Don’t be Boring!

The Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin once said, “Whatever you do, don’t be boring.” Or maybe it was Paris Hilton who said that. But the part about always “dressing cute” Ms. Hilton pretty obviously stole from good old Vlad.

Regardless, they may have hit on something. Would the Russian revolution have failed if the serfs hadn’t been so bored with their status, they could only smash it? Do rioters burn their own neighborhoods down merely to juice up their lives?

Fighting non-stop for survival becomes boring without the promise of relief. Today’s revolutionary is tomorrow’s Secretary of the Collective. Somehow though, whatever heights are reached, some always manage to find the bottom.

Not everyone is creative. But anyone can tear down. The French Revolution took on a self-consuming momentum as the adrenaline rush of destruction demanded ever more beheadings. The logical contortions necessary to twist lofty ideals into a promotion of murder demand an Olympic event.

A revolution is exciting. Every day is different. But even the revolution gets boring. There were days when Che Guevara didn’t feel like watching another firing squad. He was a doctor. He could teach. He knew where the centers of pain resided. But as much fun as the most grotesque atrocities might be, repetition robs them of novelty. How to regain the thrill of that first murder?

Finally, realizing he was not working up to his full potential he returned to the revolutionary front to die a ‘hero’s death’ in Bolivia. I never met a bored martyr.

Without imagination, life can be tedious, mundane, boring. Is flight from boredom the key to why people riot and loot? Shoot up schools? Join ISIS?

‘Thinking outside the box’ is a tiresome cliché, especially when one realizes the box outside of which one is thinking rests within a larger box. Which nesting doll do you have to be to avoid feeling redundant?

Parents spend fortunes securing safe environments for their children who then find themselves suffocating in their cocoon of reliable security. Does every child, at least briefly contemplate running away to the adventurous circus?

People seek thrills. Amusement parks exist to quell the boredom of routine life. How many times can one ride the roller coaster before ennui sets in? Want speed? Ride in the space shuttle for six months. But after a month… Australia again?

We want danger but danger we can control. Safe danger.

Imagine the caveman coming home from dodging saber toothed tigers all day on the veldt. He just wants to put his feet up by the fire. His woman is bored. She wants to go out. They didn’t have TV. Perhaps you know the Bruce Springsteen song ’57 Channels (and Nothin’ On)’. The appetite for variety can be insatiable. Exactly how much entertainment can anyone stand?

Change is the missing element. But constant change gets boring too.

The sixties really started when the Beatles blew away all those ‘moon, June, spoon’ balladeers. Punk rock broke the stale formula of disco. Ever hear a technically brilliant musician who is boring to listen to? Artists want to straddle that line between discipline and accident. Only computers listen to computer generated music.

People like dividing the world into two camps: good – bad, haves and haven’ts, blue vs. red. The one and 99. I suggest there are three kinds of people – creators, destroyers and the vast majority who wait for instructions.

Creators vie with destroyers for this third camp. The third camp will more readily join the second if boredom is a factor. How many people do you know who would say, “I’m so bored, let’s build a cathedral!”?

I would more likely expect, “I’m so bored. Let’s break something.” Such activities resemble knee-jerk spasms more than careful planning. Do campus riots follow committee meetings? Or do a few decide a course of action and then get others to participate? Those  cookies won’t bake themselves. Someone else has to prep the Molotov Cocktails. But it all just happens spontaneously!

Advertising seeks to create an anxious urge to acquire the next cool thing which will scratch the itch of this nagging sameness. Imagine if Madison Avenue adopted this strategy to promote its products. “See the USA. Burn your Chevrolet.”

Elon Musk has started ‘The Boring Company’. One of its products is a flame thrower for personal use. What could go wrong?

People generally opt for the status quo if their lives are secure and filled with opportunity. I have read that the rich get rich by doing boring work. It’s the economy, stupid.

Stories and sports events are addictive because they have that rising tension and release built in. People go to movies for catharsis. Someone else’s problems are more entertaining than the tedium of real life. But when the lights came back on, it’s nice to return to something dependable and solid.

Without challenge or texture, life becomes boring.

Bored people will smash things just to break out of the doldrums. Nothing like a high speed police chase to transform those mental cobwebs into blood shot eyes. Isn’t there a cable channel dedicated to broadcasting these impromptu road tours?

Is it human nature to stare at a small video screen for hours per day? Someone is promoting the idea that actual human contact is boring and a virtual community is the ‘future.’ Who would promote that? And why? How many ‘friends’ do you have? More than three? Really?

Perhaps they have it backwards. People are now moving off the grid and becoming anonymous. The pendulum may be swinging back toward living a real life instead of the virtual. One needs grounding so a static charge doesn’t become dangerous.

“The world is just – it’s wonderful when you look at all the detail. It’s just amazing. Nothing is boring if you look at it carefully.” – Freeman Dyson

Think You Think? Think Again.

I once shaved my mustache off. A full week passed before the woman I lived with noticed. Bad sign. And she didn’t need glasses.

Buh-bye.

Or someone who describes their drive through a forest as “just green.”

Then there was the author who ended a chapter with the page half blank. And someone sued him for plagiarism. Imagine being sued, not for stealing someone’s thoughts but for stealing their lack thereof.

It is almost unavoidable that with routine in our lives, things reduce to cartoons of sort. The whole ‘mindfulness’ movement may grow out of that. We are so in our heads, we don’t see. If you aren’t present in your own life, where are you?

Wake up!

Show up!

Skinnerian psychology was a big deal at a college I attended. One professor insisted weather was ‘all in your mind.’ He would add only wear a sweater to his attitude and beard when venturing into 20 below zero temperatures. Whatever lesson his sweater was meant to demonstrate, once outside he walked noticeably faster. Perhaps to avoid that painful and imaginary frostbite.

Another professor insisted that ‘thought doesn’t exist.’ He maintained humans are just complex chemical reactions – like dominoes falling against each other in succession. Any attempt to dispute his position was just used as proof of his point. His circular logic never answered ‘who tipped the first domino?’

He would answer everything with ‘prove it.’ Of course, his deep grasp of science didn’t include that scientific method doesn’t attempt to ‘prove’ anything, but seeks to disprove.

Considering the abilities of the average student, he may have had a point. But he didn’t say ‘these students don’t think’ but ‘thought doesn’t exist.’ Or so he thought.

You might say he was merely trying to provoke me into thinking. But I doubt it. It is a curious strategy to discourage someone to greater heights.

After all, you might say a corn plant does not think, even though it is alive and growing. However, cities and civilizations do not sprout at random. Nor do fields of corn. The entropic principle would never predict humans landing on the moon. What random process becomes more complex and ordered over time?

Granted, ants and bees have complex social orders. However, innovation beyond the scope of their instinctive goals has not been observed. If they start producing electric cars, or libraries, I will stand corrected.

Speaking of libraries, why would a thoughtless person ever build one of those? Romance novels notwithstanding, the mere fact libraries exist is pretty thought provoking. So, what do they keep in those libraries?

Humans, being ‘time binders’ can reflect on the past and project into the future. That ability allows us to accomplish an amazing variety of tasks which simple instinct would not afford. As curious as cats are said to be, few will test a hypothesis for you. Then try telling an architect his job doesn’t involve thinking. He might innovate a new use for his protractor.

The urge to design is hard to suppress. Even anarchists try to organize their followers. The whole Occupy Wall Street movement strove to establish a society without rules. They largely succeeded. Except for the society part.

Some atheists are reported to ask ‘why should believers in God get all the benefits?’ And so atheistic ‘houses of worship’ are springing up. They observed believer’s social sensibilities and personal sense of fulfillment. They recognized that believers gain peace and pleasure from belonging to and serving a cause greater than themselves. And though they might not know why, meaningful rituals contribute to the believer’s quality of life.

Some atheists now seek to incorporate these benefits into their own lives.

See? There is evidence even atheists are capable of thought on occasion.

 

Undelete Your Life

I was a middle child. I learned independence early, trapped between two indifferent elder brothers and a little sister who secured her place in our parent’s hearts by swiftly reporting to them any rule bending on my part.

Someone may be nostalgic for such mist clogged memories, but I am not.

However, it amazes me that so many subscribe so willingly to having their privacy, and even their inner thoughts on display to who knows whom. It is as if they cannot live without that pesky little sister incessantly spying on their personal life. I speak of the universal presence of what is ironically known as the ‘smart phone’.

I find little more annoying than to be in the midst of a private conversation with my wife, only to be interrupted by Siri requesting clarification because she “didn’t quite get that last part.” Really? Has everyone volunteered to bring these devices into their lives, only to have every word recorded and transmitted to unknown parties? Astounding.

Where is George Orwell when we need him?

I recently told a friend smart phones are a solution looking for a problem. But for solving the problem that marketers need to get into our heads so as to better sell us things, the smart phone is sheer genius. People stand in line to buy the latest version of these devilish gizmos. How do I find an app for privacy?

And of course naming it the ‘smart phone’ is not the least of it. Don’t you want to be smart? Wouldn’t it be smart to have a ‘smart phone’? All the smartest people have one. Well, there you are.

What? Are you against ‘smart’? That’s stupid.

There is one function of these phones (forgive me if I drop the ‘smart’ part) which is very promising. That would be the ‘undelete’ function. With a little work this unassuming app could be life changing – literally.

‘Undelete’ is currently used to restore to the active memory, photographs and such that the phone’s owner regrets having deleted. What a great innovation, to be able to act on a second thought. So much of our life is spent thinking ‘If only…’ or ‘could I but take that back…’

What if we could undelete things in our actual lives? Of course there are a multitude of events and remarks we might wish to delete. Such is life.

But what would you undelete, if you could? Something gone at which you might like a second pass?

I think of myself as someone who acts in a positive direction. I don’t act rashly or without forethought (any more). I don’t actively work against people. I try to learn from other’s mistakes but always find a way to make my own. I don’t spend time retracing my steps (except to find a lost wallet). My wife advises her psych students, ‘there are no missteps.’ Even mistakes can useful, if for nothing else, to develop a fine character.

But we do make choices. They may seem insignificant when made. But like the little waves which relentlessly carry Undine away from her lover, the effects can be profound.

I chose not to take piano lessons. How I wish I had taken the challenge when it was offered. Could I ‘have been a contender’? I will never know.

Likewise, I saw my mother and sister drawing and painting together. They developed their individual skills to an enviable degree. They made it look easy. I figured I could always pick it up when I had time.

I guess I never had time because I never developed those skills.

What would I undelete? I would undelete those potential skills I took for granted and dismissed. Opportunities I left on the table.

The course of my life may not have been so very different. Why say no to a positive experience? Don’t turn opportunities away.

Embrace them.

If it Walks like a Quark…

You may think I’m exaggerating but all this quantum physics news makes me think.

Let me get this straight. Nothing is as it seems. Reality is an illusion. Matter is energy and energy is indestructible. I’m not so particular about particle physics. I can’t keep all the quarks and sparks and bosons with charm and tops and bottoms sorted out.

I heard this neutrino was arrested for vagrancy. He said he was just passing through. Turned out they couldn’t hold him.

Then some guy got into a dispute with a photon who was blocking his view of the TV. The judge ruled he should remove the beam from his own eye before worrying about the motes in another’s.

And what about that string theory? Physicists think they are explaining the universe by coming up with 26 dimensions? Really? Most drivers I see on the road struggle with just three dimensions. And now they should worry about twenty-six? I can’t keep my shoes tied.

Sure. Strings bind it all together. When I was a kid I would untangle fishing line by the hour and that was only one string. Be my guest. Twenty-six strings? So, reality is just a monumental harp, but who is going to play it? These guys are looking for the lost chord.

I think Occam’s razor is going to cut all those strings short. You know the simplest, most economical explanation is the best? Put it all into an infinity box but then it’s not infinity anymore. Or even a box.

Of course, I don’t have the math for all that. Let me get back to you.

Then I read about some guy on a mountain top. He has a telescope so powerful, he can look into his scope and see around the curve of the whole universe. He says he clearly saw himself from behind as he bent over to look into his scope. If it’s that powerful, why is he wasting his time looking at his own backside?

He says there are absolutely no absolutes. And he’s absolutely sure of that.

And what about these multiple universes? Tell me, isn’t one enough? Where will we keep them all? Who has the space?

My friend Tim, sent me his tidings. He was so inspired by Daylight Savings Time, he opened up his own Extra Space Storage. But he calls it Extra Space/Time Storage. He charges for twenty-eight days per month and pockets the difference in his time-share. He may be ahead of his time but his profits are astronomical, relatively.

He saves a minute here, a minute there. I don’t know where he keeps it all. His wife, Houri says he could shave an instant off of a moment. But he insists he is not living on borrowed time. His ticker is fine.

He does get all wound up about some things. Anyone killing time ticks him off. He says they shouldn’t just do time but be up for a capital offense. And no eleventh hour reprieves either. Alarming.

Stop watches depress him. Instant coffee makes him restless.

Tim said when he first met Houri, he fell for her in a New York minute. She gave him all her time and he went back for seconds. He passed up time and a half for over-time just for face time with her.  But I think it was her hour glass figure that rang his chimes.

Of course she loves him too. She says he is second to none.

Tim reckons to retire early and have the time of his life driving for the Metro in Nome. Whatever time he has left, his heirs will split six ways from Sunday.

Getting by with Binary

“Are you on the bus, or off the bus?” Ken Kesey

I have been astonished recently at the disparagement of what is called ‘binary thinking.’ You know, the sort of thinking people do when distinguishing between themselves and that other person, also on the tennis court, but on the other side of the net.

This criticism is largely used when referring to a person’s personal gender identification. It would be rude to assign such to another person, despite the obvious clues on display when a newborn baby is about to receive that first slap on its bottom. Mere physical fact is so passé. And is that sex assigned? Or just noted?

Nowadays one’s gender self-assignment is only limited by your imagination. No one has been able to annotate all the proliferating qualifiers. I cannot keep track. Color me sieve-sexual.

These days, even facts cannot be counted on to be objectively true. People declare ‘the science to be settled.’ Science doesn’t settle things, though. It asks questions incessantly and seeks to disprove. Considering the vehemence with which it is often declared, ‘settled science’ appears to be just a euphemism for ‘faith.’

BTW, sorry to be writing this on a computer. I know. So binary.

(I once asked a computer programmer if he knows of anyone who writes code comedy. Code Poetry? What rhymes with zero? Nothing.)

“Call me.”

“Oh, but I don’t have your number.”

“That’s okay. Just use one you like.”

Unlike facts, feelings have nuance – feelings shift and morph and transform. Binary thinking is so specific, either this or that. We (as opposed to ‘they’) prefer fluidity as opposed to solidity. Oops! There goes that binary thinking again.

Jungian psychology identified the male/female continuum within each of us. (For instance, I like it when my wife… oh, never mind.) But Jung isn’t being taught any longer. Do feminists resent having to share a continuum with men? They want it all. I recently read that some feminists have declared that one cannot be both a feminist and a conservative. How binary is that?

“Who are you talking about?”

“That two-spirited, non-binary, half-caff, cis-gendered, non-dairy person with a twist, over there.”

“That narrows it down, but… you mean that man?”

“Yeah, with the coffee.”

I want to ask the protester pictured holding a sign calling for ‘no more borders’ why, if borders are obsolete, they want to stay here so badly.

To be honest, binary thinking predominates because it is just so darned convenient. Yes/no.

On/off.

Us/them.

I/thou.

In/out.

Left/right.

Up/down.

Active/passive.

Cold/hot.

Male/female.

Rich/poor.

True/false.

Connected/unplugged.

Should I stop? Start?

Fall in or out of love? Oops, binary.

Slippery slope? Binary.

Non-binary? Yep. Binary.

Language is made up of distinctions. Try to define your terms without identifying what something is not.

They are descriptive words after all. Not meant to plumb the depths of your soul. And, in the spirit of privacy (remember that?) you don’t need the government in your bedroom. Nor do you need to squeeze your ever evolving sense of identity onto that tiny ID card issued by the state.

Proto-Indo-European (the Mother of all languages) only identified black, red and green as colors. Not much nuance there. Some cultures do not distinguish between green and blue. Is that unitary thinking? Or just lazy?

I am not against nuance. That would be nuance as opposed to… what?

Black/white? Ahh… but what about grey? Yes, what about grey? Is that a cool grey? Or a warm grey?

Is the world more nuanced than a one or a zero? Of course. I have eight other fingers to keep occupied holding the smart phone whilst my thumbs text.

But I think trying to get a four year old to grasp the nuances of gender fluidity, when they can barely form sentences is a bridge too far.

Interestingly, one distinction many love to make is between Fascism and Communism, which to my un-nuanced eye, seem to have more in common than not.

And is there anything more binary than agreement/racist? The best answer I’ve heard (on the radio) to the question of race is there is only the human color – melanin, in various shades.

Beige? Wheat? Some distinctions really do not have a difference.

Where would deconstruction be without construction?

Ugly/pretty obviously has the nuance of pretty ugly.

Yin/yang carries the seed of its opposite within it. This implies change over time. Life is not static. Even stasis is not static. And thankfully, an entity as complicated as a person cannot be reduced to mere ones and zeros. Yet.

But by way of a short hand reference to a quality or behavior, there may be nothing better. Or worse?

Some philosophies attempt to embrace the unity of all things. I’m told one cannot achieve Nirvana without sloughing off binary thinking. Of course, achieving Nirvana is impossible if one wants to ‘achieve’ anything. And to even consider ‘binary thinking’ at all, ensures you will never achieve Nirvana. Pity the poor enlightened soul who remembers there are those who are not enlightened.

In my 3rd grade class was my first introduction to New Math – my first exposure to binary thinking as a concept. I had never heard of computers. Why would anyone want to use only ones and zeros? It made little sense to me. Such a limited palette. I have come to appreciate just how dependent we all are on it. Is binary thinking so pervasive, it is the ultimate unitary mode of thought?

“War is peace.” George Orwell

Must one be in denial to think all things are unified and undifferentiated? Embrace the denial.

I’ve tried to be clear. Perhaps you see it differently.

I’m going to turn up the stereo and celebrate. Viva la difference!

Sing the Body Electric

Imagine you lived your life in a cloud. You think you see clearly, as well as anyone else. But nothing is vivid. Shadows dominate.

Then one day you awaken to clarity. You have never seen a mountain. After several days of driving, one looms on the horizon. “Ahh,” you think. “Now I’ve seen a mountain. I know what a mountain is.” But after another full day’s drive, that mountain seems barely larger and hardly closer. The magnitude of what a mountain actually is begins to dawn. When you finally approach the mountain and it takes hours to drive past it, illusions evaporate.

We experience the world in abstractions, removed from stark reality. Our brains average things into a generalized caricature. Even at our most attentive, we approximate the world. When actual reality slaps us, it is startling.

No one has the acuity of vision to see things as they truly are.

The world teams with bacteria which ubiquitous presence was only recently discovered. What if we could see atomic structure?

I was a materialist. I judged things based on the tangible, the visual and that which exists. What I thought of as ‘the real’. Then, in Science 101 I learned atoms are anything but solid. In fact they are more than 99% empty, airless space. Electromagnetic forces bind the particles together. Solid ‘matter’ and ‘mass’ are an illusion, just terms of equivalence to varied forms of ‘energy’.

I walked out of class expecting to sink into the pavement. My sense of the world was transformed but the world just spun around like always. I was a walking sponge, a materialist with no place to stand.

The tangible is actually an electromagnetic field. My energy field resists the electromagnetic field making up the apple I juggle or the friend I embrace. My chair, or my street, or a tree are no more solid than I am in the conventional sense, as the atoms composing everything are primarily empty space, surrounded by whirling knots of energy. Electromagnetism is your friend.

But from where that energy emanates, or how it sustains itself is a mystery. So that Big Mac I ate for lunch sustains all this whirling energy? That Big Mac, which is also made up of whirling energy, empty space and not much else? Hold the pickle.

And anyway, my lunch sustains my living body chemically but does not serve to preserve the gazillions of atoms, making up the trillions of molecules, making up the innumerable cells in my body. All that spinning makes me dizzy.

And my 2000 Corolla? The gasoline it carries is also a store of chemical energy that propels it forward. But the steel frame? The tires? The windshield? What sustains the integrity of their composition?

Living or dead, everything we call matter, the whole universe is made of an infinite number of perpetual motion devices. How can I get in on that action? Oh, I am.

Within any atom, the strong forces overcome the weak forces, but both are necessary to maintain the structure of each individual atom, keeping its component parts, protons, neutrons, etc. from spinning away.

In short, we are composed of energy. And we are immersed in a ‘soup’ of ebbing and flowing energy. That is the cloud we live in. Different elements have varying frequencies of electromagnetic force.

Who can explain this constant, inexhaustible source of energy? Scientists assure us. ”Trust us. It just is.” And, of course, all this (atoms, the universe, and all the interconnected systems) just randomly organized itself after the big bang. No designer, no programmer here. Move along.

Boy, did we luck out!

Some websites actually point to the mystical, that ineffable reality beyond any language’s ability to describe. Others ignore the pivotal, unanswered question and dazzle us with math. The scientific debate rages, round and round, anything but fixed or settled. One site assures us “energy is not itself stuff; it is something that all stuff has.” Now I get it. Why didn’t you say so?

It is not a case though, of “what’s behind the curtain?” where we are duped. Because it isn’t a conspiracy of silence or misdirection. The real question is “what paradise awaits unveiling?” We merely lack the ability to discern and have only yardsticks with which to measure electrons.

“How do I feel today?” said the particle to the wave. Our part, what we can bring to it, is our attitude.

How do we recapture that sense of being an integral part of the larger scheme, like when a child first grasps marking time with a song?

With all this static and kinetic energy in the air, one must ask, “How should I spend my energy today?” How do I connect? Stay grounded? Close the circuit?

Sins of the Father

Can any son live up to his father’s expectations? Can any father live up to his son’s? We are bound to disappoint in this life.

What compels us to resist, to make our own mistakes, instead of doing as told by those who know best? Is defying authority in our genes? Do we merely take off the training wheels to see what happens? My Dad didn’t believe in training wheels, to become dependent on ‘a crutch’.

However, when I was a kid my Dad gave my dog away, without warning. He had his reasons, I guess. But it was my dog. I came home one day and my dog was gone – “given to a farmer.” I never saw her again. Nothing was said. Ever.

Yet, the unwritten rules within my family did not allow for the open and candid airing of differences. He died, decades later, without my ever confronting him. I never heard one word of explanation, let alone an apology for this assault on me, and my sense of self. He probably never knew how affected I was. And how injured.

I reacted. I stole and did things that, had I been caught, would have deeply embarrassed him. He was a respected business man in our town. Had events played out differently, I wouldn’t have survived to write about them. That would have shown him.

I doubt my Dad was an angel in his youth. What process draws us to maturity? What causes ‘youthful indiscretion’? What have my children done only to lay their justifications at my feet?

Dad’s simple, thoughtless act affected everything between us for the rest of his life. As solid and dependable as he was in every other way, I never trusted him after that. Or anyone.

My Mom would suggest I ride with him on errands. We rode in silence.

Decades later, I would call to talk. He would pass the phone to Mom.

Is each parent a falling domino in an endless succession? Everyone knows the Trojan War was caused by the Trojans stealing Helen from Greece. But before that, the Greeks kidnapped… However, they were only reacting to the Trojan’s barbaric… We are told to begin at the beginning. Can someone please point me in that direction?

In the story of the Prodigal Son the title character, a wayward son, returns to his father’s embrace, as returned from the dead, his honor restored. The father insists his elder brother follow suit. But did the prodigal himself entertain doubts of his own worthiness? Did he accept his acceptance? Could he forgive his own flaws and betrayals? We are never told.

He is us. What do you think?

My Dad’s casket was the heaviest thing I ever carried. Do I carry it still? How does one slough off those very burdens by which we define ourselves?

Letting go of old wounds is difficult. After all, I paid a premium for them. I should discard them?

“Rest in peace” is wishful thinking if we haven’t resolved the issues which haunt us. Spoken in hope, it is ultimately ourselves to whom we speak. Incapable of following their own advice, the living command the dead, who neither need nor heed us.

Unfinished business haunts our days. The living must attend to it. The dead have reached their conclusions.

If forgiveness is withheld, how can unhealed wounds not be perpetuated as the sins of fathers visited on their children? Pain echoes down the generations. How to break the cycle? Could history be changed by forgiving not only our young, and our dead, but ourselves?

Does the beginning begin with us?

 

 

A Way with Words

Karl was a writer who took his craft very seriously. He was good at it.

One day he wrote a perfect sentence and it stopped him cold. This had never happened to him before. He had been writing for a long time but this was really something.

He looked at it and was filled with awe. It was exquisite. It accomplished its purpose… perfectly. It was as long as it needed to be. No clutter. The punctuation was balanced and tasteful. It said everything he meant to say.  Succeeding sentences would add words but not meaning.

Karl felt liberated. He had said it all. On re-reading it he felt he might never need write again. It was that perfect.

Then the thought welled up, he was trapped by this perfection. He felt restricted. The freedom he felt moments ago, now confined him. Nothing looked different but this perfect sentence had changed everything.

Karl always saw writing as a sculptor approaches a block of stone; chiseling each sentence, stroke by stroke, shaping the story. Now the jewel was cut and polished. This perfect sentence stole Karl’s words.

Karl threw his pen across the room. He crumpled the paper holding his perfect sentence and threw it into the waste basket. It was a perfect throw.

He went out for a drink. Karl needed distance from this bizarre phenomenon. This absurdity of perfection. His apartment was stuffy, like fifty people populated it, breathing his air.

He sat at the bar and drank in silence. But words streamed through his mind. They were not perfect words though. And they weren’t perfect sentences. He finished his drink and left, telling himself the noisy bar was distracting. But the words followed.

Karl sat at his typewriter. The words stopped.

He told himself the sentence was not so perfect. He could go on. No words came.

Then Karl thought he had imagined it all. It wasn’t even his sentence. It wasn’t important. Just ink on paper. A meaningless scribble.

He retrieved the paper from the basket and smoothed it on his desk. The sentence was undoubtedly written in his handwriting. They were his words. He could not deny his creation.

He couldn’t explain it either. It truly was perfect in every way. It was unambiguous but evocative, and precisely expressed his meaning. The sentence was suggestive and musical. Witty but not precious. Rhythmic, colorful and terse. Clear.

Karl assured himself his ego was not running away. It was beyond him how he wrote it. He didn’t know he had such a good sentence in him. Two? Impossible.

The more he studied it, the more he felt unworthy of its greatness. How could he write another so well? He felt helpless. All sentences flow from this sentence. Having written it, no more were needed.

He feared his future writing would only be derivative. Empty. Flaccid.

Karl always devoted himself to using words as beautifully and effectively as possible. Having reached this pinnacle, was his life now but a long slog down the nether slope? Would he spend his declining years like some old fool on a bench, mumbling about his past greatness? His damned perfect sentence?

Mediocrity stared at him.

He berated himself for spending his life chasing empty words. Waves on a beach.

After all, words are only vague shadows of fleeting abstractions. Fossilized metaphors binding us to archaic objects and deeds, laden with repetition, a gloss of emotion and memorializing some anonymous utterance. Words. Why grope for meaning sifting through shards of the past?

He sat in silence and watched shadows grow.

Karl lurched to his feet and charged out of his room. The door slammed behind him and he staggered into the street. He didn’t know where to go. He needed to move.

He passed people and yelled greetings. He could only gesture, grunt and shout. No one returned his wild gaze but furtively glanced as he passed. A policeman eyed him.

Karl paid no mind. He walked too quickly to notice. He didn’t know where he was going but couldn’t wait to get there. He raged toward the river.

Then Karl stopped. Passing under a stone bridge he noticed a shoeless man sitting in the gloom. Karl had thought he was walking past discarded rags. The beggar moved his feet when Karl passed. He looked as if he had not moved in days.

The man’s sign caught his eye. Scrawled on tattered cardboard, it read, “Please help.”

Karl emptied his pockets and offered what he had to the man who took it meekly. Karl fell to his knees and weeping, he embraced the poor soul.

“Thank you, sir. Thank you.” Karl said.

Eulogy

My mother passed away just before Christmas. The following is the eulogy I gave at her Memorial Mass at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Sarasota, Florida on March 24th, 2018. time restrictions forced my brevity. Mom was one of the great ones, with an irrepressible spirit. She touched many lives.

Thank you all for joining my family and me in honoring my mother, Marti Adams. I am John, Marti and Gordon’s third son.

There is an unreal quality in the loss of a loved one. Ninety years of memories, suddenly gone. Especially my mother, who knew me before I knew myself, and who nurtured me to the end.

The last time we spoke, a day before she passed, she assured me she was fine. She didn’t want me to worry. She was strong.

After all, in her nineties, while planning a trip, she had a personal trainer at the gym.

I can’t sum up Mom’s life, but let me give you my sense of her.

An early memory is Mom playing Beethoven’s, Moonlight Sonata on her piano. Her attempts at private time were always interrupted by us kids.

I don’t think I ever heard her complete it, but that pensive, opening movement has always been a favorite. Mom perfected her private time doing her art.

Mom’s signature phrase with us was “Fair is fair.” She used it to settle any dispute. But she also applied it in her spending habits, like when she bought each of us three boys, a giant, stuffed poodle dog for Christmas. Or the annual, festively wrapped socks and underwear under the tree.

We never pinned down exactly what ‘fair is fair’ meant, but it almost always stopped an argument. If things continued out of hand, Mom aimed her famous and dreaded ‘raised eyebrow’ at the perps, and that would be that.

Marti and Gordon met during WWII, at the University of Michigan while Gordon was there for Marine officer training.

I recently found a letter Dad wrote to his Commanding officer, requesting permission to marry ‘Miss Daligga,’ our future Mom.

Dad declared he knew “Miss Daligga and her family for over two years.” I shared it with Mom and laughing, she said “more like two weeks!”

Mom and Dad made marriage look easy. As easy as clearing the floor and dancing the ‘Lindy’ to Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood.” They were a great team. I never saw them argue.

Friday night was date night for Mom and Dad and that meant fish sticks or tuna fish over rice for us four kids.

On our many road trips, Mom always brought hard boiled eggs for snacks, saving Dad from stopping every twenty minutes. Six weeks on the road and she always had hard boiled eggs. How did she do that?

Mom got much of her spirit and spunk from her mother, another strong and beautiful woman.

For a year in the late fifties, Mom basically raised us four kids solo. Dad was starting his business in Wilmar – two hours west of us. Although he came home on weekends, it must have been lonely for them both. But we never knew about that.

Mom kept us busy with projects, like gathering berries from our garden to make jams and jellies.

We moved to a rental house in Wilmar, near Dad’s office. On cold nights, the furnace would go out. It was below zero outside and no heat inside. Mom just got us dressed for school in front of the oven.

One Saturday, we kids discovered Rocky and Bullwinkle on TV. Our laughter drew Mom in, to see what mischief we were up to. She joined us on the couch and ended up laughing harder than the rest of us.

Mom was always practical when faced with a challenge. She told us, ‘Never, ever give up.’ One night we needed to pick up my darling sister Jan, from her piano lessons. Mom had poor night vision. And it was foggy.

While Mom attempted to drive the winding two-lane highway, I was hanging out the rear, driver’s side window while Jeff watched out the passenger side.

I called out “Mom! Mom! Go to the right. You’re gonna hit the curb” – (which would be the curb on the left side of the road).

Mom pulled over to the right and stopped. She decided it was safer for Jeff to drive, even though he was unlicensed. He could see. We all got home safely.

Mom was a fighter. Mom petitioned the court for us to keep our dog, Sam after Sam scared some bicyclists. The judge wouldn’t listen. Mom persisted. He threatened her with contempt of court. Mom wouldn’t give up.

He didn’t reckon on her using ‘fair is fair’ followed by ‘the eyebrow’.

We got to keep Sam.

Maryann and Lori Ann from St. Patrick’s rectory tell me Mom’s parishioner number was #1. They are now retiring her number, so Mom will always be #1.

Though we are all here today to celebrate Mom’s life, I have it on excellent authority that this separation we feel is only temporary. We’ll see you again Mom. Thank you.

Hearing Silence, Seeing Darkness

I once went out into the desert to record silence.  You might wonder why, and even how can one record silence – it being so quiet and all. But in the sound business one finds the constant need for what might better be labeled as ‘ambiance’ to play behind dialogue or to enhance a mood for the characters. The quietest scene will always have at least a ‘room tone’. In the real world you only get quiet but very rarely is silence achieved. In the sound track of a film, ambient sounds may be labeled as sound effects but they are orchestrated no less than the musical score.

I once cut backgrounds for a scene in a movie that took place in a meadow. Because of the way it was cut, what would really last over an hour – bright sunlight turning to dusk, took about five minutes of screen time. I cut various tracks of birds and breeze, gradually phasing out the birds and overlapped them with other birds and cicadas and then crickets so the visually compressed time felt natural in the transitions. It felt good when the producer announced that I was an artist.

So, back to the desert. I wanted to record natural sounds, away from traffic or mechanical and man-made sounds. In Los Angeles County, that is nearly impossible. One has to go a long way into the desert to escape the ubiquitous sounds of humankind.

But I discovered something. This may seem self-evident, but it was a revelation to me. It is in silence that one can really hear everything happening.

I set up my recorder and microphones in my wind break and sat still, awaiting the symphony of nature to unfold before me. First I heard the freeway, several miles away and sounding like a distant surf. Then a mile or so distant, someone started up their tractor and drove it into their barn. I heard meadow larks marking their territory. A distant horse neighed. A truck door slammed. Something rustled in the brush. A gust of wind met a clump of dry sage. A crow flew by, its feathers beating the air. It spoke its click language to a neighboring crow. It was so quiet, I could hear everything.

Had I been recording in almost any other location, almost none of those discreet sounds would have even been noticed. We are submerged in a cacophony and are barely aware of it. It was only where there was hardly any sound at all that I could hear so much activity. Ordinarily, we are deafened by the sheer number and volume of sounds constantly barraging our ears. In the recent rains, did anyone hear any individual rain drops?

In a similar vein, we don’t really see, unless it is dark. Or, if you will, we are not aware that we see unless we are focused on what draws our attention. I took my kids camping at Lake Cachuma some years ago. That night, we left the tent to take in some night air.

I looked to the night sky and fell speechless at the splendor of the stars on that moonless night. We could actually see the Milky Way laid out before us. The sheer scope of the night sky, unsullied by city lights, was beyond description. The constellations everyone can identify, even in the city, like the Big Dipper or Orion, were almost lost in the pointillist cloud of stars – each one a sun.

One may be important in one’s life and to others, but on the scale of the vast night sky, one can only be humbled.

Likewise, the time I saw the Northern Lights was unforgettable – a vast luminescent curtain blowing in the cosmic wind. The radiation which causes them is almost always present. But the circumstances whereby one can take in their awesome display requires that one, at the very least, look to the sky with open eyes.

A cat or a dog sees, but they are not aware of their sight. Sight’s purpose is to maneuver about, to find the thrown stick, to catch a mouse. It is only when consciously looking at something (which might always be there) but never noticed, that one begins to truly see. Suddenly, one gains perspective on everything present to our senses but drowned out by the many, many things barely looked at in passing. One becomes present in their own life, but only if one participates.