Catholic or Buddhist?


 

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I grew up Catholic, baptized shortly after birth, educated in Catholic schools until I was eighteen, first by nuns, then by Jesuits. Our neighborhood revolved around the parish church and school. In St. Louis, people would judge your social class by your parish. “She’s from Our Lady of Lourdes.” Oh, that speaks volumes.

 

Now I live in Thailand, and here in Chiang Mai, Buddhist temples are even more omnipresent and important to the community than were Catholic churches when I was a boy. All directions are given regarding the nearest temple. Fundraising parties that last five full days abound. There’s literally a  temple every half mile in all directions. The first morning sounds I hear through our perpetually open windows are the gentle gongs of  monks walking down lanes, seeking alms.

 

There are school classrooms attached to many temples, but most education is done in public schools. Uniforms are compulsory here, up through University level. Thais love uniforms. Even employees of companies wear uniforms. Nurses wear nurse uniforms like we used to have in America before about 1960. Boy and girl scout uniforms abound.

 

Conformity is not frowned upon in Southeast Asia. There’s an Asian expression, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” I chafed under the regulations that demanded I wear a uniform for the first eight years of schooling, but here I take comfort seeing students in uniforms.. It reminds me of home. I remember having the same feeling when I went to Ireland in 1971. I saw Dublin school girls waiting for a bus who were wearing the same color skirt and blouse the girls wore back at our Lady of Lourdes, in St. Louis.

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Youth Wasted on the Young


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There was a time when I was better looking and so was everybody with whom I hung around. I could stay up late abusing my body with alcohol, tobacco and drugs and still function the next day. I showed promise. People cut me slack based on that promise, and maybe because they felt I wasn’t evil, just stupid.

 

They were right, I wasn’t evil, just arrogant and self-centered. Blindly egotistical. All the while I simmered with a quiet rage that I hadn’t been given the reward I was due. Why were other people prospering while I wasn’t? Where were my just desserts?

 

Turns out I received just as much acclaim and support as I was due. If I wanted more, I should have worked harder. Simple, really.

 

I don’t even have any advice to give the young, because the world has changed so dramatically that I can’t imagine how any artist, musician or writer can fit in or get ahead in an era where all content is delivered instantly, for free.

 

Good luck, young people. Take care of your taut bodies and enjoy them while you can. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

Waking up to who you are


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“Waking up to who you are involves letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” – Alan Watts

 

By the time we leave adolescence, most of us have a pretty set idea of who we are. We know our talents, our weaknesses, our proclivities. Other people let us know where we shine and where we don’t.

 

The jobs we’re offered, the feedback we get at work, the attention we get from possible romantic partners, the status we achieve in our community…all these things give us a pretty set and firm idea of who we are. At least we think they do.

 

Who we really are and the possibilities we offer are often not yet expressed. Clark Gable was an impoverished lumberjack as a young man. He had all of his teeth removed by the age of twenty and was wearing an ill-fitting and often painful set of false teeth. He had big ears. If we could zip back in a time machine and ask him to describe himself at that age, I imagine the details he would offer would vary substantially from what he would say a decade later.

 

Elvis at sixteen and Elvis at eighteen would offer the same extremes. These kinds of changes and rapid advances in self-concept and esteem don’t only happen to the young. There are probably more examples of delayed recognition for persistent effort than there are meteoric rises to the top. People who rate themselves as successful often say that continued and constant effort was the key to their success.

 

 

 

Facebook Exile


Time Out for Naughty Posts

 

 

I tried to post two vintage 1920’s pictures of naked women on Facebook and was blocked from using that service for three days for violating their “Community Agreements.” A computer ratted me out, recognizing nipples. In my three day fast, I’ve been prohibited from sharing likes, posting new items, or sharing the posts of others. I feel like a citizens band radio addict who’s had his microphone impounded.

I wish I could say my time-out has fostered a mini-renaissance in writing and reading, but it hasn’t. I guess this proves that what’s left of my attention span is permanently fractured, reduced to fragile shards that cannot be swept up and reassembled. There’s nobody home anymore.

My menagerie of funny photos cries out from my desktop folder, demanding to be shared with the hypothetical thousands of “friends” I have. Since I post too much every day, no one has noticed my absence. This is what it will be like when I finally die. My Facebook feed won’t feel any different to most users, my blog subscribers will simply no longer receive emails about new posts, and it may take several years until anyone notices that I’m no longer at the helm. Pictures I’ve unearthed of silent era starlets and corny 1950’s ads will be discovered long after my ashes have been absorbed by the nearest palm tree here in sunny Thailand.

 

 

An Absurdly Beautiful Day


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the ruined temple next door to our house

 

The weather is perfect. There’s a soft drone of crickets and insects who live in the grass. The Goldfish have already gobbled the food I gave them.  It’s late enough in the morning that the roosters have calmed down. A lone dog barks in the distance. A few cars pass by on the road outside.

 

If I can’t be happy today, when can I be happy? I’m not under criminal investigation. Nobody’s suing me. I don’t owe anybody money. I’m in good health, after a breakfast with friends I’ll probably go swimming and then get a massage.

 

 

Gone and Completely Forgotten


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I will not be remembered long after I die, for my Facebook posts will cease, and that is the way most of the world knows me. Where I am, what I’m doing (or not) and most importantly, what my political views are. I’ve never had many strong views about politics, other than a lingering bad taste in my mouth caused by Nixon and a general distrust of those who profit from war, a category that seems to include almost everyone except me. Facebook, on the other hand, seems to thrive on political opinions.

But as to the real me, the whole me, the me that doesn’t translate into social media posts, I don’t expect my legacy will linger long. If somebody doesn’t tell Facebook or Google that I’ve passed, I suppose my blogs will linger for a few years while my Facebook pages continue to accrue likes, until someone realizes there’s no money to be made off me any longer. No, I will never pay to boost this post. Stop asking.

Then, when my pages are hacked and over run by those who copy identities in order to sell copies of Ray Ban and Oakley sunglasses online, a bot somewhere will close my accounts. No servers will store my data for free. My entire electronic library of silly stories and goofy pictures will vanish in a wisp of electrons.

Ex Libris Dan Coffey. My profile picture will go dark. My electronic wallpaper will curl.

Save Your Nostalgia


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There’s a Facebook meme out there about Walter Cronkite, reminding people that there used to be programs on TV where a grandfatherly character (white, non-Jewish) read news you could believe in. This is nostalgia for a time when roles were clearly defined. Yes, Walter was a professional journalist. He was paid a salary to do his job. He had a support staff.

Today we get the news from each other. It’s a vast rumor mill that shares and likes memes, photos, and fragments of text. There are a very few “content providers” who actually write their own material. Most of us simply share, copy and paste. Some link to legitimate news sources, but most of us would rather argue with each other than cough up a subscription to the Times.

Remember, the same people who gave us the Vietnam war and the Invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan were complicit with the networks. I never saw Walter Cronkite interview Noam Chomsky. It was a square world back then, and we brought democracy to the rest of the world one bomb and a time. We dropped so many bombs on Laos over ten years that it surpassed the total explosives used in World War II. It averaged out to one B-52 planeload of bombs every 8 minutes. I don’t remember CBS news reporting that when it was happening.

Today, even though I live on the other side of the globe, I subscribe to the New Yorker. They send me my magazines, albeit a week or two late. It’s a lot smaller than I remember it, as it’s continually shrunk over the fifty years I’ve subscribed. Now I have to use reading glasses and sometimes a magnifying glass to read the small type font. I have to use a bright reading lamp. Still, it takes me four hours to read an entire magazine. There’s real substance there. And no, it doesn’t make me want to return to the States.