If Everybody's Beautiful...

I want to be beautiful. I'm saying this with a complete lack of irony. Really. I want to be beautiful. Don't you? Tonight was the 7th annual Pretend You Are Rich Art Auction. Presumably, it ended about three hours ago. It was held at The Pump Art Complex, a collection of studio spaces and a community of artists. The auction was an exercise in fantasy, a night when the artistic community of Austin could come together and become something that many, if not most of them are not: wealthy.

But this article is not about the auction. That will come later. This article isn't really about anything. I have no map that marks a path for these words. I'm not even sure of my intent in writing this. Except that...

I'm not beautiful. Are you? I have, throughout the course of my short and short-sighted life, lived on the edges of the realm of the ugly. In show business, we call them character-actors. You can be either Juliet or Juliet's maid. My dear readers, you are in the electronic presence of Juliet's maid. In my younger days, being ugly was horrible. Given the unspeakable cruelty of children, it's not hard to imagine why. I've never understood why people believe that children are innocent, kind, perceptive, or sacred. I don't buy it. Human nastiness is most likely born of ingorance, and there is no human creature more ignorant than a child. As I grew older my ugliness became empowering. My very existence was a "Fuck you!" to all of those heartless bastards who took for granted that they were beautiful. My ugliness was freedom. I chose to be ugly. I made ugly decisions. Ugly was beautiful.

So I was an ugly child. Not surprisingly, I am an ugly adult. I have been, at least subconsciously, aware of my ugliness all of my life. But it had not become so evident to me as earlier tonight, during the auction, when I engaged in the communal fantasy of wealth, stardom, and beauty.

Fantasy should be easy for me. After all, I got my bachelors in fantasy with a fool-hardy major in theatre arts. And yet, tonight, as I stood up on that stage, with my tuxedo, my clip-on bow tie, my costume spats, as I looked around the room at our guests and patrons, called to them to spend real/pretend money, the stark reality that was hidden beneath our phony fur coats, our fake pearls, became evident.

And so now, here am I, kept awake at one in the morning, wondering, how can I become beautiful? Decorations, tattoos, piercings, cuff-links, designers shoes, hair-gel, mascara, are all distractions that hide the truth of the naked body. Similarly, knowledge, hobbies, habits, ironic references, interests, abilities, and our ability to boast of them to others; all are distractions which we emit to draw attention away from the fact that we are vulnerable. At the heart of our vulnerability lays... is it ugliness?

I can't speak but for myself.


ugly is beautiful because it is real. Ugly is the only beauty. You can pile as much money and charisma as you like on ugly and call it beautiful. But you are lying, and you won't realize the truth and tragic beauty in ugly until there are no distractions except for you and the mirror.

Don't shatter it.



My Introduction to The Landmark Forum

Okay, I’ll go
For the past month or so, a friend of mine had been trying to convince me to attend an introductory meeting for something called The Forum. When I asked him to describe The Forum, his answer was hard to grasp. Apparently, even though he was already fairly happy with his life (and making good money), The Forum helped him realize his unreached potential. He told me that taking it made him a better artist, businessman, and person; that he owed his current successes in his company to The Forum, as well as his being able to establish a civil relationship with his former wife. Upon hearing me tell him that I wasn’t interested in a self help program, he insisted that the Forum is not, absolutely not, a self help program at all. All he wanted me to do was attend an introductory meeting in which I would meet a representative, and if I decided to attend, then I could sign up for the price of $425. I declined to attend. But he continued in his pursuit until ultimately, over a pleasant dinner and a couple of drinks, I graciously, yet grudgingly agreed to attend the next introduction.

I took some time over the next few days to read up on The Forum via the net. What I found was quite interesting: a multimillion dollar company, accusations of cult-like activity, banned from operating in France, complaints of brainwashing, and a close connection to the now debunked est programs from the seventies.

Here are some links to articles and information about The Forum that are much better than mine:

Inside the Landmark Forum, Karin Badt
The Landmark Forum: 42 Hours, $500, 65 Breakdowns

Investigation: is the Landmark Forum a cult?
The Landmark Website

What is left unsaid?
So I would guess that if you are the skeptical type, then the top two links will appeal to you, and if you are the Chicken Soup for the Soul type, then you fancy the bottom two links. Either way, all of them conspicuously omit some aspects of The Forum. The skeptics either neglect to mention progress made by other Forum takers, or, if it is mentioned, it is done in a way that implies their gullibility. The writer for the Guardian who came out in support of The Forum fails to mention the large chunk of the seminar that is dedicated to indoctrinating its students with the desire to sell it to their friends and family. So who is right? Generally, I will usually side with the skeptics, and this is no exception.

Volunteering? Really?
Those who had a good experience with The Forum, such as my friend and his family, would never admit that they are actually selling it to their friends, but instead say that they are trying to share something life changing, something important and inconceivable until it is experienced. Sound familiar? It should if you have ever been courted by a religion or a cult. You would think that The Forum is Jesus from the way that its participants speak of it. It seems like The Forum uses the same selling tactic as some religions, which is to convince their customers that their product, enlightenment, is completely unobtainable except through them. Quite evangelical.

Participants in The Forum are so dedicated that they volunteer their time to help it gain new customers. I can’t understand why they would do this. They are basically working for free to make money for other people. Landmark Education, the company that owns The Forum, is a for-profit company. Like all other companies, they only care about their bottom line. That is not to say that those who volunteer are trying on purpose to make money for this company. They must believe that they are spreading good news and helping other people. Maybe they are. But, as a consequence of their good intentions, an international multimillion dollar company is making tons of cash.

Think of the children!
A remarkable and somewhat deplorable development in Landmark Education’s seminars is their offering of classes to teenagers and children. Given how The Forum’s participants are indoctrinated with the evangelical tendency to convert their friends and family, it makes good business sense to offer classes to their kids, as kids can not decide for themselves whether they should take it or not. Their parents will most certainly enroll them. Strangely, Landmark’s website notes that for parents to register their children for the 8 – 12 year old sessions, the child must chose attend on their own. This is preposterous, of course, as no child would even be aware of, let alone want to attend The Forum unless brought in to it by their parents. I have never met anybody whose children have attended the program, so I will not make any assumptions about whether they receive the same “hard sell” that their parents did. I won’t pretend that I’m even remotely concerned for the kids themselves. I’m not one of those “won’t somebody think of the children!” assholes that you see clogging up the news. I merely want state the opinion that offering a self-help program of this nature to children is absurd, and the only people who will not think it absurd are those who have already attended The Forum. Luckily, Forum initiates who can’t wait to get their family and friends involved can enroll their own children for $400 - $500 dollars, each.

Alas, I won’t go
So, armed with all of this information, I attended my introduction prepared to receive the “hard sell” that I had read so much about. What I actually got was a warm and friendly reception by my friend and a Landmark volunteer. We chatted and had coffee before going into the benefits of the Forum. The ordeal lasted a few hours, throughout which the Landmark volunteer spoke with me using a combination of her personal experiences and an obvious script. We made a list of parts of my life that were working and parts that were not. Every life could be better, so when I talked to her about how I wanted to improve my life, I made it clear that I was already comfortable with how I was handling my issues. My personality type is one that is quick to deal with hurtles and patient in doing so. I get along  with all of my family and friends. I have a healthy romantic relationship. I am well aware of my foibles and have clear approachable goals for my future. To put it bluntly, I lead an enjoyable, low stress, and happy life. Even parts of my life that could be better are still pretty good. Keeping that in mind, I simply could not see any immediate benefit to attending The Forum. I imagine that these kinds of introductions might appeal to those who are confused or perhaps just to those who feel like they are missing something that they can’t quite finger. These people, who may be in a vulnerable point in their lives, must be Landmark’s bread and butter. When my volunteer realized that I was satisfied with what I had, she shifted the focus of The Forum from the realm of what we know to the realm of possibility. I might think that I am happy and that I have everything I need, but I don’t know what else is out there that I don’t even know I want. The Forum will help me discover this…new possibility. I wasn’t buying it. I like having things in front of me. If I am going to pay hundreds of dollars for something, I want a clear physical benefit. The idea of paying for possibility seemed absurd to me. Possibility is free. It’s effing free.


Ultimately, I turned down their invitation to purchase my attendance at a seminar. They graciously accepted my answer and thanked me for attending.

Certainly not me
So, does Landmark Education deserve all of its controversy? I still don’t know, and doubt I ever will. I never attended one it its seminars nor do I see myself doing it in the future. The Forum, however life changing it may actually be, is clearly a self-help program that uses questionable selling tactics. The product? Enlightenment and freedom. The cost? $425. There are many out there who would pay millions for what The Forum is offering. But certainly not me. I’m not saying that I’m enlightened or that I’ve reached my full potential. But I’ll venture that I can get there even with a Forum-free life.


The Long Winter

Marcos is leaning against the railing in front of the store doing his daily leg stretches. His leg is lifted on to the railing in a manner that resembles a practicing ballerina. The damp morning air is slowly being replaced with the fresh warmth of a new season. Across the highway, the once barren trees are shyly beginning to reveal their greenery. Bushes and shrubs are swaying in the warm breeze, the dark violet hue of their blossoms mark the end of a long winter. It was, for us Texans, one of the coldest in recent memory. Gas bills soared and sales numbers plummeted. As for the sales staff, Soul said it best just now,

"Shit, everybody's gone."

Last winter was harsh indeed.

Marcos is now standing to my left, his backpack resting on my desk. He quit this morning. His ride should be here in two minutes, he says. The sales managers pass by and shake his hand, joking in a manner that hides their sadness to see him go. Jeffrey tells him that even that greener grass on the other side might be hiding some manure. I can tell that they want him to stay. So do I.

“So what do you think man?” He asks me. I look up at him as I type this.

“I’m sorry to see you go Marcos, you’re good friend.”

"You're gonna be a good attorney," he replies. Marcos has been here for a long time. His desk has been just to the left of mine for maybe a year or longer. His ride pulls up in front of the store. Marcos, whose presence commands an odd combination of intimidation and humor. Marcos, who looks like he could be a old-time Chicago gangster, who has two grown children living outside of Texas, who is turning 54 years old next week, is walking through the big glass doors at the front of the store. Goodbye Marcos.

I delete his voicemails and change the name on his extension to GT, who is my new neighbor to the left. GT is back after a long absence from work due to his developing arthritis in his feet. I remember visiting him in the hospital when it happened. His feet swelled up to the size of bowling balls, but the doctors didn't quite know why. Today, he is better, though sometimes he walks with a cane. GT is 29 years old. Sometimes I wonder if the doctors would have found a solution to his problem if he had insurance. Or money, which is something that all of our sales guys are lacking right now. GT's limp, along with his rather beak-ish nose, makes me think of a bird with a broken wing.

My switchboard lights up with callers. A customer accidently leaves the big glass doors wide open as he walks out with GT for a test drive. The weather is beautiful so I leave them. Warm air and the sounds of a busy highway flow inside. The long winter is over and hopefully Marcos was our last casualty.