Do You Believe in Miracles? (You Sexy Thang!)

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I dont. But then I dont believe in a religious or deital God. My experience with prayer is that when I call something into my conscious mind I become suddenly aware of those things I’m seeking, which were likely all around me the entire time, though I was blind to them. I chuckle at meetings when people say ‘God’s testing me’. Really? You mean you werent already lustful and greedy? God’s flinging temptation upon you? …or was it that you were busy in a 6th step and asking for help with something and now aware in a way you hadnt ever been of just what a lustful, greedy pig you actually are!
Even my one true pearl of an example of a real miracle seems to bear this out for me much more so than the idea of an Omnipotent Father; I was sitting in my bath tub struggling to breathe from pneumonia with the shower running over my head. At the time I was a 2 pack a day guy and had been for 25 years. From my shower I could see the tv in my bedroom and on it was a particular ad campaign being run on endless loop about 8 years back. In it a guy says “I cant get outta bed without a smoke!” then it cuts to a guy laying in bed, covered in sweat, saying “I cant get out of bed”. Cut to some sassy girl, “I tried to quit once and I put on 10 lbs!” fading to another, very gaunt woman with a wrap around her head, “I’ve lost 25 lbs so far”. Now I’d seen that ad a hundred times. It didnt mean squat to me. But right then I felt the full weight of it to my toes. I raised my hands over my head, palms up, lowered my head and said, quietly “God take it.”
And it was gone.
No withdrawal, no craving, no mood swings. And not another cigarette since. I hang out with smokers and neither crave them nor am pious or born again about their smoking. I have sweet freedom. Others would call this a miracle. What I call it is one of two times in my life that I was ever perfectly humble. Now it only lasted a few minutes and I was lucky enough to have prayed during that brief window. What I received was the miracle of lack of ego; for that small stretch of time I had a clear awareness of who I was in relation to you, the rest of the world and the flow of the universe.
I recovered quickly from that precarious state to my regularly scheduled slightly-better-than-slightly-less-than you comfort zone. But I took with it an ability I hadnt had 15 minutes before.

I can not solve my problems with the same level of consciousness I had when i created them. -A. Einstein

Prayer and meditation is the only way i know to raise my consciousness. Knowledge raises my thinking or contemplation. Prayer raises my Energy.

But that’s just me. Your mileage may vary.

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13th Stepping for Jesus

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I’m Neil and I’m a seducer. (Hi Neil) Seduction though, for me doesnt have to have anything to do with sex. I seduce almost habitually and have rarely followed through with sleeping with any of my, um… victims. Does that make me a tease? No. It’s not my focus. Seduction is an incredibly subtle dance, one that I often have an advantage in because it’s usually a woman’s realm. They dont see it coming. My father was an absolute master at this. He always ended up with two scoops of ice cream on his pie. Women adored him. Because he made others around him feel good about themselves. There was often a gentle sexual aspect to his play, though it was barely perceptible and always deniable. Believe me, I took notes, though I doubt I will ever achieve his innate skill. He could just as easily drop a seemingly innocuous comment into the middle of a room then sit back and watch the fur fly an hour later with no one knowing who’d started the ruckus in the first place. All the while his horns cleverly disguised as a smirk on his face.
I cant fairly speak to pops’ motives for doing this. I can say that for myself seduction is often for control. If I can seduce you, I have security.  When I was young I stumbled on to it as a compliment to my first defense mechanism; quiet aloofness. I grew up enjoying the company of women. In fact I was perfectly comfortable in their presence – unless I was attracted to them. Then I was a mum fool.

I once had a friend, Monika, who sat me down one day and explained to me (after swearing me to silence because she’d be struck dead by the XX Godesses for betraying their secrets) how things really worked. I still thank her to this day. Oh did I have fun, the more I practiced and explored this certain charm. I also hurt quite a few people in my eager ignorance as well as having had it blow up in my face. (Hello, crazygirlrestrainingorders!) I started getting laid quite a bit, much to my astonishment, but it was much like climbing on a motorcycle with no training (or so I hear. *cough*). Slowly I began to realize that seduction when applied to other aspects of my life other than sex was quite comforting. It gave me a certain power over you that in my mind, made me safe from you. It also usually made me feel superior. If I could seduce you then I ever so slowly started to lose respect for you. It became a self serving and alternately self defeating weapon that kept me just as alone in my mind as I was when I was 15. Redoubling my efforts I came to a point of one’s too many and a thousand’s never enough. I couldnt achieve any sense of validation from it anymore.

The turning point for me came when I’d had a nervous breakdown as an extension of this same mindset. Because I had no real sense of Humility regarding this skill, nor a belief in the idea that I had value without seducing, when the girl of my dreams walked out on me my house of cards collapsed into a pile of rage, grovelling and depression. I decided that whatever happened I couldnt live like this one more day. I found a therapist, female of course, and promised myself that even if I seduced her, meaning bringing her over to the winning side, that I would continue to be completely honest with her and follow through on her direction. The first time I made her cry tears of empathy I knew I had a choice to make and I chose to stay. I never stay. Loyal to my suffering all those years, abandonment was a hell I knew and worked hard to achieve. The hell I know is better than the one I dont. Making a choice to stay – and respect this woman, became an incredible turning point in my life’s arc. She ended up helping me turn a defect into an asset by installing Humility into it. She helped me see that I am not separate from you, that we are all one in the same, no greater or less than. It was then that i finally saw the power in my father’s charm. He used seduction to connect with those around him, and from the smile that was usually on his face I realized that he allowed himself to be charmed right back, to be a part of it – not apart of it. My girl is forever amused by this. She was my best friend for 20 years before we added ‘lovers’ to our resume’. She’s had a ringside seat for the best and worst of me. There was no seducing her. There was no need. Love comes from an entirely different place than seduction. Though it can often be the match for the fuel.

The thing that’s changed as I’ve gotten older and more comfortable within myself is that I use that gift for the forces of good, offering up a psychic half hit of X and leaving you feeling open, comfortable, slightly vulnerable, intrigued and vaguely aroused, or not. It isnt the point anymore. What’s important is to be one among. Something I’ve always craved and dared not wish for.  I get that now simply by giving. Often now that includes a vaguely warm, safe feeling, though you just cant – quite – put your finger on what it is that makes you want to give me a second scoop.

Do Ya Wanna Party? (Its Party Time!)

Casper…it was 1985 and I was sober but still running drugs from the Mexican border. The DEA was getting on main safe house in the Mojave Desert a little too frequently, so I decided to lay my hat up north and just make the runs when called.  An acquaintance of mine in San Jose had a two bedroom cottage,  in back of a larger place,  downtown that he needed to fill the extra slot in.  The rent was cheap, the neighborhood was crazy; lotsa big Mexican families laughing and yelling at all hours, sirens and the weekly sealing off of entire blocks while the city cops looked for gang crime suspects, and the occasional synchopatic ‘Bap, bap, bap,’ of semi automatic recoil in the distance made the whole vibe seem just about par.

The house was built around the turn of the century and had been in Ross’ Italian family since then.  It was small with modestly ornate trim inside and out, and a cool four-foot porch leading to the front door.  I took it.

Things were laid back there for a person of my ilk back then; Ross was a punkrock skinhead, who brought all kinds of colorful characters around, and the tunes were usually blaring along with the neighbors’.  We threw a  housewarming  party and one of the fliers made its way to the local college radio station where it received heavy rotation just before the party.  Three to four hundred people showed up and enjoyed the live sounds of a surf-punk band that set up in the living room.  At some point, shots were fired and everyone dropped to the ground-except the band, who didn’t miss a beat.  It was like a scene from ‘Dusk Till Dawn’, as my meth running partner jumped the guy with the gun, beat him and went off running down the street throwing knives at the shooters’ buddies, three paddy wagons pull up…and the band played on.  Two days later my Bro turns up again with my 1960 Cadillac like there’s nothing wrong with that.  It was the best of times.

One night, about two weeks after I moved in, I was enjoying a little peace and quiet in the house when I heard the sounds of two people’s feet crunching gravel as they walked up the driveway.  I assumed it was Cholo and Elrod, the two skinheads that were staying with us.  Around dusk, everyone at the house would gather on the porch to watch as these two boxed (until  someone got knocked out, usually Elrod) over who got to sleep on the couch that night.  But then, the footsteps were quiet as I saw two silhouettes through my sheer curtains ascend the wooden steps, the screen door open and slam on the springed hinge, and curiously, the door never opening.  I opened the curtains to nothing.  No one was there. It was entirely weird ‘cuz I knew I wasn’t imagining that.

So, I asked Ross about it the next day, and he gave me a wry smile and said, “I see you’ve met the roommates.”  He told me that they were his Great-Grandparents, who originally built the house, and that apparently they liked me.

The next few months were filled with trippy, but benign things like bathroom doors opening while you were showering, dishes suddenly changing from one table to another and the radio occasionally changing stations.  It became completely normal and I actually welcomed their presence.  Once in a while, either Ross or I would bring a girl home that they didn’t approve of and they would rattle their cages.  Usually rolling the toilet paper while they were in the bathroom or catching a quick reflection in the mirror…always in the bathroom, for some reason…and the chick would freak and never come back!  It was pretty funny since we were in on the whole thing, but it was never scary shit.

Then Ross developed a new passion for ‘Death Rock’.  Misfits, 45 Grave and bands like that.  Ironically it was around October.  He started partying in graveyards and doing charcoal etchings of the older and more elaborate headstones of one of the cemeteries, which he proceeded to wallpaper his bedroom with.

Then came the dead roses off the fresh graves…and with them several uninvited guests.

Suddenly things are not chilled on 10th street.  On a daily basis doors start slamming, dishes are flying into walls.  There’s stomping going on in the attic, cold spots in the house.  I remember once, I was talking to some girl in the living room and through my doorway, I watched as the entire contents of the top shelf of my bookcase (about ten feet up) slowly slid forward off the shelf, hovered a foot away, then dropped to the floor.  The insanity was so pervasive  that I didn’t bat an eye.  I just turned a little while we talked so she wouldn’t see the show.

The final straw came late one night as I rolled the Caddy up the long dark gravel driveway and noticed that all the lights were on in the house.  Then as I came to a stop, I noticed the curtains fluttering out with the sills still closed.  Then, as I idled, I noticed all the furniture from the living room in a pile in front of the house, broken to pieces. As I sat assessing options and casually reaching for the .45 under the seat, out comes Ross onto the porch, with an end table over head which he throws out onto the pile, paces back an forth on the porch like a pissed off caged lion, grabs a pillar with both hands and proceeds to slam his head forcefully into it until the house lights illuminate rivulets of blood flying off his head like liquid silly string.  Once he was done showing the pillar who was boss, he staggered over to the corner of the porch and slumped into a ball.

After weighing my options for a minute, I killed the engine and walked up the steps.  As I crouched down and touched Ross’ shoulder, he looked up at me exactly like Pink did when Little Pink approached him in the psych ward in The Wall.  That same vacant and elated look of desperation.  I walked him into the house, brightly lit and completely destroyed, except for any item that belonged to me, which remained untouched.  I sat Ross down and picked up the shattered remains of a phone and tried to dial a number to no avail.  I finally convinced him to go with me to his parents.  When we got there, he picked his lumberjack of a father up off the ground, and yes, his feet were off the ground, and it wasn’t until I physically got between them that he dropped him.  Off to the psych ward we go, where he’s put on a 72, and in the interim, I phone up an old friend who is an old school, fresh-off-the-boat, polish psychic.  She came within ten feet of the house and refused to step foot inside.  The next day, Ross’ mom brought him home, walked around the house and said, “What have you done?  There are at least eight unwelcome spirits here besides your Great-Grandparents, and they’re very pissed off!”  Ross’ mom was a sensitive and practiced the occult versions of the Catholic Church.  She said that Ross had been possessed and we needed to perform a ‘White Mass’ on the house.  I let Ross spend the next couple of days putting the place back together, then we sat down in the living room to talk.  We discussed the ritual required and he filled me in on what had happened; that he had brought several souls home with him with his stealing of the flowers and that they were pretty pissed off and fighting with the grandparents.  He had to perform the ritual to clear the house.  When we both said yes, it’s gotta get done, everything on all four walls in his room came straight down and his closet imploded.  The front door slammed shut and we looked at each other with an “Oh shit!” look.  Then things got interesting.

We went down to the Santa Barbara Candle Shop and in a separate back room were all the actual powders, oils, spells and tokens needed for Catholic Occultism.  San Jose has a huge Mexican population and it never occurred to me how organized this aspect of their culture was.  We picked up peace powder, candles smudge sticks and palm shoots to make crosses to place on every window and door in the house, and headed back.  It was a grey afternoon which added to the ominous vibe of the whole thing.  We taped the crosses to all the openings, mixed some concoction in the bathtub and started washing down the house with it.  ( I made Ross do most of it since it was his mess!) and escorted him to the side yard where we burned all the etchings and flowers in a BBQ.  We went back to the house, which had shit flying all over the place, and got back to cleaning.   The air was just thick, I mean like heavy.  It was an odd feeling, almost like being under water, but not like an anxiety attack, it was much more nebulous.  Cabinets were opening and slamming, things rattling, and you had the constant feeling that people were brushing up against you.  Around dusk, I took a break and went out on the porch and the front door slammed shut and bolted behind me in unison with my pace out.  Then, as I sat out on the stoop smoking a cigarette, around the corner in the darkened yard came a growling noise and the sound of what I’d describe as someone hanging from the gutter and pulling themselves up and down dragging steel toed boots over the wood slats of the wall.  I was so unfazed by anything at this point, that I just casually looked over at the black entrance, took a drag off my cigarette, and grinned as I thought, ” No fucking way you could pay me to check that out.”

The washing and burnings and prayers went on for hours, and we called it a ball game around  1 am and although the crazy shit seemed to abate the later it got, we’d seen that before.  We each stayed elsewhere that night and came back the next day.  It was amazing.  You could breathe.  The entire house seemed lighter in a way you can’t touch, but you know is there.

Ross swore off death rock and confined his partying to the living room from then on, and we lived with the occasional dish rattle and frightened girl in relative harmony.

Sadly, this isnt fiction. It’s all true and annoyingly interferes with my surity that reincarnation and afterlives are all fear-based ego driven crap. Dammit!

White Trash Wedding Rings

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Saturday was a fabulous dichotomy of lazy purpose and course corrections. Shannon and I started out with the expectation that since the foot had tanked we’d be pretty much doing nothing and liking whether we liked it or not. We decided to have brunch at Hobee’s outside and our good friend Mike joined us which turned into an extra hour of smoking fine cigars under shady trees and sipping iced tea.
The foot said we could probably manage checking out SNL’s picnic at Kelly park. Thank god the entire thing was enclosed in still more shade trees and we had the pleasure of reconnecting with a couple of folks we hadnt seen in quite a long time.
Next up, over the hill. I justified this to the foot by saying we’d just go, take it easy and enjoy my roommate’s Tower of Power-style band with full horn section on the Esplinade in Capitola – maybe have a nice dinner on the water, but I promised that I wouldnt inconvenience it in any way.
It was a good plan till, in a rare moment of poor impulse control, er, an epiphany, I was suddenly struck with a vision as we crested the summit. Tattoos. We *needed* tattoos! A cherub done old school with ‘Clarence & ‘Bama’ emplazoned in scrollwork. On our pelvises. Yes, yes, I know… but it was A Vision! Quick detour to Staircase. So what does our artiste’, Tim have playing on DVD in his studio? True Romance. No joke.
Two hours later we arrived in Capitola riding an endorphin high just in time to catch Steve’s last two songs. Afterwards we met when of his special education students, a kid of about 8 who has CF and was bundled up in his wheel chair. The unbridled, blissful exuberance in this boy as he relished in Steve’s performance reminded me immediately of how much I’ve forgotten about living in the moment. For all the serendipitous events of the day, this was by far the richest. The kid personified the Joy of Living.
The foot insisted we eat and so we strolled, leisurely along the Esplinade till we found a nice restaurant on the water where we snitched off each other’s potato encrusted halibut and steak with gorganzola pasta. Then up the stairs *slowly* to Mister Toots for a couple of lattes to soak in everything we’d done, saw and shared in that lazy, eventful, hysterically fluid day.
The foot dared me on however! We had tickets awaiting us at the Catalyst for BassNectar and I decided we needed to soak some of that hippy, deep house, dirty, grinding bass work into our tattoos. BassNectar is the perfect Shamanic salve for fresh pelvic ink as it turns out. From up on the 2nd tier much of the subwoofer creates a vibration that physically vibrates that..um, chakra. Who knew!
By 12:30 we were spent, wrecked and blissed out and ready for bed, only to get re-excited about the brand new bed and headboard that were headed our way the next morning. Christenings to follow. Film at 11.
I cant recall such a full, rich lazy day and I have poor impulse control to thank for it. Or is that just living in the moment. I have that silly redhead with the mad twinkle and a little boy seemingly confined by his circumstances to remind me once again amazing things cant happen if I dont just show up and take a chance.
Carpe diem, motherfucker!

God as I (dont) Understand Him

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Over the last 26 years, trying on many spiritual hats I more come to believe that the quote aughta read as i dont understand Him.

I was raised by parents of opposite faiths, neither practicing, who’d decided that i should find my own path and so, didnt impress one opinion or another on me unless i asked.

I got sober in Santa Cruz, California in the early 80’s. The New Age capital of the free world. Rehab flooded me with a great deal of eastern and western religious and philosophical directions to explore. I found much of it interesting, though much more from a sociological perspective. And besides, I was watching how many of the practitioners of these esoteric schools of thought were conducting themselves. You could prop up all the crystals, meditations, robes and incense you wanted but too many were still trying to get status, laid and rich. Still, there was a certain… something that i couldnt quite define that kept me open to what might be.

AA meetings were a curious mix of western/christian-influenced buzz phrases and prayers but somehow it never really bothered me. I sorta looked at people who’d freak the fuck out on their presence, particularly the Our Father at the end of the meetings as having a giant chip on their shoulder since they were choosing to ignore the request preceding the prayer, “for those who wish to join us…”. To this day I usually just chime in after they start off the ‘Our Father, who art in heaven’ bit. It just doesnt suit me but I see no reason to shout what does suit me over everyone elses version.

What i did eventually key into was the writings of Emmet Fox. Initially his Sermon on the Mount, which served as the text for many AA groups before the Big Book was written and a very popular reading within the Oxford Movement. It’s basic spin was metaphysical christianity. Fox looked at the bible as a book of metaphors and psychology, not of history. This appealed to me greatly. It also took the principles I’d been studying in AA and took them to a much higher level. Fox dealt in absolutes. I knew that I’d never be able to live up to the ideals that Fox espoused but I treated it as if I had a ball in my hand and threw it across the yard. Sure I’d hit the fence, no big deal. But if I take that same ball and aim for the mountains in the horizon, it’ll never make it that far but just look at how far it DID go just by trying! This school of thought worked great for me for several years, culminating with a workshop done at my home by an elder statesman in AA. He was close to 80 at the time, with 50 years sober and actually studied under Fox in the 1940’s. It was an incredible time. That said, there were things about the teachings that just didnt sit well with me. Reincarnation for one. I just couldnt buy into the premise. To me it seemed (and still does) an outcropping of man’s incredible narcissism. But i wasnt willing to reject the whole teaching for my misgivings about one aspect of them.

Then I had a stroke.
It sucked all connection to God right out of me.
And it broke my heart. The book talks in We Agnostics about the tragedy of the man who had once had faith and lost it. That was me. There was nothing worse than knowing that I had once had a great connection to God and now the line was dead. Not even a busy signal. I spent the next few years sort of wandering aimlessly. Eventually I settled on a red head as my higher power. Oh, bad. She wasnt qualified for and didnt want the job. I had no idea how much I’d invested into her as the source of my peace, serenity and happiness until she walked away. In my wanderings of the latter half of the 1990s after dialing that dead phone so many times, I rejected the God concept altogether, eventually worshipping science because at least there was a tangibility there, and besides wasnt it systematically shedding light on one biblical story after another? But when she left science was cold comfort. I had nothing. And I was broken in a manner that I had never experienced in all my life.

I came to meetings, using a cane because I’d lost some 40 lbs (I weighed 150 to begin with) and sat in the front row. I listened to everyone; newcomers and old, young people and seniors, friends and adversaries, stable and insane because they all had something that I’d lost. Hope. Desperation, the essential ingredient of step one led me to to a recommitment to the steps, to the principles that guided them, that had been omnipresent in every spiritual path I’d ever explored over the years. By 2002 I’d embraced service and the 12th step as my duty, gift and blessing. No longer was it a job I was contractually obligated to. I found it to be the key turned, unlocking the Promises. Gone is my chair from the table of the debating society. I no longer care.

Through my whole sobriety there has been a passage that has always nagged at me. From the solution to fears in the fourth step in How it Works:

“we trust infinite God rather than our finite selves.”

Infinite. Meditate on ‘Infinite’. I cant do it. It makes the inside of my skull itch. Its just too fucking big. So how can my finite mind conceive of a God I can understand. It is by definition, sold short. So i quit trying. ‘My own understanding’ is that the principles are universal, throughout all religions, philosophies and premises. They are the road signs to that God that I am ill equipped to understand. What I do understand is that at any given time when I am in the moment, present, practicing Honesty, Openmindedness, Humility, Brotherly Love, Intregrity, Willingness, Courage, Justice, Empathy and so many others I sense a clarity, an almost humming in my chest, barely perceptible but undeniable. It connects me to you and all things. It is never there when I am in ego or fear but always when I am present in a principle. I need no other proof or understanding. God is in the practicing of these road signs right this minute.

(Mar. 19, 2009

Our Boy, Jake

jakeThis weekend Shannon and I took our first shared plunge together in domestic commitment and chose a new member of the family. After much interviewing back and forth for months we set our sights on a sweet 4yo Lab-Pittie mix named Jake. After extended interviews with his adoptive family who were having to move from big acreage in Santa Cruz to an apartment and couldnt bear to keep him cooped up we decided to meet Jake yesterday. He and his family came over and everyone sniffed butts with really positive results. He’s absolutely gorgeous with a brown brindle undercoating his Labbie black. My roommate has a 10yo Lab/Ridgeback mix named Brenda and she and Jake immediately started frolicking like old friends. Jake is sure he’s a 70lb lap dog and worships The Ball. He was neglected and abandoned by his first owner and so he has some separation anxiety but no problemo. We’re all very excited to have him as a member of the Gangster Boyscout – Shanwafair brood!

Pinch Me – I’m Dead

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I just bought Dead tickets!!! It’s like Christmas morning, 7 years old and Santa brought me the Big Wheel I never got. I actually sort of surprised myself at just how giddy I got when my purchase went through this morning. My first show was the New Years set in Oakland 1980/81 and I have no idea how many times I’ve seen them till my last show in 1994 when I walked away because the vibe had turned decidedly tweaker around the ol’ Deadhead campfire.
Then Jerry died. Life showed up and I got busy with it and put my hippie soul up on a shelf, though it quite often leaked out in other ways. In 2005 I went to Burning Man for the first time and was overwhelmed by a feeling I thought I’d written an epitaph for a decade earlier, only it wasnt the Dead, there wasnt patchouli, and the drugs were much more sophisticated. But hey, no one bathed so there was that and there was this sense of community, love and anything-possible that stirred me alive again. It’s had me chasing down Burner events since, looking forward to soaking up more of that spirit.
The last 18 months have truly been a long, strange trip and now I almost have to chuckle at the irony of the steal your face logo with it’s bolted skull. Being present has more meaning now than maybe any other time in my life. Burning Man re-aquainted me with that ideal and with my myriad body betrayals of late it takes on a decidedly crisp importance. I know the Dead wont be what they were. I am not who I was. But something in the spirit of their music, in Bobby’s voice touches something in me that doesnt change, that remains pure. I see it in the faces of everyone around me too and i cant wait to celebrate it again with them.