Thursday, February 02, 2012


My last post alluded to this trip, but I'd yet to write about it. Here it is:

As last summer reached its midway point, I tossed about the idea of going to an amusement park for the 4th consecutive year. Tired of the same old rides at Valleyfair in Minneapolis and noticing that the faster coasters were making me woozier than they used to, I figured it might be good to hit Adventureland in Des Moines, Iowa.

The last time I was there, was in the early 80's. It was twice as far to drive as Valleyfair, but I figured if we set out early, it might be worthwhile. My friend, Shanon, said he was interested in coming and we were also able to get a friend's daughter (13) to accompany us; she'd come with me the three previous years and it was great to see her gradually tackle ever grander rides over the years.

The strongest thing pulling me to Adventureland was nostalgia. I remember seeing old pictures of my family wearing visors that said "Adventureland" near the front gate. My only crystal-clear memory of the park was getting off the ski lift they had with my mother.

What would it be like going back so many years, so many lifetimes, it seemed, later?

The three of us left in my car shortly after sunrise. As usual, I picked up a half dozen glazed donuts from the local Kwik Trip for us all to enjoy on the way down. Lady Gaga's newest album, "Born This Way", which had just come out, was one of the CD's we listened to as we left Minnesota. Not too long into the ride, a great deal of fog descended. It wasn't much concern as there was virtually no one else on the highway at the time. I drove a bit faster than I should have, given the extremely low visibility, but figured my eyes were sharp enough to correct if something came along I wasn't expecting; this could be true of all of life, of course.

We arrived about 15 minutes before they were set to open. It looked to be a very hot one. Once we were allowed to go in, we browsed a bit on Adventureland's Main Street. It had a great turn-of-the-century appeal to it; it had been modeled on Disneyland's Main Street, U.S.A. I thought about what it might have been like to have lived a hundred years ago and smiled as I went from shop to shop.

Unlike Valleyfair, Adventureland had actual themed areas. One had an Old West theme. I let Shanon and Brittany go on one of those spinny rides while I sat and waited; I can't abide Tilt-A-Whirls, Scramblers, and things like that, just too much spinning.

I was probably most looking forward to returning to the ski lift ride. Shanon and Brit got on one of the lifts and I got on the one behind them. The older man in charge of showing us when to get on the thing asked, "Have you been to Adventureland before?" I smiled and said, "Yes, in 1983, I was 12!". The ride was extremely relaxing as I climbed over the tops of trees.

For fun, I made some weird faces at some of the people coming across on the opposite side.

Next, it was time to hit one of the three coasters. Shanon and Brittany got in one of the cars and I sat a few rows back. After the ride, Shanon said he had lost his Batman hat. He'd worn it during the ride assuming that it would stay on; he was wrong. I was surprised he'd done this as about 15 years ago at Valleyfair, our friend, Shaun, had worn a baseball cap on a coaster built in 1977 and lost it during the circuit. Shanon wound up buying a replacement that said Adventureland later that day.

One thing I loved is that smoking was not allowed in any of the park, not even in designated areas like at Valleyfair. At one point, I smelled smoke and saw a guy (with his wife nearby) basically facing a tree. I noticed the cigarette in his hand and yelled, "Whatcha doin' back there, Boy?" Shanon said he looked a little scared as we passed by.

It was really starting to get sticky out, so we opted to go on some of the water rides. They were mostly shit, though, as they generally didn't get one wet. The log flume ride was fun, however. As we waited in line, there were some teenage girls on a log and one of them screamed as they passed. I wondered if she was really scared or more likely, was just trying to get attention.

When it came our time to ride, I was in front with Shanon and Brittany behind me. When we passed the spot where that girl screamed, I did the same thing. Some people turned their heads and Brittany chided Shanon, thinking he was the one who'd done it.

Next, we all got a 7-inch sub at one of the park's many foodstuffs. It really hit the spot. Sweat was just pouring off me, though. When I saw a blue washcloth laying on one of the tables, I picked it up and put it on my forehead. Ahh. The others looked at me weird, but I didn't care. I "wore" it as we waited in line for the next few rides.

Brittany told us about a trick she liked to do in which, when she saw an older man walking by, she would yell, "Dad!". She asked me to give it a try. Now this would only work for me with a man who had an adult son. I spotted a good candidate as we leaned against a fence post and said, "Dad!". I looked away and, out of the corner of my eye, saw the guy look in our direction. It had worked! We laughed.

Unlike Valleyfair, there was no sounds of the 80's playing at Adventureland. They did have some newer Usher-type music playing next to some of the rides. I boogied a bit as a number of tracks played while Shanon and Brit went on one of those spinny rides.

One other highlight was returning to the Raging Rapids ride. It had just opened when I went there as a child and I smiled as I saw the typeface they used for the title of it; it was in the style of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (which had opened the year before) with big R's and lettering in orange. We waited an hour to get on it and it was almost worth it.

We had subs again a few hours later, hit the other roller coasters, and went on the other big rides before leaving the park shortly before sunset. The humidity had been a bitch, but overall, it was a nice little blast from the past. I wound up returning the washcloth to the table where I'd found it.

Saturday, December 31, 2011


The night before last, as I lay in bed, I thought of my favorite experiences from 2011 as well as the changes that had occurred during that timeframe. It goes without saying that remarrying Dori in September was a big one. Three biggies transpired in the summertime. First was going to the Celebrate Your Life conference for the fourth consecutive year where, for the first time, I was called to the front of the room, not once, but twice: once to stare deeply into the eyes of my favorite author for a full minute, for the other, to let loose and dance. I also had a good time at the celebration of my Dad's 25th anniversary to his second wife. It offered me an opportunity to see and talk with people I'd not encountered in decades. And there was my return trip to Adventureland, an amusement park I last visited in 1983.

I had a great time at the movie theatre. My favorite films of these last 12 months were "Super 8", a nostalgic trip to 1979, "Hugo", an enchanting film set in 1930's Paris in which the 3-D was among the best I'd ever seen, "Insidious", one of the scariest films I've ever watched, "Contagion", a riveting drama, and "Drive", a European-style thriller. Thanks to postive reviews from Entertainment Weekly, I tried out two new shows that offered me much pleasure: "Game of Thrones" and "The Killing". "Enlightened" on HBO showed the challenges that come when trying to tackle the world in a spiritual way when so many have other things on their mind.

We upgraded our computer and monitor at long last (our former machinery was purchased in 2004) and also got a scanner. I've scanned hundreds of pictures with it and posted them to Facebook. If any of my readers would like to friend me on Facebook, where I post more regularly than here, just drop me a note at

In closing, here are some pics of me as a wee one:

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas 1972

Per my mom: "Went to midnight mass at the chapel, had big turkey dinner at our home. Tommy loved the Christmas tree, especially the lights. He loved them on all the time and liked to fiddle and rearrange the presents."

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Air Supply Part II

The thing I did after coming out of the bathroom that I'd not done in a number of years, but had done a great deal in college, was sitting my ass on the metal railing of a flight of stairs and sailing down it. There was a moment when I thought I might fall off to the left, but thankfully, I came down in one piece. Dori's response was, "I can't believe you did that" and Shanon's was, "Was that fun? It looked fun".

We headed back to our seats a few minutes later where the taller Russell came out on his own and began talking about his favorite things (being in a warm house, looking out over the mountains, drinking a glass of wine).

A man in the audience took this relative quiet as a time to voice responses; when Russell mentioned the glass of wine, the man suggested smoking a doobie. People around us were getting annoyed and I was hoping he'd be sent to detox. My mom turned around at one point and said, "Shut up"; neither of us can tolerate talkers at the movie theatre.

A moment later, Graham asked if anyone was interested in coming up to the space between the stage and the front row. A couple dozen women followed suit. It was there that he serenaded them with a tune accompanied only by his guitar.

Graham headed right out into the audience as he started in on one of my favorites, "The One That You Love".

Hitchcock surprised the shit out of the people sitting the furthest back by appearing amidst them. I didn't even know where he was until I turned around and looked carefully. He touched the hands of a number of attendees who were in wheelchairs and there were a lot of smiles from people who hadn't expected to be able to see the sexy Australians up so close. Hitchcock went up on stage to close the song and an energy that wasn't present in the first half abided throughout the second.

I told myself from time to time to really pay attention, to enjoy the show and smile as this might be the only chance I'd get to see them and especially so close. To top it off, I was here with my best friend, my wife, and my mother. There was a surge of noise in the crowd whenever the first few notes of a familiar song played.

Shanon really got into it in the latter stages, miming the drummer on some of the fast songs and yelling at the top of his lungs at the end of songs and sometimes right in the middle of them. A man directly in front of him had a hearing aid in one ear, but Shanon was so loud that on a number of occasions, he stuck his finger into the other ear. I noticed my mom was also getting more into it. One of my favorite moments was looking two seats over at Dori mouthing along to one of the songs, lost in love. Near the end, Graham did a little trick where he played the guitar over his head. They ended with one of their all-time best, "All Out Of Love".

As they left the stage, it was announced they would be signing autographs for those who were interested. Just then, I told my mom that they hadn't sung my favorite Supply song, "Sweet Dreams". She said they have so many, it's hard to get to all of them; something she echoed last night when we saw Vince Gill play.

Shanon wanted to get the Russells' autographs in the worst way, not least because no concert he'd been to before had offered them so readily. Though we'd be there at least an extra half hour, I let him wait and sat with Dori as my mom said she wanted to head home. When the full band came out for the meet-and-greet, I joined Shanon in line and since I saw pics being taken, asked if he wanted me to take one of him and the guys. He said he did.

As we got closer, I saw women kissing the guys and told Dori that she could get the same if she got in line with us. She was either too nervous, too shy, or afraid that she'd get aroused to go for it. I told my mom later that she would've had the same opportunity had she stuck around. Graham is her favorite of the two.

When it came to be Shanon's turn, he shook both the singers' hands and said, "It was an honor!" I took the following pic of him with the lead guitarist and Hitchcock.

A few hours later, I drifted off to sleep where to no one's surprise, I had sweet dreams.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Different Strokes

I've been seeing the same massage therapist for the last four years. She's a few years younger than me and a former co-worker. Working from her home, just nine blocks from mine, and charging a mere $55 for a 90-minute massage, I was more than happy seeing her every four weeks.

The month before last, however, she didn't respond to a couple texts I'd sent regarding an upcoming appointment. Wondering what was up, but not wanting to send yet another message, I made an appointment to be seen at the biggest masseuserry in town. They were more expensive, but my wife was a big fan of theirs, having gotten caressed a number of times at their Las Vegas location (the only city in which she's ever had a massage). I asked to be set up with someone who was a specialist at what they call deep-tissue (Swedish) massage. For obvious reasons, I requested that the healer be female.

I headed to my appointment earlier this fall, not sure if it was going to be worth it, but knowing I had to give it a try. I parked my car and told the staff up front who I was and the time of my appointment. I noticed a curious thing. The other people waiting to be seen either had their noses stuck in their mobile devices or reading a magazine. No one's eyes strayed at the other clients as if, in some way, they were ashamed that they were here, about to be touched by a stranger. Imagine if someone they knew came in. It'd be like getting caught in a brothel.

As I sat, looking at the pictures on the wall, I lifted my right hand to my neck and started rubbing a bit. I was obviously ready to get it on. A big guy with a Harley-Davidson shirt came in and sat a few feet away. After a moment, he did the same thing. Had he noticed me doing it or was he also just getting in the mood? I was surprised when a male therapist came out for him. Could it be that his wife had let him go to this facility on the condition that he not see any female rubbers? Or was it his idea, not feeling a female would have the proper strength to get the numerous knots out of his neck and shoulders?

One thing I loved about the waiting area was the quiet. The staff spoke softly and, of course, there weren't any kids waiting to be seen. This was my kind of place. Just like when I go to the movies, I headed to the bathroom before things got going. In keeping with the quiet theme, there were no hand dryers to be seen, not even any paper towels. No, after one's hands were washed, you actually used a fresh white washcloth to rub the excess moisture from one's hands; there was a basket near the floor where you threw the spent cloth.

A few minutes later, I was greeted by the petite woman who would be mine for the next 50 minutes; there were more than a dozen rooms available. There were actually two different white noises going as I entered: a small fan and some piped-in music, the kind you'd expect to hear at a house of healing.

I disrobed and got under the covers and was pleasantly surprised that the masseuse knew a few things that my former one didn't. When she did my neck, she was pushing so hard that it hurt. I made sure not to let her see my discomfort as I felt being rubbed that hard would be worth it in the long-run.

One thing I've tried for years during massages is to let my mind go blank or at least not to think about ridiculous minutaie. What a waste of money to be getting pampered, but spending virtually all the time pondering on what I'm going to have for supper or why Kim Kardashian's getting divorced. I think I'm getting better at this, but it isn't easy. Thankfully, the good vibes I feel from a massage continue over the next few days, no matter how many thoughts I had during the actual appointment.

When it was time to get dressed again, I knew I'd be back in a few weeks. My former healer sent me a text a few weeks ago asking about my next appointment. I said that I'd sent her texts which were never returned, so wound up going elsewhere. She apologized and said that that may have been the time when she'd dropped her phone. I said that was OK and that I'd let her know when I needed to be seen again. In the end, I'm thankful I was led to my new masseusse in such a serendipitous way. Life can be funny that way.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Air Supply

My mother was a huge fan of the Australian group, Air Supply, in the early 80's. She had a number of their cassettes, one of which I distinctly remember had a picture of a hot air balloon on it. When, a few months ago, I learned that they were coming to town, I asked if she'd be interested in coming. She said she would.

I initially wasn't planning to bring my wife (she had seen them in Vegas a few years ago), but she convinced me to let her tag along. In addition, I asked my friend, Shanon, if he'd want to go. He said he would, so all was set as I told my boss earlier this fall that I'd be in a tad late as I had a morning "appointment" (to go on Ticketmaster). I went to the site at the exact time that the tickets went on sale. Thankfully, there was no pre-sale, so I wound up getting the best seats I've ever had for a concert; 3rd row, dead center.

Before heading to the civic center last Saturday, we had a delicious meal at Friday's, a restaurant I'd not eaten at in a number of months. With some time to kill before the show, we browsed at the downtown Barnes & Noble before taking the skywalk to where the Aussies would be playing.

As an usher scanned our tickets and we entered the staging area, a number of Beatles tunes (Do You Want to Know a Secret, A Little Help From My Friends, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da) played.

Me and Shanon did some walking around on the upper level remembering concerts we'd seen there before. He munched on a malt cup as we looked at the souvenirs and cash bar. I gave seat assignments to my wife, mom, and Shanon that weren't as dead center as my own. I was glad when the people in the front row didn't start the show standing; I just assumed we were going to be standing throughout.

I couldn't believe how close we were. I put my feet on the rack of the seat in front of me and leaned down a bit as the show began. The two men named Russell were literally larger than life. It reminded me of when my twin half-sisters had super-close seats for a Sesame Street Live show in LaCrosse at the age of two and were so scared at seeing the Cookie Monster, Big Bird, etc, so gargantua that their father asked some people a few rows back if they'd change places with them.

Here are two pics I took as the show got underway:

Unlike a show which has a solo performer, I was torn over which of the singers to look at. I generally preferred the one that was doing lead vocals. When they both sang, I usually stared at the better-looking one. During one of the first few songs, I felt certain that the main singer (Russell Hitchcock) looked at me. Shanon later said that he gave an air fist bump to him and he returned the favor. Dori said he had winked at her.

Having sensitive ears, I'd brought ear plugs with me and asked Shanon before the show if he wanted some. He agreed, but a half hour later, as the show was getting ready to start, he said he'd accidentally thrown them away, so I had to give him another pair. I asked my mom and Dori if they wanted plugs, but they had no interest; my mom changed her mind two songs into the show. I kept my plugs mostly sticking out, so that I was exposed to probably 80% of the music, just needed to reduce some of the overwrought static.

My mother felt a bit confined in the folding chairs. I had no issues as there wasn't anyone sitting to the left of me. They rocked a bit harder than I was expecting, having young guys on guitars, keyboards, and drums. I had to physically stay interested in the show at all times as Hitchcock noted people in the audience who were crossing their arms and not getting into it. I didn't want to be one of those people. Thankfully, Shanon took some of the pressure off me by audibly singing along to most of the songs.

Most of the tunes took me back to 1980 and 1981. Those were some of the happiest years of my life and it was hard to believe that 30 years later, I was here with my mom seeing them for the first time. The intermission came up fast. It felt like they'd only done a half dozen songs, but I knew that some of their best were yet to come.

We stretched our legs and headed out to the concourse where Dori bought bottles of Dasani for the lot of us. My mom and me headed to the bathrooms upstairs where the lines were much shorter; the upper deck where we'd seen Vince Gill 18 years prior (my first concert) was like a mausoleum. On the way back down, I did something that I'd not done in many years, but something I did frequently in my college days.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

High Times

I'm a big movie fan, but don't get to the theatre as much as I did during the late 90's. There's a little less free time and I've grown to enjoy lying on the couch and watching my favorite TV shows on DVR. When I do go, then, it's important that I go to a movie that's going to impress me.

I'd waited quite a while for Brad Pitt's "The Tree of Life" to come to Rochester. It looked as if it wasn't going to make it, but a few weeks ago, it did. I happily went to a matinee of it where I sat way up on the top in the back. There were a number of mostly older people down below as the film played. The reviews were phenomenal, but did note that the film didn't have a straight narrative. An ambitious movie, it wasn't quite as good as I was hoping for, not quite as transcendent. Nonetheless, it brought up universal feelings about life, love and the cosmos and for that, I'm glad I saw it.

A week later, I went to another well-reviewed film, Ryan Gosling's "Drive". This movie was all about mood. I was hooked from the beginning as this song played over the opening credits; Gosling was driving late at night through L.A. The movie had something that most blockbusters don't: silences. Someone would say something and instead of the other speaking immediately, they would pause a bit, as if they wanted to absorb what was being said and maybe even enjoy being in that particular moment. There were a few action scenes which seemed more real because of the attachment that one came to feel for the characters. I've heard that many European movies exhibit this type of style and if this is the case, we, in the U.S., are really missing out.

Last weekend, me and Dori headed to the theatre to see the next movie on my list; I went up to the cashier and said, "We wanna catch "Contagion"'. I'd heard this was a good one, but it soared well past my expectations.

If there was just one word I could use to describe it, it would be "riveting". Matt Damon is tremendous as the husband of the first person who contracts the sickness, not to mention the fact that, in the film, he's a Minnesotan. Kate Winslet, Jude Law, and a number of others held my interest throughout and the final scene where the genesis of the outbreak is shown cemented, in my mind, the movie as a masterpiece. I was on a high for the next few hours as we dined at Famous Dave's and then headed home. Going to the movies is my drug of choice; no need to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, or write a book about my life.

Saturday, October 01, 2011


Long time readers may remember that me and Dori had some marital issues back in 2007; we wound up getting divorced that summer. Those issues have long since been worked out, but there was one thing missing: getting married again. A week ago today, it finally happened.

Since this was Take 2, we didn't feel that a big deal needed to be made of it. We hired a justice of the peace to perform the ceremony and rather than it taking place in a courthouse, as I initially envisioned, it was done just adjacent to our neighbors' rose garden.

Being a pop-culture connoisseur, it should be no surprise that the 70's classic "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden" played in my mind from time to time during the ceremony. Here is a picture from it:

Next are the words that the justice of the peace spoke (click on the pic to see it full-size):

We used two songs during the ceremony: our original wedding one (Martina McBride and Jim Brickman's "Valentine") and a song that was a big hit the year we met (Celine Dion's "Because You Loved Me").

Here are a few more pics from said event (our house is in the background in the shot directly below):

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Road Block

A few weeks ago, I got that sinking feeling one gets when they lock themselves out of their house or car. We were leaving for Godfather's Pizza and I turned the lock on the side door that leads to our garage and let it shut just as I realized that the key to our house was not in my pocket. It wasn't in Dori's, either, as she had figured I could take care of such a simple thing.

It had been imperative that we leave when we did as I wanted to get to Godfather's when the buffet started at five as that's when the best selection of pizza are available, not to mention it's less crowded. I called information and got the number to a local place that we've used before called Paul's Lock & Key. I was told that it would cost $67 for someone to come out and that it'd be about 20 minutes before the guy would show up.

If only there was a way to break into the house. As a teenager, my mom sometimes locked the apartment we lived in on her lunch forgetting that I didn't have a key and counted on her to keep it unlocked. Since the dwelling was on the ground floor, it wasn't too big a problem for me to take the screen off my bedroom window and lift the window up.

Our house is a split-level. I checked the windows in the basement, but they were all securely locked as they should be. The only way I could reasonably make a break was at the window located about eight feet above ground in the front; this is the window that Zoe likes to look out on to view her turf. The screen was on there tight, but the window was open. The only problem, we didn't have a ladder.

Dori encouraged me to just wait for the locksmith, but getting the pizza I wanted, not to mention avoiding an unexpected fee weighed heavily on my mind as I put our garage dumpster below the window. I carefully got on top of it, but realized it wasn't tall enough for me to be able to enter the window. We did have a dumpster for recyclables, however, that was about 9 inches taller. I brought that one out and felt that if I jumped about a foot, I could enter the window.

Next, I needed to cut the screen open. Laying near the basketball hoop in the garage was one of those cutters that are used to chop weeds. I grabbed it and used the smaller dumpster to get onto the bigger one. I took the weed cutter and started slicing at the sides of the frame. Cheaper, I thought, to get a new screen than paying for a locksmith to come out.

Zoe, standing in the living room, gave me a WTF look.

Once I cut three sides out, it was magic time. I lifted the window high enough to make it through if I was able to make the jump. A minute later, I did so and felt the top of the couch on my belly. Success! I called Paul's Lock and told them I was able to find a way in, but wouldn't hesitate to call if a similar situation arose.

I shut (and locked) the window that had been my salvation and headed out with keys, making it to Godfather's before the buffet got going and hearing the happy tune of Dori telling me that she was impressed with my handiwork.

Monday, September 05, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part XI

I was familiar with the final lecturer of the weekend from Deepak Chopra's keynote the summer before. To illustrate the way that the two hemispheres of the brain work, he'd shown a video of Jill Bolte, a brain doctor, relating the morning that she woke up and while exercising, had a stroke. This video led the organizers of Celebrate Your Life to book her for this year's conference. Hearing the full story, in person, would certainly be superior than watching on video (though it had been projected onto a very large screen). I sat by the older ladies I was with the two previous nights and told the one next to me what had happened in the prior workshop.

Bolte opened by saying that she didn't recall the last time she'd received so many hugs and so much love from the attendees of a conference; course most of those previous ones were with doctors who are not generally the type to give a full-on embrace, not with the possibility of genitals touching (if only in passing).

One of the most provocative aspects of her story is how, as the stroke was overcoming her, she felt bliss as the thinking part of her brain shut off. Imagine having no thoughts on your mind, none at all. She was in pure beingness, feeling elation and euphoria, not wanting to listen to the voice off in the distance that was pleading with her to get help.

She encouraged us all to donate our brains to the institution she worked at. She said there just aren't enough people doing so, that if they did, a greater understanding of the organ would come along that much sooner. She even sang a little ditty that she wrote about the subject. From time to time, I would think back to Sonia's workshop, still finding what I'd done there a bit hard to believe.

Once Bolte's presentation ended, most of the crowd headed out. I said goodbye to the ladies I'd sat with and then talked for a bit with a woman I'd met the year before. While there, I was asked by a couple women if I'd like to give a testimonial. Not knowing what I was going to say, but loving the idea of maybe seeing myself on camera, I said, "Yes". A few seconds later, I was told that the camera was rolling. I said something like this:

"Hi. My name is Tom. We just got done listening to Jill Bolte talk about her experience of having a stroke. This is the 4th time I've been to Celebrate Your Life. I like Neale Donald Walsch, Marianne Williamson. Sonja Choquette called me onstage earlier today. It was a bit scary, but I'm glad I did it. I'd recommend anyone interested in these authors coming to the next conference and checking it out. You won't be disappointed".

A few minutes later, I walked with the woman from last year to the lobby, glad that we had gotten caught up. Before going to pick up my life partner, I did a quick walk-around to see if there was anyone left that I knew. The Spanish-looking woman from Texas, who I'd met at lunch the day before, was there, waiting for her ride to come. We embraced as she shared her experience of Sonia's workshop.

She marveled at the confluence of events which occurred that allowed her to receive what she felt was a communication from her late father: the man next to her had said his name during one of Sonia's one-on-one exercises. It was apparently a case of dominos falling perfectly into place. I asked for her email address, which she wrote, followed by...

Porsupuesto Perfecto - Nada es una coincidencia

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part X

Continuing my trend of seeking the get the best seats possible, I arrived early for Sonia Choquette's 90-minute workshop, so early, in fact, that I opened the door to the room and was suprised to see just one person inside: Sonja at the front of the room doing some stretches as magic time approached. I'd been highly energized by the keynote address she's given the previous summer and looked forward to experiencing it again. She was a surprise late addition to the weekend's teachers and fitted perfectly into a slot where they weren't any authors I'd been particularly interested in.

I was first in line as a number of people stood next to me, waiting to get their book signed by Gregg Braden. After a few minutes, I got a bit nervous as no one was getting behind me. Feeling I'd had the wrong door (I was at the one they let us in the day before), I headed to the other side where a couple dozen people were in queue. Oh, well, I thought. I'd still be able to sit in the front half of the room. As I talked to a lady behind me and said I was from Minnesota, she noted that my voice had a touch of an Alaskan accent to it. I said, "You betcha" and she smiled. The lady in front of me hadn't been to the conference before, so I told her a bit about the ins and outs of it. When she said she was from the Chicago area, I replied that her face gave the impression that this was the case. The reason I felt that was she looked a great deal like a friend I knew in college who was from a Chicago suburb.

We were let in a few minutes later and I opted to sit next to her on the aisle of the 5th row. Extra seats were brought in as dozens had heard about Choquette's workshop the day before and wished to change who they had been scheduled to see for Sonia. A pleasant vibe was felt immediately as a number of upbeat tracks were played by Shamrock; he's the one who had set the ballroom on fire the previous June dancing like a junebug. I made a number of silly comments about him to my classmate, things like, "When Shamrock gives someone his height, does he include the two-inch bulge of hair just above his crown chakra?"

Sonia came out to much applause a little after 1:30 in a beautiful multi-colored summer dress.

I didn't even think during the entire time that she sounded like Mary Steenbergen, something that was heavily on my mind the year before. To get everyone loosened up, she once again had us stand up, turn to the right, and give the person in front of us a shoulder massage. A minute later, we were instructed to give karate-chop hits on their shoulders. All this while we shook our hips vigorously. Next we turned around and did the person on our left.

As we got underway, she said that laughter was incredibly important when it came to getting in touch with your spirit, exactly what Tamura had told us an hour before. She then showed a couple other things we could do like saying, "Mwwwaaa" and gently hitting ourselves in the chest and saying, "Haaaaaaaaa". I wound up being glad I didn't wind up in the front as Sonia called two people up to the stage who were sitting there. The first lady who I'd met at Neale's workshop the day before looked like a deer caught in the headlights as Choquette asked her to sing a song for the crowd. She did a nice job, but it wasn't really soulful. Sonia gave her a minute and asked her to put her heart into it. She responded by singing Janet Jackson's "Together Again". Such a difference in how her face looked, in how her eyes appeared afterward. Of course, I would be petrified to do such a thing, but was plenty safe where I was sitting.

We were told to do an exercise with the person next to us in which we told the other the things we loved. And we had to keep saying what we loved til we couldn't think of any more. This was harder than I anticipated and I had problems coming up with more than four at a time. Next, we were told to tell the other what we were afraid of. I started by saying, "Carny people" and "rottweilers" and got the laugh that I expected. I then said that I'd thought of those two before and would now go into the real deal, being afraid of not having others to love, gaining weight, becoming disabled.

Sonia asked a lady in the front row what she was afraid of, but the answers she was getting didn't seem to be from spirit, from outside of her mind, so she had her come on stage where she was exposed for all to hear. She teared up a bit as she ran through the things that she was fearful of.

After doing some explaining of the five spirit types that exist, she told the microphone runner, "What about the handsome man in orange?"

*gulp* She asked me for ways to know that one was in touch with spirit. I did good at first, but then stumbled when she asked the part of the body that keeps you in touch with your soul. She had said something about the solar plexus earlier, so that's what I said, but chided myself when I realized that the hips are where she actually said it was at. I made a quick mention of "18 inches", the amount of space between the heart and the head and got a laugh from it, but I was grasping for straws a by that point.

I thought, "Oh, shit" as she asked me to come up front. She instructed me to wave to the crowd where I was greeted by a deluge of waves. In the crowd, I spotted a number of people that I'd become familiar with over the past couple of days, including the two who had already been called up, all with smiles on their faces and wishing me well.

Sonia asked that I tell the crowd of more than 100, mostly women, ways that we could get in touch with our spirit. I started with the old standard of just being, not thinking, and then started moving my hips swiftly from side to side while speaking. I didn't move my hips once during the fast songs that played while on the dance floor during my wedding reception, but hell if I was going to do it half-assed and have Sonja ask me to do it with more vigor. So I shook it fast as I ripped off a few more tips, things like saying, "Mwaaa", hitting yourself gently on the chest saying, "Aaahhh", giving people massages, karate chops, and saying that making people laugh is also a good way to get in touch.

I was more than a little dazed as I got a round of applause and Sonia said, "I like you" as I headed back to my seat. I was incredibly calm and relaxed as I sat down, the fear I'd had a moment earlier gone. I'm not sure how I was able to do this in front of all those people. I just know that I was feeling very comfortable in my body and no negativity whatsoever. I'd like to have actually seen a recording of what I did, but the memory will have to suffice (though I do now have an audio recording of the workshop as a keepsake).

I was complimented the rest of the afternoon by about a half-dozen people who'd seen my performance including one lady who'd said that I was "terrific". I also ran into the young lady who'd sang onstage and touched her hand as I said that she sounded great. We'd both been through the gauntlet, but lived to tell the tale.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part IX

I'm more than a little ashamed to admit that in the early morning hours on Sunday, I had my arms around the body pillow that the Westin had provided for its guests. It's hard to deny the appeal of having one's arms around something. It's what they're for, after all; my Bible tells me so.

I woke up nice and early for my last day at Celebrate Your Life. While brushing my teeth, I felt a loose particle on the upper right side, so spit it out. It hit the sink and went straight down the drain; kinda like Obama these days. Once I finished brushing, I felt something missing from that same area and shuddered as I realized that what I'd spit out was actually a filling. I wasn't going to be the man today that I was just a few hours before.

Knowing there was nothing I could do about it that day and feeling no pain, I headed downstairs to see Neale for the last time that weekend. I was happy to see no one waiting yet, so was assured a good seat. A forty-something who came up behind me was in the mood to chat, so I told her how I came upon Neale and asked how she did the same.

As it grew closer to Go Time, the Wisconsin native wondered why we hadn't been seated yet. I told her that the room had to be specially prepared as Neale liked to open each workshop by doing five minutes of stand-up. She totally bought it as I laughed.

I got my usual front aisle seat and readied myself for more wisdom from on high. Below is a pic of Neale gesticulating for all to see (I can be seen in front wearing an orange shirt. Wearing orange means one's serious about their spirituality and is, in most cases, on the right path. Monks are a prime example of this):

The subject that morning was on the Mechanics of the Mind and the System of the Soul. At one point, he pointed in my direction and said, "This guy's probably thinking, 'I didn't know this was going to be a college psychology course'". He talked of how, many times, we assume something is true when it really isn't. For example, there were a couple girls from the year before who I felt were blowing me off, but it turned out that they weren't; I was able to catch up with them later that day. It was a bit humbling to know that I was just as likely to fall victim to the "apparent truth" conundrum as those of a less spiritual bent.

Being in the front allows for much more interaction with Neale. He talked of how various behaviors don't work as well in different contexts. Being sensuous at home is a fine thing (unless the mother-in-law is visiting, of course), but doing it in a restaurant might lead to a slapped face. Neale demonstrated this by leaning forward and acting as if he was going to strike me. I playfully backed up a bit as he did so.

It's much easier to really listen when one is sitting close as well. In one instance, Neale asked the group what the mind helps us to do. Remembering the definition he'd given us an hour before, I didn't hesitate to say, "It helps us to survive". Neale replied with, "Somebody's paying attention!" I gave a thumbs-up. I admit, it's great being a teacher's pet.

As the seminar ended, I headed off to see Michael Tamura again. I took one last look at Neale signing books before continuing down the hall. One of the biggest laughs I got was when one of the older ladies who'd cut to the front of the line at Neale's all-day two days before, went outside to have a smoke. The wind was strong as her every effort to light a cigarette failed. I physically stopped to see how things turned out. This exact same scenario happened there a few years before; it may have even been the same lady. She wound up going behind a column and getting it lit there. The show being over, I continued on.

There weren't many seats open in the first few rows of Tamura's 'shop, so I opted for the sixth or seventh row next to a nice-looking lady from Minneapolis. She asked where my significant other was. I said that she'd been to this conference in '08 and that it saved money if, while I went to this, she saw her sister who lives just a few miles down the road and who she rarely sees. This answer didn't completely satisfy her. She was surprised to hear that I planned to drive the six hours home that night. I said that I'd done it thrice before and that it was cheaper than flying. I did understand the appeal, however, of taking a plane from Bloomington straight on through to Chi-Town.

Tamura was introduced a few minutes later and got to work on educating us. Below is a pic of the three of us:

He had the lady next to me laughing, not least when he said, "Do you know how you become an advanced student of mine? By attending more than one of my workshops".

As he looked across the room, he said that all of us have had multiple lives, both as women and men. A number of traits I have make me all but certain that I've experienced womanhood. He described a "platoon" of souls waiting to be incarnated, excited at the opportunity to experience physical life. Many cry that they didn't pick their parents when, in actuality, according to Tamura, they did.

Typically, parents are chosen that will most help the soul in experiencing spiritual growth, so if you have difficult parents, ultimately, it was to your highest benefit. What value is there, after all, in having a mom and dad who are perfect? Tamura said that he sometimes helps these souls find parents. When questioned about possibilities, he'll say, "I know a couple suckers". He was joking, of course, but can you imagine giving birth to a soul who was once, say, Genghis Khan's brother?

One of the best points made is that saints weren't always saints. They all had to go through trials and tribulations in which they hurt others. Even Jesus wasn't without sin. The audience was rapt as Tamura said that he was Mongolian in a prior lifetime. He had a lot of power and misused it by causing people that weren't in his tribe to be hurt. At that time, he believed in separation, that his people were superior to others. It took awhile, but he was eventually able to see that none of us is more deserving of life and love than any other.

Once the workshop ended, I headed to the large room where a small boxed lunch was served. As I headed to a table to eat with the 'Sconnie native, I touched the shoulder of one of the ladies I'd been sitting with in the evenings.

One of the reasons people seem to like to talk to me is because of how readily I can bring up pop cultural references that pertain to the period of time that the other is talking about. For example, the lady at lunch said she read some spiritual works as a teen in the 70's. The first thing I asked was if she'd read Jonathan Livingston Seagull. A minute later, I brought up the Seth material. I asked what kind of music she liked back then, giving examples like the Eagles, James Taylor, and Fleetwood Mac.

The last time I got a haircut, from a woman who'd I worked with at another job, she said that my memory of details is amazing, that I'm like an encyclopedia. With the advent of Google, I suppose this is less compelling than it once was, but it still makes me a curiosity at dinner parties.

Once I finished lunch, I headed to the lobby for a few minutes' walk before the next seminar. I saw Tamura walking my way and said hi to him. He replied in kind as I was now just minutes from what would be the most memorable workshop I'd experience that weekend, certainly the most adrenaline-inducing.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part VIII

I next headed to the room where Michael Tamura, the man who had so tickled me the prior summer, was scheduled to speak. Imagine going somewhere and knowing that, without question, you are going to laugh. Many times I go to comedies at the movie theatre and am let down when they don't make me laugh or not as hard as I was hoping. The true belly laugh is something that is hard to come by, so when it comes, you really have to appreciate it.

I was surprised to see open seats in the front row and hustled up there. The room seemed bigger and more airy then the others. The Spanish lady from Neale's 'shop (the one I just left) sat next to me. A few minutes later, the Spanish lady from lunch asked if the seat on the opposite side was open. I answered in the affirmative.

I next proceeded to tell the ladies what they were in for: a happy man who exudes positivity, so much so that he has a tendency to laugh at his own jokes: sometimes he's the only one. As he was being introduced by his wife, he was making faces and rolling his eyes a bit as if to say, "Hey, I'm not all that".

He started with an account of the time he had some type of attack and the ambulance was rushing him to the hospital. Tamura then said, "It didn't look like I was gonna make it...and I didn't." He described leaving his body and seeing his wife driving in an SUV behind the ambulance. She, being a clairvoyant, saw his spirit in the sky and Tamura said she shook her fist at him as if to say, "Get your ass back into that ambulance!"

He said all this with a smile on his face and the story may have been the occasion on which I laughed the hardest that weekend. From time to time, I would look at the others around me, most with a serious look on their face, unsure of what to make of this man.

Lots of wisdom was shared during those 90 minutes, but the lightheartedness made it so much more enjoyable. It's amazing how the way certain words are spoken can translate into convulsions in the ribs, but it is, without question, one of life's greatest pleasures.

He teased that one of the things expected of those who took one of his advanced classes was being able to hold one's breath for four hours. We closed with a meditation that had me smiling, not least when he directed us to "Look at the ceiling...even though it's not very interesting".

I looked forward to seeing him again the following day, though that workshop would take a more serious turn.

After relaxing for the next hour in my room, I headed downstairs to see Marianne Williamson. She was going to be discussing her new book which was about weight loss. Being at a normal weight, I had no interest in the subject, but felt I could get up and leave if it became intolerable.

I wound up finding the older ladies I'd sat with the night before and was happy that I'd get to sit on the aisle again; I was in about the ninth row. When Marianne came out, a lady behind me took the words right out of my mouth when she said, "She's so tiny!" I thought, at first, that she was referring to her weight which I somewhat doubted was in the triple digits, but came to see that she may have been referring to her petiteness with regards to heights as well.

Being a bit bored at the beginning, I shared a few wisecracks with the lady next to me. At one point, I leaned in to her and said (referring to Williamson): "Do you think she's wearing a girdle?"

I noticed an older man sitting one row in front of me across the aisle. Wearing glasses, he had a can that looked like Gandalf's stick and held a crystal in his hand. He stared at it for quite some time, more fascinated by it that what was being said. I gather that he purchased it from one of the dozens of vendors that were selling their goods at the conference. I've no use for crystals myself. If everything that occurs is for my highest good, what point would there be in owning such a thing? If it gives others comfort, however, well, good for them.

Thankfully, Williamson moved on to things that I had more of an interest in. She shared a piece of wisdom that has stayed with me since I first heard it in the early 90's. The line is, "My safety lies in my defenselessness." Many times when I stressed, those six words soothed me and told me that things would go better if I just let things be instead of fighting against them. I was reminded me of another line from one of her books: "The sky is always blue, even when a gray cloud passes by."

There was one bit I disagreed with, however. At one point, she said, "If you fight yourself, you're gonna lose." I instantly thought, "Well, wouldn't that mean, that a part of yourself won?"

Near the end, she took audience questions and I loved it when she was standing just a few feet in front of me. Below is a pic from that moment; I can be seen on the left wearing a light blue shirt with a bit of a bald spot. The crystal-watcher can be seen on the right wearing green pants.

Hearing this woman speak so eloquently right in front of me is why I come to these conferences and Williamson was the first self-help New Age-type author I ever read.

I skedaddled out of there pretty quick once Marianne finished up. Having signed my copy of one of her books last year, I wanted to hit Popeye's one more time before leaving town the next day. I made it about twenty minutes before they closed. They were out of corn on the cob, but the chicken more than made up for it.

I returned to the hotel with the beverage I'd bought at the restaurant. I held the cup up high to my right shoulder with the Popeye's logo facing out so that those who walked past me would not escape knowing where I'd just ate. As I got off the elevator, a man looked directly at the cup and then at me, receiving the message I'd been trying to send.

I walked through the bar to see if there was anyone around that I knew before heading upstairs for my last night at Celebrate Your Life. Little did I know that the following afternoon, just like on Friday, I would be called up to the front for a demonstration, only this time, it would be in front of a much larger audience.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part VII

The next three lectures represented the heart of my Saturday, all given by men that I'd seen before. It started off with a visit with Michael Traub, a man whose talent is to allow himself to be possessed by a man with an Irish accent who passed many moons ago. I'd found the spirit extremely amusing, probably funnier than most stand-ups the previous year, so was looking for more laughter as morning wound down.

I found a good seat in the second row between two younger women. I told them a bit about what to expect and to have a question in mind right away so that the mic runner could make sure to get to them early on before the whole room had their hands raised. The college-age lady to my right had a great deal of excitement on her face as she eagerly awaited hearing the wisdom that was to come forth for her that day. I was somewhat envious of the joy she displayed, but happy that I was able to share it in some small way.

She asked if she would be happy in the profession she'd gone to school for. O'Brien, the spirit, said, "There is no right or wrong way to go. But will you be happy there? No". She was given direction on a path to pursue that would give her more fulfillment and she quickly wrote it down once O'Brien moved on to the next person.

The lady to my left also had questions about what path to pursue career-wise. O'Brien asked if she was drawn to music as she had been a composer in past lives. A bit to her chagrin, he also stated that she and a friend liked to steal from villagers during medievel times. I didn't laugh as much as I had the year before, but seeing people get suggestions on ways to live more happily was enjoyable in its own right.

By this time, the neck ache that had bothered me the day before had crept back. Since the massage gals were located just a few feet from where Traub's conference was letting out, I hurried to the check-in and said I needed a massage. Wondering if they'd let me be seen a second time, I was glad that the lady in charge wasn't the same one as the day before.

I was directed to where a young lady was giving a massage to an older woman. I was only too happy to wait 10 minutes before she worked on my upper body. After telling her about the discomfort I was experiencing, she really went to town. She'd done something I'd not experienced before; going deep into my armpit to help alleviate the pain. What she was doing hurt, but I wasn't going to complain. She said to let her know if it did, but like the most stubborn man, my lips were sealed. I thanked her as I headed to the banquet room to have lunch.

Like prior years, it consisted of a turkey wrap, a soda, potato chips, an apple, and chocolate chip cookies. I found a table that wasn't completely filled and began by taking all the cheese off the turkey wrap. Silly dairy industry, wanting us to ingest things that come from the tits of another species. I conversated a bit with two ladies sitting to my left, one was from the Houston area, the other from nearby.

One of the main questions that attendees would ask each other is what speakers they'd seen and which ones they were scheduled to see. To do this quickly, all one had to do was look closely at the badge that the other person was wearing; it listed their complete itinerary. In some ways, this was like looking into their future. You could see the laughter they would experience if they were seeing Michael Tamura later that day, which I was scheduled for, or the talk about 2012 if you had plans to see the man whose charisma drove many of the women there crazy: Gregg Braden.

I noticed that the lady two seats over was scheduled to see Neale like me, so I asked if she wanted me to save a seat for her. She said she'd liked that, so I headed to the bathroom before waiting in line for the big guy. Coming in behind me was a young mixed-racial woman who'd brought a yoga mat with her. She said the yoga class offered that morning was fantastic.

We were let in about 15 minutes later. I got front row, center and saved the two seats to my right for the lady from lunch as well as the Latino who'd I'd had lunch with the day before. The jaw on the lady from that day's lunch dropped a bit when she walked in and saw that she was going to be sitting so close. She was like, "Damn...".

As Neale greeted people, the Latino asked if I'd take her picture with Neale. I said, "Sure" and got in close for a good shot. I said, "OK, ready, 1....2....3" and pressed down on the digital camera button. It hadn't take the pic for some reason, however. They said to try it again, which I did, but the same thing happened. The lady's face showed a bit of strain now, afraid that she wasn't going to be pictured next to her new favorite author. Neale asked that the lady take a picture of me to be sure the camera was working properly. She did and it did. It turned out that I wasn't holding down on the button like I should have been. No harm, no foul, however, as the third time wound up being the charm.

The lady from that day's lunch then asked if I could take her pic with Neale which I did. This was followed by another lady doing the same. I started to feel like I was the go-between for Neale and his many fans. Neale began his 90-minute discussion a minute or two later.

The subject was one I'd heard him speak of numerous times before. It involved having a conversation with God. He talked of how many religions don't believe that this is possible for Joe Schmo. I mean, they believe it's possible for God to communicate with man as they have books that were obviously written by men, but for the most part, these religions feel that that stopped at some point. The point that it stopped would depend on what religion one belonged to: depending on your disposition, it could be John the Revelator, Joseph Smith, or Ronald Reagan.

For those wondering, the exercise done as the seminar wound done was one in which a person asked a question they'd like the answer to. Notebooks were then put down as Neale led the group in a 8 to 10 minute meditation. As we came out of the meditation, we were told to write the answer that came to mind. The replies that many got sounded like they came from a very high place, as if God had actually spoken to them. This makes the point that all the answers we need lie within us.

I had two books for Neale to sign, so hung around afterward as he headed to a table where he would be affixing his John Hancock. What a laugh, I thought, if he signed his books by writing, "God". While he was signing my books, I said, "That purple shirt looks great on you". Neale responded with, "My wife said the same thing". Once he was finished, I said, "See you tomorrow" and headed to my next workshop.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part VI

I'd all but written off going to see Iyanla Vanzant on Saturday morning. Not being familiar with her work and having the time that she would begin speaking changed from 9am to 8:30, I figured with the dry throat I'd exhibited on Friday, it'd be a good idea to sleep a couple extra hours and be ready for the breakouts that began at 11:30.

I woke up earlier than expected, however (at about 7:30) and decided to start getting ready, still not planning to go see her. I did something while on the trip that I very rarely do at home: shave every day. I wanted to feel ultra clean and pure each morning that I attended the workshops and was greatly helped in this endeavor by removing the hair from my face.

I heard people leaving and heading to Vanzant's talk as I brushed my teeth and so on. I started thinking about going, but knew I'd have to sit in the back side of the room if I did so. I was all ready at about 8:15 and figured, "What the hell, let's check this one out".

Surprisingly, I was able to get a seat in about the 10th row; it's easier to find seats if you're just a group of one as opposed to two or more, definitely a perk of going solo. As I waited for the show to get underway, a lady walked up front who had a shirt that said, "Love is my religion".

A young man who'd I'd seen at Neale's all-day the day before sat next to me. He told me he was originally from Denmark, but now lived in the States. I asked, "Where are you living?" and he said, "Where I am". Damn, he was good.

Iyanla came out to much applause a few minutes later. Most appeared to be quite familiar with her due to the fact that she appeared on Oprah more than a dozen times.

I'd heard of the book "One Day My Soul Just Opened Up", but didn't know any of the specifics of her life. She came out dressed all in white and wound up being a hoot. There were some aspects that I didn't particularly care for such as sometimes having an attitude when not being respected by others, but I can't say I've not done the same thing in similar circumstances.

Throughout the weekend, I noticed that certain words spoken by the speaker would queue up songs in my mind having to do with the words said. Whenever someone said, "Joy" which was frequent, I would think of "General Joy" by Tori Amos. When someone said, "Benefit", I thought of the Beatles' "Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite". When I heard "Make Me Better", I thought of the rap song of the same name. I wondered if others had the same experience or didn't know enough songs for this to happen to them all the time.

One of her discussions really hit the mark. She told us to frequently ask ourselves, "How many strangers can you make smile today?" One of the greatest joys in my life is making people laugh, even if it's at my own expense. Something I need to work on is smiling more at people.

She took a number of questions after she concluded the regular portion of her talk. A man from Maryland said he'd been married for 40 years to the same woman, a woman who sleeps with one of Iyanla's books under her pillow. He said that though they have separate bedrooms, they have a great sex life. This got a number of laughs as you might expect and I did a little whistle looking back at him. Vanzant kept the laughter coming by saying, "I wanna see the woman you're having sex with". The wife, embarassed beyond belief, rose a few inches, but didn't have the nerve to stand fully.

Another great quote she gave was, "Live your life with some pizazz and excitement! You're gonna die. Get over it. You might even be going to hell!". A great sense of humor and one I really resonated with. As people came up to her to sign books, there would be a number who had tears in their eyes. Iyanla responded by saying, "People look at me and start crying! What does that mean?"

As I left the ballroom, I was extremely pleased that my body had gotten me up when it did. Seeing this beautiful black woman had gotten my day off to a great start.

Monday, July 04, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part V

I wasn't particularly looking forward to any of the four keynotes that were taking place that weekend. I was either not very familiar with their work or they would be discussing subjects that held no interest for me (Marianne Williamson talking about weight loss, in particular). But there is great energy sitting in a room with hundreds of other people, so I got in line at a resonable time on Friday evening so that I might get a decent seat.

I wound up sitting in the aisle in the ninth row next to a couple of ladies from Iowa. It was their first time at the conference and I was happy to fill them in on some of the things that would be taking place. Sitting on the aisle is really a great place to be as you pretty much have a straight- on view of the lecturer. The speaker's name was Doreen Virtue.

I asked the lady next to me if she believed that was her real last name. Seemed a lot to live up to, if you ask me. Doreen's specialty was angels, a subject that I just don't particularly care about. Maybe I have guardian angels, but so what? I believe that everything that happens in our life is for our highest good. One of the first things she said is that people have emotional issues to work through. Just then, I thought, "Not me". Well, not really, anyway.

In the morning, she says she meditates before reading email which seemed a good idea. This allowed her to not get worked up by having a negative reaction to some correspondence that she received. She said that most all of us have some type of block, be it finance-related, having to do with sex, family, or one's job. We were to ask ourselves what our particular block was and then, "What blessing is this block bringing me?", a nice way, I thought, of seeing that there is some good in every thing that one would consider bad.

As the lecture continued, I noticed a guy kneeling on the floor and then getting up again around the periphery of Virtue. He was taking pics documenting this momentous occasion. I smiled as he was using one of those old-fashioned cameras that you can hear the shutter go off on. He was also wearing a neck band that said Canon on it. To top it off, he had one of those beanie-type hats on his heads. Admiring his style, I thought, "God, I wish I could pull off that look".

After the two hours were up, I was glad to have seen Doreen, but certainly had no plans to buy any of her books. One of the things that bothered me is that most of the angels she talked of were male. Why angels needed to have genitals bothered me to no end.

I headed for the parking ramp where a White Castle was waiting just a few miles away. I listened to Lady Gaga's new one as I drove there. Like the summer before, I ordered four sliders and some fries. The other patrons were total cliches' of the type of clientele one would expect to see there on a Saturday night. A couple booths away were some 20-something Indian males and a chubby stoner-type was chowing down at one of the high-tops.

I felt a tinge of loneliness as I returned to the hotel room. Turning the light on and having no one there was not something I was used to. The good thing about the full scheduling of the conference is that it doesn't allow one much time to be homesick. It was much easier to get to sleep that night than it had been the day before.

I looked forward to seeing two of my favorites from last year the next day and was so underwhelmed at the thought of seeing an Oprah fave (Iyanla Vanzant) first thing in the morning that I set my alarm for when she would be through speaking. Getting a little more shut-eye would be more valuable in the long run, I thought, than seeing the "One Day My Soul Opened Up" author speak.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part IV

Things got started again at 2pm. From time to time, Neale's wife would share some of the poetry she'd written. One of my favorites starts with the line, "Nothing needs fixing". Those three words have brought me much peace this year. Things are fine just as they are.

We did a meditative exercise in which for a minute, we looked at the things we'd experienced starting with birth on through to the present day. Another minute was spent looking at the things we'll most likely be experiencing over the course of the rest of our lives (pun intended). I saw a lot of joy in the future, but also the passing of loved ones and pets. Neale said that the things we were visualizing had nothing at all to do with what is going on at this very minute, with what is happening now.

At the end, as we opened our eyes, we were instructed to look at something we agreed with. I looked at a light on the ceiling. When he asked us to look at something else we agreed with, I stared at a balloon and then at my pen.

When our time was about up for the day, Neale looked upon me, there in the front row, pointed at me and then asked that I stand up. He mentioned that I'd been to his retreats before. I nodded and said that last summer was the most recent time. He directed me to stand about six inches away from him. We were about to perform an experiment in which we stare into each other's eyes for 60 seconds straight. I was familiar with this exercise, but had never done it with another (I did it once in the mirror and fell in love with myself).

What a person to do it with and in front of dozens of others! Though it would be difficult, I resolved not to laugh or flinch. It wasn't easy, but I was able to do so. I stared directly into the eyes of the man whose book had changed my life almost 15 years ago for a full minute. He looked into my eyes and didn't even blink; I did once or twice. When the minute was up, he drew me close to him and then embraced me. This was certainly not something I expected when I woke up that morning.

The purpose of the exercise was to show that it's virtually impossible to dislike someone after staring deeply into their eyes, which many say are the windows to the soul. Many times when people argue, they don't look closely into the eyes of the other, preferring to get their point across over seeing their common humanity.

As the room was being broken down for that evening's keynote address, I got in line to have my pic taken with Neale; I've done this three times before. I asked the guy behind me to do the honors and here's what I got:

On a nice little high, I walked two blocks to the local mall which had a Subway that I'd visited before. While in line, a girl of about 18, upon seeing a pie, said to the cashier, "You have pizza?!" The man said, "Yes" to which the girl said, "I didn't know that".

There was a nice little surprise in the dispenser where change is given to people after they've paid for their order. I dug out three quarters before my own change was put there. I'll leave dimes, nickels, and pennies in there when I get em, but not quarters. Speaking of which, I had 18 cents I wanted to get rid of as I left the food court. I wound up dropping it as I passed three teenagers. I didn't look back to see if they picked it up or not. It's always a laugh wondering what their reaction was.

As I left JCPenney and headed back to the hotel, I saw three women from Neale's all-day, two of whom were smoking. The eldest pointed at me and said, "There's that guy" to her friends. I smiled and waved.

I spent a short amount of time in my room before getting ready to go to the first keynote lecture. More than a thousand souls would be present for it.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part III

I woke up shortly before 7 and headed to the bathroom where a double-headed shower awaited me. Though still achy, the hot water brought me some peace. I had a warm low-sodium V8 and shaved before brushing my teeth. My desire to come across as good as possible translated to me brushing 4 times that day, a great deal more than is typical. But after lunch, I wanted to do it. Before the evening session and so on.

I was in the lobby at around 7:45. Not many attendees had congregated yet and there was no wait time at all to get my badge for the weekend. Strike that, there was a wait as the lady who searched for my badge was looking under Dickson, not Dixon.

I next went to the gift shop where I bought some cough drops. Priced 33% more that what they'd cost at the supermarket, I had no choice but to purchase them if I wanted to keep my mouth moist. I then staked out my spot near the door to the conference room as I waited to be seated. Three women were in front of me, which would mean I'd most likely get to sit in the front row.

The weekend was going to be kicked off with an all-day workshop with my favorite author, Neale Donald Walsch (he wrote the late 90's classic "Conversations With God"). This would be the fifth event that I'd be seeing him at.

A woman of Hispanic descent came in line behind me. I asked how she'd come to know Neale's work. She said she was very new to it and like me, had signed up to see him every day that weekend. A couple of older ladies, twins, came up to the redhead who was first in line and hugged her. They'd obviously met at previous events. I didn't think it fair when they both took spots up front with her, but didn't think it was worth saying anything.

We were led into the room relatively late as Neale likes to greet people before they come in. When his wife arrived, she recognized me, smiled, and extended her hand to me. I wound up sitting in front, on one side by a lady who attended the all-day last year and on the other by a woman who'd attended the year before. I was embraced by the one from 2009; not surprisingly, she told me a short time later that giving hugs to people regularly had become a part of her spiritual practice. As I left to go to the bathroom, Neale spotted me and said with a smile on his face, "You again?" I said, "Great to see you, good to see you" as I touched his shoulder.

He was scheduled to talk about soul contracts which are arrangements made before we are born in which we decide what souls we'll be working with in life and in what ways. It took him a while to get to this topic, however, as he wanted to give those present some background on his life.

Like the previous year, he didn't want to give a morning break as that chews up 20 minutes that we could be learning or as he would say, remembering. I knew I wouldn't make it to lunch without hitting the head, so just like a movie, timed my departure to when a boring part came up. I chose to go when he started talking about the parable of The Little Soul and the Sun.

You can read it in full here. I'd heard it a number of times before, so knew I wasn't missing much by leaving at that time. As I exited the room, I heard him say, "He's heard this one before!"

Throughout the morning, I took a number of cough drops and my throat gradually got better. I wasn't out of the woods, however, as my neck had started hurting. I chalked it up to driving more than six hours the day before. If I kept my neck positioned a certain way, I was alright, but decided that I'd sign up to get a 10-minute massage that afternoon with the organization that was relieving physical pain for those that needed it that weekend.

One of the nuggets that Neale shared with us was to smile five times a day for no good reason. I'm doing that very thing as I'm writing this. Would you do the same as you read this sentence, dear reader?

Since it's been two years since his last book, I was glad to hear that his new one comes out this fall, cleverly titled "The Storm Before the Calm".

We broke for lunch at 12:30. I dined with the Latino lady as we discussed each other's lives. Lunch consisted of a salad that one put together while in a buffet line. To make sure I wouldn't get hungry that afternoon, I ate something I'd not had in many, many months: a dinner roll. After she cleaned her plate, she said that she wanted to do some shopping; they have a number of vendors there, not to mention books by all the authors speaking that weekend.

I went to where the massages were given out and was pleased that I only had to wait a couple minutes. I'd never had a chair massage before; I always have ones in which I lay down. Beggars can't be choosy, however, so I sat in the chair as I told the young woman that my neck was bothering me.

It may be apparent by now that I wasn't really encountering any males at the conference. This is a happy by-product of being on a spiritual path. Only about one out of every ten attendees is male and we are frequently complimented on having the balls to do so.

The massage didn't completely alleviate the discomfort, but I was so pleased at getting some relief that I gave the masseuse five dollars as a "donation".

As I returned to the conference room, I had no idea that Neale would wind up calling me to the front of the room before the day was out to give a real-life example of a powerful spiritual truth.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part II

My original plan was to check in at the hotel and then go eat supper at Popeye's. I realized, however, that it would be much more convenient to just go eat and then head to the hotel where I would be staying for the remainder of the night. I looked forward to watching some of the NBA Finals on TV if not in my room, then at the bar downstairs.

As I drew closer to Lombard, the city where the conference was taking place, I started coughing every now and then. Dori had noticed this a bit earlier and hoped I wasn't coming down with anything. I said, "Not a chance" and continued to drive merrily along. Now that it was becoming more acute, the thought entered my mind that I might not be at full speed for the weekend. Something similar happened last year on the drive down; my neck was so achy that I had to put a pillow behind my head.

In some ways, I was looking forward to Popeye's almost as much as the conference. I'd first tried it the summer before and went there twice in four days. Going back for more was an absolute necessity as there are no locations within 100 miles of where we live. I walked in and ordered a 2-piece with a corn of cob. I went to the fountain and got Hawaiian Punch for a drink, but it was totally bland. Not wanting to mess with caffeine or carbonation, I put the Crystal Light I'd brought along into the Popeye's cup and went from there.

The food was as delicious as 12 months before, but I noticed I wasn't eating as mindully, as slowly as I had the last time I was there. It may have been anxiety at getting checked in at the hotel. You see, I had a bit of a concern that since my name wasn't on the credit card that was used to bill the hotel, I might have problems when I got there. Dori was supposed to have accompanied me there, but her sister was feeling ill and requested that I drop her off first. I took things a bit more easy as I had my last few bites.

Next, it was off to the hotel where wonder of wonders, the check-in clerk, the one who had so sincerely said "Welcome" a minute before, said that they usually don't let people check in who aren't listed on the reservation, but since I had copies of the confirmation and there was a Mr. listed in there somewhere, she would "let it slide". Here's a pic of the check-in area:

Happy that I had a place to sleep, I parked the car in the ramp and brought my luggage inside. This included my two favorite pillows and a small fan. From the 7th floor, I had a great view of Target. I was feeling great at this point, though the cough was still a bit of a concern.

After spending so much time on the road, I felt now was a great time to take a hot bath and just relax. This is what the bathroom looks like:

In some ways, the trip had come up a bit too fast. I was secretly hoping that it would still be a few weeks away. Staying in a hotel by myself and being away from our home and pets isn't something I'm a big fan of. Plus, I wondered if I'd really even get anything out of this year's workshops. But I was here now and like it or not, magic time was approaching.

It was about 7pm as I put my robe on and just then, a wave of exhaustion overcame me. All thoughts of going downstairs to watch the game passed as I realized that it would be best to just get plenty of sleep that night and be as fresh as possible for the next morning.

I headed to the bathroom where I sat on the floor and had some snacks before turning in: a package of Oreo Cakesters, a small bag of Cheetos, and a Cherry Nutri-Grain bar. I read a 5-year old Entertainment Weekly magazine while doing so. One great thing about hotels is that you can really make the room dark. It's well known that having sex in a hotel is so exhilarating in large part because the male loves having sex in different places. I pulled down the shade and shut the curtains.

My mind raced as I tried to sleep. Hoping I wasn't coming down with anything, I knew I'd have to head to the hotel gift shop the next morning and get plenty of cough drops so that I wouldn't be a nuisance to others when a cough came on. I was able to finally get to sleep an hour later, but woke up what felt like 15 minutes after. In fact, I woke up at least five times that night. Not being roused by the cough, I had no explanation for why this was happening: Being in a different bed? Spending a lot of money on an experience that might not pay off? Worried that I'd be well under 100% through it all?

It wasn't looking good at this point, but damn if I wasn't going to give it my best shot when it came time to rise for the day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Soulful Trip to Chicago - Part I

Last Thursday, for the fourth summer in a row, my beloved and I headed to the Chicagoland area; me to go to the Celebrate Your Life convention, her to visit with her only sibling. We left at about 10:30am expecting plenty of road construction along the way. I made sure I hadn't forgotten anything as I locked the front door and stepped into the car.

As usual, I'd brought about 20 CD's to listen to during the trip. As we got underway, Dori said, "We're not gonna listen to a lot of country, are we?" Though I'd brought some Vince Gill and George Strait, most of the rest were of the pop genre. We got underway with Genesis' greatest hits album. An hour later, I put on a CD that consisted of 70's and 80's TV show theme songs. My love had a good time trying to guess what some of them were. A few of her favorites were: "M*A*S*H", "St. Elsewhere", and "Little House on the Prairie".

By this point, we were well into Wisconsin. The temperature that afternoon was around 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Two days before, we'd experienced an incredible warmup. The high had been 98 degrees. I thought it was bad when I mowed the back yard a couple of days before when it was 93, but five degrees higher is even worse.

About halfway through 'Sconnie, we stopped at Subway for lunch. It turned out to be the same Subway we'd been to once before when driving to the Land of Lincoln. I chuckled while ordering my sub as the cashier looked awfully familiar. When he was ringing us up, I said, "Do you know who you look like? McLovin from "Superbad."

He neither laughed nor frowned, just said that he's been told that numerous times before. Poor guy. He should look into getting contacts.

I have this thing that I've done for years when I see roadkill on the highway. I look at the body as we go by and then lift my eyes quickly to heaven as if to say, "I know you died there, little fella, but am confident that your consciousness continues to exist". I do this not once, but three times for each animal I encounter. This doesn't happen much in the city limits, but on our ride last Thursday, occurred at least a dozen times. Damn if I didn't get a bit tired of doing it, but some habits are hard to break. Besides, after I pass one, I don't want some raccoon saying, "Hey, thanks for not acknowledging me, prick!"

A curious thing happened as we continued. There'd be signs that would say "Road Construction 3 Miles Ahead". My response would be, "I expected this and am ready for it". Five minutes later, I'd see orange barrels on the shoulder of the road, but none blocking any of the lanes. There would be a slightly reduced speed posted, but certainly not the kind of backups I'd been expecting.

The next disc I listened to was Maroon 5's new one "Hands All Over". A gift from my woman for my birthday, it had sat unopened for more than six months. I opened it up and listened to it as we drove through Madison and was impressed with the groovy sounds it offered. It was their first production with Mutt Lange, a man who'd worked on albums with Bryan Adams, Def Leppard, and Shania Twain.

We stopped at a truck stop shortly before passing over into Illinois. A man was giving what appeared to be his son a hard time saying things to him like, "You broke my fuckin' credit card" and "Let's go, boy". Just then, I thanked my old man for rarely exhibiting such theatrics.

We'd brought ten dollars worth of quarters for the tolls we would be encountering in the state that Obama was a senator of before making it to the big time. All was well as I turned off to the exit that would lead to my girl's sister's apartment. One problem, though: as I went through the toll area, there wasn't any place to put the 30 cents. Just a number of cameras. The person behind us honked and I lifted the money into the air as if to say, "Where the fook do I put this?" Not getting a reply, I continued on. Dori talked about possibly being fined a hundred dollars and said she'd talk to her sister about how to proceed.

Once we arrived at her loved one's, I helped bring her luggage in and asked if I could check my email. I did so while Dori gave her sister some late birthday presents. I was asked if I wished to stay a bit longer, but wanting to get checked in and have a bite before winding down was uppermost on my mind now that it was after 4pm. I said goodbye to the girls and got in my car, eager for the next step in my 4-day journey.