Honestly

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I’m an anti-theist. What that means is that I’m against religion for many valid reasons. For example, an ex-girlfriend had gone to her priest and confessed that she had lost her virginity. The priest scolded her, telling her that she had sinned. She never confessed again. Another example is the segregation of people by faith, sexuality, or magic underwear. “If you don’t believe in what we believe, then you’re going to hell!” Think about that for a moment. A serial killer in the U.S. can seek forgiveness from Jesus and be allowed into heaven. But a non-believer will go to hell. That’s fucked up.

So much of religion is based on the idea of faith. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, one of the definitions of faith is: firm belief in something for which there is no proof. Though, theists often vehemently decry the Theory of Evolution, demanding transition bones, blah blah blah. But to believe in god, you must have faith. Hypocritical much?

Because I’ve been watching the Atheist Experience on YouTube, I’ve gained a superficial knowledge of logic and have found a small hobby of talking to theists about their beliefs. I’m under no illusion that I’ll convert them to non-believers. But it’s always fun to challenge their faith. The issue comes when theists aren’t willing to have an honest conversation about it.

I was talking to someone who was very skittish about taking his lord’s name in vain.

“I know there’s a god,” Skittish said.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“I can feel it.”

“Imagine this. You’re walking down a dark alleyway and see a shadow moving behind a dumpster. How do you feel?”

“I feel concerned.”

“Cool. You keep walking and you find that the shadow was just a garbage bag fluttering in the breeze. Now how do you feel?”

“Not concerned.”

“So your feelings aren’t a good pathway to finding the truth since they can lead you astray.”

“But the word feeling is so broad. It can mean anything, blah blah blah...”

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Here was where the dishonesty had happened. I showed that his feeling that god existed can’t be used to show the truth. Feelings can be unreliable. So he diverted the discussion by focusing on something else. I’d wager that if he’d admitted that my argument was right, then he might begin to doubt his faith in some deity. That was why he channeled the subject onto the some vague thing about the meaning of a word. To this day, he likes to muddy words instead of focusing on the subject we’re discussing.

There’s another theist that I talk to, and he commits something called guilt by association fallacy. He spent a lot of time trying to discredit Evolution. I explained that Evolution is both a fact and a theory. He narrowed his eyes at me and started to debate me, and I realized he didn’t understand the difference between fact and theory. So I talked about that. Then he diverted the conversation to how scientists couldn’t be trusted because grant money depends on their results. They’d manipulate the data or ignore evidence that proved their hypothesis wrong to preserve their grants.

I then tried to explain the peer review process and how competitive it is in scientific community. So, if someone wants to make a name for themselves by proving the Theory of Evolution is wrong, for example, then they would garner fame and fortune beyond most people’s dreams. Ignoring what I had said about the peer review process, he continued on the path that some scientists have “cheated”, so science as a whole couldn’t be trusted. Hence, guilt by association fallacy.

I suggested that he talk to a theist who was also an evolutnary biologist and get their point of view. This way they could have an open discussion without having the heaviness of opposing worldviews. Alas, he declined.

Having honest discussions is paramount to growing and learning as a human being. If we’re all about protecting our egos and our beliefs, then we’re never open to new ideas and ways of thinking.

I’m wrong a lot. That’s why I go to my writing group on a weekly basis and have them critique my pages. Otherwise, my writing and story would never improve. I like to say that I’m wrong 50% of the time and am guessing my way through life the other 50%. Life’s too short to worry about being right most of the time. Sometimes making the wrong choices can lead to the right outcome.

Listen to my writing group discuss writing and masturbation on the Uncontained podcast.

Confidence

A bunch of us shuffled into a 1920's themed bar that faced the Pacific Ocean. Ornamental crown molding and dark brown wainscoting framed the gold leaf walls. Red velvet booths and seats lined the bar and the long sidewall, all filled with patrons that ranged from casual to dressed to the nines. A live band was playing next to the entrance.

We headed all the way to the back of the bar where there was still room for us to stand and sit. Shots were ordered. I had a beer and avoided the shots, and enjoyed our conversation about nothing. Well, we were talking about what to do for New Year's Eve. So we were spending our free time talking about what to do with the coming of more free time. I'm not belittling my friends, but I was a bit bored. Then a dude strolled out of the men's room, dressed in a bright red suit. His head was up, posture straight, and he strode like bullets shot from a Tommy Gun would miss him.

"He's wearing that suit with confidence," my friend said. "Very sexy."

"Who?" her friend asked.

She pointed. "Him."

"Maybe he feels confident wearing that suit," he said. This peaked my attention. "Otherwise, why would he wear that?"

"Why wouldn't he?"

"I choose clothes that I feel confident in."

I leaned in and said, "But that's not confidence."

His brow furrowed. "Why?"

"Confidence comes from the inside, not from what you wear."

He scoffed and went silent. Sometimes I can be an imposing personality, but at this moment I wasn't.

Confidence seems like a very misunderstood concept. Clothes can say things about your wealth, whether you're conservative or loud, what you do for work, but, more importantly, they can make you look good. And if you feel good because you look good, then people may read that as confidence. The issue comes when you're not wearing those clothes. Will you still be confident?

Have you seen me nekked?

Cars can have a similar function. Why buy a very expensive European automobile when a cheaper and often more reliable Asian version is available? Because if I drive an Italian supercar, I'm assuming it says something about me. Like maybe I have a small penis and I need to compensate for that. That's what I think when I see a dude driving a Ferrari, but that could be my jealousy speaking...nah...OK...jealousy. But still...

If someone did derive confidence from driving an extremely expensive sports car, what happens when he's not in it?

"Ladies. How you doin'? You wanna ride in my red Ferrari?"

Women would see right through that.

Real confidence comes from within no matter what you have. That's not something that can be taken away like clothes or a car. Using those things to gain confidence is like using a crutch to walk around when nothing is wrong. You'll limp your way through life with a false sense of confidence and you won't know it.

In saying that no one is 100% confident all the time.

I have no filter when I talk to people. Even at work. Actually, I do have a filter. It just has really big holes. And I do read the group that I'm in. A lot of times I don't care because I wanna say what I wanna say. I've lost friends because of that, and that's fine. I'm also aware that I hadn't said anything outlandish like, "Dayem yous gots a nice bum. Can I slap it?" I don't need to be punched more than once.

A lot of people perceive me as confident because I have little shame. But if they've lived with me as much as I have, they'd know that there are many moments where I want to crawl into a dark hole because of insecurity.

There's nothing wrong with being insecure at times. Unless it stops you from pursuing your dreams, for example. I'd recommend just letting the feeling pass, and then go on with your life because the natural state of human beings is confidence.

When kids express themselves, even when that expression seems impolite, we need to encourage that because they're being their true selves. And I'm not talking about bullying. Those are kids being assholes. I'm talking about allowing kids to say what they mean without taking their power away.

My little niece was told to give me a hug when I had visited, but she didn't want to. More prodding only made her scowl. So I said, "It's OK. Don't force her to do something she doesn't want to like hug me, essentially a stranger." Because when she's older and goes on her first date, she may question her instincts to defend herself if a boy forces himself on her. Parents should guide their children on things like schoolwork, cleaning of rooms, eating healthy foods. Keyword being guide.

But when we force them to hug a stranger, we're taking their power away and instilling a level of insecurity because at this point kids will begin to question their intuition. That's why the saying "Do you" has so much truth. Within our true honest selves we find real confidence. And no one can take that away but us.

Don't Be You

In the Asian culture, being yourself isn't something that is advocated. If anything, Asian parents want their children to fill some sort of picture perfect checklist of academic accomplishments so they can someday go to an excellent college and get an excellent paying job. Anything less is failure, and things like affection and self esteem are useless. The book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, written by Amy Chua is a perfect example of an Asian mother attempting this very thing.

To be fair, not all Asian parents are like this. But my family were.

For a long time growing up, I tried to fulfill this image of a smart Asian kid. To say I had mixed results is putting it kindly. School was something that I just didn't appreciate, though I loved learning. Still do. School didn't teach the stuff that I really liked. Nor did it nor my family really encourage me to find what I liked. I joined the varsity volleyball team in my sophomore year of high school. That was an accomplishment. To say I was the shortest member was putting it kindly. But my grades were slipping, so my brother tried to get me kicked off the team. I loved it too much to quit.

As I started my college career, I declared to be a business major, which I hated, but being a doctor or a lawyer was not in the cards. I wanted to do something creative, so I began to study acting and delved into martial arts. I wrote stories, did pencil drawings, and lived in my imagination. All were deemed a waste of time by my family. Still...I continued my double life of a dutiful college student while exploring my artistic side, rebelling against this stereotypical Asian image.

What I've learned is that I'm not that image, but then, nor am I a rebel. In swinging from one aspect to the other, I've found who I am, which is a person who tends to be introspective with a lot to say, having found a vehicle through this site, but more importantly, through my novel.

There are times when I'm very loud and lewd. Other times I'm very quiet and shy.

So my girlfriend wants to hang out with her conservative friends this weekend. And I asked why am I not included. Basically, she's afraid that my loud lewd side will come out, as it always does in groups, and will offend her conservative friends. She's asked me before to be less Jimmy and more "normal".

What the fuck does that mean?

Here's what my ego said, "She cares more about what other people think, and is ashamed of who I am." Even though who I am is not that loud lewd person.

She deeply cares about what other people think. She doesn't understand that she has no control over other peoples' opinions, nor do they affect her in reality.

In other words, if someone thinks she's stupid, they thinking that won't make her stupid. Just like when comedians joke that Asian guys have small dicks, I don't go around showing people my dick. Plus, it'd be flaccid, and that's not impressive.

She didn't like my Superman wallet. She doesn't like my loud lewd side. She wants to hang out with her conservative friends. So why the fuck is she with me?

Pork

 "She eat pork?"

"No," I said to my sister.

"You stop eating pork?"

"No."

My sister shook her head. "Don't know how you will make it work."

Uh... 

During my birthday dinner, my friends and I were talking about what makes two people compatible. Someone mentioned having things in common.

I shook my head.

"Don't you think we have a lot of things in common?" my girlfriend asked.

I raised an eyebrow like Spock contemplating air coming out of a person's ass as humor. "What do you think we have in common?"

"We like books..." She thought for a moment. And that moment was met with quiet as our friends stared at us.

"See. We don't have nuthin' in common."

She frowned and leaned close to me. "I thought we had a lot in common."

"No. But that doesn't matter. We have fun together."

What else does any couple need?

I'm not sure if love is enough to keep a relationship alive. I've loved all my past girlfriends. And we're not together anymore.

A lot of people make a big deal about having things in common. And others say, "That's like dating yourself."

So who's right?

The group of people that believe commonality is the key to a lasting relationship touts that things like cultural differences can wedge a couple apart. And delving into common interests can pull a couple together.

Others say having more differences allows the couple to share in each other's interests, open up deep conversations, strengthening their connection.

It seems to me, the focus is on the prescription of how to make an everlasting relationship, rather than taking a step back and describing what a great relationship looks like.

For me the one thing that ended all my relationships was when fun had stopped, or the joy of being with that person ended. That often happened a year or so before the actual break up. Sigh. Old habits.

There are three truths:

  1. Men are idiots.
  2. Women are crazy.
  3. But if you both are having fun, do crazy idiots matter? Hint: no.

The first two truths are really just one in that we're all human. We make mistakes. We fail. Shit happens. And that's fine because those things can guide us in life. We also have moments of greatness, success, and when we remember to just be, we'll experience joy. Welcome to being human.

When we see a couple having a lot of fun, we automatically think their relationship is going well, despite knowing if they have anything in common or not.

The vice versa is also true. When we see a couple in a heated argument, I think, how long before I can hit on that chick after her break up?

The key here is fun. People can come from two different worlds and have fun.

My girlfriend is a devout Muslim. I'm a devout heathen. Do we get into arguments? Hell yeah. But do we have fun together? Hell yeah.

However, I think there are basic core values that are important, and they vary from person to person.

I went to a comedy show couple weeks ago and this comedian asked, "Do you need money to have sex with a woman?"

This Asian chick yelled, "Yes!"

If the man in a relationship is a saver, and his wife has $100,000 in credit card debt, then they're going to run into issues. Can they work it out? Sure. It'll be difficult. But money seems to be at the core of many arguments. Nothing's impossible. Breathing in space with no space suit? Good luck.

Point is, any limitation placed is done by the individual. But then, I'd rather not date that Asian chick from the show. Sounds like a fucking bitch.

Don't Worry, Be Happy

I was talking to a friend of mine, and we were exploring the idea of what happiness is. And what I found out was that he was linking his happiness to his job. I suspect it was more than just work, that there were other things in his life that he was unsatisfied with, but he didn't reveal it as such.

"What's the point of doing what you love if happiness is not eternal?" he asked. Because he doesn't believe in an afterlife, what's the point of being good and happy if there's no judgement?

That wasn't an interesting question because what he really wanted to know was how does he know he's happy. Then he was confusing happiness and contentment. So this is what I told him:

My opinion in which everyone is obligated to is that real happiness is the same thing as being content. That happiness is like having a healthy body (not talking about the media's idea of fitness). So when you cut yourself your body will naturally heal because that's what our bodies are built to do.

Now you can interrupt that healing process by hurting yourself again. You can make your body unhealthy by drug abuse. You can cover yourself in disease and your body may become diseased. What all those things have in common is an EFFORT on your part to put your body on the road to unhealthiness. But once you stop doing these kinds of things, the body will make a U-turn and head toward health. All on its own.

Like the body, the mind will heal itself. You suffer a loss in life, you'll go through a mourning process, but the mind will naturally bring itself back to a state of health/contentment/happiness. Call it what you will, it's the same thing.

And like the body, you can hold onto things like over thinking, hatred, fear, and cover contentment so you cannot feel it. It's harder to see this concept with the mind because over thinking, hatred, fear isn't as obvious like drug abuse. And sometimes those things feel normal. And sometimes it is. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes it's sunny.

When we play a sport our bodies might get injured. That's normal. Afterward the body immediately heals itself: the crusting of blood, the swelling and bruising, the pain to prevent further injury.

So too with the mind. We may hate for a moment. But we will naturally let it go.

Kids are great examples. They may get frustrated and hate their closest friend when something goes wrong. But faced with the choice to continue to be mad or to have a good time, they'll choose the latter. That next moment they're back playing and laughing and joking around as if nothing happened.

Adults have acquired the great skill of holding onto thoughts. Especially those that come from hate, fear, limitation, sadness.

Allowing ourselves to let go brings us back to our childlike selves of moving on. And playing in life.

And yes. The true meaning of life is to play, be happy, to be (whatever that may be). And like all things in the universe nothing is forever, save our souls. (Which is what save our souls may have meant. Not save our souls from the Hellish fires of the Satanic kingdom of the unending dark underworld of pain and suffering and the evils against the great All Mighty).

And then my friend realized something interesting. "I realized something interesting. You have decoupled happiness from things like passion, work, and stuff."

And stuff. Yes. He's an eloquent man.

"Definitely. For years I was writing and not feeling content. And that's because that's not what writing is for."

We build bridges to get somewhere faster, easier. Not to say, Hey check out that bridge. Am I cool or what?

I write to tell a good story. Not to say, Hey I'm a writer. I'm awesome. Ok. I do say that sometimes.

The point is, we can be in the middle of a shithouse and be perfectly fine. And that is one of the hardest lessons to internalize. But once you do, then you'll be prepared to deal with life's realities.

Going Down Memory Lane

No, Memory isn't Lois' sister.

Lately, for the past couple years, I've been going to various spots that I used to hang out as a kid. I remember driving to the street where I used play kickball, where my best friend and I used to play with his Star Wars figures. The ones that are worth a lot of money today.

Those were the days way before cell phones were in. But all my friend's mother had to do was holler, "Jason!", and like a cub, he would scurry on back home. Even today, I marvel at that.

Jason was my first best friend. He was a big boy. Funny. Full of happiness. Why wouldn't he? He had grandparents that had always brought a mountainous pile of gifts when they visited for Christmas. Santa would shove one gift under the tree for me to share with my niece. We were close in age. Jason was always kind enough to share his loot with me. He helped me learn how to ride a bike. He had an old Spider Man one that had training wheels. We removed them, and I was off riding the bike for a second before falling off.

About a dozen times later I asked, "Can't seem to get it to work. How do you ride a bike?"

Jason thought for a moment and said, "You just run, jump on, and try not to fall."

Oh. Was that all?

When I was in elementary school, a few of us had gone to the cemetery just to check it out. At the time, most of the graves were really old. From the dates, a lot of the people that were buried there were born in the 1800's. Some of them had even made there way West with the Donner Party. I remember seeing a tombstone with that name as well.

During one Halloween, a group of about five or six of us eight-graders were going to go to the cemetery at night. It wasn't far from where we lived, within walking distance. We were all very confident that nothing would happen. No zombies. No ghosts. No werewolves. And vampires. Psh. They ain't real, I said.

The night was cold as winters seemed to have started much earlier in those days. Daylight savings also ended earlier in the year, which meant that day darkened to night faster than we had liked. We turned right onto the street where the main entrance laid open. The steel gate rarely swung closed, allowing cars to drive up the wide and long gravel pathway and park. Whoever the groundskeeper was didn't do a good job of getting rid of the weeds. Tall weeds grew everywhere adding to the low mist that seemed to hide the many tall and ancient tombstones. We all huddled behind the bravest boy, Alex, at the edge of the gravel.

I was scared. Plain and simple. But we made the adult decision and respected those buried there and headed on home. Of course, we weren't adult enough to not trick-or-treat some more.

Today, the Bay Area had a break from the cold weather. It was sunny, wisps of clouds flavored the sky, the air smelled fresh. It felt like it had been forever since I strolled outside. I'd been stuck inside working, writing inside cafes, hanging out with friends in bars or clubs or restaurants, that the feeling of being outside was calling to me. I decided to haunt one of my old stomping grounds. The Dublin Cemetery.

Driving up that same street, I remarked at how manicured this part of Dublin was. Not too long ago, they had built the Dublin Heritage Park & Museums, which houses a lot of different buildings that help represent what it might have looked like back in the late 1800's to early 1900's when working the land was a viable option.

Instead of the gravel pathway, the front of the cemetery is groomed and paved with a small parking lot. I walk in and notice that new graves have been added, but I assume those who are buried here are somehow connected to this area's past. There are signs around the cemetery the briefly discuss who some of these pioneers were. There are a few unmarked plots.

There was no sense of dread or fear that I remember feeling that fateful night. OK. Nothing happened that night. But even the odd scurrying sounds didn't unnerve me. Squirrels. But the heavy religious nature of the giant tombstones, the words inscribed on them, the old St. Raymond church with the cross cutouts in the wooden window coverings evoke a feeling within me. And I'm reminded of how we can so easily succumb to religion. Especially in those days where the miracles we take for granted today were seen as amazing back then.

As I make my way around the plots, I'm also amazed at how small this cemetery is. Standing at the far back corner, I can see clear to the front where I parked my car. In my dark childhood memory, the cemetery was large, and there were far corners where we had to trek through brush to get to. And I guess this is partly why I'm so fond of my childhood.

Everything then seemed so big and impossible. Things were amazing. I loved eating candy and ice cream. OK. I still do. But I remember taking a bike ride to the local store, which was located next to the cemetery, to buy a piece of candy with a penny was a huge journey. I watched Ghostbusters and Back to the Future five times each in the movie theater. Movie tickets were $2.50 then. I mean, the movies of the 80's are now considered classics. Watchutalkin' about Willis?

Maybe I'm fond of those memories because I'm experiencing my midlife crisis. I had a dream where I dreaded being eighty years old. Though, I've yet to go around yelling at kids to get off my lawn. But that's because I don't have a lawn. "Get off my cement parking spot!"

And I think that's why I don't like going to clubs, or bars, or doing stupid stuff like attending cocktail parties where small talk is the center of conversation. I just want to watch the sun set, watch the moon arch the sky, watch the ocean waves roll in, smell the clean air on slow hikes, spend time connecting with people that I enjoy, or even people watch.

Looking at these graves, I feel time is so fleeting. Ego is useless. What we have to show what we've accomplished is meaningless. For all the good and bad that happen in this world, for all the great people who are remembered and for those who will never even be given a thought, the meaning of life becomes a simple truth. It's the pure joy of living.

Are All Stories Created Equal?

My best friend used to badger me about the premise to my story. What is your premise? What are you trying to say with your writing? What's your character arc? Story arc? Where's Noah's Arc?

But my friend had a great point. Some of the best stories have something to say that usually involves the main character's arc: becoming the person she should be, like moving from self-hatred to having high self-worth. Or how Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet shows pure innocent love will die in the adult world, a very harsh statement, the real tragedy.

From my own experience, when I started to write Nightfall, I couldn't see what my character or story arc was. I'm not sure why, but it might have been because I was steeped in developing the plot, building the world, the characters and their traits.

One of the many great things about Harry Potter is Harry himself. His character traits seem normal: thin and not physically strong, wears glasses, has a scar, loyal to a fault and honest, isn't the greatest student. But he's special, surviving an attack from the baddest dark wizard, known as the boy who lived, a powerful wizard. In a sense, Rowling might have been saying that we are all somehow special.

My main character is the exact opposite when it comes to character traits, with a purpose, and I didn't realize this until several months ago after working with the character for eight years. Talon is tall, handsome, has luscious long locks—blonde hair—and is the commander of the most powerful military force in the provinces. Men fear him because he's never been bested in a fight. Women love him because they feel so at ease when they're in his presence. In a way, he's perfect. As the story begins, we immediately see that he has holes—faults, fears, and the same controlling issues that all parents have when it comes to his own children. As the story moves along, we see how gaping these holes are. Despite his perfectness, he, and in a sense all of us, are human.

It's a commentary that we are all equals with our own strengths and weaknesses. So it doesn't matter how special people seem to be, we have faults as well. And that perfectness that we seem to strive for, or look for in others, can vary a great deal. Kinda like saying a perfect rose has twelve petals and not thirteen because thirteen is an unlucky number, which is ridiculous. Are there certain traits that we gravitate to? Sure. When people ask me what I look for in a woman, I jokingly respond, "Four B's. Busty, blonde, big butt." It's ridiculous.

Look at this big yellow shaft I'm holding

Whenever a homeless person asks me for money, I always respond in kind, whether I give them money or not. When a waitperson serves me, I always thank them. Even if I meet a CEO of a company, I'll joke with him as if he's my friend, which happened when I met the CEO of the company I work for.

He flew to various locations around the US to greet his worker bees as the newly crowned CEO. When he had arrived to our office, he was making the rounds, shaking everyone's hands in their cubicles. Then he and his entourage approached me, I introduced myself as Jimmy. Confused, he saw the placard displaying the name 'Lauren', who was absent that day. I was sitting at her desk because I don't have a desk at that particular building.

"But now I'm Lauren," I quipped, "after my sex change operation."

He and his entourage laughed and said, "You look pretty buffed for girl."

"Thanks to our health benefits, I've been taking steroids."

And no, I did not get fired.

But I do my best to live my life with that view of equality. Does that mean someone who is taller than me is better than me? Maybe in basketball (I'm not very good, so that's not saying much). Or are there people smarter than I am? Sure. But intelligence is very specific. I don't need to know how to build a computer if I'm a writer. I need to know how to structure a story, how to evoke emotions from words, what a character trait really is, etc.

As human beings, we are all the same. We love. We eat. We drink. We get hurt. We sleep. We love to laugh. We shit. It is the nature of being human.

Coming back to storytelling, I don't think you need to know everything about the story or characters from the beginning because it may be too much. We need to trust that the story will naturally come out and the technical (i.e. structure and grammar) and finer details (i.e. story and character arc) will be ironed out during the rewriting/editing process.

And yes, I'm biased as to what a good story is. Arcs anyone? But that doesn't mean that books like Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey don't have their place. The market loves them. But will they stand the test of time? I'm not sure. There's a reason why the Bible and Shakespeare's works have lasted and still make their marks. There's meaning in them. And what is meaning? It means something. Duh. Meaning, especially in story, helps change our view of life. It's why we love going to movies. We want to be moved, to see another viewpoint of the human condition, ultimately to help understand ourselves. Do Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey do that? I can't say. I've yet to read them. Even if they don't, is that important? Time will tell.