StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Disturbance in Arizona

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on April 15, 2010

This week, the Arizona House of Representatives passed a draconian anti-immigrant bill that could give free rein to ethnic profiling throughout the state.

What is it about Arizona?  Much as I loathe John McCain, his opponent J.D. Hayworth sounds far worse.  (Notice how Sarah Palin didn’t badmouth Hayworth when she spoke at McCain’s rally.  She might be the biggest twit on the tour bus, but she knows she might need Hayworth later.)  A talk radio host, Hayworth is one of the titans of the bourgeoning industry of misinformation that conservatives churn out big and fast for Tea Partiers and other gullible nitwits.  I hope Democratic challenger Rodney Glassman knows how to roll in the mud with dirty dogs because he’s in for the pit fight of his life.

But I have a friend who moved to Arizona six months ago and loves it.  She’s a nature lover and New Age healer, who has found a vast community out by Prescott where she can openly discuss astral projection, medicine wheels and all sorts of other occult practices that make mine and most other people’s eyes glaze over.  Lest we forget, the rise and fall of James Arthur Ray took place in Sedona.  (Did that story fall off the media’s radar screen?)

Martha Beck has lived in Phoenix for over a decade and has never publicly condemned Arizona’s ultra-conservatism (of course, she’s from Utah; Arizona must look like a nudist colony by comparison).  But in a chapter on the “essential self,” she did offer this discourse on a true-crime story from The Grand Canyon State:

Here in Wild West Phoenix, where real men still have obscene tattoos and keep rattlesnakes as pets, we recently experienced a rash of brazen burglaries.  The thieves entered empty houses to steal any jewelry, silverware, and electronic equipment they could find. In one home, their loot included an expensive camera. The thieves sold the goods at a swap meet later the same week, leaving no clues to their identity – except that they’d taken several pictures of one another burgalizing the houses, then left the film in the camera when they fenced it.  The police had lots of nice photographic evidence to help them find and convict the whole gang.

Many criminals do incredibly stupid things like this, because they’re actually conflicted about breaking the law.  It’s a rare thing to find a burglar who thinks it’s dandy if other people steal his stuff; when it comes right down to it, his deepest self believes stealing is immoral.  Your essential self will fight you by committing ‘stupid’ blunders when you violate your own values.  It’s as likely to happen when you try to be too virtuous as when you break the law.  Do you think it’s an accident that every time your mother-in-law arrives to take you to her Bible study group, she finds you naked in your backyard hot tub, singing the blues and drinking Kahlua through a straw?

I think not.

Julia Sweeney: Born-Again Atheism?

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on March 6, 2010

I found this video of Julia Sweeney on Craig Ferguson’s show. They’re both brilliant!

I’m reading Craig Ferguson’s novel Between the Bridge and The River and I’m amazed that a talk-show host could write so incredibly well! Not that a talk-show host couldn’t have a lot of writing talent, but where the hell did he find the time?

As for Julia Sweeney, I loved her show Letting Go of God, where she speaks about her conversion to atheism, and I was immensely gratified to see how she went on Craig Ferguson and demonstrated that one can have discussions of morality and ethics without reference to a transcendental deity.

It’s the same in Buddhism and at the Society for Ethical Culture, an outstanding institution that’s right around the corner from my house in Brooklyn. They’re both non-theistic (well, some sects of Buddhism are not), which doesn’t necessarily denote atheism. Some Buddhists and “ethical culturists” believe in God, some don’t. It’s just that their discussions of morality have no basis in the Bible.

I profoundly dislike the Bible. I don’t think it’s the Word of God and I honestly think the world would have been far better off without it.

And I love how Sweeney debunks the New Testament, which many paint as benign compared to the Old Testament.  She’d read the Bible as part of a class she took with a Roman Catholic priest.  She and her fellow classmates were shocked to uncover the following passages (the poor priest was at a loss as to how to explain it all away: “Just praaaay for faaaith,” he said in his Irish brogue):

– Luke Ch. 21: Jesus says he’s a king and “anyone who doesn’t recognize me, bring them here and slaughter them before me.”

– Matthew Ch. 21: Jesus condemns a fig tree to death (a fig tree!) because it displeases him.

– Wedding of Cana: Jesus says to his mother, “Woman, what have I to do with you?”  Later, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell the story about how his mother waited patiently by a multitude that Jesus is addressing. He tells his disciples, “Send her away because you are my family now!” (Mark says Mary was there to “restrain” Jesus.  He was apparently so crazy-angry all the time, people were getting freaked out! – not what they taught us in Sunday school.)

– Luke Ch. 14: Jesus says, “Anyone who comes to me and does not hate father and mother, brother and sister, wife and children, cannot be my disciple.” (Isn’t this the kind of thing cult leaders say to their followers?)

– Revelations states that only 144,000 people will ever be saved or get into heaven and that none of them will have “defiled themselves with women.” Sorry, straight guys!

People tend to gloss over these and many other statements of the Bible. They like to think Jesus only got mad in the temple that one time.  (I won’t even go into the Old Testament.  I’m in a bad enough mood already.)  In my most recent post, I mentioned how Ann Coulter characterizes her Christian faith as one of strident vituperation – and here we can see why. (How about we start up a Society for Ethical Coulter? Ha! [What can I say, when I’m good, I’m good!])

Anyhow, Julia Sweeney and I are both from Irish-Catholic backgrounds.  My own iconoclasm wouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who knows me, but she was a sorority girl who’d wanted to become a nun before majoring in accounting!  (She later became an actress and comedienne, best known for her portrayal of the creepily androgynous Pat on Saturday Night Live.)  We came to different conclusions about the existence of God but we tend to agree about the manipulations of organized religion.

Only, at the end of her show, she takes an agree-to-disagree stance with people who take solace in spirituality and/or religion.  But I’ve been reading her blog lately and she’s since become quite militant in her atheism.  It’s become the all-consuming subject of her life!  Part of me can understand this.  If she doesn’t believe in God, which is understandable, then she’s going to have to work extra hard to find meaning in life.  But this new phase of hers is a kind of born-again atheism, which she promotes with tent-revival fervor through her Freedom From Religion Foundation.  Now, on her blog, she’s denouncing believers as “programmed” and even “arrogant” simply for holding on to their belief systems (cf. Bill Maher’s “Religulous”).  Martha Beck wrote a wonderful piece on how such cold-turkey atheism can become just as reactionary as the worldview it seeks to supplant.

Right now, she’s living in the suburbs of Chicago with her husband and daughter whom she adopted from China (she has a whole other show on that called, “In the Family Way”).  She is writing a book of essays on how to be a happy atheist.  I’m glad such a book is coming out, a lot of people need it.  While I cannot logically or rationally defend my own belief in God, I couldn’t imagine having the atheist’s struggle on my back on top of everything else.  I just hope Julia Sweeney is happy and the rest of her life doesn’t become all about defending her position.

Having said that, her blog is damn well-written and, next time I’m out in Chicago, I hope she has a new show on!

Is It Complacency or Just Plain Good Sense?

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on August 16, 2008

I’ll start with a segment of an article I found from the great Martha Beck called “Martha Beck’s Anti-Complain Campaign.” It was published in a 2007 edition of O – The Oprah Magazine. (I don’t know which month.) The following paragraph – about a young woman named Dinah – specifically addresses why it is foolhardy to bitch and moan about the government:

College sophomore Dinah spent hours with her friends ranting about a certain high-ranking elected official, who shall remain nameless. This, Dinah told me, was activism. I said it looked more like passivism — neither activism nor pacifism but an excellent way of feeling intelligent and important without studying.

Today, I found myself thinking the following:

I know who I’m voting for. I support Barack. I give him money. I sign petitions. I volunteer. But do I have to keep checking polls? Do I have to keep blogging about this election? Do I have to keep taking the GOP to task? Should I even bother talking about the presidential race? About Barack vs. McCain?

Frankly, should I even care? I mean, how much can little ole me do to turn the tide of stupidity, the kind that the majority of American voters raised to such overwhelming heights in 2004?

Why don’t I just go merrily on my own way and let the chips fall where they may?

Then another monologue starts up in my head:

Why are you even letting that complacent bullshit run through your head? The fate of the world is at stake! Even if stupidity overruns this nation again (which it might with the electoral college, at the very least), I for one should not let us suffer silently!

But, if I were to cling to that line of thought, wouldn’t I just exhaust myself in an attempt to control – or at least inveigh against – what I cannot control?

Wouldn’t I be better off just making my donations of time and money to Barack and then stop checking polls and just ignore the presidential race entirely until voting time?

I can’t be the only one out there weighing these same questions.

I welcome any answers anyone might have.

85A Log: Shitty First Drafts And Turtle Steps

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 14, 2008

Halfway through Chapter 12 of 85A, I somehow hit a snag. For the past couple weeks, I’ve just been inching my way forward on this now 45-page chapter. In the absence of inspired ideas, I’ve basically just been trying to fill my daily word-quota, hoping for the best. Then, I go back, edit and reedit everything I’ve written from Page One. Then I go home and meditate for 45 minutes, hoping what I’m doing is letting my subconscious incubate new ideas for the next day.  (Meditation is also a useful tool for keeping one’s own head out of the oven.)

For a while, my subconscious regularly churned out inspiration. Then it didn’t. But, not wanting to be lazy, I have now decided to write whether the muse descends or not. I have to tell you that the writing has been terrible, but at least it’s down on paper and I can rework it at a more inspired time.

Anne Lamott - BIRD BY BIRD

Anne Lamott - BIRD BY BIRD

I’m sure that, by now, enough people have blogged about the “Shitty First Drafts” chapter of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It probably requires no introduction, but this is the section of the book where Lamott shares these kind words:

For me and most other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. In fact, the only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts…The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page.

So, with this wisdom in mind, I can say with pride rather than low self-worth, “I wrote a shitty first draft today.” Well, I’d like to say that with pride at least. My inner critic keeps roaring, “You’re on bad paper with the world as it is. And you’re getting older. You can’t afford to so much as split an infinitive. No one will ever pick up anything you write ever again.” Well, I guess this voice will always be in my head. The point is not to believe it.

Shitty First Drafts are the essence of kindness for the writer.



Other wisdom instructions come from one of my all-time favorite people Martha Beck. Seriously, she’s one of the smartest, funniest, wisest popular authors alive today. She is also a columnist for Oprah Magazine and the one reason why I, as a male, buy that magazine every month (well, I also use it for the collages I make). I’ve read her books and listen to her audio CDs almost every day and I cannot exaggerate my love for them. Recently, I went back through her personal-growth classic, Finding Your Own North Star, in search of wisdom for the long haul through the rest of my novel. Here’s what I found just at a cursory glance:

1. Turtle Steps: From Pages 320 to 323, Beck discusses how she managed to write her PhD dissertation in just 15 minutes a day. Well, the first draft of it anyway.

The whole assignment was a sword dangling over head. Yet, for months, she hadn’t done a thing about it. She went within and asked her “essential self” if it would agree to doing six hours of writing a day, which was half of what she felt she should be doing. Her essential self was appalled. She said, “Okay, three hours?” It damn near laughed at her. “Two hours?” Still nothing-doing. “90 minutes?” Nope. “Okay, okay. One hour! Please! A chimpanzee can do one hour.” Her essential self would not budge. “Half hour?” Still nothing.

“Fifteen minutes?” All of a sudden, she and her essential self had a deal. The first day, she spent 15 minutes just digging out all the notes she’d need to start the process. That might not sound like much, but it was more than she’d been able to get herself to do for months. The next day, she called her adviser for direction on her thesis statement. Slowly, she began to write. Momentum began to build. Within a year, she had over 300 pages written.

Now, the first draft of the dissertation was no masterwork. She sent it to her advisers at Harvard and they failed it. But she reviewed all their notes and critiques, re-crafted the manuscript, and sent it back to them. After a few tries, they accepted her dissertation. All her turtle steps paid off (eventually) due, in part, to her willingness to fail. This brings us to her another jewel of wisdom that she offers to us slow steady-goers:

2. “Do A Terrible Job.” You could imagine my relief this week when I came across the title of this teaching. I’ll reiterate the first paragraph of that subsection in full:

I believe with all my heart that if a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly. Almost all my clients are willing to work very hard to do things well. That’s a laudable approach to life. However, it also means that once we’ve amassed enough life skills to get by without daily egregious mistakes, we stop growing, experimenting, and learning new behaviors. We limit our whole range of activities to things we already do well. Refusing to do a bad job is a leading cause of North Star Deficiency Syndrome [or, self-sabotage].

For the perfectionists among us, Martha Beck prescribes the following exercise:

Find a turtle step you’ve never done before, or something that’s difficult for you. Do this thing really badly. Misspell words. Draw stick figures. Get hopelessly lost. Ask for instructions, then forget them. Then, instead of scolding yourself, give yourself a reward for trying something new and being brave enough to mess up a few times. Now you’re living like a hero.

This is exactly what I’ve been doing with Chapter 12 of 85A, nay, all of 85A thus far. What can I say, it’s ego-leveling but it’s good for me.