Thanks for rain and snow, a lovely and supportive partner, beautiful and kind children, food to eat, good health, books, good friends, a solid job, meditation and an ethical mindfulness practice, compassion and empathy, freedom, quiet, sobriety, Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddha, a safe home, awareness of suffering, shoes, music, good doctors, trees, shared transportation. The list can go on.
It was 1994 as I traveled home on the 21 Hayes street bus in San Francisco. I was a block from home when we stopped at the corner of Hayes and Webster. As I peered out the window toward the ubiquitous liquor store on the corner, I observed a dead body in the doorway from a botched robbery or a drive-by shooting. As the minutes and hours passed, I was struck by my lack of emotional response. It felt like I should be more impacted by seeing a dead body a block from my house. It was disturbing to think I was so desensitized and that I wouldn’t be moved by the loss of life. I didn’t even reflect deeply upon the family and friends this young man had; there was nothing inside me.
During those days, I did have a nascent spiritual practice but it wasn’t that deep yet. At that time, I was also watching a lot of violence in the movies (i.e., Pulp Fiction) and reading about violence in the media daily (newspapers and magazines). Because of my lack of emotional response from the body, I vowed to stop going to movies that contained violence. I wanted to be more sensitive…not de-sensitized. I placed a high bar for this and maintained that commitment for many years to come. People questioned my commitment and didn’t see how that could help my compassion and empathy to grow. But it did. In the ensuing years, my spiritual practice grew and deepened. I became a practitioner and teacher in the Plum Village tradition (a Zen Buddhist path) and today I have more empathy and compassion.
Twenty-four years later, as I traveled home in my car, I witnessed my second dead body in public. This body lay in the entrance to my place of work – Santa Barbara City College. In the middle of the street. About 100-feet from my office. An intersection I travel through daily. I was not prepared, and I was deeply disturbed. My immediate response was, “FUCK!” — I had to pull over. Call for help. And spend the next 45-minutes sobbing and in tears. Tears of sorrow, anger, frustration, and of memory. The person died as a result of a motorcycle accident. This was very personal for me because I rode a motorcycle daily for 25-years. I stopped riding when my children were young and because friends and acquaintances kept ending up in the hospital or ended up being dead. This death feels so pointless and preventable. Yes, I know people die everyday. Yes, I know that riding a motorcycle doesn’t always mean death. And yet, I know that by not-riding anymore I reduce the probability of being killed in that manner.
My tears today are for the person who died, for the family and friends of that person, for each person who had to witness the accident or the body, and for myself. This year has been very difficult for me and death has often been present in my consciousness. As the late fall and early winter begins, my difficulties have eased but the incident today leaves me raw and sensitive. And so I write to share, to explore and to heal.
In America we are so distant from death and dead bodies. Most of us don’t live in a war zone like those in Yemen or Gaza. I also recall the police violence in Ferguson when Michael Brown’s body lay in the street for four hours. Or when my mother-in-law’s Amtrak train was five hours late because a person jumped in front of the train on Thanksgiving weekend. Death and violence are ever present. And at the same time, it is obscured and hidden except in cases of public violence on American streets.
On an intellectual level, I understand police work. The need to investigate and not touch a crime scene. But on an emotional and human level, it feels so wrong to leave a dead body laying in the street. So inhumane. I certainly don’t have the answers and this writing exercise serves to help me process and explore the emotional landscape that came jarringly into my consciousness 12-hours ago. I do know that we should be disrupted and disturbed when we see a dead body. We should be reminded that a life has ended. We should draw our attention to the family and friends. To send love, compassion, and empathy. And when something could have been prevented, work toward finding solutions that prevent it from occurring again.
Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.
Feeling blessed, with a clear acknowledgement of my privilege. The mudslides of Montecito have clearly taken a toll on the community. And yet, the kindness and generosity of everyone has been significant. Each step of the way, people have been offering to help and assist. And yesterday, we had children from Montecito Elementary arrive at our college campus to continue their classes since they can’t get to their own campus. They’ll be here for up to six weeks.
This week I’ve been living in my office and today I was scheduled to return home. My plan had been to drive the long way around back, but with snow in the forecast, I was concerned. Trains were sold out. Boats weren’t running due to high surf. And I definitely didn’t want to spend the weekend in my office!
And so, I asked my work community for snow chains to help make the 5-hour drive home. Within 15-minutes, dozens of responses came back. One in particular surprised me because it was an offer to fly me home.
And now, that work colleague may have saved my life.
About the time I would have been driving, a fatal accident occurred on highway 166, closing both directions. If not for this generous colleague, I would have been on that highway at that time. Instead, I was flown home in a private plane and am now lounging at home with my family.
It’s been a tough week. Friends and neighbors are without homes. And worst of all, lives have been lost. Next week I will take the train back to Santa Barbara and hope that 101 will reopen, bringing some relative safety and ease to my commute. And our community can continue to heal and rebuild. I’m definitely excited to have the students back on campus.
I wish everyone a safe and peaceful weekend, wherever you may be.
We begin the second week with the 101 freeway closed in Montecito due to flood and mudslides. It’s an awful situation. Not for me particularly, but for the people living in the community.
Last week I worked from home in Ojai, but this week I needed to be in Santa Barbara. The trip from Ojai usually takes about an hour but now the options are limited and long. We have Amtrak, but they’ve been running an hour or two late all week and at maximum capacity. The boats that usually do whale watching have switched to commuter boats, but I’m not to keen on spending 120-minutes at sea each day. The last choice is to drive around.
Today I made that long journey around. I figured in a typical week I spend 10-12 hours on the road so the 4.5 hour drive (one-way) seemed reasonable.
Leaving at 3:30am, only 15-minutes earlier than my normal wake-Up time, I was able to be at work by 8am. The traffic was heavy, but not unbearable. The hardest portion was definitely the 100-miles of two-lanes on highway 166. Even at 5am, it was pretty much one long row of cars and semis. We did maintain 45-55mph through all that. The other portions, highway 126, I-5, and southbound 101 from Santa Maria we’re all pretty typical traffic.
I’m not sure if I’ll do the drive next week, even if the freeway remains closed, but I’m here at Santa Barbara City College now preparing for the spring semester. Next week we’ll have an additional 1500 students trying to get from the other side of Montecito to campus. Not to mention all the other 100,000 vehicles that traverse this route on a daily basis.
I wish CalTrans good luck getting the water, mud, and debris off the freeway. And healing for the Montecito community.
As a history major in college, I read a lot of material for each class. And with my college being on the quarter system, that meant a dozen or two books per quarter. Unfortunately, this material wasn’t all something I’d choose. I’ve always been an avid reader, but as life went on, my reading scaled back due to family and work obligations over the decades.
This year I thought it’d push myself a little and set a goal of reading thirty books this year. I feel accomplished in a couple of ways. First, only 34,529 of 3.1 million Goodreads users who pledged a goal actually met their goal. Second, because I exceeded my goal by reading a 36-books in 2017. My reading interests are primarily science fiction, fantasy, spirituality and Buddhism.
The list intentionally included people of color, women, and non-binary authors. I also don’t necessarily stick to current-year titles, so I can’t give you a “best of…” for the year’s releases but I can highlight a few books to pick for yourself.
But first, here’s the list:
Science Fiction and Fantasy
California Bones, by Greg Van Eekhout
The Gunslinger, by Stephen King (my first Stephen King!?!)
The Drawing of the Three, by Stephen King (my second SK!?!)
Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis
Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, by Theodore Goss
A History of Bees, by Maja Lunde
Helliconia Spring, by Brian W. Aldiss
The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, by Becky Chambers
A Closed and Common Orbit, by Becky Chambers
The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin (re-read)
New York 2140, by Kim Stanley Robinson (environmental theme)
Nemesis Games, by James S.A. Corey
The Hum and the Shiver, by Alex Bledsoe
Gateway, by Frederik Pohl
The Salt Roads, by Nalo Hopkinson
The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisen
The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin (hard SciFi)
The Invisible Library, by Genevieve Cogman
Everfair, by Nisi Shawl
What Does it Mean to by White?: Developing White Racial Literacy, by Robin DiAngelo (twice this year)
Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do, by Claude M. Steele
Trans* in College: Transgender Students’ Strategies for Navigating Campus Life and the Institutional Politics of Inclusion, by Z Nicolazzo
The Gandhian Iceberg, by Chris Moore-Backman
Spirituality / Buddhism
The Other Shore, by Thich Nhat Hanh
Happy Teachers Change the World, by Thich Nhat Hanh
How to Fight, by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Art of Living, by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Art of Communicating, by Thich Nhat Hanh
Silence, by Thich Nhat Hanh
Hermitage Among the Clouds, by Thich Nhat Hanh
At Home in the World, by Thich Nhat Hanh
Interbeing, by Thich Nhat Hanh (re-read)
Secular Buddhism, by Stephen Bachelor
Now that I’ve written out the list, I’m feeling a bit challenged to recommend anything. They were all good in their own way, but some were certainly better than others. I totally enjoyed reading Ready Player One, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, and The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet. All fun and quick. But I did pick up the second book in Becky’s Chamber’s universe so maybe I’ll recommend that one to you. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is a very sweet and touching story. Great character development. Appreciate the philosophical digressions about life, ethics, humanity. Solid on describing different species. Keeps the story moving when it’s time to move on to the next scene.
From the nonfiction stack, I can easily recommend reading What Does it Mean to be White? (especially to my fellow white-readers!). It’s a bit academic, being written by a sociologist, but still worth the read. Get challenged. Think critically about racism. See your privilege and move in the direction of racial literacy.
In the last category, spirituality and Buddhism, I’m going to need to say Happy Teachers Change the World was my favorite. It’s a great textbook for mindfulness practitioners both inside and outside the classroom. Don’t let the “teachers” part of the title turn you off because this can easily be used by just about anyone. Great practices, guidelines, and methods for learning to breath and being more mindful and present for others.
Coming up, 2018 will likely be more of the same. You might want to get started with Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, originally released in January 1, 1818 by Mary Shelley. Considered by many to be the first science fiction book written.
Like what I read? Follow me on GoodReads. Questions about a specific title, write it in the comments.
The print magazine industry is very much alive and well and has the impact of being quite an expensive hobby. As a avid reader, I enjoy all forms of writing from blogs, micro-blogs, newspapers, books, comics, and magazines. In addition to the five mainstream subscriptions I receive, I also subscribe to a handful of independent publications plus I have the opportunity to read a different independent publication each month thanks to my Stack Magazines subscription. I enjoyed almost all of the publications, even the ones I would never have picked up in the first place, and two of them rose to the top this year as my favorites.
Weapons of Reason
The fourth issue of the Weapons of Reason magazine is focused on the theme of Power. It explores the world’s current hierarchical structures, “how [they] materialized, their current shape, and how they might evolve, or collapse”. Last year I enjoyed their second issue so much, on the topic of Megacities, that I ordered a copy for a couple of friends. So, when it showed up in the mail this past April I was excited to read it again. Great writing, super illustrations, and provocative content. One particular article reinforced my skepticism on mass protest. Even more surprising is millennials support of despotism. Want to learn more, here’s a brief interview with editor James Cartwright.
Racquet – all about tennis! Who would have thought I’d enjoy this publication so much. I know way more about tennis now. Anxy – all about anger! I was super hesitant at first, mostly out of fear, but was pleasantly surprised by this in-depth discussion on mental health issues.
2017 Complete List
Weapons of Reason
Migrant Journal *
Delayed Gratification *
Drift (Mexico City)
Mindfulness Bell *
Lions Roar *
Fast Company *
* regular subscriber
With the exception of the mainstream publications, most of these magazines cost between $12-$25 per issue. They are all very rich in content and worth supporting. For me, it comes down to time and money so I take what I can when they arrive and buy an issue here and there when possible. Let me know if you have any questions.
My oldest regularly-used Apple product may be on its last legs. This 1st gen Airport Express has been a living room fixture for 14-years and I’ve had to reset regularly these last few weeks. I’ll be bummed when it fails permanently.