Friday, April 30, 2010

Dish-Interested: Sex Addictions Are the New Adopted Ethnic Babies

Photo courtesy of Osmosis Online
By now we’ve all heard about the marital woes between Sandra Bullock and Jesse James, the latest Hollywood couple to go up in flames in an epic cheating scandal of Tiger Woods proportions. Beyond taking the focus off of Tiger — who I hope sent Jesse a thank-you note — this scandal features another celebrity who, like Tiger, tried to pin his sluttiness on a sex addiction, one he received treatment for at a rehab center, instead of acknowledging the more obvious cause of his problems: being an asshole.

It’s as though no one in Hollywood can admit to acting stupid anymore without pointing to some addiction or disease as an explanation, essentially absolving them of having to assume any responsibility for their bad behavior while also denigrating people who, you know, struggle with actual addictions and diseases. In addition to Tiger and Jesse, David Duchovny, Russell Brand and Eric Benet (Halle Berry’s ex) have also been treated for their crippling inability to control their wild penises. And I’m sure after they left rehab, none of them ever had sex again. After all, recovering addicts are never allowed to use drugs or alcohol again. Just take it one blue ball at a time, guys.

But before we cart Jesse off to a 12-step program for his “sickness,” let’s not forget...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

One-Hit Wonders: April 2010

... search terms inexplicably pulling up this blog ...
  • first class nakid flight attendant
  • nipple tug of war
  • flatter than milla jovovich's chest
  • "his freckles" freckled sunburn
  • how can stop deer and rabite cgewing crop in my garden please
  • my wife sucked my secretary's lactating tits
  • tiger woods and milla
  • catheter diaper
  • my last name is milla i want to know where is my last name coming from?

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Landmark Forum: Day 2 (Part III)

while the first day of the Forum felt long and uncomfortable and third day felt dramatic and surreal, the second day fell somewhere in between. it also felt long, though not quite as draggy, and events did move into surreal territory as the vacuum created by 75 isolated people being lectured to nonstop began producing odd moments that could not be replicated in the outside world.

the day started with us going over the prior night’s letter-writing assignment, an assignment i had ignored in favor of sleep. people began reading their letters to the class and then to each other during the share sessions with a partner. thankfully, i sat next to fellow skeptic Sophie that morning, who also disregarded the assignment. we talked instead about how weird yet mesmerizing the Forum was.

instructor Angie, who was still doing her tough love coaching shtick, approached Sophie and i during a break to ask us if we were getting anything out of the class. the conversation couldn’t have been more awkward as we both tried to tell her nicely that the whole thing seemed like horseshit to us. i reassured Angie that i was enjoying my time at the Forum, which i certainly was, but that i hadn’t had any breakthroughs and wasn’t feeling particularly inspired by the material.

“that’s ok. things will come up in time. you will transform on the third day,” Angie told me.
“maybe i will, maybe i won’t,” i replied. “you can’t come to a conclusion about the third day when we are only in the second day.”
“everyone transforms on the third day,” she smiled.

we were told this constantly throughout the Forum — that we would transform, be reborn anew into a life we never thought possible. suggested outcomes seemed to preface new lessons frequently, no doubt to influence our experience of them. we were often told such things as, “this next discussion is considered by many to be the most powerful one of the weekend” and “people sometimes respond emotionally to the exercise we are about to do.” it was the power of suggestion leap-frogging itself into fact, so much so that every exercise became the most dramatic rose ceremony EVER. it was crafty, tiresome and usually effective.

the lessons of day two were less effective for me. the early lessons centered on psych 101 teachings about how perception influences reality and how people are products of their environment. odd lingo began entering the discussion as well, with “new realms of possibility” becoming a particular focus. we also began talking about “enrolling others in a new possibility we’ve created for ourselves,” which i took as yet another subversive suggestion to enroll them in a Landmark course, but we were told it meant notifying friends and family of the changes we planned to make in our lives following the Forum.

our assignments during breaks involved calling and “enrolling” these people, especially if we had tense relationships with them. we were encouraged to “complete” with them, to take responsibility for our lousy behavior even if it was their behavior that was lousy. we were told that we were difficult to live with, that our lives didn’t work because of all our “rackets.” we had no integrity; we were frauds to the core, lying liars telling lies that made us look good even when they didn’t make us feel good. we had to “remove our pasts from our present” and unencumber ourselves from a lifetime of baggage that poisons our relationships and skews our perceptions of our place in the world.

“no wonder you’re tired all the time,” Angie said while dragging a chair behind her. “you keep carrying that heavy baggage with you everywhere you go.”

the pressure to submit to the material remained unyielding, with lessons often beginning with urgings to “get out of the stands and onto the court.” we needed to engage if we wanted to transform; we needed to step up and get coached. we were encouraged to “try on” the teachings like a jacket to see if they could fit into the framework of our belief system when, in fact, they were designed to replace our framework.

resistance to the curriculum was always met with more curriculum, with any attempt to debunk the material only serving to strengthen it. sometimes fellow students got into the mix by yelling out “rackets” or some other term coined in the coursework as a response to a skeptical student’s questions. after a while, people stopped protesting altogether and started conforming just so they wouldn't feel excluded. groupthink began to settle in.

as the tides turned, new people started coming to the microphone to share and be coached by Angie, who maintained total mastery over the class. the confessions kept coming, some anecdotal and others traumatic, with each one seeming to up the ante of what could be said. a tale of childhood molestation was followed by an admission from one participant that he kissed his little brother when they were both kids and has always feared that this kiss made his brother a bisexual adult.

people spoke of witnessing abuse as children, of spousal infidelity, with some admitting that they had done the cheating. there were tales of unfulfilling sex lives with spouses, of childhood ridicule that left lifelong scars. one man even admitted to never telling anyone he was a champion bagpipe player because he wore a quilt during competitions and worried about being perceived as unmanly.

each confession was met with unconditional acceptance from the group. we were told we were in a safe environment where no judgment would be passed so we could say anything without fear. some secrets had never been spoken before the Forum; others had never been realized until the Forum.

the most poignant confession for me was made by a woman i sat next to during one of the many sharing sessions with a partner. i don’t recall the lesson we had been discussing, but i’ll never forget the look on her face when she turned to me, her eyes filling with tears, and said, “i just had a breakthrough. i realized that i resent my children because i can’t abandon them in the same way i’ve abandoned every other thing that gets hard in my life — like my marriage to my ex-husband.” she began to cry. i tried to comfort her as best i could, wondering to myself whether some breakthroughs were better left unrealized.

but there was no holding them back now. they were forcing their way through, releasing a torrent of emotions with them. people seemed to yearn for the catharsis. they wanted to share in an effort to rid themselves of the secrets they had been living with their entire lives, maybe even living for, secrets that constrained them, consumed them with guilt, controlled them with the fear that these secrets would be the very thing that defined their lives for the rest of their lives.

with the sharing, the secrets seemed to evaporate into nonexistence after being spoken, releasing the confessor from having to keep it any longer. here began the transformation. people looked positively radiant after confessing to the group, their tear-stained faces now relaxed, their demeanors buoyant, their spirits finally free. it was beautiful to witness.

through all this, i maintained my journalistic distance, never once stepping up to the microphone to make my own confession. i felt obligated to, mostly to honor the other participants, who awed me with their bravery, but ultimately something about the whole spectacle felt obscene and almost exploitative to me. after all, we were still strangers to each other.

this point was driven home during that night’s dinner break when a random assortment of us decided to walk to the hotel restaurant across the street. as i looked around the table after we were seated, i realized i didn’t know anyone’s last name or occupation, but i did know that one woman was on the verge of divorce, one man had a DUI and another man felt unworthy of love. recognizing the imbalance, they asked me why i hadn’t yet shared with the group (and eyed me disapprovingly as i drank a glass of wine with my dinner).

“i just don’t feel comfortable,” is the only thing i could say.

it was true. i didn’t feel comfortable spilling my darkest secrets to a room full of strangers, but i did began to feel attached to the people who did. i even began referring to them lovingly as my “fellow prisoners of war.” we were all in this together, developing something like a trauma bond — its energy palpable, infectious and overwhelming. and i liked this group of people. i wanted to belong among them, to experience the breakthroughs and get swept into the energy of the new realm of possibilities i kept hearing about, but every instinct in my body held me back.

all the while the pressure never let up, now administered solely by the other students who told me that i was “close-minded,” that i was “ruining other people’s experiences of the Forum” with my bad attitude, that i was allowing my “rackets” to hold me back. after enough of these admonitions, i became skeptical of my own skepticism. why couldn’t i stand up and share with the group? was i really seeing things as clearly as i thought? maybe i was the crazy one and they were the sane ones who had it all figured out?

i couldn’t be sure. and because of my uncertainty, i decided not to decide anything. i would ride it out, wait it out, not succumb to it and not be self-righteous about it either. i would float in the uncertainty while abiding by one of my life’s guiding maxims: doubt means don’t.

after dinner, the last exercise of the day was upon us, an exercise Angie told us “could produce some dramatic results, including strong physical reactions.” i didn’t like it already. we were told to close our eyes, take deep breaths, relax our bodies, shut out the world and focus only on Angie’s voice. if this sounds like hypnosis, that’s because it is.

then we were told to experience our fear by imagining we were afraid of the person sitting next to us. then we imagined being afraid of everyone in the room, then everyone in Los Angeles, in California, the country and, ultimately, the seven billion other people in the world.

we were asked to feel our fear, to bring it up through our stomachs, allow it to permeate our bodies, engage it, experience it, let it wrap itself around us before guiding it to the surface of our skin, all the way up to our skull where it could be released into the air. we had to abandon the limitations our fear imposed on us and let go of the long-held beliefs we carried from our past, beliefs that would muddy our future and dash our hopes of living a transformed life.

we needed to get over ourselves, to rid ourselves of the need to always look good in every situation. our self-consciousness doomed us. it drove us to lead inauthentic lives without integrity. our fears obscured our purpose, hid it from us, layered it with circumstances, consequences and excuses. we had to let go of our fear if we wanted to live a fulfilled life, and we needed to recognize the cosmic joke in the equation that is this life — that while we were busy fearing everyone around us, they were just as busy fearing us.

the exercise must have lasted close to an hour. i had read about it during my research of the Forum and already knew the script, but i couldn’t deny its impact. people were sobbing uncontrollably, some practically lying on the floor, others with their head in their hands. the energy in the room was indescribable. it was heavy, to be sure, though not exactly sad or happy, just overwhelming. my own body felt tingly, my head light. i didn't feel particularly emotional, just slightly disoriented but mostly relaxed. i checked my neck and wrists to make sure i hadn't been microchipped during the exercise.

people raced to the microphone to share. there were still tears, but plenty more smiles now. one man came forward to say he planned to write a letter to the CEO of his company. another said he planned to blow the whistle on the unethical practices he had witnessed at his work. one woman admitted to having been ashamed of her autistic child, vowing to never be again. their faces glowed.

i came home that night with more homework, which i disregarded in favor of drinking two beers. my head was a scramble of thoughts, all bouncing around at light speed and never landing on anything concrete. i almost felt as though i forgot how to think, having spent two 13-hour days letting someone else do the thinking for me. i must have spent a good hour staring at the ceiling wondering what the hell i got myself into. i slept poorly that night, kept up by anxiety about the next day, the third and final one of the Forum — transformation day when we would arrive at the promised land.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Nip and Tuck

unless you are reading this by braille, you may have noticed that i gave the ole bloggy a little facelift. i wasn’t planning to, but Blogger decided to discontinue its support of ftp publishing, which i had been using since this blog’s inception in 2003. that meant i had to switch a bunch of things, reconfigure a bunch of other things, beg my webmaster to write some javascript that would redirect links and endure the general pain in the ass that is a site overhaul.

bright side is i have a shiny new blog template to play in, one that has far more functionality than the last one. as the multitude of widgets in the right sidebar can attest to, i’m playing with it, maybe a little too much. if i’m gotten anything terribly wrong with this initial design, please tell me. i imagine i’ll continue to tweak the layout in the coming weeks, so bear with me.

biggest changes so far include the addition of a twitter feed on the right. yes, in my endless quest for self-promotion and brand status, i have joined twitter and begun tweeting. if you are so inclined, please follow me: @millatimes. with your help, i can be bigger than @shitmydadsays!

you may have also noticed that the URL of this website has changed and now contains a dreaded you should still be arriving here with your old bookmarked URL, but i encourage you to update it to just, which will redirect you here for now and hopefully be the blog’s permanent URL after some more finagling on my end.

i’ve also added more links to my blogroll, a permalink to my Dish-Interested column, a picture of the moment section that will be updated whenever the mood strikes, a follower section, tag cloud and subscribe links. i’m still having trouble importing comments from my old haloscan account, but hope to clear that up soon.

beyond that, i hope you like the new design. if not, just lie and say you do.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Landmark Forum: Day 1 (Part II)

so what happens at the Landmark Forum? it is no exaggeration to say it would take three days to tell the whole story, the first two of which would be spent chipping away at your personal identity, before replacing it on the third day with everything Landmark. in short, the curriculum centers on self-reflection, with exercises that ask participants to examine their patterns of thinking and beliefs about the world.

on its own, this is not a bad thing, but Landmark’s methodology makes this process emotionally intense. epiphanies and catharses abound at the Forum. tears flow. there are meltdowns and breakthroughs. nothing about the weekend was typical and i can honestly say that it will go down as one of the most memorable weekends of my life.

the morning of the first day (a Friday), the class of 75 met our Forum leader, who would be our guide, our “coach” through our transformation. (what we were supposed to transform into was never really specified, but we were repeatedly promised transformation by the third day.)

the coach, Angie, had complete dominion over the class; there were no guest speakers. Angie’s demeanor alternated between tough, funny and encouraging. she was mostly tough, however, and sometimes even mean. her instruction was peppered with well-rehearsed personal stories of her life before Landmark and her life since, with her post-Landmark life being the clear winner.

on the whole, the group of participants was diverse, consisting of all races, ages and classes, and representing the same cross-section of Los Angeles that one might find in a room full of people summoned for jury duty. this surprised me given Landmark’s hefty price tag, but it soon became clear that many attendees were sponsored by other Landmark “graduates,” including employers, friends and family who had their own transformative experiences at the Forum. referrals are huge at Landmark, which contributes to its cultish reputation.

after taking a few questions from the class, coach Angie laid out the rules: in the three 13-hour days, there would be two half-hour breaks and one 90-minute meal break. there were assignments to complete at each break and homework every night. we were encouraged to spend our breaks with other participants and to speak up in class (three microphones were stationed in the room).

after each lesson, we would discuss the coursework with the person sitting next to us, which means we had to sit somewhere new after each break so we could mingle and meet everyone in class. we would also have time to ask questions, “share” at the microphone and be coached in front of the class. we were asked to be on time, to visit the restroom only during the breaks, to raise our hands before speaking and to not drink or use drugs during the entire three days of the Forum.

with everyone on board, we began class with our first lesson: integrity. as defined by Landmark, personal integrity is based on the extent to which we keep our promises. it’s understood that there are many flaky people in the class, people who routinely make empty promises to their loved ones, their employers and even to themselves.

Landmark aims to change all that. we are asked to restore our integrity with a promise to adhere to the Forum rules, to participate in class, finish all assignments and commit to completing the three-day course. we are told to raise our hands to show our commitment to this promise, which we all do, and thus our new life with integrity begins.

it’s the first lesson of the day and i’m already uncomfortable. i consider my own definition of integrity, which i see as being accountable to my loved ones, keeping my promises to them, being reliable and trustworthy in their eyes. i consider my list of special people and wonder if they would say i am a person who keeps her promises. on the whole, i think they would.

i’m unnerved about Landmark adding itself to my list without permission, especially because i paid to attend the class. i could understand these rules if they paid me to be there, if my attendance were a job i was contracted to do, or a class where assignments produced a final grade and had consequences in the real world, but none of that was true. it was my choice to be in class, a choice i had the power to reverse at any moment, a power i would not relinquish because Landmark asked me to. this wasn’t an exercise in integrity; it was an exercise in obedience.

admittedly, this red flag, so early in the course, left me incredibly guarded. i refused to suspend disbelief and decided instead to remain vigilant in my questioning of every lesson that followed. my self-proclaimed open-mindedness suddenly became very narrow, as i resisted everything told to me, uneasy about any ulterior motives.

ultimately, this made me experience the Forum more as a curious observer than an active participant, which proved increasingly difficult to do considering that another of the first day’s lessons amounted to “get out of the stands and onto the court,” a lecture about how our transformation hinged on our participation, which meant sharing at the microphone, completing the assignments and re-evaluating our lives through the prism of the lessons we were being taught.

and the lessons? they had their hits and misses. the integrity lesson was followed by the authenticity lesson, which was basically a lesson about being an honest person. then came a lesson on the “viscous circle,” which examined how we add interpretations to all the events in our lives, interpretations that turn into emotional baggage and hinder our future. so someone who was cheated on by a man might become mistrustful of men and assume that all men cheat, when, in fact, only one man did the cheating. we’re repeatedly told that “our pasts are in our present” — pasts we need to release if we want a future of our making.

if this sounds remedial, that’s because it is, but Landmark manages to repackage kindergarten basics in a way that made them seem revolutionary. as each lesson ended, storytime followed, with participants racing to the microphone to discuss their lives with Angie, who would always make them squirm with “coaching” sessions that were more tough love than they were warm and fuzzy. at times, they were even cringe-inducing, borderline abusive and almost always pointed to the sharer as being the one at fault for the mess in his or her life.

sometimes Angie was spot on in her assessments, like when she called one particularly immature and gregarious 22-year-old in the class “a self-involved narcissist” when he talked about problems he had with his friends. other times she missed the mark completely, like when she accused one man of “playing the victim” after he recounted a memory of seeing his father beat his mother when he was a child.

witnessing the nonstop confessions at the microphone was bizarre, to say the least. i found myself holding my breath every time someone new stepped up to the plate, my hands unconsciously traveling to my face, landing practically across my eyes in an effort to shield myself from the train wreck i was about to witness.

by the end of the first day, i heard stories of people sabotaging their marriages, cheating on their spouses, being addicted to drugs, grappling with self-loathing, hating their parents, and a man who was married four times by 40. it was like watching a 12-hour Lifetime movie. i honestly didn’t know what to make of it. though i regarded the sharers as incredibly brave for being so honest, i couldn’t understand what compelled them to confess their darkest secrets to a room of 75 strangers. i knew i couldn’t do it, so i stayed seated and quiet.

when dinnertime rolled around, i was exhausted and considered ditching class in favor of going home to sleep. i ate dinner with Eduardo, whom i already knew via our mutual friend Juan, our shared link into Landmark. Eduardo became my buddy during the Forum, the one i spent most of the breaks with. we spent plenty of time discussing the coursework, with me being my usual cynical self and him telling me to be more open-minded.

i also became buddies with Sophie, who was also distrustful of the coursework and served as a valuable touch point for me during the weekend. she was the one i could exchange across-the-room glances with, our bewildered faces both registering a look of “what the fuck?” together, Eduardo and Sophie became my angel-devil dichotomy, with each sitting on my shoulder, persuading me to come around to their way of thinking.

that first night, Eduardo won and convinced me to stay for the final lesson of the day, which, to my surprise, proved to be worth staying for. the lesson asked us to examine our bad habits and ways of thinking, renamed “rackets” by Landmark, which are defined as “unproductive ways of being or acting that include a complaint that something shouldn’t be the way it is.” we are racketeers, we were told, drama kings and queens who hang onto our bad habits to get the payoff of always being right.

this one resonated with me because, well, i have a lot of bad habits, chief among them procrastination. in fact, whenever i was asked by a fellow participant why i was taking the Forum, i always replied with, “i want to stop procrastinating.” it’s a boring complaint, i know, but too often i’ve found myself acting like a college student during finals week who’s playing video games instead of writing term papers that were all due yesterday. this is why all my Dish-Interested columns are late and my garage still hasn’t been cleaned out.

(writing the last sentence has suddenly thrown into question my earlier assessment that i already live a life of integrity. awesome!)

in any case, the rackets lesson was useful in that it helped me examine my lousy life as a procrastinator. it made me think about the costs of procrastination and helped me realize that i need to just shut up and do what i need to do instead of waiting until never because — duh! — doing it will take it off my plate and remove all the stress the undone thing is causing in my life by virtue of its undoneness.

more sharing and final thoughts followed the lesson, as did a homework assignment that involved us examining three of our rackets in addition to writing a letter to someone about the new possibility we intended to create in our lives following the Forum. at this point, it was after 10 pm. i was looking at a half-hour drive home and a second 13-hour day of class that would begin at 9 am the following morning. i began to wonder whether sleep deprivation was the ulterior motive in these assignments.

i came home, drank a dark beer, ignored the assignment and collapsed, exhausted, into bed, where i enjoyed a dreamless sleep before getting up the next morning and doing it all over again.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Landmark Forum: Conclusion First (Part I)

this has to be the most expensive blog entry i’ve ever written. its monetary cost is approximately $420, which doesn’t include the $3 a day parking, plus the cost of all meals, snacks and drinks i consumed while attending The Landmark Forum, a three-day seminar that promises to transform the lives of its attendees in profound, permanent and meaningful ways. i could insert a snarky joke here about how i should have spent that money on laser hair removal instead, but i’m actually glad i attended the Forum because it did do me a lot of good.

Landmark Education has been around for a long time. its history is sordid, with associations to a creepy self-help movement of the ’70s known as est and a founder who, by all accounts, seems like a major douchebag. i spent many hours reading accounts of the Forum by people who attended it, learning the lesson plans and understanding the process so i knew what to expect during the three 13-hour days i would spend in a conference room near LAX with 75 other people during a holiday weekend.

i’m very glad i did that research (thank you, journalism degree), because it made me very skeptical of the process; it made me promise myself that i would think critically about all the material Landmark put in front of me over the three days, that i would examine it thoroughly before deciding whether i agreed enough to incorporate its lessons into my life and way of thinking. this certainly colored my experience of the Forum, as i didn’t go into it fully open-minded, resolving instead to heed my questioning, skeptical self the entire time, but that research — and i know this sounds dramatic — probably saved my life.

Landmark has long been called a cult by many of its critics, an accusation that has its merits, primarily because Landmark’s many “graduates” are super enthusiastic about it, to the point of being annoying. i’ve had a few friends go through the course as well, none of whom were particularly annoying, but all of whom were indeed very enthusiastic. Landmark engenders this kind of enthusiasm among its graduates because its methodology is very powerful.

graduates are encouraged to recruit friends and family to take the Forum, to volunteer at its centers making phone calls (always unpaid), to commit to taking more classes (there are more than 60), and subscribe to an ideology that is full of strange lingo and catch phrases such as “what you don’t know you don’t know” and “running rackets” and “the vicious circle.” the language is very ritualized, where you learn to say things a certain way, and the ideology is nothing short of a religious dogma that must be adopted without question. there is no room for interpretation, examination or disagreement.

Landmark’s way is to tell you how to think, and they do it so effectively that, before long, you forget that you ever once knew how to think for yourself. having said this, i want to go on record and say that i do NOT think Landmark is a cult because it doesn’t encourage participants to become isolated and break off ties with friends and family the way traditional cults do. instead, it encourages everyone to join. it’s not really shrouded in mystery either. anyone can sign up and take courses (though the Forum is always the first course).

i had heard rumors about minders following participants into the bathroom, taking their car keys and locking the doors during the Forum, but i did not see any of this. we were free to come and go as we pleased. i never felt trapped, nor was i tied to a chair with an interrogation light shining in my face. but i definitely felt a lot of pressure to conform, to accept everything i was told without reservation, to transform and submit and obey, and to toss aside my long-standing ways of thinking and replace them with Landmark’s dogma. this is brainwashing, and Landmark does it well.

despite how that sounds, some of their techniques were extremely helpful. i did learn a lot about myself and examined both my good and bad habits — and the events that likely shaped them. i learned how to think about situations differently and emerged from my three days of instruction feeling incredibly motivated. to that end, it was definitely money well spent. i took away several valuable lessons about life and possibility from my Landmark experience, but the majority of the coursework i left behind, because while i don’t think that Landmark is a cult, i do think it is very, very cultish. it is also very powerful.

so what happens at the Landmark Forum?

part two to be published soon.