Thursday, May 30, 2013

Book Review: "Blown for Good" by Marc Headley

I will tell you right off the bat that Marc Headley's Blown for Good isn't well written. Headley too often gets bogged down in Scientology jargon and abbreviations, uses way too many exclamation points and can be sloppy, repetitive and ham-handed.

But the story he tells is utterly fascinating.

Like many folks, I was aware before reading this book that Scientology was a weird business masquerading as a religion. I knew that big-name actors such as Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Kirstie Alley were Scientologists, alongside lesser-known names such as the musician Beck and the actor (and Beck's brother-in-law) Giovanni Ribisi.

I knew little, however, about how the everyday Scientologist lived. Headley joined Scientology when was 15, because his mother did. He attended their schools and before too long, moved into one of their West Coast facilities and began working there.

At age 16, Headley became the treasury secretary for the group's Association for Better Living and Education International (ABLE Int -- Scientology loves its acronyms), which controls, among other things, four of Scientology's non-profit organizations.

At age 16, he's in charge of finance for a major organization, but like most people living at Scientology's heavily guarded compound in California, he's unable to have a driver's license.

The fact that Headley, and countless others in the book, are put in charge of projects and departments that they're clearly not qualified for, amazes me. I believe that head Scientologist David Miscavige runs the system this way so that he can come in and look like a genius when his underlings screw up, and then bust them down to slave-level jobs so it takes them a really long time to climb the ladder.

In order to move up the food chain, members are required to take course after course based on the teachings of Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard. They are also regularly "audited," during which they are grilled for hours while hooked up to an E-Meter, which is similar to a lie detector. If they exhibit physical reactions that lead the auditor to believe they're lying, or hiding something, then they don't pass, and have to study some more.

Headley recounts being audited a number of times by Cruise, when the "Top Gun" actor was earning his stripes with Scientology. Members who don't live in one the group's compounds pay thousands of dollars for courses and auditing. This is how Scientology makes its money. Well, that and selling books and videos to members.

I was just astounded at how much of a cult Scientology is. Those who are members of what's called Sea Org wear matching uniforms, live in Scientology-owned housing, often work 100-hour weeks for little or no pay and are warned that if they ever try to leave, they will be cut off from their families who are still in the "religion." Short for Sea Organization, the name Sea Org is rooted in Hubbard's late '60s initiative to teach Scientologists aboard three ships, an effort that many attribute to Hubbard's need to evade the prying eyes of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Internal Revenue Service.

I could go on and on about the mental and physical torture that Sea Org members, and those living in other Scientology encampments, endure, and about how bizarre their litany of courses and organizations and books and films are, as Headley describes them. But I feel as though in doing so I would drive myself crazy.

That's how I felt while reading this book: that I was going insane. The Scientology culture is so claustrophobic and controlling and filled with meaningless jargon -- and I haven't even gone into their belief that all humans have lived past lives going back trillions of years!

I'm sure there are other, better written accounts about life behind Scientology's barricades. I recently added Janet Reitman's Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion to my Amazon wish list.

If, like me, you get consumed by labyrinthine issues and outraged by how the I.R.S. in 1993 granted tax-exempt religion status to Scientology basically because the revenuers were exhausted by a barrage of Scientology lawsuits, then read this book. Or check out Reitman's book and let me know how it is.

Maybe this video of Supreme Scientolgist David Miscavige and Tom Cruise will convince you to buy a book:

OK, I just watched that video and wow, is Tom Cruise an idiot? Is he a robot? I think he's trying to come across as enthusiastic and serious and committed, but I don't see it or hear it. All I can do is shake my head.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Out of My Hands...for Now

Last week, after more than a year of on-and-off work, I emailed the manuscript of my road trip memoir to six friends and family members. The book isn't done, but I needed to get it out of my hands and in front of the eyes of impartial readers. This is a big step for me.

I spent 10 years writing my first book, (C)rock Stories: Million Dollar Tales of Music, Mayhem and Immaturity. I received some feedback during that process, but I was never confident enough to send the finished product out ahead of time to see what people thought. While I'm proud of the book, I know it would've been better if other folks had looked at it before publication.

I self published that book, and I may do the same with my memoir. I'd like to find a publisher, but no matter which way I go, I want the memoir to be the best possible book it can be. I've already received some helpful feedback, and at least one person has read the entire manuscript. I'm anxious to read the comments he emailed.

In the meantime, I'm working on two short stories in a planned series about growing up in Simsbury, Connecticut. I plan to submit one of the stories to my buddy Jim Corrigan, who's soliciting stories for his second anthology. He recently self published the first one, Movable Feasts, which includes one of my stories.

I'm also moving forward with my children's book. As I write this, Staples is salivating over the order I placed online today to get five copies of a mock-up of the book. Once those are in hand, I'll schedule a meeting with the folks at Ward Maps, who are the official licensing agent for the MBTA. For those who don't know, my book is about riding the MBTA's Green Line in Boston. If the book gets accepted, I plan to write at least three other books in that series.

The picture at the top of this entry is one I took with my first camera on a family trip in 1977. I was 12 years old, and loved boogie vans. I shot that beauty in Salt Lake City. I plan to include that photo in my book, along with others such as the van I traveled in, shots of myself and some of the guys I traveled with, and pictures of me before the trip, when I was fat and had a beard.

I hadn't thought much about including photos in the memoir, because I had none from the trip. I'd brought a camera and shot two rolls of film, but when I went to get them developed, I was told they were blank. That was the same camera I'd used to take the van photo up there, I believe. I threw the camera away in disgust.

But upon reading Satan Is Real, the autobiography by Charlie Louvin, and seeing the pictures he included, I realized I could insert pictures into my book that, while they weren't from the trip (with the exception of one or two taken by somebody else), would contribute to the overall product.

Stay tuned for more about the memoir, as I'll know more about how much more work I have to do once I get more feedback.

In the meantime, please to enjoy Fu Manchu:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


Yes, I know that based on the title of this post, you're expecting a treatise on the latest cool music or beard style or organically raised vegetable I've discovered or cultivated or raised.

But, no, this entry is all about aging and the breakdown of the physical body. Or at least about how a guy with flat feet, a repaired Achilles tendon and a family history of leg and back issues is dealing with turning 48.

Nearly two weeks ago I was diagnosed with a labral tear in my left hip. I'd been experiencing pain in my left adductor/groin area since November 2011, after training for and running a half marathon. Over the next 10 months or so I alternately rested, went for walks or short runs and went to the gym. The pain in my groin, and sometimes in my hip and lower back, persisted.

Finally, last fall I went to my primary care doctor for an annual physical. He didn't have much to say about my groin pain, other than, "I think your running career is over. That's OK, you can swim."

I needed more information and clarity, so I made an appointment at a sports medicine practice. The orthopedist there took X-rays, which didn't show anything. He prescribed 6-8 weeks of physical therapy.

Although I was complaining of adductor discomfort, the therapist figured that my hip was the problem. He began to focus his efforts on that area, as well as my lower back. After going twice a week for six weeks, I wasn't noticing any improvement, so he wrote up his observations and sent me back to the orthopedist.

The ortho told me to get an MRI. That experience was quite a trip, and not in a good way. Oh, it wasn't that bad, but sliding into a giant metallic tube that makes awful, grinding and bumping noises for 25 minutes with nothing to do but contemplate the avant gardiness of it all isn't my idea of fun.

After a week off with Beth and the kids in Vermont, I returned to the ortho to get the MRI results. The good news: "You don't have arthritis in your hip. The bad news: you have a tear in your labrum," which is the soft tissue that holds the ball of your hip joint in its socket.

I was experiencing all of the symptoms: a "catching" sensation in my hip, pain in my groin, stiffness or limited range in the hip joint. I've also been feeling weakness just above my left knee, and sometimes a sense of weakness all the way down to my foot.

And, as of Friday, I've got severe back spasms that make me walk like an old man. I've had pain like this before, but it hasn't been this bad in quite some time. I'm trying not to get too bummed about all of it. I've got an appointment with a hip surgeon at the end of this month, and I'm hopeful that before too long I'll get arthroscopic surgery and be on the road to more normal activities.

I'm not sure I'll return to running, although I'd like to. Perhaps I will have to take up swimming.

None of this comes as a surprise to me. Ever since undergoing surgery in 1998 to repair an Achilles tendon that I ruptured playing basketball, I've known that my left leg was more susceptible to stress and strain than my right. Add to that my two flat feet, weakened abdominal muscles from hernias I had as a kid, and my left leg is under some serious strain. father also ripped (but didn't rupture) his Achilles tendon when he was younger (although older than I am now), and has suffered from arthritis and other issues with his back and knees for the last few years at least.

While I'm a bit depressed that I seem to be following in his footsteps at too early an age, I'm confident that surgery and rehab will get me back on track. In the meantime, I need to keep myself in as good a shape as possible, which means doing exercise and strengthening work, and not eating and drinking like a pig.

Now, who wants to talk music, beards and vegetables?