September 2016

Brief Interview With a Scientologist

In 2009, I wrote a few bits and pieces for a now-defunct comedy and entertainment site. I pitched the idea of interviewing a practicing Scientologist, which they loved. Instead of the cringe-comic piece I had in mind, I ended up getting into a respectful email exchange with a guy who dabbled in Dianetics and got out. I was intrigued by the idea of focusing on someone who briefly joined a group with such a toxic reputation and left with no obvious trauma or hard feelings.

The editors never responded to the finished submission. That’s okay.

This episode happened to cross my mind today and, out of curiosity, I Googled Gandalf Parker, the thoughtful gentleman who shared his Scientology experience with me years ago. Obviously, he won’t be able to read this now, but I decided to finally publish it as a modest tribute. The original text is below, minus one bad one-liner. RIP, ‘Dalf.

church_of_scientology_building_in_los_angeles_fountain_avenueHis actual, Christian name is “Gandalf.” He’s an inquisitive dude. He’s practiced with Methodists, Lutherans, Baptists and neo-pagans. He knows a lot about the LDS, Islam, Catholicism, Buddhism, Zen and science. And, while he was serving on a military base in California, an attractive woman convinced him to dabble in Scientology.

I took her picture,” he says. “When I looked at it later, it did not strike me as being more than average. A Scientologist, in person or on film, seems to be more than they are in still photos.”

Like most people who try Scientology, Gandalf never swabbed the deck for the Sea Org. He “took a couple of the cheaper courses and moved on,” including the introductory Communications Course, “which was excellent. I had taken some in high school and community college, but none compared to theirs. Prior to taking it, I was a geek who couldn’t speak to women, and definitely not in public. After taking their course, I had no trouble in either.”

Soon afterward, he left the fold. “I had what I needed. The next courses were great things. Getting off drugs and alcohol, fighting peer pressure, clearing blocks to your goals. But they were more expensive and, at the time, I didn’t feel I had much need for those. But I do feel that I received far more full life benefits than I expected in direct return for the money I paid.”

Like the majority of fledgling Scientologists (at least 62%, according to the most virulent anti-Scientology sites), Gandalf hung out and got out. He remembers Scientology as a functional self-help club, especially as compared to, say, the Baptists.

There was no group singing, reading, or chanting. No repetitious standing and sitting or kneeling,” he recalls. “No push to come up and declare your allegiance. Compared to other religious practices I’d have to say its rather boring.”

So why the hate?

Scientology,” says ‘Dalf, “seems to draw many detractors who seem to just want to be detractors. Some have personal experiences. But most of the ones I talk to have never even met a Scientologist and have no wish to. They come armed with things they have heard… I’ve met people over the years who have tried to force-feed me their version of the truths about Scientology in ways which were clearly similar to what they feel they are condemning.”

You Are Not Happy

If you wonder how many LA Rams fans can fit into a Red Line Metro car, the answer is “a lot of them.”

hsy-_los_angeles_metro_7th_street-metro_center_blue_line_platformI am thinking about a particular situation and those thoughts are agitating me. The frustration bubbles and boils into rage. I angrily pace up and down the Metro platform, balling and unballing my fist.

A concerned Metro employee approaches me with her palms facing outward. She asks me if everything is okay. I tell her that, yeah, everything is okay. She cautions me not to pace in the grey area as it is dangerously close to the tracks.

I have a sordid history of self-destructive candor and professional self-sabotage. To avoid that, I will not get too granular about the situation that upset me today. But I have now made a record of my experience of feeling upset, and I have thus achieved my purpose in writing this. This is how it happened. Noted and recorded.

This post is not written with any particular care or flair. I have not rewritten it for clarity or peppered it with jokes. It is not Optimized for Search Engines, and if it gets a lot of clicks or goes viral, I will be quite surprised.

I am writing this to remind myself that I find it useful to remind myself of my experiences.

A few years ago, I was drinking quite heavily. I was radiating nineteen kinds of pain and I thought that drinking consistently was giving me a few hours a day of numb comfort and relative freedom. I’ve written elsewhere about how that ended and how I began to dig myself out, for those of you playing along at home.

bluerosesOne night, in a bleary stupor, I scrawled out a note to myself, by hand, on a piece of lined notebook paper. “YOU ARE NOT HAPPY.” Whenever I am tempted to have a drink, I recall that note.

If you are currently happy, this isn’t about you. It probably isn’t about you anyway. But in case you are not happy, I will tell you what has worked for me.

Create something to honor your experience. Write a note to yourself, or record a song or a video. It does not matter how bad it is. Memorialize this unhappy moment.

I believe that suffering comes from wanting our moments to be different from what they are. If a person in solitary confinement inside a supermax prison can make peace with that experience, I believe that person is better off than a teenaged celebrity with millions of dollars and Scarface-sized piles of cocaine who nonetheless manages to be miserable.

Perhaps creating projects to honor our angst takes us further away from appreciating our moments for what they are. I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers. Your mileage may vary considerably, as mine does.

I do know that I will look back on this and recall that I had a rough morning. Perhaps, recollected in tranquility with the cool clarity of hindsight, I will better understand why. I will reflect on the decisions I made that helped me improve my situation. I will hold myself accountable to my experience. That, to me, matters.

Confessions of a Stick Figure

I have gained some weight. Finally.

stickfigureportraitI’ve always skewed scrawny. When I was in junior high, my mom left a large tin on my dresser filled with Honey Buns, Zingers and Little Debbies. She hoped that I would bulk enough to intimidate the kid from fifth period that had kicked me in the shins. It didn’t take. All the way from kindergarten through graduation, I was a nervous dancing skeleton with a shaggy mop on top. I had a body like a Lincoln Log. I could live off sour cream, pie and McDonald’s and gain no weight.

If you struggle to say slim, I sympathize, but I can’t say I empathize. That is, I do not have your problem. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a jacked-up relationship with food. If you’ve heard of “eating your feelings,” I do the opposite of that.

I have a quick metabolism and get seasick when I’m anxious. Much of the time, I don’t have much of an appetite, particularly in stressful situations. Having no desire to eat and taking no pleasure in food — or living off of hard-boiled eggs and energy bars just to get through the day without hallucinating — is often the first sign that things aren’t going well in my job or my life.

In college, I spent a couple of years on psychoactive medications, one of which led me to resemble a Ziplock bag full of water. I switched that one up, and went straight back to my usual praying-mantis physique. Around the same time, I started drinking a bit much, and sometimes went to bed without dinner because I simply forgot to eat it.

I’ve never had much of a palate or an appetite. In my frequent spells of stomach-growling poverty, I can survive for months off rice and lima beans and not particularly resent it. My veins are unusually obvious, and, after a time, I’ll start to look like a bunch of snakes feeding on a corpse. But look at the money I save.

Once, as I waited to cross a street, an SUV full of ball-capped frat boys pulled up. One guy leaned out, looked at me, and seemed lost in thought for a second. As they peeled out, he yelled, “STICKMAN!” That was the best insult he could come up with on the fly.

Recently, I’ve started exercising and meditating again. I’ve balanced my diet. I’ve cut out booze, gotten more sleep, and generally behaved more like an adult than I had previously imagined possible. And, at last, I’m starting to put some meat on my structure. I’ve gained confidence. I’ve noticed people checking me out without visibly wondering if there’s some sort of hotline they should call.

I am finally beginning to reflect on my issues with nourishment. When I sense that I am in a bad situation and I have resigned myself to misery, sometimes I don’t want to do anything that might make me feel better. This happens a lot in ill-suited jobs. If I am convinced that I am not going to breathe easy again until this nonsense is behind me, I put off basic self-care and go whole hog on unhappiness in a quest to build all the character I can. If I resent the days and the hours, I deprive myself of the moments as well, and the delicious snacks that sometimes go with them.

Sometimes I need to get over myself and have a sandwich. Some people die for flags, but no one respects a dude who resembles a flagpole.

Clock-Watching and Waiting for the Androids

Perhaps your job does not require or inspire you to channel your creative energy or flex your creative muscles. Maybe a typical work-week will pass with neither brainstorming nor spitballing taking place. It is possible that your dress code precludes wearing any of the six thinking hats. You may find yourself actively discouraged from becoming a leader, an outlier, or a linchpin. You may want to Steal Like an Artist, or even use the bathroom like an artist, and find that this approach does not fly.

EDblog_sadrobotEven in the age of outsourcing, there remain plenty of jobs that revolve around functioning as much as possible like a finely tuned, precisely programmed, good little robot.

Sometimes it’s not easy to know when you are expected to serve such a function. If your boss uses the word “autonomy” a lot, or describes himself as definitely not a micromanager, that may be a tipoff.

To such bosses, mentorship means creating obedient clones of themselves. Which sounds rather appealing. Soon enough, intelligent AI may allow them to execute on this strategy and succeed beyond their wildest current expectations.

For you, that’s not great news. It could be worse. But do not forget that, as you post low-effort content to reddit, function at a minimally competent level and pace your breathing to the tick-ticking wall clock, you aren’t just sweating out the 9–5. You are waiting to be replaced by someone equally competent but more desperate, and eventually by an actual robot. A robot that has not yet been programmed to stick up for itself.

If your job does not require you to pump, test, and take joy in your creative muscles, find some other way to do it. Do not let them atrophy. It’s a cliche that you need to do what you love and to have hobbies and a life, but it’s important to execute on this strategy if you do not want to become a cliche. You will need those muscles sooner than you probably expect, and you could probably use them right now.

The bad news about being a robot at work is that it is a draining and frustrating way to work, to live, and to be. It will not last forever. It may be over a lot sooner than you expect. That’s the other bad news about it.