Monday, September 18, 2017

The Rebel, the Rye & Rishikesh

J.D. Salinger, left, after the Normandy invasion. World War II, 1944

September 17, 2017

I didn't know Salinger was in the war (and had PTSD) when he wrote Catcher in the Rye. I knew he went into seclusion and never published again and I knew that he died in 2010. But I didn't know he was big into meditation and Hinduism until I saw it on the screen at River Oaks Theater today while I was watching Rebel in the Rye. I got goose bumps.  [bxA]

I was at a meditation retreat a couple of weeks ago with Deepak Chopra and the Chopra Center. They barely touch on it during the week of silence, but he was part of the zeitgeist when the Beatles went to India and followed Maharishi Mahesh in the 1960s.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi with the Beatles in India, 1968

I love those bits of the Chopra Center retreat - Brent and Deepak show the occasional photo, drop a name like George Harrison and on the last day when we break silence, we do some Sanskrit chants (my favorite).

It brings me back to my time in India studying yoga and meditation at the Sivenanda ashram in Ketali, near Rishikesh. That was 8 years ago - 2009. After the month long program in the Himalayas on the Ganges river, I wandered back to the city of Rishikesh. It's a thriving little town filled with yogis and yoga schools and two bustling pedestrian bridges for people and cows to cross the river.  I found my way to the famed "Beatles ashram" which is abandoned now, but quite an adventure if you can figure it out. (I wrote about it on this blog somewhere).

After the overwhelming success of Catcher, Salinger left the city and stopped publishing. He said it was all a distraction - the city, the fans, the persistent need to be published.

I found this quote from Franny & Zoey (1961), which I have not read (yet):

Yesterday I saw on Facebook that one of my favorite people from my London days announced he is signing off of Facebook for awhile. I was jealous. I've been wanting to do that for a while.

And so last night I signed off Instagram (because it was easy). I have to do a little bit of planning to deactivate Facebook, but it's next.

I wonder if it is possible to write without the awareness that someone might read it?

Friday, March 27, 2015


March 27, 2015, Houston, TX
I’m finally going to get my shit together. 

My dad & sister referred me to an eccentric guy with a long beard and baby blue eyes who works behind the Boy Scouts building on the third floor in a windowless office piled with papers, boxes, outdated electronics and a yellow bound Blogging for Dummies book atop his file cabinet. 
He's a CPA.
I knew I’d like him because [bxA] the contact details on his website say, “Please ask a single question per message and keep it short.” 

That made me laugh and keep it simple, “I need help.”
Tonight was our first meeting.  We talked for hours.

The story of my tax problems begins with the expat assignment in London and meanders through the offshore bank account, the global economic crisis, my life savings being seized by the government because it was invested in Stanford's Ponzi scheme – while I was on a sea passage from India to the Maldives, my return to the US workforce in 2011, and HM Customs chasing me for UK taxes ever since.

I’ve been in denial for years. 
I pulled from my backpack a manila file folder stuffed with IRS letters, many unopened, and told him that this evening his tiny office would be my confessional.

When I got to the end of my complicated story he asked, “so what did you learn from the travels?”

Argh.  Seriously?


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Desire, Drive & Disconnect

November 2014 - Houston, TX.  Patio on Sabine.

November 23, 2014
Houston, TX

I’m kicked back on the patio wearing slippers I put on after spotting spiritual guru Gabby B wearing a similar pair in a Facebook post.   Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map is on my lap and the first few pages have energized me to plot how I want to feel instead of what I want to do Just ten minutes ago I was curled up in bed on Sunday morning, reading on my iPhone Eric Barker’s weekly blog Barking Up the Wrong Tree.  Today he features the work of Daniel Pink, author of Drive:  The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. [bxA]

I discovered Pink’s Drive last July on the bookshelf in the guest room of Sandra’s lakeside cottage outside Toronto.  I met Sandra in Beirut in 2009 and finally got to visit her this summer on my trip to the Montreal Jazz Festival to see Charlie Musselwhite, whom I met during my days in Phuket a few months after Beirut.  About a month ago my boss read Drive and it’s all he can talk about, but I’m still into Simon Sinek’s work on inspiration.

July 2014 - Near Toronto.  Sandra's Cottage on a Lake.

I’m swimming in a stew of stimuli.  

I want to email my boss about Drive, which makes me want to Facebook message Sandra about my boss, which makes me want to send a postcard to Charlie about my trip to Canada.  I also want to finish all these books and maybe write about how these concepts apply at work.   

Jun' 14 - Montreal Jazz Fest.  Charlie Musselwhite & Ben Harper 

Instead I do nothing: socially and intellectually overwhelmed.
The digital age disconnect.

Just when things were getting existentially interesting at the end of my travels circa 2011, I ditched the blog because I’d been afflicted with what I call Blogger Brain.   I viewed my life through the lens of how I’d write about it in my blog.  Kinda like how nowadays people can’t stab a fork into dessert until they stop to Instagram it. 

Not that I’m not totally on board with the social media culture.  I’m for sure one of those people.  I just stop myself from posting most of the time because I’m not so sure we can have our cake and Tweet it too.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Santa Monica Pier Pressure

Santa Monica, California 11/6/2014

November 9, 2014

I had only fifteen minutes to stare out at the Santa Monica Pier last week during a quick trip following a string of endless weeks of almost continual travel.  In the past couple months I've had the privilege of seeing countless inspired thought leaders speak live (including Oprah, Simon Sinek, Elizabeth Gilbert, Malcolm Gladwell and Danielle LaPorte), had my Beirut BFF Derek spend two weeks with me on his inaugural trip to the USA (Texas), moved some cool stuff forward at work, spent a lot of time with my guru sister, and reconnected with four of my Wayfinder friends (thanks to angelic Abby for enticing me to California on a whim).

My brain is an amusement park right now and there are lines at all the rides.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

A House in the Sky

April 2, 2014
Grapevine, TX

My banker took me to lunch today at an upscale restaurant in a trendy hotel at an intersection of two massive Dallas freeways.  He ordered the blackened tuna something-or-other so I said, "I finished a book this morning about a woman who was kidnapped in Somalia and held for 15-months.  On release she said she'd never eat tuna again."[bxA]

"The Somali pirates fed her a lot of tuna?" He asked, prodding his rare tuna steak with a knife.

"Yeah," I told him, "cans of tuna and rotten bananas."

"This is served with garlic and pepper aioli."

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure the Somali pirates served it with garlic and pepper aioli too."

We laughed and then talked for an hour about how best to manage the company's cash surplus while I imagined Amanda Lindhout trapped in a hot dusty room outside Mogadishu, starved and tortured for over a year while her family put together half a million dollars to pay her captors.

Mogadishu, Somalia (lifted from internet)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


Kiss Album Cover - Dynasty (1979)

March 10, 2014 - Grapevine, TX

Tonight I saw the movie 'Her' about a guy who falls in love with his computer's operating system.  I felt the plot improbable until she was able to cleanup his email box by extracting the 64 funny-nostalgic emails and delete the 8,000 others in less than three seconds.  I'd fall in love with that too. [bxA]

Everything about the information age reminds me of the Kiss song I listened to about a thousand times as a kid (because my brother was a huge fan, member of the Kiss Army, etc) called 2000 Man. It's got a line that goes:

You know my wife still respects me 
even though I really misuse her
I am having an affair
with a random computer.

That's quite a lot of information for a 9-year old at the cusp of 1979 and 1980, one of those ideas that piques the imagination and you spend the next few decades quietly waiting for it to happen.

And then it does.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Flint & Forleo

March 3, 2014 - Grapevine, TX

I just signed up for an 8-week online course on entrepreneurship.  One of my favorite Wayfinder friends texted, "cracks me up that you love all the entrepreneur stuff but don't want to be one..."  She's right, I don't know why I'm doing it.[bxA]

Kelli, the one who got me my current job and always offers to let me live in one of the guest rooms in her palatial house (my fallback plan), texted me tonight with what she says is my dream job:  Organizational Talent Consultant.  It's funny, I also profess to loathe HR.

Always the contradictions.

Still, Marie Forleo is a bursting ball of positive energy and I love it when she tells me, "the world needs that special gift that only you you have."  I am excited about taking her course.

Meanwhile, my Syrian friend has not popped up on Facebook in too many days, which renders meaningless anything I choose to distract myself in this supercharged, over-privileged American Life.

Even if he's okay, he's not okay.  It sucks over there.

But I guess we all just keep doing what we do on our patch of the planet while the Earth keeps turning on its axis.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Houston in the Blind

RAQs Media Collective, Photograph shown during a lecture
Glassell School of Art, Houston

February 22, 2014
Houston, TX

One of the three members of RAQs Media Collective, a trio of art curators and polemicists, opened the lecture today mentioning a quote from the movie Gravity, "Houston in the Blind."  It means, "Houston, we can't hear you, but if you can hear us..." [bxA]

As the lights dimmed in the auditorium, he said he wouldn't know if the work reached us unless we ask questions at the end.  People need to be around other people for art to happen.  Exhibitions are waiting for us to show up, just like the Cy Twombly Gallery at the Menil was there today, waiting for the three of them. 

Kairn, my academic friend with whom I traveled to Nigeria last summer, invited me because the RAQs trio is here to scope out Houston with focus on the oil industry, somehow or other.  At the end of the lecture they mentioned something about hydrocarbons being the memory of life. 

In the interest of time (no pun intended) and at risk of sounding like a wanker, here's a quote from an article describing what's going on with the clock in the original exhibit:

Escapement was an attempt to pass comment on a very contemporary form of existential crisis – one familiar to BlackBerry-obsessed, airport-bound, biennial addicts – that would feel more at home in a 1990s anthropology reader than in a commercial art gallery and that bears scant relationship to most people’s lives. Nicolas Bourriaud’s recent ‘Altermodern’ manifesto also explored similar themes, as he set out his vision of cultural hybridization, perpetual travel and a new universalism, each a manifestation of contemporary globalization, to him signalling the end of Postmodernism. Could the clocks in Escapement ironically symbolize Postmodernism’s own 12-step recovery programme? As the clocks strike ‘epiphany’ (if you’ve managed to make it through the heart-racing 12 hours that preceded this), the enlightenment of altermodernity is presumably attained.



Friday, February 14, 2014

Virtual Valentine's Day

Arlington, TX - Photo for Webinar Powerpoint Presentation

February 14, 2014

I pasted the heads of our leadership team into cupid bodies and sprinkled them throughout the Powerpoint slides for our Everyone Update webcast today.  We're forever looking for little ways to keep our virtual company connected.  I'm always never sure I can survive this job because I am what Glen described the other day as touchy feely. [bxA]

At lunch I told my CEO that the cupid slides are an example of the virtual vacuum that sucks the life out of me.  I create something meant to humanize a humdrum webcast that we present to an audience on "mute." The only indication I got that my silly effort was worth the sleep loss, was an an early morning email from my CEO asking Glen & me, "Can we add a graphic to the IT Update slide?  It's boring."  

In response to my vacuum issue he told me, "Yeah, a lot of people have problems presenting public webcasts because there is no audience response or interaction."  Our company has been presenting twice-weekly public webinars to technology users for many years.  

We don't know what to do about me so we changed the subject to choosing the venue for our annual company trip.  This year we're taking everyone to the Caribbean, either St. Martin or Jamaica.  Since I'm the finance person, people question me about the extravagance, but I am in agreement with the CEO on this.  We must invest in connection.  In person.  On site.  Every now and then.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Plastic Baby Epiphany

Houston, TX - King cake baby on a Valentine's Day plate at my parents' house.

February 9, 2014

I've been traveling too much for too many weeks while the "next steps" ideas percolate.  I'm on the cusp of either becoming more settled, or blowing everything up again.  I don't talk about it much because...[bxA] I don't talk much anymore...but I seem to be making things happen despite myself.

I dunno.

The idea was to come back to this country and reconnect.   It's been three years and I've done a decidedly disastrous job of blurring into the virtual impressionism of American Life.  I miss the ocean and the moon and knowing exactly how much garbage I produce because I have to keep it in a bag with my belongings until we get to shore.

I scoped out an apartment today to see if maybe moving to Houston might make me feel grounded, or otherwise compensate for how much I miss Everywhere Else In The World. 

Nikki took me window shopping on 19th Street in the Heights where we saw a sculpture of a little yellow bird in a cage.  We agreed we could never do that to a bird. 

I then quietly lamented for several long minutes that I may never live by Regents Park again.  Gosh how I miss those birds. 

That reminds me, a good friend of mine recently killed a chicken to write a story that... well... I guess I shouldn't say until it's published.

It's just that it always goes back to the chickens.  I went to a chicken farm in Lagos last summer, btw.  Another story that never got written.

Anyway, I was thinking that since I got the piece of cake with the baby, maybe I'm due for an epiphany.

So right now all bets are on that baby.


Monday, January 20, 2014

Women & Wine

Grapevine, TX - Eatzi's Bag

January 19, 2014

I was at a little wine & cheese thing with a bunch of women at a house in the suburbs last night.  They were all very beautiful, fit, totally together women.  They know each other from the gym.  Most of them were about a decade older than me, several were recently divorced.[bxA]

We talked about dating.  The really tall athletic one, about my age, has extensive experience with online dating and told us how to spot the weirdos.  If a guy posts only one photo, no way. He's not attractive.  One photo from a distance, even worse.  If they're willing to travel in from another city, think twice.  Personalities, she said, come across in the email exchanges before the date.  Trust your intuition. If something seems weird in the email, it'll be weirder in person.  If he comes across as a good person in email, it'll probably pan out. Never go to dinner, just get coffee you don't want to be trapped.  A lot of guys talk incessantly about their divorce.

The whole thing sounds excruciating.

I moved to the sofa and compared notes with two women who work remotely.  "We're virtual.  We communicate by Webex."  I wanted to know what their Webex meetings are like, do they use the video features.  We don't.  We show the screen of the person hosting the meeting, but not the face.

Do you like it?  I asked, about not going into an office.  "It's a blessing and curse," she said.  Working alone, in house clothes, with flexibility to do whatever you want whenever you want, but.... "I need people." So do I!

I told them I'm struggling with the work-from-home thing.  Should I work in the office?  Should I make my team?  I keep meaning to google Marissa Mayer, the CEO of Yahoo! who made all the remote workers return to working in the office. "I believe in the synergies that occur when people are in the same room together," I felt their presence as I said it, "This conversation would be different if the three of us were Skyping.  I like being her in the room with you."

But then we started talking about what it would be like to have a real job again.  Showering early in the morning, putting on real clothes and then there's the commute.  Traffic.  Every day.  

I can't even imagine.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Memorials & Mourning

Dallas, TX - JFK and Jackie

January 15, 2014

Today I took my houseguest to the JFK Memorial in downtown Dallas.  We paged through a book in the museum gift shop, slowly reliving the national tragedy of the assassination.  Afterward, [bxA] we hit a Mexican restaurant that's been featured on Diners Drive-ins and Dives.  We've had a great few days together, connecting over our shared loss of connection.

Dallas, TX - JFK Memorial Plaza

Tonight I came home late to learn on Facebook that a good friend's brother was killed by extremists in Syria. For many months my friend's been posting photos of all his slain friends.  Helplessly, today I "liked" his posts and changed my profile pic so as to remove my smiling face, marveling all the while at how well Facebook keeps us connected to our disconnectedness.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

These Boots

Ft. Worth, Texas - Boot shop at the Stockyards

January 14, 2014

One of my Wayfinder friends is visiting from NJ so we went to the Stockyards in Ft. Worth to feel like Texas and search for the perfect pair of cowboy boots.  Tonight after eating scrambled eggs with leftover Mexican food, we brainstormed names for her yoga class and reminisced about the retreat where we met for the first time last March.

Just before midnight I filled out a form and wrote a check intended to change my trajectory.

One of these days these boots...  

Friday, January 10, 2014

Incredible Cloud

Office of my morning meeting.

January 9, 2014 - Dallas, TX

This morning I used the Waze app on my iPhone to navigate the traffic laden journey to a meeting at the technology company that provides managed services to my company.  Basically they are our "IT guy" now that we're too big to have just a guy.

The offices were cutting edge cool with lots of comic book memorabilia.  My team sat with their team in bright colored high back chairs at a round table in a glass office.  A couple of their guys had "Cloud Experts" embroidered under the logo on their black polo shirts.  We talked about laptops, virtual environments and what on earth to do about Windows 8.

When the expert told us, "if you bought Windows 8 Pro it comes with a free downgrade," I burst out laughing.  What a great marketing campaign: if you spend extra money for the "Pro" version of Windows 8, it comes with a feature to make it seem like you never bought 8 in the first place.