In my ’80s

Monday, April 30, 2018

Twenty four years ago this past January, my brothers and sister and I used the occasion of a family gathering to ask Daddy and Mother about their end-of-life preferences. At the time both of them were 81. Our conversation as I remember it, was deeply personal yet calm and comfortable. I was especially pleased that Mother and Daddy could each state personal choices, even when those preferences differed between them. 

Daddy died nine months later. What I now remember most vividly of the January conversation was his preference, a very strong one, not to be hospitalized. We later could honor that preference. He died at The Mennonite Home not far from their East Petersburg house. 

Mother lived for another eight years, most of them at the Landis Homes Retirement Community. Without a doubt, she found that arrangement to suit her gregarious personality. She enjoyed introducing us to her many new friends.

Now our own children are calling for a  meeting to talk about our end-of-life preferences. Because they live so far apart, two will represent the family. I am honored by their invitation and look forward to sharing with them. My spouse shares that sentiment. As I told her this morning, our end of life isn’t so far off.    

In my ’80s

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Supposedly President Trump made more than 2,400 false or misleading claims in his first 400 days in office. (The Washington Post)

An example: In July 2017 the president gave an overly political and occasionally tasteless speech at the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia. “In the face of sharp criticism,“ writes Michael V. Hayden, a former director of the C.I.A. the president said that the Scouts’ leader had called him to say it was ‘the greatest speech that was ever made to them.’ Of course, no such call ever occurred.”

Hayden is troubled, perhaps worried is the better term, that we in our time and place are de-valuing “experience and expertise, the centrality of fact, humility in the face of complexity, the need for study and the respect of ideas.”

He cites the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year in 2016: “post-truth,” a condition where facts are less influential in shaping opinion than emotion and personal belief.

Hayden believes that “the veneer of civilization is quite thin. the traditions that protect us from living Hobbesian ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ lives are inherently fragile and demand careful tending.

This essay from a former CIA chief comes to us, to me, when our trust is at a frightening low. What is the truth about Russia’s poisoning a spy? What is the truth about Venezuela’s frightful moment? What really is occurring in Syria? Who and what is stirring up central Africa? What is the cause of the recent world-wide antagonism to refugees and immigrants? What is the North Korea and South Korea agenda? What is occurring in Washington?

And how can we learn the truth?

My reading of Hayden comes in the midst of a three-person Republican political contest to see which one will face in November the current Democratic senator who represents Indiana. I find this primary fight to be worse than tasteless. Altogether absent is the centrality of fact, the tones of humility, the addressing of complex issues, the respecting of this country’s ideals. Nor do I doubt that if the tables were turned, that three Democrats were vying to face a Republican, that the character of discourse would be better. The veneer of our civilization is indeed quite thin.

What I hear and observe in political discourse seems to have spilled over into many other enterprises within our culture. What can we accept as truth from the advertisers who underwrite the evening news? Can we put full confidence in the promises of insurance agencies? Are our schools and colleges honest in their promises? What really determines who wins the basketball championship? Are the church and the synagogue telling the truth?

I dislike being a suspicious person. But this is, for me, a season of disquiet.

 

In my ’80s

Friday, April 27, 2018

Today’s blog wants to be nothing more than a diary, perhaps an extended entry.

——

Clear, windy, up to 60 degrees. Up at 7:15, groggily put on house shoes, took Rudy out and while he snooped around, I picked up Shirley’s paper and then ours . Coffee, grapes and protein bar. Walked Rudy around the block, fed fish and birds. Painted more basement floor. Vacuumed house.

Mush casserole for lunch. Mopped bathroom and kitchen floors. Neighbors are mowing lawn. Nice serviceberry tree in blossom out front.

Took long nap. Worked a bit in garage and garden. Shawndra brought spring issue of Arts & Letters.

In my ’80s

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Why does Person A (let’s give him the name Logan) regularly talk more than does Person B (Roxanne)? Let’s explore possibilities. Does any of these hold true for you?

  1. Logan came from a talkative family.
        Roxanne grew up in a quiet family. 
  2. One of Logan’s favorite college courses was Speech.
        Roxanne was petrified when having to give speeches in class.
  3. Logan is an extrovert.
        Roxanne is an introvert. 
  4. Logan is socially gregarious.
        Roxanne has a few very good friends. 
  5. As a male Logan thinks it’s expected of him to speak up.
        As a female Roxanne senses her secondary role when with guys. 
  6. Logan feels obligated, because of his position of responsibilities, to give voice to collective issues.
        As an administrator, Roxanne wishes to manage by example. 
  7. Logan thinks that his social and economic status entitle his speaking up.
        Roxane is lower on the social ladder and thus keeps quiet. 
  8. Logan always has lots to say.
    Roxanne knows much but has little worth sharing.
  9. Logan is afraid to remain silent.
        Roxanne is afraid to speak up.
  10. Logan talks because of compulsive tendencies. He can’t help it.
        Roxanne is compulsively quiet. She can’t help it.
  11. Logan talks his way to clarifiying what he thinks.
        Roxanne prefers to come to conclusions before she talks.
  12. Logan has always empathetically reached out to others..
        Roxanne expresses compassion nonverbally.
  13. Logan talks in order to gain control of a social situation.
        Roxanne knows that silence is an extremely effective controller.
  14. Logan feels uneasy when conversation lags.
        Roxanne feels no need to fill conversational pauses.
  15. Logan talks as a way of making a good impression.
        Roxanne prefers to hide her own insecurities. 
  16. Logan talks to cover up what he doesn’t know.
        When Roxanne is ignorant of the topic, she listens.
  17. Logan is self-centered, thus enjoys talking about himself.
        Roxanne seldom divulges anything personal.
  18. Logan knows that people think he is funny/learned/accomplished, so he doesn’t want to disappoint them.
        Roxanne has nothing to prove, nothing to uphold. 
  19. Logan talks out of habit.
        Roxanne is quiet out of habit.
  20. Logan prefers that we don’t psychoanalyze him!
        Roxanne prefers the we don’t psychoanalyze her!

In my ’80s

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

I

I’ve recently given attention to the uncovering of my memories, particularly memories from the first five years of my life. Quite a few people I’ve talked with have no memory whatsoever of those early years. Others can recall events of their third year.

In my quest to retrieve early memories I’ve used a number of aids — visiting the very sites that I occupied as a child, handling objects that I touched, smelling again the aromas I once was familiar with, hearing sounds from earlier airwaves and talking with people familiar with those times and events. It has worked for me. Indeed I now hold (and enjoy) many memories of my early childhood.

My curiosity about my early childhood isn’t universally shared. I have friends and acquaintances having no interest in revisiting bygone years, due, in part to inklings of unhappy experiences. I’ve wondered whether memory can kindly serve to obliterate early traumas for vulnerable children.

II

My hunch, informed by college psychology courses and occasional counseling conversations suggests that those early experiences shape us for the rest of our lives. How we esteem ourselves may be directly related to how we were esteemed as young children. Our self confidence or lack there-of just might be traced back through the years to the initial building blocks of our personality.

Would there not be a high correlation between one’s overall sense of self worth and the sense of self worth instilled in one’s psyche as a very young child? Might one’s positive or negative mien be traced back to very early childhood?

This I know. There are distinct differences among people I know concerning the happiness or sadness of their first twenty years. Just because our Constitution honors the pursuit of happiness doesn’t mean that all people are destined to achieve it.

III

I happen to have had a happy childhood. By far most of my pre-21 memories are positive. Their force readily puts at bay occasions of hurt, embarrassment and failure. In other words, my brain has created a construct from the bits and pieces of childhood, adolescent and teen memories, giving to me as on a huge screen who I was and consequently who I am.

However, this same mental assemblage can make it difficult for me to identify with, to understand, and to empathize with someone whose mental construct of childhood is far different from mine. Upon hearing yet again another person’s complaints of childhood woes, I might say to myself, “Why doesn’t this person put the past behind? Why doesn’t he or she move on?” These sentiments betray the rigidity of my own mental construct of growing up, and my own inability “to walk a mile in the other’s shoes.”

IV

The Sunday edition of The New York Times always includes “The New York Times Magazine.” I always look forward to the feature articles, the personal essays, the photographs, the difficult crossword puzzle and the fiction. This past Sunday (April 22, 2018) the newspaper arrived with the usual magazine, but in addition, a self-contained section also identified as The New York Times Magazine that contains one fiction piece. Entitled “If You Were Me” this extraordinary offering is an excerpt from The Mars Room, a novel by Rachel Kushner. The excerpt is illustrated by James Zucco.

Author Kushner introduces me to a woman — Romy Leslie Hall — the likes of whom I have never known, a night person who has traversed places I have never visited. Now she is a lifer; I have never been in a prison. While this excerpt does not specify her alleged crime, I assume it is murder. She is on a prison bus, being taken in the night to another unidentified location for reasons that are not clear to me. What is shared are her memories, wisps from here and there that touch down to one devastation after another.

I can find no language to do justice to the contrast of my memories and her memories. I think of my memories as a huge mosaic of colorful pieces. Her mental construct — well, it has to do with bits and pieces — if I say the words even they will not be adequate to define who she now is.  

I am shaken by this experience of reading Kushner. I see Romy Leslie Hall as a human being with amazing spirit. There is honor deep within her. I covet a spirit that so graces my own mental construct of memories that I can have the capacity to bestow honor on people such as Romy Leslie, whose life is marked by dehumanizing memories but who nonetheless endures.   

In “If You Were Me” I hear echos of loving my neighbor as I love myself.

In my ’80s

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Simplicity

A  left-over from my walk in Spain this past September and October are thoughts about simplicity.  For 35 days I walked. And walked. And walked.

Simplicity was thrust upon me. In the early mornings I didn’t have to make a to-do list; there was only one activity for the day — walking. As day after day of walking reinforced this tight focus, I experienced the letting go of much that contributes to the needless complexity of life.

I recognized then and now that life in this universe is complex beyond our comprehension. To pretend the complexity away constitutes what we call reductionism —“the practice of simplifying a complex idea, issue, condition, or the like, especially to the point of minimizing, obscuring, or distorting it.”

Notwithstanding, I experienced thoughts and emotions along the El Camino path that led to a growing desire to experience my personal life at a reduced level in order to realize the greater essence of being.

Many of my thoughts and feelings about simplicity remain inchoate. Perhaps a continuing attention to the topic will advance what I know and experience regarding simplicity. Here in this note I propose to identify a few particulars that contribute to or detract from simplicity as I know it.

 

Particular amounts

Millenia ago — and for period of about 2.5 million years — people survived by hunting and gathering. Because resources were widely scattered, the life of hunter-gatherers was, in most places, a life of subsistence. They had minimal ways to store food, so they lived day to day on what they could find.

Yuval Noah Harari identifies the shift to the agricultural revolution occurring about 10,000 years ago when people settled down to cultivate seeds and use animal help. Harari is quick to call the agricultural revolution history’s biggest fraud because of the many new demands and hardships on people. Yet this revolution gave the new opportunity for people to produce more than they needed, and in time to develop the hankering to have more and more. More and more of what? Private property, production facilities, food, storage know-how, on and on. Today we can add to the list of items that humans want more and more of. Cash, houses, yachts, cars and trucks, expensive furniture, elegant clothing, knickknacks from all over the world. In general, everything in such huge amounts leads, as in the Goodwill commercial, to clutter that falls out of our closets.

Today, many people on earth, particularly those who live in affluent lands can not understand the axion: “enough is elegant sufficiency.”

 

Particular velocity

I learned as a child that time is money. I learned not to waste time. On El Camino the sentiment behind those sayings didn’t make sense. Time was the gift of another day to take a long walk. Nor did hurrying give the walker advantage. As I walked my mind meandered to our usual habits of hurrying.

Yes, some things require speed. A plane on the runway has to throttle up in order to rise. An emergency run may have to be as fast as possible. In many manufacturing and service jobs, “turn-around” may require nimble hands.

At the other extreme, sloths aren’t honored for accomplishment. Loiterers are not likely to make a dependable living.

In between the extremes is a moderate speed that is, in my opinion, slower than fast. I so admire moderation in velocity — in driving, in gardening, in speaking, in fix-up chores — because on too many jobs, I seem to be propelled in part by unfocused anxiety: “do it and do it fast.” Where did this speed demon come from?

The better quarter of my brain suggests that speed can quickly lead away from simplicity to complications of all kinds.

 

Particular environments

With deliberate persistence I would like to put together an argument for our making, or our seeking out, environments that foster simplicity. Behind this argument is the proposition that some places foster complexity, some places lend themselves to simplicity.

Vacations are meant to give people opportunity to retire to a place of rest and peace, but unfortunately vacations have been tarnished by both amount and velocity. It takes money to get there quickly. And to fill the vacation days to the point of exhaustion.

Undoubtedly people differ on what they would call a simple and renewing environment. I prefer a path in the woods to a blacktopped trail in the city. I prefer a small cafe to a large loud restaurant. I prefer a mid-volume concert from Minnesota Public Radio to hard rock on the radio. But these are idiosyncratic preferences. What I think important is to learn why a person such as Jesus goes off into the wilderness for a spell and what happens there.

 

I intend to peruse the library’s shelf of books on simplicity. Amazon will lead to other resources\s. Simplicity is elusive enough to require focussed and sustained effort. I wish I could join a study group on this topic.

In my ’80s

Saturday, April 21, 2018

It doesn’t come to me

When the talents were handed out, I was dealt fairly. Not sparsely, not over-abundantly but fairly. I can light a fire with one match. I can shuck walnuts. And I can usually distinguish between a turtle and an igloo.   

But technical expertise? It didn’t come to me. It doesn’t come to me.

The long heavy-duty extension cord sent out a spark close to the end, and so, temporarily forgetting that it doesn’t come to me, I took the extension cord to the shop in the basement. I detached the end which looked nasty, so I went to the hardware and bought a new one. After I got it home I worked a long time trying to figure out how to open the plug, that is, how to detach the outside from the innards. After error and trial, it came open so I took it apart. Next I cut away cord to the exposed wires, but then I discovered I exposed too much raw wire, thus aiding the possibility of the wires touching once I had them secured. So I cut the ends off. I messed up the ends trying to affix them under the screws until I realized that if I wrapped each according to how the screw turned, they would hold better. Finally they were ready.

Then I realized that the cap, which I had taken off, had to be reattached to the cord in order for the inner part of the plug to fit into the cap. So I had to take it all apart again. It just doesn’t come to me. 

F-I-N-A-L-L-Y I got the thing together, just right and to prove it I plugged it in, and then went to get a light to plug in the other end. OOPs, the other end was male. What I attached was a male!