Category Archives: Essays

Eulogy for my Grandfather

scan0012-1My grandfather was a humble man and he would have had mixed feelings about being the center of attention today. On one hand he would have appreciated having everyone he loved here in one place. He loved connecting with others. On the other, he was never big on talking about himself.

To a young boy, distracted by everything, a grandfather is a lot like a mountain, larger than life. I don’t mean just in stature, though my grandfather was tall. I don’t just mean in personality though my grandfather laughed a lot.

A mountain is just always there, since the beginning of time as far as the boy can measure it.

A mountain is so sturdy, so dependable, so unchanging, that it’s easy for the boy to forget it’s there even when it was right in front of him. It was just part of the boy’s landscape, like the sky or the ocean or the sun rising every day in the east.

No matter how far that boy traveled, no matter where in the world, without realizing it, he always knew where he was in relation to the mountain. It’s how he always knew exactly where he was. The mountain was always there in the background for every special occasion: Birthdays, holidays, graduations, house warmings, hospital visits, weddings. It was natural to assume the mountain would always be there.

But people aren’t mountains after all. They live for a time and they die, leaving those behind them to carry on as best they can.

Or are they?

The boy, now a man, still navigates his way through life using all the lessons he learned in the shadow of the mountain. He wears a hat outside, takes it off indoors (especially at the table). He’s learned the importance of family. The man is awed by all the love and fellowship that gathered in the great shadow of his mountain.

My grandfather outlived many—maybe most—of his friends and yet still he was always connecting with new ones, a gift of his I always admired.

And the man realizes that the mountain that was his grandfather lives even larger inside his own heart. And this gives the man peace. If the mountain of my grandfather made a positive impact on any of you, then I hope you also recognize him inside your heart and that this may also bring you peace.

So today, in honor of a man who in his lifetime was a marine, a painter, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather, a great-great grandfather, a friend to so many, and a mountain of love and light to his family, I invite you all to see—to really see—the mountains in your own life’s landscape. Love them and appreciate them and don’t forget to visit them once in awhile (mountains like that).

Don’t forget that you that you too may be a mountain in someone else’s life, someone who looks at you like you’ll always be there. I think my grandfather would have wanted you to know that that’s okay, it’s the nature of being a mountain. There will come a time when there will be a hole in their universe and they too will pause and reflect on everything that you did for them. For everything that you shared with them. For all the ways you connected with them.

Grandfather, for everything you’ve done for me, for everything you’ve shared, I thank you. My world—our world—was a happier place for having you in it. I will always carry your spirit with me, you will always be my landmark and I will always love you very much.

Three Pillars of an Outstanding Relationship

Hi, all. Its been a little dream of mine to publish an essay on one of my favorite mindful e-zines, the elephant journal. The essay represents some of my thoughts on how I see compatibility in relationships.

Have a look at Three Pillars of an Outstanding Relationship and tell me what you think!

I’ll explore other ideas about relationships and spirituality soon, hopefully in future editions of the elephant journal!

Goodbye to My Father

My father died yesterday. I still can’t believe it. This was my father, after all. Or at least, he was the one man who was man enough to accept the position. He was my number one fan, having read every one of my published works, and always encouraging me to do more.

He understood my ambitions, crazy as they were. “Patience, my son,” he would say. “You have to pay your dues. Then you’ll have everything you want.”

He understood my anger, a very deep and restless thing, that can be surprisingly monstrous when it reveals itself to those that do not know me well.

Always shaping me, always honing me, preparing me for the time he knew he could not be there. He was generous with his time, his love and what few possessions he had. He was a nomad, having more addresses while I was growing up than I could count.

But no matter where he was, on my birthday, there came the card with a check for $5 or $10 or $35 as I got older.

I’m rambling. I’m still in shock. Maybe for now, it’s enough that the world know that it’s lost a bright light of a soul. Though perhaps you did not know him, maybe you would mourn with me for just a little while.

Then maybe life can go on.

On the Incarnates of Aphrodite


Goddess (Photo credit: junibears)

A good and enigmatic friend of mine pointed me to a blog post by the SeventhSisteroftheStars entitled “Incarnates of Aphrodite: A new ancient breed of Goddess.”

This is a post worth reading.

I feel the incarnate is no new evolution. She has always been with us, to heal us when we needed healing. To love us when we needed loving. She is a capacitor of love with boundless ability to store love’s energy. She is a being of the universe, and beyond it. She is of the elements, earth, air, water and fire. Like nature, she is constantly changing, and yet she is changeless.

Rather, it is we who are evolving. We who are re-tuning our senses as we begin to focus once again on the spiritual; the natural, the unnatural and the supernatural. When we sit for a moment in silence and listen while the universe moves, suddenly we see her and realize she was there all along.

Once discovered, do not be alarmed by the passionate and creative creature you find. She is worthy of worship, but do not attempt to worship her. She is too well grounded to accept so lofty a position. Do not attempt to contain her, she will not be confined. May as well try to catch a hummingbird in your hand.

Instead, if you wish to know an incarnate in your life, be true in how you love and are loved. Recognize the darkness and the light in your heart and embrace both. Incarnates are healers drawn to positive energy. Take in her energy if she offers it to you (never demand it!), make something positive of the gift, and return it to her. She will respond.

Most importantly, do not be afraid to be changed by her. One cannot be touched by an incarnate of the Goddess on Earth and expect to ever be the same afterwards. Breathe in the Now, and so be transformed. And consider yourself blessed.

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The importance of paper books

English: Stack of books in Gould's Book Arcade...

Image via Wikipedia

I was discussing the topic of the value of paper books with some fellow book lovers on Goodreads and I felt so strongly about the topic, I felt I should share it here.

E-books have their place in civilization (as we know it.) They save trees from being cut down. They are (in theory) more energy-efficient to produce and to share with others. E-books are fantastic for conveying information. But they rely on several dependencies even after they have been published. Energy. A digital library to store them. An e-reader.

A paper book requires all these things too, except for perhaps the e-reader which is a significant point I will return to shortly. But still, a paper book is a tangible thing. It’s more than simply the ideas it conveys. And since I’m a bit of a sci-fi fan, let me say that we dangerously assume the Internet (or its offspring) will be with us forever. There may come a time when digital information–whether because of politics or because of lack of energy, by accident or by design–will become obfuscated from the average person who lacks that knowledge, position, or technological capacity to evoke it from its electronic storage media. As long as humankind retains the ability to read, books, because of their simple non-technological user interface, are (as fragile as they are) probably much more resistant to catastrophe. What good is an e-book if one does not have an e-reader? What good is a digital library if it has been corrupted because of hackers, made unavailable because of those in power, or is inaccessible because of sun spots? I own paper books (own! There’s a word seldom applied in the digital age, where products are generally “licensed” or “subscribed to”) that have long outlived their authors, proving their tenacity. Will we be able to say the same of their digital brethren? We have not yet had the opportunity to test e-books in this fashion. An author may host their own e-books on their website. But where will they be stored once the author is no longer physically or financially capable of paying his hosting fee? They may upload books to many of the e-book providers, but only if they meet the policies of those institutions. And on the other side of the coin, when an avid reader passes on to the Great Unknown, how will they transfer their lifetime collection of beloved e-books to their loved ones?

There’s a feeling I get knowing that someone else had read a paper book before me. Paper books have traveling souls and develop strange histories all their own as they are passed from reader to reader. Stains appear. Notes are written in the margins. Love letters are left on the inside covers for friends. Flowers are pressed between their pages. Paper books have souls that grow stronger as they age. They may actually increase in value because of this

All of these things contribute to the soul of that paper book, not the story being told, but THAT ONE SPECIFIC BOOK that makes it unique among all its brothers and sisters. Who will ever look upon an e-book and say, “This is the same e-book that <insert famous person here> once read. You can tell by the electronic coffee stain, or the digital signature in the corner”?

More importantly, paper books better withstand the whims of future generations. New versions of paper books may change their text to suit new audiences, but as long as older versions can be found, their text by its nature will reflect the thoughts of that time. Electronic documents are easily cloned and more easily modified, thus they are transitory and untrustworthy. 1000 years from now (assuming e-books make it that far) while historians argue over the interpretation of an electronic text, there may be no “original version” to refer to. Worse, imagine a world in which Orwell’s Ministry of Truth can change the text of an e-book IN REAL TIME based on a variables such as which country the e-book is being read in, who the reader is, what time of day or year it is, what other e-books the reader has in their collection, etc. Sound like conspiracy theory? It’s quite possible and easy to do. E-books will be stored in “clouds” and accessible only through “approved” e-reading devices that run software managed by agencies that can filter such text as it is being downloaded for the reader. It could be used for perceived good (such as to remove foul language or explicit scenes if the reader is underage), but there is a strong chance it will be abused by those that control the technology required to display content.

Our generation may never understand this problem but in the distance future, our childrens’ children will find it increasingly important to be able to trust the information they are receiving or be controlled by it. Paper books are certainly not perfect, but they are stone tablets compared to e-books, with all the benefits and weaknesses thereof.

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Outwit the Devil

So your walking down the street minding your own business, when the devil appears and he has an offer: Your soul for anything you want in return.

Now you know the old stories well enough to know how this ends. No matter what you wish for he’ll find a way to pervert your wish into something that will make you miserable. Wish for wealth, and he’ll make you a miserable old geezer who stabbed all his friends in the back to win. Wish for fame and he’ll make you a burnt-out rock star with failing health and no privacy. And so on.

All theological argument for never dealing with the devil aside, is there any one wish you could make that would withstand the devil’s devious imagination? This short essay proposes such a wish and seeks comments from others on how to improve upon it while making it as succinct as possible. In other words, how can we make the wish as “bullet-proof” as possible, contractually speaking?

The wish: I wish to be happy, heathly, satisfied and immortal.

Let’s address each point as terms of a contract.

Happy: If one is happy, then one need not specify specific material things that make one happy. For example, if wealth makes one happy, there should be plenty of wealth (or no desire for money).

Healthy: Being happy is not enough. Without one’s health one may be happy in some ways (for example, an ill grandparent watching grandchildren play), but health is an important part of cheating the devil at his game.

Satisfied: What is the point of being happy and healthy if the devil simply hides you in a deep dark cave under the earth? This part of the wish prevents one from ending up in circumstances in which one finds unfavorable. If roaming through libraries or museums, or climbing mountains gives one satisfaction, this clause allows one to continue those pursuits.

Immortal: Let’s not beat around the bush here. The devil is after our souls! It becomes more difficult (I say because some spellcasters might argue if I said impossible) for him to collect if one is immortal. The first three clauses should allow one to experience immortality in as great a comfort as possible.

Happiness, Heath, Satisfaction and Immortality provide some strong arguments for outwitting the devil. The question for we mere mortals is to find the contract’s weaknesses: How could he accept this proposal and still get what he wants?

Mother, Mistress, Moon

Mother, Mistress, Moon
By Christopher Vera

Note: This essay was published on National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” website.

Sometimes to me the moon is male, jealously pursuing the attentions of the earth whom he believes is in love with the glorious sun. He weeps gently while she sleeps through the night.

But most often I see the moon as female, accompanying me on my long walks through the dark as the mist creeps up over the land from out of the Pacific ocean. Usually she’s a matronly older woman humming softly to me while I walk away my angers and frustrations of the day.

Once in a brief while though, when I gaze up at her in the sky, she’s my young Juliet, looking at me from her bright and lofty perch, waiting for me to recite to her ancient words that men have always whispered to their true loves.

At those times, I stop and forget to breathe and for those long moments while we stare quietly into each other’s face, I can feel the earth turning under my feet. My pulse beats to the vibrations of distant waves pounding against the California shore. I can feel my cells burning as they fire their chemical reactions. When I finally inhale, her perfume is the damp manzanita in the canyon below me soaking in the night’s moisture.

In that moment there is no sound but the autumn breeze picking its way through the tall bones of leafless trees standing like me transfixed while the moon turns her achingly beautiful orbit across the sky.

In that moment I can sense the primal elements churning inside me: earth, air, fire, water. The entire universe is her and I and the small space between us.

In that moment, I am alive and I am here right now.

Creating New Worlds – Exploring the Milieu

In this proposed Anthology project, Vera explores the milieu as a subject for study and introduces texts that demonstrate the power of creating new worlds. Link to PDF

Continue reading

An American’s First Trip to France

In June 2004 I had the opportunity to visit France for the first time. I learned a few things that I would like to share with other American’s making their first trip to that country.

Note that this report is in no way intended to be a complete (or incomplete) guide to France. There are plenty of books on that subject. I will attempt to provide the reader with everyday information that I did not find in any guidebook I read. Also, lots of guidebooks make recommendations that don’t hold water in reality. I’ll try to explain what differences I noticed between what I expected and what I found.

I will occasionally share a bit of wisdom in the form of a rule.

Rule#1: Never pass up the chance to go to the bathroom.

Trip Overview
My party of four took an airplane from the Los Angeles airport (LAX) to London’s Heathrow. After two days in London, we traveled to Paris via train and the Chunnel, a below ground (and therefore below ocean) tunnel between Britain and France.

Visiting London first is a good idea if you have very little experience traveling abroad. English customs, food, and language are quite similar to America so the culture shock is minimal. Speaking of culture shock, I don’t recommend attempting to drive while in London 😉

We spent five days in Paris seeing as many sites as we could. I discuss locations below in a section.

Rule#2: When wandering a big city, always carry a detailed street map. Pay whatever cost is necessary to obtain one if you can’t find a free one at a nearby department of tourism.

From Paris, we drove to the south of France, making a pair of stops in Provence. In the south, we visited St. Tropez, Nice, Cannes and Marseille. Finally we returned to Paris via bullet train.

We left Paris back to America by way of Fort ??, Texas as our port of entry for U.S. customs.

Now, let’s talk about the details.

Most of France speaks some English. It’s a requirement for most kids beginning in grade school. Don’t think its because they love English! It’s just that most European countries are discovering that it’s easier to learn English than to learn French, German, Italian, Dutch, Polish, Russian, and a host of other languages from smaller countries. Speaking English allows these countries to conduct business.

However, a traveler should make every attempt to learn the local language if they wish to be treated with a modicum of respect. After all, they had to sit through years of your language. You recall how boring you thought language was in high school and you probably only had to two years! Why not show them some respect by learning a few words and phrases while visiting their fine country?

Besides, there’s only a five words you absolutely need to know, especially around the big cities. The further into the country you go, the better it is to know more French.

Use these five in every conversation and you will do okay (not great, but okay).

1. Good day / Good evening Bonjour / Bonsoir (Bone Jhoor / Bone Swaa)
Begin every conversation with one of these two, even if you are just asking for directions.

2. Please Sil vous plit (See Voo Play)
End every question and desire with this.

3. Thank you Merci (Mere See)
Overuse this. Some French may tire of you. But they won’t be able to call you rude 😉

4. Goodbye Aurevoir (Ahve Wa)
End every conversation with this.

The French don’t respect fat people even though many French people are fat. It’s probably some cultural holdover from the Renaissance. So expect odd looks in the big cities if you are severely overweight. The French that are not fat smoke like chimneys, which is probably how they stay thin. With the exception of some public transportation, churches and museums, smoking is allowed, dare I say encouraged, in France. If you are a non-smoker I guarantee that when you go out to eat, someone will light up just as your main course arrives and all the smoke will blow right to you. Live with it. This is France, not America. Don’t ask them to put it out. Some French are sensitive to nonsmokers and may put out their butts if they sense you are uncomfortable. Just don’t hold your breath (get it?)

The French lack of deodorant use is well documented. All I will say is that you should avoid summer subways during rush hour.

Getting Around
Sunday mornings are great times to travel by any means. Traffic in any form is usually very light.

Taxis charge a little extra for travelers with lots of baggage. Be prepared to pay a couple of extra Euro per bag in addition to the meter if you have luggage.

When in Paris, a boat ride along the Seine, day or night, is required. Just don’t take the Batobus. It’s advertised as a boat taxi and its always crowded, uncomfortable and unpleasant. The windows are so high you get no breeze off the river. Find another boat.

Subways (Metro)
The Metro is easy, efficient, considerably safe, and the best bang for the buck in my opinion. If you will be in the city awhile, buy a multi-use pass. All stations have an automated ticket machine you can buy from. Most have an English language option. For those you who prefer a more human touch, most Metro stations have a live person behind the counter too. Both options take Euros or credit card.

France’s non-bullet rail system is confusing and for me was frustrating. The trains all have names like Mona and Nick instead of numbers or destinations. Many trains go to common stations but terminate at different points. Be sure you’re on the right train! You need the RER to get to Versailles unless you plan to take an expensive taxi ride. Be patient. If you don’t read French well, forget about the automated ticket machine and go straight to the human for assistance.

The TGV is France’s bullet train. Very smooth. The train from Marseille to Paris took two hours. Good for those who prefer to avoid airports.

This train connects Britain and London. The whole trip is three hours. For those of you with a fear of being underground (and underwater), the Chunnel time is a mere 20 minutes.

My first experience driving in France was Paris during rush hour in a rain storm. Hopefully yours will be simpler! France’s road rules are similar to that of the U.S. Paris was no too different than New York. Here are some tips that will make it easier on you.

• YIELD TO PEDESTRIANS. Especially in big cities, pedestrians sometimes have no fear of stepping right out into traffic. They have the right-of-way! Look out for them.

• RIGHT HAS PRIORITY. The car to the right has priority over you. Watch out for cars pulling out in intersections! In roundabouts, always try to stay to the right so YOU have priority.

• STOP ON THE RED LIGHT. In the U.S., the traffic light is usually across the street from where we stop. In France, you stop where the light is. Sometimes the light is on your left side or right side, not above you.

• RED LIGHT WITH “+” SIGNS. These lights are the backside of the light for traffic coming the opposite direction so you know when they have a red light.

• NO RIGHT TURN ON RED! Unlike the U.S., you cannot make a right turn at a red light after coming to a stop. The one exception is if the stop light is blinking yellow, which indicates its okay at that light only.

• OBEY THE SPEED LIMIT! France has discovered the money-making opportunities of the traffic camera. They use it to catch speeders. Don’t think that you are free from the law in a rental car. They will bill the rental company who will bill you.

• STAY LEFT ON SPEEDWAYS. On most inter-city speedways (highways), the fast lane is seldom used. When it is used, its only for passing. Do not cruise in the fast lane!

• SPEEDWAYS ARE TOLL ROADS. Bring lots of change. Almost all speedways are toll roads. Most tollbooths are manned and take paper money. Some tollbooths take credit cards.

Parking on the streets is fun if you are an expert at parallel parking. Most on-street parking is metered. Look for a shared meter nearby. Like the U.S., you pay the amount for the length of time you want to stay. The meter will spit out a ticket you must put on your dashboard.

Most attractions have nearby parking garages designated with a P. Parking in a garage is a little different than the States. When you go in, you get a ticket. KEEP THIS TICKET ON YOU. Unlike the U.S., you don’t pay at the gate when you leave. Most garages require you validate your ticket at a “CASSIE” (Cashier) before leaving. Most cassie’s are automated vending machines that take coins and credit cards (and usually paper money). Most are also far from the exit gate so keep your ticket on you and look for a cassie before you go back to your car.

Gas stations
Since most speedways are tollways, the gas stations are just off the speedway. No need to leave! Gas stations are generally very clean and usually do not charge for the use of the toilet. Many have small diners. Pumping gas is old school style: Pump your gas then pay the attendant.

Gazole (Gas-Oil) is diesel fuel.

Car rental
Note that most rental cars companies will give you a manual transmission. Automatics cost more and you must specifically request one.

Older hotels may not have elevators. Be prepared for lots of stairs. I recommend any hotel within one mile of the Eiffel Tower, but especially the Hotel Amelie and the Hotel Reve Amadaeus. The surrounding neighborhoods are safe and interesting enough to walk in day or night.

Why go to France if you don’t plan to eat? The food is fantastic! Some tips:

• Water “with gas” is carbonated water. Waiters will often ask if you want water with gas or without.

• Don’t tip a lot! Most places will add some gratuity in (especially when they realize you are a tourist). 1-3 euros for every 50 f the bill is more than enough if you liked the service.

• Forget about fast food. Who goes to France to eat fast food?! McDonalds is grudgingly popular. There’s the occasional KFC. There’s a chain called “Quick” Burger (which looks nasty). Not much else.

• Forget ham and eggs for breakfast (and sometimes cereal for that matter). The French like croissant, butter, jam and coffee. Also the occasional yogurt or fruit juice. Expect a light breakfast at hotels that offer it. Some restaurants offer “English style breakfast”, which is what you might have been expecting.

• Plan your mealtimes! Patisseries (pastry bakeries) are usually open during what Americans would consider “normal” hours. Most restaurants and brasseries (bars) don’t open until 10am and close around 3pm until 7pm for dinner. They stay open until about 11pm or midnight. If you get hunger pangs after lunch and miles of museum hiking, your options may be limited until dinner. Get used to baguette sandwiches.

• American “French fries” (or freedom fries if you’re a patriot), are called “frites” (pronounced “fritz”)

• I heard a rumor France had good Vietnamese food. I never got the chance to try. I found only two Vietnamese restaurants and both were closed. Thai and Chinese food were popular. Quality was okay, but not the best or most authentic I’ve ever had.

• The French are not big on spicy food.

• My wife is lactose intolerant. However, she had no problem eating French butter, cream, yogurt and even milk. Your results may vary!

• My wife gets headaches when she drinks red wine. However, she had no problem with every French wine we tried. Again, your results may vary.

• If you get the chance, enjoy a home-cooked Provencial meal. If you want to see how French country folk eat, no restaurant compares. Many chateaus will serve a home-style meal. Don’t pass it up!

The Sites
In this section, I will provide some tips on the major sites we visited.

Nice, St. Tropez
If you have ever been to Southern California beaches or Miami, Florida, then you will be very comfortable in all of Southern France, but especially the coastal area between Nice and St. Tropez. In fact, being from Southern California and not being a sun worshipper, I was almost bored. Surfers and spongers leave your boards at home: This part of the Mediterranean is not known for big waves.

Rhone Valley
The chateaus here are like bed and breakfasts. I highly recommend taking a dinner at the chateau, don’t try to eat out! To me, this is France.

Marseilleians must forgive me, but your city reminds me of the ugly parts of New York. Every available square inch of flat surface is covered in graffiti. With millennia of art in France, you would think they would import more promising art forms! Unless you know someone in Marseille this is not the place to get lost. Watch your pockets too. But your heart is set on seeing the Chateau D’if you saw in “The Count of Monte Cristo”! Here’s how I would do it:

1. From Paris (or your current location), take a very early morning TGV to Marseille. This will drop you off at the Gare Saint Charles train station. (2 hours)
2. From the Gare St. Charles station, take the Metro to Vieux Port. (7 minutes)
3. Right outside the stairs of Vieux Port metro will be the boat to Château D’if. The boat ride takes about 1.5 hours. After the trip, get the heck out of Marseille!

FYI: The airport is 25 minutes outside of the city.

Paris is so big, that I decided to break the city up by attraction.

Immense. Don’t rush it. Spend at least a day here. Plan the top 5 or 10 things you want to see because you’ll never see it all.

Napoleon’s tomb is here. There is also an excellent but less advertised museum of the army that shows WWII from the French’s point of view. Give yourself 2-3 hours.

Arc De Triomphe
400 stairs to the top with no breaks. The view is excellent. Get there when it opens to avoid the long lines. If you like shops and restaurants there’s plenty to see along the street towards the obelisk.

Notre Dame
Wonderful stained glass. Another 500 stairs to the top. Worth every step. They only let small groups of people to the top at a time so the lines get long.

Sacre Couer
This church sits atop the only hill in Paris. This is where they filmed the “follow the arrows” scene in “Amelie”. Just below is Montmartre, which is walking distance to the Moulin Rouge.

That’s everything I could braindump in this short time. I hope you find this information useful.