Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: God Is Not One

Curiosity and a bout of soul-searching led me to God Is Not One, Stephen Prothero's primer on eight world religions. As a reviewer points out, the book's title is misleading since it's not so much a long argument against the idea that all major religions essentially worship the same God but an introduction to each one.

It's a book that often made me feel like I was a student in Prothero's World Religions 101 class at Boston University, and I mean that in a good way. You can sense Prothero's enthusiasm for the subject matter. Each chapter is lengthy enough to go beyond the basics of the religion and into some truly searching questions.

I was long overdue to read a book like this one since I had never really studied world religions. I've studied Christianity (and a bit about Judaism in the course of that) and I once read a book on Islam. But I knew only a thimble-ful about Hinduism, Buddhism, and Daoism, virtually nothing about Confucianism, and I hadn't even heard of Yoruba religion.

For each religion, there were aspects that I thought jibed with the human experience and that even made me think I should become a convert. It's also interesting how concepts repeat across the religions -- bodhisattvas and divine grace, stories, rituals, mysticism, and getting in touch with your "true" self, just to name a few.

Another thing I found surprising is how many religions are focused on the here and now of life, not on trying to understand the divine. "Ultimately Buddhism is more about experience than doctrine," Prothero writes. And, "whatever 'religion' there is in Confucianism takes place here and now in this world of pain and overcoming."

The tour of religions ends with a coda on atheism, where Prothero asks if atheism itself is a religion. Hmm, interesting...

So maybe there are similarities among the religions, but is there any one common thread running through all of them? "Even in traditions of escape from the sin and suffering of this world, religion works not so much to help us flee from our humanity as to bring us home to it," Prothero says in the conclusion. Something I'll continue to ponder....

But he quickly gets back to the argument that rather than trying to force all religions into some false unity, we should strive to get to know and understand faiths other than our own, and have a dialogue in a non-combative way. It seems like the right approach, though easier said than done.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Inside Job

"Inside Job" should be required viewing for every American adult. The 2008 financial crisis is not easy to explain but this film does the best job I've seen yet. You will definitely be angry after seeing this film, winner of Best Documentary at this year's Academy Awards.

Oprah series finale

So I watched Oprah's series finale yesterday. Oprah was solo on stage delivering a mixture of sermon and commencement speech. I was surprised she touched on so many spiritual themes. Predictably, I got a little teary-eyed by the end. The transcript is worth reading in its entirety, but here are a couple of highlights:

I've talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation. If I could reach through this television and sit on your sofa or sit on a stool in your kitchen right now, I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: 'Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?'

I have felt the presence of God my whole life. Even when I didn't have a name for it, I could feel the voice bigger than myself speaking to me, and all of us have that same voice. Be still and know it. You can acknowledge it or not. You can worship it or not. You can praise it, you can ignore it or you can know it. Know it. It's always there speaking to you and waiting for you to hear it in every move, in every decision. I wait and I listen. I'm still—I wait and listen for the guidance that's greater than my meager mind.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Birthday No. 29

Another birthday has come and gone. I'm 29. Somehow I already felt like I'd reached it even before the day. Yes I feel old. And I'm going to feel older next year, and the year after that. Bummer.

But on the bright side my sister made me a poster and bought me a Nintendo DS. I'm going to have an excuse to play video games now :-).

I think one of the best parts of birthdays is hearing from people I don't usually hear from. My out-of-town cousin, former co-workers, my aunt who I don't see often enough.

I grumble about getting older but I like birthdays.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Image and exposure

Interesting advice from business columnist Aliana Apodaca:
Long-term business success is based on three factors: (1) performance -- how well you do your job; (2) image -- appearance, attitude and communication skills and (3) exposure -- business and personal contacts, connections and visibility. These three factors add up to 100 percent.

Here is what many don't know. For long-term business success, the factors are weighted this way: performance, 10 percent; image, 30 percent; and exposure, 60 percent.

Review: The End of Mr. Y

Another book to add to the "finished" list. The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas is categorized by a reviewer as "chick lit for nerds." Seems like the narrator in this book, Ariel Manto, is very similar in nature to the narrator in the last book I read by Thomas (Popco) -- a sassy, intellectually curious woman with some personal life issues.

Ariel, a student doing research on thought experiments, finds a long-lost book with the recipe for a potion to transport a person into the "Troposphere," a quasi-spiritual realm of consciousness. Excerpts of this (made-up) novel, The End of Mr. Y, are included and are some of the book's most riveting.

Of course, things don't go so well for Ariel after she makes up a batch of this potion. Some ex-spies start chasing after her, leading to plenty of twists and turns in the plot.

I don't know enough about quantum physics and parallel universes to tell if the "Troposphere" is in much alignment with real science. Seems to me it's more like an exercise in imagination loosely based on a few popular science theories. Not that there's anything really wrong with that, but I think in the hands of a science fiction novelist, the novel could have risen beyond chick lit and into an instant classic. I thought Thomas didn't take it far enough ideas-wise as far as time travel, spirituality, quantum physics, computer theory, etc., which she briefly gets into but then just wraps up the story.

And the love story seemed like it was there because well, every chick lit novel has to have one, right?

Maybe that's the whole problem with the chick lit genre *sighs*. Still, Scarlett Thomas proves in this novel (again) that she can write entertaining novels that actually make you smarter. She's still up there on my favorite authors list. Next up: Our Tragic Universe.

Thoughts on the world not ending

- I dismissed the prediction as bunk, but couldn't help taking a look at the clock at midnight Saturday (local time, when the earthquake was supposed to go off in New Zealand) and wondering, what if they're right...

- If you are a Christian, you do have a certain belief about how the world will end, and it does involve a Second Coming, Judgment Day, Armageddon, etc. Yeah, the Bible also says no one knows the day, but if you are a Christian you believe it will come.

- Global warming sure seems like something out of prophecy. Destructive wildfires, big floods, big freezes, are these what we have to look forward to in the next few decades?

Friday, May 20, 2011

Healthy Bite, part 3

Lunch special: flatbread honey ham and cheese sandwich with scallions, side salad, iced tea.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

American Idol

I'm not understanding "American Idol" lately. Usually America waits until the final two to send the true best contestant packing. But first there was Pia, then there was James, and now Haley?! What's up with the voting? Lauren and Scotty must each have a hell of a fan base.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Early shift

Three days in a row of the early shift, as in go to work at 6:30 a.m. I guess it's not bad once you get used to it. It's 5:20 p.m. and I'm at home, whereas I'd usually be stuck in traffic somewhere on I-10. But I do find myself yawning a little more during the day.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Interesting study:
Researchers also asked 50 students to screen e-mails containing hypothetical job applications from women. The candidates who had kept their maiden names were more likely to be hired and were offered salaries averaging 40% higher than their name-changing peers.
I honestly don't think I could be convinced to change my name.

Working on a Sunday

Worked on a Sunday again. It's not so bad. I kinda like being the only person in the office for a few hours, answering all the phone calls. I missed church with a good excuse.

Now I'm going to spend some time doing my laundry then I'm going to fall asleep.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Culinary adventures

- I made lemon poppy seed muffins last week. Even though they came from a box I think they looked pretty good:

- This rosemary chicken recipe is definitely a winner. I made it with Giada de Laurentis' recipe for linguini with sauce made of sun-dried tomatoes, basil and green olives. Good dinner, if I do say so myself.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Ask a Mexican: Can a Gabacho Be More Mexican Than a Mexican? I find this column consistently entertaining.

Career advice for a quarter-life crisis

One of my friends seems to be having a quarter-life crisis. We always seem to talk about career change when we hang out. Here's his main question: Everyone always seems to give you the career advice, do what you love. But how good is that advice, really?

He's thinking about going back to school for speech pathology to get out of a current dead-end position. But he tells me, "It's not like I go to sleep at night dreaming of the day I can become a speech pathologist."

Five years ago I might have told him, dig a little deeper and find what you love. If you want to be a screenwriter or a video game designer or an English professor or a travel writer, go for it. My advice being highly influenced by this book, which is mostly about finding your passion as far as work.

But these days I wouldn't say the same. These days I would probably say speech pathology is a fine choice.

These days I'm all about realism, as the recession hits hard and dreams fall by the wayside. I think you have to be somewhere in the middle of "My dream is to be an artist and paint all day" and majoring in something just because "everyone is hiring for it." At either extreme you will be miserable: the former because you won't be employable and will have to take a job you probably don't like to make a living, the latter because you've studied something you don't really like and will likely find a job but wish you could be doing something else.

The main career question to me is, what can you live with? What kind of lifestyle do you want, and how does a career fit into that? Can you live with making under $30K for the next 10 years? Can you live with working in a cubicle for the next 40 years? If you harbor artistic ambitions, are you OK with teaching or temping on the side to make ends meet? Are you OK with working 50 or 60-hour weeks? Do you like working with kids/adults/elderly/no one? How much stress are you willing to tolerate? What do you want to have accomplished by the time you're 50?

Some might say I have landed a "dream job," that is, a creative job in a "glamour industry" (news media). So it can work out to go for your dreams....right?

First of all, I consider myself extremely lucky to have landed at the job that I have, a job I find intensely interesting and also get paid for, especially since I have a degree in a different discipline. But honestly I don't expect most people to be as lucky as I have been. I think landing a job like mine, the way I did, is like winning the lotto -- the exception, not the rule. Please, people, think before you leap.

Second, it's funny to me how even a "creative" job is so much about being a good organizer, planner, teammate, communicator, and business person. You get into a field because you love _____ (in my case, writing) but you end up doing drudgery work just like everyone else, anyway.

Third, low pay is the price you pay for this "glamour" job. I turn green with envy over a speech pathologist's salary.

Fourth, things change in every industry, so better to find a degree for a career you believe in for the long haul than simply to land a job you can get now. Remember how in demand teachers were five years ago? And opportunities even exist in journalism if you're willing to look for them, believe it or not. Opportunities will follow if you believe in the work.

So that's my career advice, from my experiences thus far. Anyone care to agree/disagree?

Friday, May 06, 2011

- I tried Starbucks' new Mocha Coconut Frappuccino today. For the $4.28 and 310 calories I spend on it, better be good. It was. It reminded me of chocolate and coconut dessert bars.

- "I feel like going somewhere far away and forgetting about everything" is what I said today.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

TIME's TV critic on how American Idol has gotten too sweet:
The problem with liking everything is that it becomes meaningless to like anything. Deciphering Idol judges' comments now requires kremlinology: you listen for the shadings that distinguish "That was great!" (I truly loved your performance) from "You know you're great" (I like you too much to specify why your performance was bad).
You know everyone's favorite judge was Simon, even if he was occasionally off the mark.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Night to remember

My sister A. convinced me to go out with her and her friend D. on Tuesday night. She works at a restaurant so gets odd nights off, and I was needed to work Saturday so had a gaping hole of a Wednesday off.

I arrive at the bar just as my sister does. We both park in a few spaces on the side of the building adjacent to the bar. No one else is parked there, I figure it's just not filled up yet since it's a Tuesday.

The bar seems to me like a converted old house, with several dark rooms where loud music is pumped in and pop art decorates the walls. This is an old haunt of A.'s, back in the day.

A. orders me a cherry lime drink with vodka. I'm not a teetotaler like I used to be but I'm still wary of alcohol. I still think of it as sinister. But I want to go along and not be lame, so I sip it slowly. A. and D. get brown bottles of Newcastle. We go outside to the patio and sit in the corner. It's a little windy but not cold.

D. is studying to be a medical technician. Apparently he has a few brothers who sometimes get into fights at bars. He seems nice enough, the kind of guy you go to the latest action movie with, the kind of guy you go with for a few drinks at a bar.

D. goes up to the bar and returns with three Jager bombers. Apparently you're supposed to down these in one gulp but I still haven't finished my first drink.

No, I am not fun to drink with.

A. starts talking about her trip to Vegas with D., last summer when she worked in Colorado and did some traveling. Things I didn't know, it's interesting to hear my sister talk like this...

I confess to A. about a conflict I'm having with this guy I've been dating. He might have enjoyed a few beers with us if I'd invited him.

She's sympathetic. "You've got to remind him it's a two-way street." *sighs*

I start on the bomber, which apparently has Red Bull and Jager in it but tastes like cherry cough syrup. I don't want to throw it away, though, so I drink it slowly and try not to gag.

A.'s other friend arrives, a skinny girl with brown-red hair and glasses. This is what I like (and don't like) about hanging out with A. -- she always has a bunch of friends around her.

C. is easy to talk to, outgoing like my sister. We start talking about jobs. I tell her I work in the news.

"Does it make you happy?"

I reply that I don't think of it that way, that a job can make you happy. You serve in a job, not the other way around. But I say that I think it's a good fit with what interests me and what I'm good at.

She bemoans that she just serves food for a living, but then turns philosophical: "Any job can be meaningful, because in every job you can affect people's lives, and they can affect yours."

"You make me want to join the Peace Corps," D. says.

C. treats us to a round of shots. I still haven't finished my bomber. In any case, I won't have a third drink, though I feel bad leaving the shot untouched.

It's 12:30 a.m. A slight buzz has crept into my brain, a vaguely pleasant feeling despite the nasty cherry taste in my mouth. I'm ready to go home. I say good-bye to my sister and say "good to meet you" to her friends.

I find my way out the bar, back to where we parked our cars and....? The worst sinking feeling goes through me. Our cars aren't there. I double check that this is where we parked. It is, next to an office-looking building. My car has been stolen, is my first thought. But could thieves make off with two cars in 2 1/2 hours?

Our cars have been towed. We parked in a 24-hour towing zone.

I go back inside and find my sister at the bar. "Are you serious?"

The bartender gives us the number of the towing company. I call them. Yes, they have our cars. They close at 2 a.m. Cost to get out is $145 *each*! Good news is the impound lot is not too far away.

Ten minutes later, I'm in the front seat of C.'s Chevy Nova and we're driving through Downtown. I love the classic car, despite the circumstances. It feels like being in the padded interior or a tin can.

We turn left at the street the towing company is on. Yup, there it is, the big tow truck, and a bunch of cars inside the gates. Car jail.

A man directs me to get my vehicle registration out of the glove box. My sister has her insurance card.

In this tiny, dimly lit little shack in the back of the lot, we show him our driver's licenses.

My sister pulls money out of her wallet.

"Do you take checks?" I ask.


"Do you take credit cards?"


Oh geez.

But A. saves the day by putting $300 in cash on the table. I give her all the cash in my wallet, about $45, and write her a check for $100.

The man gives me my receipt, directs us outside and opens the gate so we can get out. C. is back in her car, and A. and D. are in her car and backing out before I even get a chance to thank everyone and say goodbye for the last time.

I'm out of there, too. I'm driving through Downtown, extremely glad to have my car back. Ah, here is what I get for partaking of the devil's drink, right?

I feel kind of guilty, but by the time I get home I feel like this is more a case of overzealous towers eager to make a buck. If there is a next time, I'll be more careful where I park.

A. sends me a text message when I get home, apologizing for the evening and asking if I'm OK. I'm OK. I miss my sister and I need to hang out with her more often.

Maybe I'm not a free spirit but I try to be open to new experiences. Even if they involve drinking a cupful of cherry cough syrup and getting my car towed. It's a night we'll laugh about 10 years from now, might as well start now.


How about this breakfast yesterday? Eggs with salsa, turkey bacon, crispy hashbrowns, buttered toast and orange juice. Ooh, yummy. Makes up for all the bowls of cereal I've had this week.