Reconciling Disparities

There are a couple of things sitting on my brain today. Most of them are directly about my brain. My brain is in serious question right now.

There are a number of things, very personal things, I am going to share with you today. Some of them may be uncomfortable truths, that you might share, but have not confronted. I am trying to confront my uncomfortable truths.

Part of this line of thought began with the viewing of this video by Dr. Amit Sood. It is about how to have a happier brain.

I like to walk to clear my head. You have heard many people say that, but I really, really walk to clear my head. I try and get a handle on the shit rolling around inside it, and then I try to bang one side of my head really hard to knock the crap out of the opposite ear. So as I am walking, it is treated as a meditation. The process begins by searching, as I am walking for a more relaxed gait. But with all meditation, the realization that the head never stops becomes acutely apparent. So the relaxation needs to expand to the head. And here is where the uncomfortable repetition of nonsense goes around over and over again like your laundry on an eternal spin cycle.

The fact that these thoughts have an emotional component is just another truth that reveals itself.

This has been a difficult year for me and my family. We are in the midst of serious paradigm shifts in the way we live, and money is always a difficulty. The work that I have done for the past 20 years also seems to going bye bye. We are living on fumes. It is not helped by the fact that there seems to be pockets of people just having a grand ole time while my wife and I try to figure out how to get on with our lives. So I begin to question whether the reality being painted in my imagination, needs to be supplanted by one of acceptance and tolerance. And this is where bearing my own contradictions are revealed.

As I am walking down one of the local strips here in Ditmas Park, I overhear some well fed white couple saying something about the housing that strikes me as completely naive and entitled. And the first thought that pops into my brain, in the midst of searching for this “acceptance and tolerance” is, “We really need a fucking virus to kill off all these fucking bastards. Really.” and as this thought manifested itself, I was faced with the contradiction of it. Then my mind went off on an evaluation of racism, classism, economic disparity etc. And I began to have a few insights as to why the world is locked in a downward pattern.

The thoughts of a hungry man are very different than one who is well fed. As Stephan Colbert once said “There is no hunger in the world, because I just ate!”

In the face of these truths, how can we expect anything to change. We know many things about the world.: climate change is real, and if at the very least you do not believe that, the impact of man on the planet is undeniable—with all the garbage on the streets, do we have any doubts of the impact of our consumerism? We know that air quality is bad and needs to be improved, but people now drive and buy cars more than ever. I can keep citing examples, but you get the idea.

So back to my brain. Trying to live a happier life, change my worldview in an instant, and accepting my own contradictions. This is what is at the core of real change in the world. And realizing that the pain of the world is affecting me at every moment. The change will never come from the outside. It never has. It has always and will always come from within.

Another book I recently cherry picked off my book shelf is “The Millionaire Mind.” I am not advocating for this book, nor do I agree with most of it. But there were a few very useful exercises. One was to recall the events in my childhood  where those around me influenced how I thought about money. I wrote down some of these and had to also remember how I felt in response to those events. In review, I did not get a whole lot of encouragement. Everyone around me succeeded in passing on their fears and doubts—and those tapes have been replaying themselves on loop ever since. But the writer encourages us to expose, and then replace these tapes with a more positive imagining. This is where it gets hard for me. Do I replace one load of bullshit for another just so I can acquire more wealth? Exposing the painful thoughts for me is very useful. It reveals to me that I live under the auspices of a lie. I am filled with doubt because that is what I was taught by the adults in my life. And they were taught that by their elders and so on and so forth back to Moses.

I am not sure I can wrap this particular rant up in a nice neat package. It is what it is. Soon winter will give way to more sunny days, and my outlook may become more hopeful. For now, I offer my own mental purging in the hope that maybe we can begin to have a meaningful conversation. Because that is what I truly wish for. That is the beginning of community. In a real community, no one goes hungry or uncared for.

Do what you will, this world’s a fiction and is made up of contradiction —William Blake


Why I Will NOT Do the Ice Bucket Challenge

My brother Ed in 1985

My brother Ed in 1985

In 1997 my brother, Edward Louis Zeines, passed away after a long and painful struggle with ALS. It is this experience, and maybe a few other things, as to why I will not accept the ice bucket challenge.

My brother was an interesting guy and had a great deal of influence on me (both good and bad) when I was growing up. To get the bad stuff out of the way: he was 8 years older than me and used to terrorize me on a regular basis. He would often want to rough house with me which more times than not, which mostly resulted in some form of serious injury. To get a clearer picture of our age difference, when I was 5 years old, my brother was 13. Just imagine what it would be like for a 5 year old to be in a wrestling match with a teenager. It made me tough. He taught me judo which we learned from a book and I would practice flipping him in the living room, but somehow at the end of it all, I would end up getting hurt.

Another thing about my brother Ed was that he had a knife collection. He was a bit obsessed with weapons in general. When he was 12, he took an old plastic snorkel and refashioned it into a blow gun with darts made from sewing needles. One day while we were playing around, he accidentally  launched one of these into my face missing my eye by a mere inches. The knives and swords he collected adorned our shared bedroom wall. He even made a few machetes himself carving out the handles and molding the metal blades from scratch. He would also make wooden guns for me which had a rubber band mechanism to launch cardboard squares as bullets. He was inventive to say the least.

But the thing that I feel most influenced by, was his creative streak which showed up as drawing early on. His sketches of crazy men and spaceships got me interested in the fun that is drawing. So to this day, I owe my own obsession to him. One that has given me great insight and pleasure.

In 1987 my brother told me over the phone that he was having trouble with some pains in his arms and legs which he at first thought were Charley Horse. It was soon thought to be MS (multiple sclerosis) but soon the death sentence of Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) was the prognosis. At age 39, he was given five years to live (he lived 10). When he showed up at my daughters first birthday party in April 1987, we were shocked to watch him walk across the room on stiff legs.

As the months passed, we would speak on the phone, his voice became increasingly strained. His home care was becoming more and more difficult to manage. There are many things I will not even trouble you with here because there is a measure of shame in coping with a disease like this and I just don’t think all the details would be useful. In truth, you can never do enough for someone in this condition. As his life was transferred to a nursing home, that became even clearer.

He spent his last years at Waterview Nursing Home in College Point, Queens. It was here that he began to write poetry on a small voice computer. This man was no longer my brother. The disease had transformed him. He became a prisoner in a failing body. As a result, he was difficult to be around. He was frustrated and angry. Communicating became very difficult. During the course of his time there, we visited him less and less. It was a difficult place to bring oneself to go to. This is not something I am proud of, but it is the truth. To boot, my brother had young children of his own who would never know what it was like to have a normal family. As his life neared its’ end, my own family broke up through separation and divorce. Late one night in early 1997, I got a call from his wife saying that he had passed away from complications resulting from pneumonia. I had the sad duty of calling my mother to give her the news.

You would think after hearing my story, which is brief and leaves out a whole lot of facts that I do not wish to share, that I would be the first to jump on the bandwagon and take up the “Ice Bucket Challenge” which has swept like wild fire through the internet. But I will not. Throughout the years of my brother’s illness, there was never any help from any organization. The presiding charity at the time was Jerry Lewis’s organization MDA (Muscular Dystrophy Association). At the time, ALS was seen as a minor province for them, but I now see the Ice Bucket challenge displayed boldly on their sight.20060903mda110

Disease charities have a long history. But in my view, none have done much to cure anything. The current CEO of MDA, Gerald C. Weinberg pulled down a reported 400K in salary. MDA raises in the vicinity of 175 million in donations a year. Why would an organization like this want to cure the disease they profess to represent? I am not accusing MDA of anything, and there are no reports that I can find, but I am not fully convinced, at least in the case of my family, of their merit.

This type of behavior is nothing new. It has been proven true of cancer where innovative and natural cures are proposed, and then squashed because it threatens the American Cancer Society. Pharmaceutical companies would fold if such an event were to occur. Their mission is to treat disease, not cure it. I have mentioned in the past that if illegal drugs were suddenly to become legal, it would have an impact on the Drug Enforcement Agency, the prison industrial complex and drug companies. It is in their best interest that this never happens.

I am not going to back up my argument with facts or references. There are plenty of stories around the internet that can verify my point of view and if you really wanted to, the reader is free to research them. This is my gut feeling. It may not be entirely rational I admit, but my experience supports a basic mistrust of large charities.

Maybe the reasoning behind my feelings comes from reading about how other things do not happen due to large corporate interest. A good example is the resistance to the legalization of hemp. If hemp growth (NOT Marijuana) were to be legalized, there are about 200 different corporate interests that would be impacted. Cotton, dairy, fuel, fiberglass, plastics, paper, construction and lumber are among the areas that would be threatened by the legalization of hemp. These areas represent corporate power houses who have lobbied for years against our better interests.

This is what I feel about disease charities. They play on our emotions. They make us feel that if we do this small thing, send in our $100 check, we will be doing so much to help find a cure for this most horrible disease. And yes the disease is most horrible. But more times than not, your check will never reach a laboratory or a scientist working on a cure. It will go to keeping the giant corporate structure that gets on television every year at Labor Day, parades a group of afflicted children around to stimulate your sympathies, and then funnels the cash to keep the glass giant alive.

So in my view and as someone who has actually had to bare the consequences of ALS, that the “Ice Bucket Challenge” is extremely naive.

Of course if you like to pour ice water over your head and video tape it for your friends, I say all power to you. But please do not nominate me or any of my family members. We have suffered enough at the hands of this disease and would like some real solutions.

A Bar Mitzvah Story

Some years ago, I watched this British film called The Bar Mitzvah Boy. In it, a working class Jewish family in North London undergo preparations for their son’s Bar Mitzvah. Meanwhile the boy is going through all kinds of apprehensions which no one seems to notice except his sister. While the parents are busy arguing over who will sit with whom at the catered affair, their son is going through anguish. The upshot is that the boy is a no-show on the big day.

His sister finds him in the park and confronts him why he did not appear and how disappointed everyone is. The boy lists the aforementioned distractions of all the adults. His sister asks him if he is afraid to recite his Torah portion. He says that he is not and that he can recite it standing on his head, which he proceeds to do.

When this is brought to the Rabbi’s attention, it is declared that he has fulfilled his bar mitzvah requirements by reciting his haftarah before the lord.

I relate this because for one, it has always stuck with me. My own bar mitzvah was a very stressful affair. My father really could not afford the event, which always seemed like a competition between neighbors and relatives as to who would have the more lavish affair. I remember being harassed by the photographer constantly (he doubled as a magician) and I did not have a moment to hang with my friends or get to speak to my relatives and to hear whatever pile of nonsense they wanted to relate to me about my “big day.”

And these days, from what I hear, these events are even more over the top.

When my son was born, it was a question about whether he would be circumcised or not. My wife is not Jewish, but her brother and cousins had all undergone the procedure. When I asked my Nigerian doctor for advice, we went over the pros and cons, and the conclusion was on the pro side. But from what I had read, I wanted it done by a mohel, and not a surgeon, so we waited the requisite time.

My key business associate was (and is) orthodox and through him, I became friendly with his rabbi. When the time came, I asked Rabbi Fund, if he could recommend a mohel, and would he preside over the ceremony.

Jewish law requires that 3 holy men be present and that in order for a child whose mother is NOT Jewish be circumcised, he must also undergo conversion. We agreed. My wife and I, and our son met in a small Flatbush storefront synagogue and the deed was done.

But when Noah was approaching his 13th birthday, we asked whether he wanted to be bar mitzvah’d or not. We spoke with several people. My son thinking that this meant getting a lot of money, had to be put straight regarding our financial situation. That said, he was also apprised of the work involved in learning to read Hebrew and recite his Torah portion. So basically he refused his induction into Jewish manhood and the matter was laid to rest.

Yesterday, we made a vist to his grandmother who is in rehab just outside the limits of Crown Heights. We took a long route by walking from Eastern Parkway through some of the most orthodox sections of Hasidic Brooklyn.

As we passed one of the Chabad tables, a young man and two very young boys approached me and asked “you wouldn’t happen to be Jewish?”

Tefillin worn by a man at thewesternwall

Tefillin worn by a man at thewesternwall

Now I already know what is coming next and sometimes I just shrug them off. But on this day somehow, I was feeling spiritually predisposed so I said yes. They then asked if I would like to do a mitzvah (good deed) by putting on tefillin. I then explained my son’s situation to them.

We learned that the first time a young man puts on tefillin and recites the accompanying prayers, he is officially bar mitzvah’d. Noah agreed to the opportunity and we both stood there, on this busy sidewalk on Kingston Avenue, and recited the prayers with the phylacteries on our heads in the bright sun. When I covered my eyes, to utter a silent prayer, I thought only of my family and what I wished for everyone, which is peace and prosperity.

Then we walked on. I asked Noah if he felt any different, to which he said “no.”

But something was different.

And this allowed me to relate to him, a much loved joke.

Moishe and Chaim are good friends. They are always discussing ecumenical ideas, arguing over philosophy and trying to face the big questions about life.

One day they are walking down the street and they see a banner hanging outside a church which reads “Convert to Christianity and get $50!”

They stop in their tracks and look at each other. “It would be nice to get the $50” says Moishe. Chaim agrees.

When push comes to shove, Chaim agrees to enter the church, and report back to Moshe afterwards.

15 minutes later, Chaim comes out. Moshe is there waiting for him.

“So, how’d it go?”

Chaim shrugs his shoulders.

“Do you feel any different?” asks Moshe

Chaim says, “No, I feel the same.”

Moshe asks “The $50. Did you get the $50?”

Chaim looks back at Moshe with a look of consternation and says, “$50? What’s with YOU people.”

And with that I say happy Bar Mitzvah to my wonderful son. Now you are a man.

Norma Needs Your Help

normaRehabTo go the the GiveForward site click here.

Norma Elaine Durrant needs your help with her mounting medical costs due to a serious neurological illness.

In May this year, Norma Elaine was finishing up her time in Kingston Jamaica. She was about to fly back to the States, but needed to stay just a few weeks more in order to attend an awards ceremony, where she would receive the Prime Minister’s Medal of Appreciation for her long service in education to the island nation.

At the end of May, Norma Elaine began to complain about symptoms of dizziness, nausea, numbness and unusual sensations in her head. On June 1, her daughter (my wife) flew down to Kingston, Jamaica,to accompany her back to the States so that she could see her doctor. When her daughter arrived in Kingston, she observed what she believed to be the beginning signs of a stroke and immediately took Norma to the hospital where her condition quickly deteriorated. She was admitted to the Critical Care Unit at University Hospital (UHWI). She began to lose muscle control on one side of her face and body which caused her to be bed ridden in Jamaica for a total of 6 weeks. She could not swallow on her own and had to be fed via feeding tube. She contracted hospital borne pneumonia and aspiration pneumonia during her stay. After 4 weeks in Critical Care she was transferred to Medial Associates where we were encouraged to seek special evaluation in the States because her tests did not conclusively confirm that her symptoms were the result of a stroke.

It was at this stage that we began to look into getting her to NY via air ambulance.

The air transport alone would cost 23K and the insurance company would not pay for it up front. She could not fly on a commercial flight as she could not swallow and would need oxygen throughout the flight. Therefore the transfer costs fell on the family.

Norma was finally transferred to NY Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn and has spent the past two weeks improving dramatically. But here, as in Jamaica, after several tests(MRI, CT Scan, x-ray, ultrasound, etc), doctors still could not confirm a stroke. However, based on her symptoms, they still recommended agressive nuero rehab. She is now at The Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Brooklyn where she will receive the treatment she needs.

As you can imagine, entering the US Healthcare system with any kind of insurance is still expensive. Many of the copay costs, the air transport and other services fall immediately on the patient, and over time add up to tens of thousands of dollars. We are asking family, friends, neighbors, fellow church members and good samaritans to help Norma in her recovery and post recovery. She has spent her life in service of others. Please help her return to a normal life as soon as possible.

The Bodhisattva Ray. A New Film Idea.

Holidays. A time where I am possessed by the deep need to lay about and do absolutely nothing without any guilt. One of my guilty pleasures is to search for movies from the past year that I have not seen and kick back and watch. If it is science fiction, even better.

So it was with great disappointment that I chose to attempt watching Enders Game. I am not going to bore the reader with a recap of what the film was about. Basically Alien invasion infuses earthlings with resolute survival instincts to retaliate and destroy enemy. In this version, kids are trained for that purpose, because it is understood that children process complex data way faster than adults. Children are selected to be killing agents for earth.

war-of-the-worldsOkay, I have said enough about that boring film. What I want to discuss is the fact that SO MANY science fiction films deal with EXACTLY THE SAME SCENARIOS OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN!!!

Science fiction, which I read a great deal of in high school and then in art school, was for me, a genre rich in imagination. For instance, The Foundation Trilogy  by Isaac Asimov was a far richer Star Wars scenario then the latter mentioned. Robert Heinlen, Harlan Ellison, and others were all so rich and varied and exciting to read. So why is it that every big screen sci fi has to have some scenario involving war or dystopia. Have we become so jaded that we cannot envision a future that is not a direct extension of the present? Do we have any sense of hope?

Now I am going to reveal my own idea for a premise. If you wish to collaborate on a story with me, I am all ears. So here it is…but keep in mind that if I see a script in a year or two without credit and it becomes a multi million dollar project, I am calling my lawyers.


The Bodhisattva Ray is ©2014 Bruce Zeines. Unless you can show me where this has already been done.…I would love to see it.

What if another race of beings from far away came with a purpose—not to destroy or dominate or usurp us, but rather to enlighten the planet? I have this vision of a superior race, who observing our condition, sends an electro magnetic pulse onto the surface of our planet which instantly puts the entire human race into a state of instant self realization. What would be the consequences of such an event? Would it all be positive? Could the majority of humans sustain such an event without going completely mad? My working title is “The Bodhisattva Ray”

I believe that the current sad state of films coming out of Hollywood is the way it is because for one, everything is about making money. Two, most screen writers and directors do not have the personal vision to see much past what has already been done. And three, very few humans are actually in the process of seeking enlightenment, therefore they are unable to see a race or planet that would represent a higher ideal.

I often walk the streets of Brooklyn, many times accompanied by my son, where our discussion and thoughts work out scenarios where the world could be improved. How things could be made better. What would our streets look like with less or no cars. What if people cared more about their immediate environment? What if corporate businesses, fast food restaurants, liquor stores, cheap food markets (too much candy, chips, lotto tickets and sweetened soft drinks) did not litter our landscape, but rather open spaces (for ALL) existed and our mobility was clean and sustainable? What if there were food gardens everywhere? Or that community among neighbors was part of the natural order rather than an occasional feel good event?

I am waiting for a good movie like that. It probably will never happen though. This is because there will be no fancy weapons, no horrific and scary aliens, no kung fu and there will be no requisite murder, death and violence. After all, they will say, who wants to watch a film full of meditating, peaceful and functional characters? Disharmony is so much more entertaining.


Moon in Sagittarius

There is a fond memory I have from high school. I believe it was a history or social studies class, where the teacher asked “are there any questions?” And one student, whom I cannot remember too well, but who will forever have my unrelenting respect replied “What is reality?”

That question reflects my mood this morning. What is reality?

The moon is in Sagittarius. You the reader may not hold much stock in astrology. But I have been an astrological observer for most of my life. I do not read charts, but I have watched  to see if the influence of certain placements have any effect. And the movements of the moon, have their own specific taste, which has repeated itself in 30 day cycles for as long as I have been doing this. Moon in Sagittarius is my favorite. It has a very specific coloration.

The moon moving through the signs is very quick. Each signs’ influence only lasts for 2.5 days (give or take.) When the moon enters Aries, I feel intense and energetic, as I also do in Leo. But moon in Sagittarius has this spiritual quality that none of the others have for me. There is a sense of “return to self” where I begin to question my existence in a new way. The quality of contemplation seems to wash over me. The fact that this happens every 30 days, and that if I have these feelings without knowing the moons’ placement, I am usually validated by checking the ephemeral calendar. The fact that I had the feelings this morning, without knowing where the moon was, is a mystery I would rather not try to answer.

The signs that seem to leave their mark on me is no accident as I am a Leo and all the signs I mentioned are of the element fire. It is summer, and I seem to get into a kind of hot weather hibernation. Stuck in the midst of an intense heatwave with no AC, almost no business, and just about no communication, my life seems to be at a point of big questions. Questions not so easy to answer. Questions that can only be helped by an inner gaze. Moon in Sagittarius amplifies that inner gaze. For me, it is like a new beginning.

Cycles like this usually have an end. Like the heat wave, a clap of thunder and a torrential rainstorm usually mark the end. But what of the inner world?

As now it is way too hot to put out another clear thought, I am going to take leave as I steel myself for another day of survival. Back to my glass of water.

Drawing Stories – Bruce Zeines Crowdfunds New Artwork

This is from my interview is now up on the RocketHub blog!

This particular project was started quite innocently. I found some pens, which bore a similarity in line that was reminiscent of a style that I aspired toward when I was a teenager, which is about 40 years ago. So I began to explore that approach anew. The drawings evolved over time and seemed to tell a story, even though it is not overt. One has to spend time with the drawings to experience what they are about. So I felt a book was the perfect solution to display them. I was already aware of self-publishing, but I wanted to raise the money for it. I have always had a small following, so I felt there were enough people out there who liked my work, who would be willing to help me do this, and get access to my work in a way that was more affordable than buying the art outright. I am not new to crowdfunding. I tried a half-hearted attempt to raise money for a film project on Kickstarter. Of course it failed. My wife said it was because I did not have enough of myself invested in it. This time around, the project is much closer to me. It is a very intimate expression that I am sharing in a book. It is also something that people I know are able to respond to.

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