Trending from War to Peace

I’ve just read something completely transformative in terms of how to deal with what might be at first glance negative situations. Rick Hanson describes an internal set of triggers that lead to negative cascades (and how to overcome this problem). For example, imagine that you’re home cooking dinner for you and your partner. Earlier in the day, you asked your partner to stop off at the store for some milk which you need to make dinner. While cooking, your partner comes home having forgotten the milk that you asked them to pick up. Hanson describes four stages ranging from war to peace. In Stage 1, you would be caught up in thoughts and dialogue that stresses how the situation of making dinner has been inconvenienced leading to negative communication between you and your partner (how could they have forgotten such a simple task – now what are we supposed to do?!). In Stage 2, you realize that you’ve succumbed to this negative feedback loop and remain persistently annoyed at your partner having forgotten (and perhaps even at their reaction to your own outrage). In Stage 3, you might feel irritated at your partner having forgotten the milk, but you don’t act out knowing that getting cranky will only make things worse. In Stage 4, a negative reaction doesn’t even come up: you understand that there is no milk and calmly figure out what to do next. Ideally, in my own view, you would respond in a way that acknowledges that your partner forgot the milk and present them (and yourself) with options. You say, “Well we need milk to make this meal, so we either need to get some or we need to make something else. What should we do?” Suddenly the irritation has been taken out of the equation, and we’ve constructed an opportunity to 1) be compassionate toward our partner who forgot something and is probably feeling bad about having done so already, 2) collaborate together toward a solution, and 3) given them an opportunity to be compassionate and helpful in return. So, yeah. I’m ALL about Stage 4.

Hanson, Rick, and Richard Mendius. “The First and Second Dart.” Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, 2009. 49-63. Print.


Dream Theater Rocks the Warfield

A Roadtrip, a Concert, and a Surprise

Innocence Faded

Jeremiah, James, Jesse, Vince, AlfredoThere’s nothing unusual about friendships that fade over time. Years begin to break the bonds between friends from high school: college, jobs, spouses, and new families all find ways to carve paths that lead us away from each other, and with this I am reminded of Don Henley and how he sings that the days of summer are out of reach: you can never go back. But you can remember.

That is how we spent the drive up from Selma to San Francisco to see Dream Theater. For the four of us, seeing Dream Theater was nothing new. This was my fifth time seeing them live, and I believe the others who, with me, completed the lineup for Selma sensation [punk?] rock band Jimmyrigg (yes, one word—we were very particular about that) had all seen Dream Theater at least twice as well. What was new, however, was all of us seeing Dream Theater together. Thirteen years after the days of Jimmyrigg, with me being the most out of touch with the group during that time, you can bet that the drive could be characterized by nothing but nostalgia-induced laughter. We were high from the funny-pheromones before we even hit the Bay Bridge. We were the boys of summer once again, and the night was only about to begin.

Only a Matter of Time

Dream Theater is one of those bands that can do [almost] no wrong in my eyes. My parents can vouch for me here when I say that I had listened to them almost every day of my life throughout my teens. If the album Images and Words wasn’t in my CD player, Awake was. I am one of those fans who have supported the various personnel changes throughout the band’s life. I am also one who has supported personnel that hasn’t changed—the voice of the band—James LaBrie. The story of this voice is one that is well documented (and hotly debated by supporters and haters) on the Internet, so details on that here would be redundant; however, I will write (with as little bias as possible) that the overall arch of James’ story has come full circle. When he began with Dream Theater during the recording of Images and Words back in ’91, his was one of the most impressive and expressive voices to hit the rock scene, and that momentum carried through Awake, LaBrie’s second album with the band.  Listen for yourself in his 1992 performance of “Another Day”:

Unfortunately, accidents and tragedies have a way of taking musicians away from their art right in their prime. From, I quote:

Sometime in 1994 shortly after the recording of Awake, while vacationing in Cuba, Labrie caught food poisoning from some bad shellfish, the constant vomiting causing him to rupture his vocal chords. LaBrie sought out many vocal coaches, doctors and experts who all said there was nothing that could be done other than to rest his voice as much as possible for at least a year. However, LaBrie went against these wishes to tour with Dream Theater, further damaging his voice, leading to a live career that is notably spotty.
LaBrie claimed his voice did not feel normal until 1997, though he injured his voice again in 2000, almost completely destroying it. It was at this point that he fell into depression and suffered some weight gain, and his performances suffered, with inconsistencies in both his vocal performance and frontman abilities leading Portnoy and Petrucci to consider replacing him. After a "wake up call" confrontation, LaBrie focused his energy on improvement, seeking out a new vocal coach and starting a regimen of diet and exercise, which improved both his physique and vocal abilities. By 2004, LaBrie’s voice was stronger than ever and has remained so since then.

In my eyes, it’s difficult not to steal a show with a success story like this. A look at any recent footage of Dream Theater will immediately reveal that James absolutely owns his performance, and the voice that we all thought we had lost is back. It was a spectacular performance by Dream Theater as a whole, and it was all underscored by this win.

Lifting Shadows off a Dream

There is a story I enjoy telling all of my friends, how when first seeing Dream Theater back in ’99, my buddies  and I (three of four from the aforementioned “boys of summer” Jimmyrigg, in fact) were shocked to see both John Petrucci and John Myung step out of a taxi right in front of the venue, the Maritime Hall as I recall. We found out that arriving six hours before the doors opened definitely had advantages other than having slightly better odds of finding good general admission positions near the stage. As if being able to say hi to our guitar heroes wasn’t enough, James LaBrie does the exact same thing a half hour later. They were all more than happy to take a few minutes to say hello and sign a few autographs. I can’t explain why, but I have a thing about  autographs: I never ask for one. I find that I am always content with shaking hands and saying “thanks for the music.” We were bound to make this, or at least something like it, happen again.

Dream Theater at the Warfield Theater

After perhaps the best live performance of Dream Theater I’ve witnessed and being reunited with my old friends, there was definitely something electric in the air after walking out of the Warfield Theater. Three of us decided to wait around near the buses, and after watching techs and roadies stow away gear for an hour, I caught a man with a long black pony tail and grizzly arms walking down the sidewalk between the busses and the Warfield. “There’s John Petrucci guys, and he’s walking the wrong way!” There was a brief moment of panic, then as nonchalantly as a giddy man reliving his childhood dreams could be, I lead the way around the barricade to try and intercept him while he was signing and photographing with a fan who was smart (or lucky) enough to be waiting by the right tour bus. We were greeted with nothing but grins and appreciation despite copious amounts of fumes from bus exhaust.

It wasn’t much longer than half an hour later when the rest of the band emerged from the theater, and our small, motley group of die heard fans who braved San Fran’s finest panhandlers were likewise greeted by James LaBrie, Mike Mangini, and John Myung with such graciousness and appreciation that make the night such a highlight that it will never be forgotten.

On Turning Thirty-One

It’s so easy to fall into the routine of defining oneself in terms of what’s missing from life. In some of those moments, where I struggle to convert loneliness into solitude, the tranquil restoration of dreams flowing alongside my footsteps grounds me. When the realization comes that I have been given such a rare opportunity to pursue the dream of having an intellectual life, solitude is the victor of loneliness, and I see life not as a manifest of what isn’t or won’t be but as a collection of what is and what will be. Thank you to my family, friends, and especially my parents for their ongoing support and encouragement, and thank you to my professors for continuing to kindle the ember that glows within my peers and me. Here’s to walking the path and stopping to look at what’s there along the way.

Tintern Abbey, England

from “Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey” by Wordsworth
But oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart,
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration:—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,
As may have had no trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man’s life;
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love… (26-36)

How to Make 2011 a Positive Reflection

I came across a Tweet from one of my Internet/celebrity crushes earlier this afternoon. Felicia Day said “Happy NYE all! Make sure to write down things you’re proud of from 2011! Brings in the new year on a positive note :)”

This has been a year full of excessive challenges for me, and as of yesterday, I was ready to write this off as quite possibly one of the worst years of my life. However, when I really started to think about it, Felicia is right. When you focus on the positive, the negatives of bereavement, loneliness, rejection, being stood up more times than I can count, being dumped, all do not seem quite so bad. Among the difficult times and the perceived fails, here are some of my wins for 2011:

  • I started a blog.
  • I paid all of my bills on time.
  • I was never charged any overdraft or late fees from banks or credit cards.
  • I didn’t lose any weight, but I didn’t gain any either.
  • I worked two jobs while going to a state university and got a promotion at one of them.
  • I took eight classes at a state university, and I received As in all of them.
  • I drummed in a band with friends in front of an audience for the first time in a few years.
  • I made at least one coworker laugh almost every day of work.
  • I read more books in a single year than ever before.
  • I continued to learn a new language.
  • I had a poem published in a nationally circulated literary magazine.
  • I was invited to discuss that poem at two community college English classes.
  • I helped some of my family members stay connected during difficult times.
  • I get to celebrate 31 years of being 100% drug free.
  • I demystified some of my family history with my nana and even got to share new discoveries with her before she passed away.

Celtic Trinity Knot

What are some of your wins for 2011?

Occupy Fresno State, 2011

I finally had a chance to participate in an Occupy event, and I have footage from the whole thing. This clip, for example, is of Professor John Beynon’s narrative on why student activism is important for education along with personal and national livelihood:

You can watch the whole event on jTube, my YouTube channel.

Manners as a Universal Language

“Manners are just for old people,” I recently heard a teenage girl say. Her mother shot back at her quickly in a serious tone, “They absolutely are not!” I observed this trend, stereotype, call it what you will, long before I heard this short conversation; but since then, I have been compelled to look upon the teens and twenty-somethings of the new millennium critically. This girl, to my eye, is a far cry from being considered anything remotely close to rude, but does the lack of outward rudeness constitute politeness today?

In a world where people regularly exchange rude looks and vulgar shouts to one another on the road, where the grocery store clerk doesn’t even say a word to you other than reading back the total on your bill—let alone make eye-contact, where predatory credit card companies soak up what little cash people have in the form of inflated interest rates, hidden fees, and past-due payments, I ask myself if any measurable amount of chivalry or, more simply, common civility is still regularly practiced by people at large.

Now when I say chivalry, I do not necessarily mean to bring about images of romanticized knights in shining armor coming to the aid of the fair maiden, or of Prince Charming lying down his coat in a puddle of mud so that his Cinderella can walk across with unscathed Uggs. In fact, the very notion that men should have to put themselves out in such a way for women could be viewed by either sex as gender stereotyping, which is a whole other issue.

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

My concern is more about the little things—things that you thank someone for that you do not have to say “thank you” for, such as when a door is held open for you. Why is it so damn difficult to grant someone the pleasure of a few seconds’ eye-contact, a smile, and a sincere “thanks”?

I always make it a point to ask everyone, whom I engage with in conversation, how they’re doing. One of my absolute favorites is when they say “fine” or “good” and nothing more. Again, is it really that difficult to say, “fine, thanks for asking” or, better yet, “fine, how are you?” I certainly don’t expect to hear a synopsis of how the person’s entire day or week has gone, but the spoken language and body language of politeness go a long way toward making everyone’s day—both yours and others’—simply…better. Showing concern and care for your fellow man is part of the human condition. Don’t fail at the human condition. Perhaps Mark Twain said it best: “Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

I Listen When I Walk My Path

There was a time in my life where I had forgotten a worthy lesson, and it would take a lengthy conversation from a man far wiser than I to remind me of a lost core value. Upon my return to martial arts—after a lengthy lapse in attendance—I was naturally in a hurry to return to the rank from which I had left off. While fiction and romanticized ideals inspired my youthful self, it was the late Sensei Stuart Quan who reminded me that life is not about the destination: it is about the journey.

I can hardly believe that I had the gumption to protest my name not being on the list of students to test for the next belt rank. While my reasoning was not so much for advancing in rank for the sake of rank—I wanted the privilege of attending more advanced classes that the higher rank would allow, more or less—Sensei Quan said to me, “I’m happy to give this belt to you, but know that you’ve yet to earn it.” Clearly, I remember him stopping all of his business affairs to speak with me at length on this subject, yet he had me completely convinced with one sentence. I did not want that belt until I had earned it, and I would have been ashamed to wear it under any other circumstance.

Today I see many who are concerned only with their goals; so much are they, that they sadly overlook the road upon which they travel to meet their goals. The prize at the end of the road is meaningless unless one possesses more than a superficial experience of their travels.

A wise man has a tempered thirst for knowledge and experience, for it is the combination of knowledge and experience that leads to wisdom. These are the things that conversations can teach; and just as Sensei Quan guided me down a path that values the journey, my highest ambition is to share that guidance to anyone who cares to read my words. On your travels, do not simply hear. Listen.


If you’ve been following me on Facebook or Goodreads, you know that I have been entrenched with reading Middlemarch by George Eliot over the last week or so. I have happily found what I hope to be an intriguing thesis for my pending paper with this class in Victorian literature, and that thesis is going to center around problems in communication in this novel and in Victorian society as a whole. Then I got to thinking…The Dalai Lama

Today we [granted, we being loosely referred to as most of us] live in a world where we’re surrounded by every convenience. We have been empowered by technology that allows us to communicate around the world with the idle pressing of a few buttons, yet it seems as though these conveniences have come to be a convenient excuse to either communicate poorly or not to communicate at all. Over the last few years I have noticed a few trends swelling. Of course we all know that language is an organic thing that is constantly evolving and gaining complexity, so let me try to decode some of this for you. The following chart may serve as a translation for when you invite someone to do something:

They say… They mean…
Yes. Maybe, unless I find something better to do or decide to be lazy.
Maybe No.
No. Do I even know you?

Or, alternatively, when you invite someone to do something, they’ll just flat out ignore you. Given countless scenarios over the last year, I’m often left in positions like this:

I invite someone to do something and they accept, knowing full well after having translated their response into modern flakeEnglsh means that this is only really a “maybe,” but I don’t want to make alternative plans with someone else in case the “maybe” under the surface blossoms into a legitimate “yes”; on the other hand, I’m locked in to committing my invitation to a “maybe” and often find myself holding the bag because the person has indeed decided to flake. More generally, I suppose that texting and Facebook has made it very easy to flake out. Only a few years ago, people weren’t available during every second of the day. If you made plans with someone, that person might be out of the house (ergo unavailable for mobile communication) an hour or two in advance, so if you didn’t cancel in time, you’d just be standing them up…and we wouldn’t want to do that, now would we? That’s rude. It’s much better to text at 1:45 when you’ve planned meet at 2:00 and write “sry something came up. raincheck?”

Now call me old fashioned, but in my day, when one said “Yes” to something, they made it their business to do it. It was also common courtesy to thank someone for inviting them to do something with them regardless of offering one’s acceptance or one’s regrets. This is not [apparently it is] rocket science. This is along the lines of “please” and “thank you.” Am I right? Honestly: In this aforementioned world of empowered communication, how difficult is it to take two seconds to text, five seconds to email, or–call me crazy–one minute to call someone and say, “Thanks so much for inviting me to […]; I’d like to, but I can’t. Maybe next time?” In my world, when a friend invites me to do something and I am unable to do it, I always thank them for thinking about me and make it a point to try to invite them out some time in the near future to return the favor.

Am I crazy for thinking that this is dead simple? Is this not common courtesy?

Surprisingly, there is very little information available on the Interwebs about why people have become so flakey. I wasn’t able to find any real social or psychological research on this topic, but a lot of people are complaining about it. Add me to the list. I wish to surround myself with those who are moved by the Dalai Lama’s sentiments: put your busy life into perspective and ask yourself if you’re happy with your social life as it exists now! After all, the only real validation we have for our existence in this world is our relationship and our ability to communicate with each other. Relationships are at the heart of the human condition. Don’t fail at the human condition.

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