8.30.2012

A Letter From Heidy

No, the graphic for this story is not advocating more frequent masturbation. You guys and your dirty minds... I swear.

Anyway.

I get a lot of email. That's putting it mildly, actually -- between my work, Art of Akira, CNN, Huffington Post and blog posts, I get a TON of email. Some of it is spam, some is business as usual, and some is very kind words said by very great people.

As mentioned yesterday, periodically I get requests for advice or my thoughts on things, and every so often, I like to share those things here. It's even rarer that I share the positive things people write to me, because in so many ways, it feels like some sort of ego boosting or bragging when people share private communications that include lauds or thanks or other praise for something they've done. 

In this case, I feel like sharing this exchange with Heidy, because I think that it might do some good for some folks who read this stuff I write (a few people I know personally in particular, who need to hear reminders like this right now):

Hi Joe!

I'm a student at Georgetown University where the preps rule and wealthy, blue bloods gather. I want to thank you for sharing your stories and strength. You help me, and I'm sure a lot of other people,  accept myself  as I am rather than wishing I were somebody different.
Heidy


And my reply:


Heidy,


You can't BE anyone else. So why not love who you are?

Spending time wishing you were someone or something else is a waste of time, because it's impossible. It will never happen. No matter what you do, who you hang around, where you go, you're still wrapped in your skin and your brain still resides in your skull.

You can change your economic status in life, you can change your physical appearance by going to the gym, you can change your style of dress or car or whatever else. Inside that skin and in your skull, you're still you. Learn who that is, know who that is, love who that is... You'll find very very quickly that the looks, words and thoughts coming from other people will start bouncing off that skin and that skull. Over time, you won't even hear them. Even the good stuff. Because by that time, anything anyone else thinks about who or what you are will be so irrelevant, they might as well be speaking gibberish. 

Thanks for taking the time to write. 

Joe


One thing I didn't write in my reply to Heidy, that I want her to know: her message came at a time when I was bogged down with all sorts of questions about why I keep doing what I'm doing. Reminders of why it's important to put advice, ideas, and feelings out into the world always seem to show up when I most need them, and they mean the world to me, so thank you.

And thank you to the rest of you for reading me. You are why I do this. And please remember: when you love yourself, you are always loved -- and that's a superpower for which there is no Kryptonite.

8.28.2012

On Friendship

Sometimes, people ask me what I think about stuff via email or Facebook or Twitter, and want advice. Sometimes, they make requests for blog posts. I don't always entertain them, but when I feel like there's something I can share about my perspective on life gained from my experiences that could help people, I try to share it. This is one of those.

I can point you to any number of essays, diatribes and bumper stickers that will tell you all about what a "real friend" is. My favorite summation: "Friends help you move; real friends help you move bodies."

That's not what this is. I'm not going to attempt to educate you on what a real friend is, because I've already done that in several other posts. Add to that the sheer volume of shit you'll get back if you Google "Real Friend" and I think there's really no need for me to write yet another opinion on what constitutes a real friend.

No, this is a little different. It's about a harsh realization that, if you haven't learned already, you will. It's one that everyone gets to learn, whether they like it or not. In fact, it's so harsh that there are people who have learned it but simply cannot believe it's true, so they refuse it. They make excuses for it, or attempt to hide from it, or otherwise delude themselves into believing it can't be true.

But it is, and it sucks... At first. And then, it becomes the single most wonderful thing you'll ever learn:
More than 90% of the people you know in your life -- and this includes your family -- are not really your friend. 
I don't mean to say this to depress you, and I'm not being a pessimist. In fact, the goal here is to actually make your life better, and ultimately make you happy. But to get there, we have to wade through the darkness, which in this case is the realization that the vast majority of people you call "friend" will watch you burn and not even piss on you to put you out.

You may be a popular person. You may be well liked and well thought of. You may have 200 or 2000 Facebook friends. But make no mistake: they're not actually your friends. You may have tons of kids in school that you're friendly with; they're not your friends, either. Liking someone is not friendship, it's liking them. Doing favors for someone does not mean you are their friend, it just means you like them enough to do favors for them.

You will figure this fact out the hard way. There is no other way, because this is a very, very hard fact of life to face. You won't want it to be true. In fact, as I said above, a lot of people can't believe it's true, so they go on pretending it's not. But it is.

The shortcuts to finding this fact out: go to jail and see who visits. Get cancer or become a serious kind of sick and see who helps out. Have your house burn down and need a place to stay. Attempt suicide and see who shows up to save your life. Become addicted to something and see who stands in your way and stops you. Say something you feel honestly that is terribly unpopular and see who stands behind you (not "in agreement with" -- real friends don't necessarily agree with everything you think or say, but they do love you enough to get your back when you're being attacked for being who you are, thinking what you think or feeling what you feel).

Of course, I really don't want you to have to go through these things in order to find out who it is in life you can truly trust -- it's compounding a terrible fact of life with a terrible event you have to deal with, and I really don't want you to have to go through something terrible. At the same time, I also really don't want you to build your life around the wrong kind of people; wobbly legs that hold your emotional table up so long as you don't put any weight on it.

More than once in my life, I've had to recalibrate my understanding of what friendship is. This year, in fact. And I suspect I'll have to at least a dozen times more before I pass. And let me tell you from first hand knowledge: it hurts to realize someone (or a group of someones, or most everyone you know) isn't really your friend, and it doesn't hurt any less with each iteration of figuring this out.

So here's where this all turns into a good thing.

You will go through a certain period of your life thinking you have all these friends, and some stuff's going to happen to you (or because of you) and they'll disappear. You're going to get into some trouble -- not necessarily that you've done something bad, but you'll need help. There will be people who you've talked to, opened up to, poured your heart out to, and when you need them most, they'll be gone.

"Where's the good thing, Joe?" you're wondering. Well, watch who sticks around. See who remains. There's the good thing. There's your friends. And if there's no one... You've discovered a very important fact, one that's even more important than recognizing who your real friends are:

YOU are your real friend.

Get to know yourself, and you'll begin realizing what it is you do and do not need from others. More importantly, you'll get to know what you will and will not tolerate in your life. Know that you can survive on your own. You don't NEED anyone to save you.

That said, don't go isolating yourself from humanity. Other people are valuable in life, when they're the right people. And there's the big trick: surround yourself with the right people. People who don't seek to gain from you, who don't want from you what you have, who don't need you to make them feel good. The flip side to that -- don't do that to other people. Don't tolerate it from yourself. That's how you build real friendships.

And when you find them, hold on to them for dear life.

I hope this helps.

8.27.2012

Dear Free-Thinkers: Stop Being Closed-Minded


Dear Liberals, Scientists, Mathematicians, Logicticians and Skeptics:

We get it. You're a "thinker." You like to use your "logic" and things like "evidence" to reach conclusions.

Well, that's great and all, but it's horribly offensive, and I must humbly request on the behalf of all Religious and Belief-oriented people that you stop it. Like, right now.

Look, modern society is changing. Sure, the past few decades have seen drastic changes in the mindset of society. Racism, sexism, bigotry, misogyny and hatred are things that society is on the cusp of actually becoming against. And it's dangerous.

It's quaint that you feel that way, but you need to understand: your insistence that thought replace emotion, evidence replace belief and logic replace assumption is hurting people. It's closed-minded. You can't accept that people with beliefs are predisposed to use those beliefs -- and not YOUR logic and facts -- to draw their conclusions. You can't allow those who believe that a deity (or, a heavily-robed authority figure holding something made of gold) told them what to think, how to feel and ways to act. It's unfair to them.

These days, we must honor and respect the BELIEFS of someone, because to not do so is closed-minded and horrific and mean and terrible and akin to throwing them into the lion's den. In fact, the more you disagree with them, the more you should allow them to speak and dictate the rule of law. It's a personal exercise in open-mindedness.

So fuck your facts, fuck the law, fuck science and fuck math. Beliefs should govern thought, not information. And if you don't respect that, you're a big fat meanie head anti-Patriot un-American terrible Commie terrorist lover.

And if you disagree, I'll forgive you, turn the other cheek, and keep on operating on belief rather than listen to your points, because that's my right as a free-thinker.

And remember, Jesus loves you. Live like he did (except where it's inconvenient and conflicts with your prejudices, in which case just say his father God said it was ok to hate).

8.24.2012

My Trip To Egypt - Day 2

We got up early (4:00 AM) to have breakfast and head out to see the Great Pyramid of Giza. Sunrise in Egypt is about 5:00 AM, and the tourists show up early to beat the heat of the day (which begins about 11 AM and goes until the sun decides to go down about 8 PM). And it's the desert, so there's a LOT of heat in that day.

Here, we've arrived at the "Welcome Center" or whatever you want to call it where they charge you roughly 40LE (Egyptian Pounds -- one dollar = six LE, so about 7 bucks) to get in to see the pyramid:



And when they say it's the Great Pyramid, they aren't fucking kidding. The thing is HUGE:


Closer...



Closer...



For reference, here's Andrea standing on one of the blocks at the base:



And a super artsy whatever ants-eye-view of her:



Despite being immensely great and one of the seven wonders of the world, the Great Pyramid of Giza isn't the first thing you are taken aback by when you arrive. It's actually the vendors trying to sell you crap: 



There are two things I cannot ever accurately describe to you sufficently enough to convey just how insane they are in Egypt: The traffic and the vendors. Above, they're at our bus IMMEDIATELY to sell us trinkets like cat statues, pyramid statues, sets of 10 ink pens with Egyptian decorations, maps, bookmarks made of fake Papyrus, postcards -- anything and everything. They do not take "no" for an answer, and not in the way we think a used car salesman doesn't take "no" for an answer. They actually take ANYTHING YOU SAY, up to and including "No," "Fuck you," "Seriously eat shit and die" and "Your mother is a whore" as an invitation to dialog, and they will NOT leave you alone until you've entered a building with a guard or gotten back in the bus.

A real exchange, that happened more than once, after instance after instance of saying "no" or trying to ignore these pests:

Me: "Fuck you."

Vendor: "Oh I like the english curse words! Yes, yes, fuck you! England or USA?"

See? The ONLY way to get rid of them once you've talked to them is to buy something -- and the second you whip out your wallet, there is a mad rush of them to you to sell you what THEY have, and then THEY won't leave you alone.



Even if you try to walk past, they'll drape whatever they're selling to you on your arm, hand it to you, lie and say it's a gift. If you take it, they will try to sell you 200 other things, and when you leave wherever you're at, they'll find you and force you to pay, refusing to accept the item back.

There is NOTHING ELSE LIKE THIS I've ever experienced, ever, in my life. There is now something that ranks as more annoying than telemarketers and Jehovah's Witnesses, and I never thought that would ever happen.

The ONLY defense is to say nothing. NOTHING at all. Do not make eye contact. Move forward and move on. NO smiling, NO frowning, just keep going. That's how they realize you've realized what they are and how they act, and they finally leave you alone. But if you say a thing -- anything -- even if they touch you, you're snared.

At any rate, here's what Cairo looks like from midway up the Great Pyramid (click for full-size panorama):





Cameras are technically not allowed inside the Great Pyramid, and our tour guide collected my DSLR and held it as I entered. But I had my iPhone, and couldn't resist snapping some pics inside (without flash, of course): 


These are some of the 700+ stairs you climb to get into the main chamber. The thing about this shot: There's actually head room. For the vast majority of the climb, you're stooped over and nearly crawling up the stairs, because the chamber to climb is about four feet high.



Inside the chamber, there's... Nothing. But there are some transcendentalist new-agey types meditating and chanting and feeling vibes of ancient souls and whatever, as the girl in the white shirt is doing above, and the guy sitting next to the statue block below: 




And here are the vendors after we arrived back at the bus:



It doesn't matter if you close the door -- they still try to sell you things:



We made our way to the panorama view of all three pyramids (click for full-size panorama):



And here's what the three look like, a little more close-up:



And here's what the medium-sized one looks like, much more close up. The stuff at the top is a limestone casing covering the outer granite. They say that the limestone-tipped pyramids were then coated in gold leaf, which reflected the sun and shone like beacons -- which is why the pyramid on our One Dollar Bill has light rays coming off of it:




At the panorama, you can rent a camel:


Technically, you can rent a camel nearly anywhere in Egypt -- but our guides told us very clearly "NEVER TRUST  A CAMEL DRIVER." Because the guides were Egyptians, I don't think they were being racist.

Apparently, if you are a tourist and you rent a camel from a camel driver without a guide, representative, or native Egyptian, what they will do is lie to you about how much, even tell you it's free, until you get on. And camels are TALL -- so when you're done with your ride, they won't let the camel kneel down so you can get off until you pay whatever they try to extort from you. Thankfully, our guide knew how to handle them and arranged for our group to go together and pay a flat fee.

The reason the vendors, camel drivers and such are so desperate -- since the revolution, tourism in general has dried up. More on this later. For now, enjoy seeing Andrea get on a camel:






And here's me, trying to use the stick shift on the camel:



And here's the lovely couple on camels, with beautiful pyramids in the background: 



Here's Andrea walking like an Egyptian:


The guy above on the camel drew his sword and tried to get into the picture. Everywhere you go, camel drivers try to get in your picture, then demand money for taking a picture of them. The guy had a sword, so I didn't quite get all "fuck you" on him, I just pretended I was deaf and said "I cannot hear you, I am pretending to be deaf." Then I walked away. 

Here's the great Sphinx:



In the main courtyard / temple, there are blocks stacked to form corners -- but they aren't stacked into a corner, they're literally carved and shaved to form a corner on each block, to prevent crumbling due to erosion:



Here's Mr. Sphinx, with no nose:



And a macro shot:



And another shot, because fuck it, it's my blog and I like it:



After the tour of the Great Pyramids and the Great Sphinx, we got a great lesson on how real papyrus is made at Sondos Papyrus:








(We bought the painting he's holding the papyrus plant in front of, it's immaculate)


Each of these pieces is hand-painted on original, real no kidding papyrus. They're beautiful.




After that, a trip to the Egyptian National History Museum:



Cameras weren't allowed in, and this place was HEAVILY patrolled by Egypitan Police, because there's something on the order of two three hundred pounds of gold inside, not to mention the irreplacable Egyptian antiquities. So I have no photos. But it was truly educational, and you can see some of the best stuff when the King Tut exhibit comes to a town near you next time. Trust me, it's worth it.

After all that activity, Andrea and I had a nice dinner cruise to ourselves:





The Nile in Cairo is truly beautiful:



Especially at night:




I was trying to focus on how beautiful the city was...



But I couldn't help but focus on how beautiful my wife is:



Even when she's sleepy:



And that was it for Day two. More to come!

8.16.2012

My Trip To Egypt - Day 1

If you've been wondering where I've been, you clearly don't read my Twitter, Facebook or Instagram feeds. So step 1: go subscribe to that stuff. And step 2: read the subject of this post. This post will cover the first day of the trip, with subsequent days combined to try to keep the number of posts down.

We first flew to New York, and since New York isn't in the subject of this post, I'm going to pretty much skip that stuff and get right to flying to Egypt:



The flight was full, but it never felt crowded, mostly because we were on a gigantic 767:



Because this trip is for our 10th wedding anniversary, one of the flight attendants hooked us up with a few empty seats in an exit row. Before he helped us out, he quizzed me quite a lot, asking if I was British, to which I answered, "I'm American." He wanted to know my lineage -- is anyone in my family British? "No," I answered, "Irish and Native American as far as I know." Is my wife British? "Nope, originally German and Swedish." He saw the tattoo of Akira in his schoolboy outfit on my elbow and asked why I have a British boy on my arm. "He's Japanese... His name is Akira." A fellow passenger confirmed the character was Japanese, but said it in Arabic.

He then said "My Irish friend, I will help you, for we both hate the British." He explained that in the 1952 revolution for their freedom, many of his Egyptian family members were killed by the British and he hates them.

That's when I realized, with absolute certainty, that I was going to a completely different place than I've ever been before.



The flight from New York to Egypt was about 10 hours, as indicated in the screen above. About three hours into the flight, a woman got violently ill and sprinted up the aisle to the restroom, spurting small bits of vomit the entire way, finally erupting when she got to the bathroom door which she couldn't open:


Instead of cleaning it up, the staff covered it with tons of plastic bags. Cause that's just how Egypt Air does shit, I guess. 

We got off the flight and took the shuttle to our hotel, Mena House near the Giza Pyramids. We got out of the shuttle and were greeted with this view: 



We could see the Great Pyramid from practically every part of the hotel. Here it is from the main dining hall:



And here it is from the balcony, along with some pretty girl and the monstrous tattooed gentleman she was with:



Mena House was where Jimmy Carter stayed during his visits to Egypt during the the Camp David accords. They are very proud of this fact. They showed us the bench that Jimmy Carter sat on:



And the bed that Jimmy Carter slept in:



The ornamentation around the hotel was amazing. All of the celings were inlaid with this pattern:


And there were quite a few chandlers around the stairwells, this being one of the more festive ones:



And this is the front lobby:



We then headed out of the hotel for a bite of dinner. The first thing you notice when you drive through Cairo (aside from the fact that absolutely NO ONE follows any driving rules, lanes, lights or signs anywhere whatsoever, and this is not hyperbole) is the grafitti. It's everywhere. Our guide explained that some of it is just random stuff, but a lot of it is anti-Mubarak and pro-revolution graf:





There are people lined up in the most random places to sell things. You will see new residental construction, an auto shop, and then kids toys, all on the same block, almost randomly:





There weren't many "custom" cars that I saw -- but a LOT with very strange racing stickers, huge Apple logos (more on that later), and strange logos, like this guy wearing an "X-men" shirt as a sticker, which was on a LOT of cars:





At dinner, I ordered a Pepsi. Just one Pepsi. All I wanted was a Pepsi... Sorry. Got some Social D Suicidal Tendencies stuck in my brain. Anyway, since it's the holy month of Ramadan, the Pepsi cans were decorated especially for the occasion: 



Outside of the restaurant and practically everyplace you go is hanging this lamp (the one in the top center),  called a Fanous. It's only out during Ramadan: 



And since it is Ramadan, it was explained that life in Cairo doesn't really start until after everyone breaks their fast, and that happens about 6:30 PM. This photo was taken around 6:45 PM, and you can see the square is mostly empty:



After visiting  one or two shops, we came out to see this:



And this was a pretty quiet street, comparatively. As I said, shops selling almost anything and everything are everywhere. This clothing vendor was next door to this American Girl baby doll ripoff store:



The vendors were fairly tenacious as you walk down the street. Everyone -- EVERYONE -- has something to sell, and "no thank you" isn't enough to discourage them. They simply want a dialog. But more on that tomorrow, as there's a LOT to discuss with that entire topic.

We returned home to our hotel, and this was the view of the Pyramid that greeted us:



That's it for the first day. Tomorrow, I'll be posting photos from the rest of our 3 day visit to Cairo, followed by a post covering our trip to Luxor, then a third post for Edfu, Aswan and Abu Simbel, and a fourth post for our trip to Sharm El Sheik. I'll go ahead and warn you -- I took over 5,000 photos on this trip, and they're ALL AWESOME, so if you're not into seeing lots of awesome photos of Egypt, you're still going to love my posts because I'll convert you with the awesomeness. And if you're just plain in a hurry to see them all, here's a link to my Flickr account. As of the time of this post (about 2:00PM on Thursday), there's still 7+ hours left to upload them all, so if there's less than 5,000 pictures, keep checking back. Enjoy!