find his real soul….” -Sri Aurobindo “The Life Divine

Muffin Top Allure

When I was a lanky little kid, a thinly teenager, and a twiggy twenty-something, I thought a muffin top was literally a muffin that had spilled over the paper casing.   In fact, the muffin top was my favorite part of the whole muffin.  It was firm, slightly crunchier, and it wasn’t soft like the middle so it stayed in your hand, therefore easier to eat.

In junior high, I would spend the night with my friend KB most often because at ten o’clock at night her mom would bring us blueberry muffins.  Nothing said love like a late night snack fresh out of the oven, and back then calories and sugar grams were only counted by fat people.  We were not fat and did little counting in those days, and quite honestly in those days I needed a little more love.

Once I hit college, I noticed people ate muffins in the morning.  Strange, the last thing I wanted in the morning was sugar but I tried it – not entirely impressed.  If I wanted something sugary in the morning, I wanted it to have a big hole in the middle and to be enigmatically named doughnut.  There was a sophisticated allure with a morning muffin in those days,  and much like beer I acquired a taste for it.

Now that I’m in my thirties I’ve learned that you can’t eat until you’re loved or get rid of acquired habits (like eating or drinking) so easily, and muffin tops are not just reserved for baked goods.

A letter to one of my former selves…

Circa 1994 (age 16 or 17)

Dear Lisa (I didn’t go by my given and much older sounding name, Alisa, back then):

Hi, I’m who you’re going to be. The journey wasn’t easy, and I won’t candy coat it for you and tell you that the struggle ends. It doesn’t, but it gets easier every year. You’re going to come across great losses in your life from people you love, careers you nearly had, and money you couldn’t keep. But, I won’t begin there. You will experience more than most people your age and to prove this I’ll give you a sneak peak of what’s in store: skydiving, you WILL get a record deal for a band (sorry you don’t become a rockstar though), you’ll join the Army (don’t ask just get out quick), you’ll make a large amount of money all at once (do us both a favor and don’t spend it all in one place, please I beg of you to remember this when the alcohol takes over – trust me on that one), all sorts of love you will experience (try to learn from each and every one and don’t destroy anyone – save the regret for another lifetime), the written word will be your guide (I don’t mean the Bible, so when you get depressed, and you better believe you’ll battle with that an above average amount, just write it out because it will serve you in the long run), you will wind up at MTV (so don’t spend years wasting away in a depression because you live in Antlers, Oklahoma–you do get out of it and do pretty well for yourself), and you’ll get married (I’ll keep this one to myself because it won’t even make sense to you now, but you’ll end up here anyway).

I won’t alarm you with talk of death since I apparently talk about it all too much anyway. Rather, I will just tell you to look around at your family and friends because a few of them will not be around when you sit here writing this post. Enjoy them, and for crying out loud ‘listen’ to everything about someone…don’t listen to speak like you do, stubborn, narcissistic you, just get to know them, really know someone, and cherish it because it won’t last long. Another thing, time…it really DOES fly by so don’t roll your eyes at your grandmother’s sayings (you will say them too, eventually).

About your father, yes, he’s still alive. Well, as alive as he can be considering…his health is fine but his heart…well…it functions perfectly fine but it’s certainly not something you need to win. I have a feeling knowing what I know now won’t help much, in this department, but try to just understand that when someone is in survival mode and stops learning….they can’t really pass anything on to you because they’re too busy trying to just get through life. I’m sorry for this, Lisa, I am, but somewhere inside just find a way to forgive him for what he does not know about love because as you’ll learn, not everyone loves like you do.

So now let’s talk about Mom, yeah I know where you are right now. Frustrated. Don’t worry about that idiot she married, David, he won’t last so give her a break every now and then. Also know that you two are so close, so try not to take it personally when she doesn’t have enough to go around and wastes her energy on David, like I said his time ends (eventually). A couple good things to come out of their relationship..it’ll change your life…trust me on that! Remember, she never really had a ‘single’ life so let her live it up because you turn out pretty damn good anyway and in the end…she’s your best friend and #1 fan.

Your brother, Jeffrey, all I can tell you is that he’s a VERY special person and I urge you to never IGNORE him and ALWAYS be there for him because he NEEDS you. There will be times, a lot of them, that you’ll be selfish but please I beg of you…life is too short to waste on not being there for those you love…so please, Lisa, if you don’t listen to anything I say in this letter just trust that this is the most important…leave your heart open for him. Also, I’ll just say it…he’s your biggest teacher in life. So, if he calls just answer it!

It would be easy to tell you everything, but I wouldn’t change that for you because all of the heartache, and believe me it’ll shake you to your core many many times in the next 15 years, serves you well in the long run so I wouldn’t want you to change anything.

On friends, pay attention to those that care for you because in the end those are the ones still standing. Don’t put the extra effort into those that don’t put it back into you…it’s a major time suckage and trust me you’ve sucked a lot of time. Mostly, you need them even though you think you don’t. Don’t push people away, and you will do that, because no man is an island.

On college, go to class! You think GPA won’t matter, and for the most part it won’t but in one situation that could make your entire life easier it’ll be there! Speaking of college, don’t be confused with some events that happen there because it’s merely a discovery for you and everyone loves you exactly the same anyway, regardless of what you may realize about yourself during this time period! Just go with it and don’t over think it, but you’ll over think everything, I know you, so just try and enjoy the moment.

Internet, yeah I know what you’re thinking ‘what does it mean’. It’ll add up eventually. Let me just tell you when you take your first plunge into this world don’t abuse anyone – you will regret it. Oh, one more thing and don’t ask, just do it…file sharing (the process of direct or indirect data sharing on a computer network with various levels of access privilege; also, the process of direct or indirect file transfer via the Internet). Once you know what the internet is come up with ways to use file sharing..I’ll give you a few hints…music, video, pictures. You’re smart enough to do this, I assure you it will pay off.

Relationships…I know it seems you won’t have them (still continue to fantasize about romance because it’ll hopefully pay the bills one day), but you will and most of them won’t work out. Just know that each one teaches you about love. You will get your heartbroken, you will break hearts, and mostly you’ll have soulmates, so don’t spend too much time staring into the abyss…it gets dark and lonely and quite frankly you tend to forget to shower and your OCD (you’ll learn about this later) gets pretty intense.

Alcohol, it’s your arch enemy for many years so try, TRY, to never drink from its cup, shot, can, bottle, bellybutton (don’t ask), as an escape from something difficult….it’s too easy to rely on and you like to rely on nothing and no one (though you will).

Patience, start now! It’s one of your weaknesses, so start practicing it now.

A couple more things before I let you go ‘drag main’ in your new camaro….when you drive PAY ATTENTION and BUCKLE UP, don’t throw any books at Mrs. Gardner but if you have to just don’t throw the pen too (too messy), Be nice to Eron Eighmy (you’ll meet him later, he’s a nice fella) at the prom, drink water for every alcoholic drink (remember this it’s important), don’t drop out of college (like I said, and believe me, you DO get out of Oklahoma), don’t drink and drive, don’t park your car in the first place you want to when you make it to NYC (you’ll thank me later), steer clear of drinking around a fairly well-respected manager (professionally he’s great but personally he’s a slime ball that takes advantage of little girls), don’t query agents before you’re finished-completely–with manuscripts, if you meet an annoying girl named Ericka around 2006 just ignore her completely and don’t ever–let me repeat–don’t ever befriend her (she’s a nutjob, no really certifiably insane), don’t try to make things last that shouldn’t, don’t loan movies or books to people because you’ll never get them back, read like a maniac all the time and never stop, and lastly, don’t think you can climb in windows (especially drunk).

I hope this letter helps you, Lisa. You grow into a unique person that has a lot to give. Use your talents, enjoy the music, and always remember ‘in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make’ (The Beatles). Now, go in the next room and hang out with your brother…it’ll mean a lot later on.

Very truly yours,

Alisa (age 32)

Book #2

Outline, done.  Hook, done.  Synopsis, done.  Writing engaged in Chapter 5, already.  This is much easier than book #1.

Agents beware, I’m going to blow up your imagination!

Writing is wasted on the young.

Plenty of things are going on even if I fail to update my blog.  A co-worker and I were in the elevator and our entire seven-floor ride consisted of connections through social networks.  I knew he DJ’ed through another co-worker’s blog and we poked fun at an update of his that ‘I liked’ before he mentioned reading that (and I’m paraphrasing) people have a hard time blogging in more than 140 characters nowadays.  Wow!  Truth be told, he is absolutely correct, and I fall victim to this. 

I was thinking, just this morning before I ran into him, that I’m not really sure I remember what my penmanship looked like.  Naturally, I wrote out a list and it occurred to me that saying about ‘use it or lose it’ is so true; my penmanship had somehow morphed into some sort of shorthand.  I’ve made it my New Year’s resolution to write a letter once a month so that at the end of the year (and potentially the end of a handwritten era) I could remember how I used to communicate with people.  How exciting.  It’s kind of like learning to write all over again and this time for the novelty of it and not because I have to.  I suppose it’s the same mind set, but of course on a smaller scale, of going back to college in your thirties; harder work but man it feels like you’re actually accomplishing something this time around rather than goofing off. 

That whole adage of ‘youth is wasted on the young’ really stands true except truly, writing is wasted on the young.  I no longer write without outlines and it’s becoming increasingly hard to hear myself think with popular music (yeah, strange I used to just write from stream of consciousness to Jeff Buckley and consider it genius–of course I was probably also writing stoned) playing in the background like I used to. 

You know, it’s all about going back to the basics but this time with more experience and knowledge that you got from doing it all wrong in the first place.  Radiohead – The Bends, come to me so I can write Chapter 4 in Book #2.   Don’t worry, tomorrow is Madonna’s Celebration album (Imma let myself finish but Madonna’s got 36 mo’fo hits on this thing) and that typically puts me in a conquer-the-world mood to write my query letters for book 1.

Alright, time is short and I ain’t that young.

Who Am I?

I’ve started this question half a dozen times since I could comprehend the depth of it.  Here I sit, nearly 32, not old enough to be running a media company but not young enough to be in its demographic.  Hell, I only remember when the son-of-a-bitch first started, but what do I know.  The question is “Who am I?”

When I was younger and all my grievances in life had my parent’s to blame, I was Divide Community.  You see Divide Community is one of those double meaning words.  You know the words that would be hard to learn the meaning of in another language.  As a writer, we hope to be able to bridge the language barrier gap to create a universal language.  As a civilian, it’s just a book; my first book.

My journey begins in 1998 when I wanted to really answer this question; “Who Am I?”  I was working at a storage unit place, for minimum wage in the late ’90s, and had a lot of time to reflect.  Though time was plenty, my knowledge was less so.  Escape, relaxation, don’t think about yesterday or tomorrow, repressing, yeah, that was me.  I was angry and I didn’t know why, so I thought I’d just start writing.  Forrest Gump of the word processor, I typed until my ailment burst open key-by-key.  Eventually, I had a semblance of an idea for a memoir.  You see memoir’s really weren’t as big of a market back then s0 I just thought it was a book of true life.  Nearly 300 pages of unformed and stoned thoughts about who I was.  The book sat in a box for three years.

In college, the one I went to after I dropped out and fled to New York with a band of hippes and then went back, I met two kids that I immediately felt a kinship for and managed their immature band, The All-American Rejects.  I was a small fish in a small pond and I had Madonna as a role model, so I whipped their prepubescent asses in shape and got them a record deal.  They went on to sell millions, and I was screwed out of millions.  Not to mention that disorder I got called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that pretty much goes from Psychiatric code to Psychiatric code without being insane and having a clear traumatic trigger.  I got this after my brother, the only person I had as a witness to my childhood, became a missing person.  Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Missing Person, Platinum-Selling The All-American Rejects, Retarded Love, NYC, and a lot of crazy stories from an alcoholic.  Who really had time to ask, “Who am I?”

Once my Oklahoma savior personality kicked in, I crawled out of that abyss and decided to think about who I was.  There was a lot I’d experienced at a young age, there were experiences that are unimaginable for the majority, and there were parts of me I just started to realize, so I wrote.  I finished Divide Community, and it was who I thought I was.

Something peculiar happened, I became happy.  You see by this time I was going into my Thirties and several therapists later, I realized that maybe I could never sustain happiness (as a therapist once told me) but at least I could realize when I was happy.  This was a breakthrough, so I set out to edit who I was in a final book format.

My childhood seemed less emotional and more like a great story.  The themes of suffering that were sprinkled within the text just showed me how strong I was, and it occurred to me that there is not a concrete answer to the lifelong question of, “Who Am I?”

I’m my likes and dislikes, my pain and my happiness, and the love I took and the love I made.  I’m several labels like a sister, daughter, wife, analyst, Buddhist, Lesbian writer, teacher, student, female, entrepreneur and overall pain-in-the-ass.  I’m adjectives like moody, beautiful, snarky, sweet, insane, neurotic, spiritual, impatient and judgmental.  I’m my experiences both negative and positive.  I’m the karma I reap, and after all this time I have realized I am not the alpha and the omega (though in high school I may have argued differently).  I’m everything around me and never did I appreciate it more.

Within my writing you can discover chapters of my life that struck a story in the world, but it’s what is between the lines that reveals the most.

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