Thursday, April 17, 2014

teaching your children to improvise

gosh, just watched a talk by a woman raised on dr. spock. hah, that was me. my mother didn't know how to boil eggs when she go married, seriously. and she said i was a 'book baby' and there was one tome. 'leave them to cry alone, sleeping in their own room. this teaches independence.' one night, when i was less than one, i wouldn't stop crying. my mother found me with the blanket wrapped around my neck and my face blue. no wonder i had my first asthma attack when she died.

and they used to have corporal punishment in school. a principal paddled me with board full of drilled holes in front of the fifth grade class and then promoted me into the sixth, where i spent a year being embarrassed by my faux pas, critically behind everyone else. here's a picture of that time, and of course i had a terrible crush on the blond in the middle of the second row, judy wyrick. sixty years later i even remember her name.

i did move thirty times by the end of high school, including several traumatic indiana months with two of my father's brothers, one a suave alcoholic, the other a boy who went away to college for one semester, to return home and live with his parents the rest of his life. one of them even got called into the school office because of the way i combed my hair: duck tail, 1956. i know i drove those uncles crazy, at the same time the constant pressure from the drunk changed me into a more furtive character. my mother said the transformation made her cry, and i never recovered.

the lecturer above showed the modern parents' bookstore shelf of advice. amazing, how to teach your kids to live on spinach, to be the best they can be, to not hide in the closet during class so you can listen to the chatter, invisible, and stick presents of gum and candy into the hanging coat-pocket of the girl you loved. (fourth grade). in other words, parents don't have a clue, not what the future will bring or how to prepare their children for it.

ironically, the speaker rejected at the very beginning what kids really, really  need: how to improvise. for better or worse, i had to do a lot of it, and i still enjoy it: travelling, writing, photography, creating art pieces. and i suppose i arranged my life to have time for it. were i growing up now, i'd be inevitably be attracted to a tech profession. hah, done that, tried that. mother said i could take things apart and more remarkably put them back together. "you want to be a writer but you have to make a living. try engineering." that first year of college (Valparaiso University) one of the most bizarre i ever had

in the end i realized i'd never get through college if i didn't study literature, transferred to california. luckily, it was cheap, 46$ a semester. no, i didn't leave a hundred thousand dollars in debt. at eleven i'd visited my first fire lookout. how that stuck, i don't know, but i wanted to sit alone on top of the world and talk to everyone in it on a ham radio, as that fellow did. it worked out, not quite by accident, but mostly. i lept to improvise. my suggestion: train your children in it.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

every dancer dies twice

i always fear my space will be invaded.
this has certainly made me love art, literature and music to escape from the terrors of the mundane. as a preacher's kid, i feel god may strike me dead at any time. as a child of world war II i constantly envision bodies being dropped from ships at sea. of course, instead of the general, i could mention the particular. when i had a room of my own, i seemed to be doing illegal things on the other side of the door. and when i didn't have a door, as when i lived with two uncles at sixteen, the drunken one encamped by the roll-away bed in the living-room, telling me tales of prostitutes and gambling. 

four-one-act plays directed by college students this week took my paranoia into the next generation. these twenty-year olds imagined a murder next door, the plight of a mother whose son killed in afghanistan, a girl who derails a professor on a rainy, dark road, and scares the hell out of him, even while turning him on. the fourth play an echo of camus' the stranger. a fellow confesses killing an arab (his sister dead in the pentagon): i knew the face of the enemy. 

terror, of course, no stranger to us. gunshots come from the next apartment, action movies with high-budgets sell in foreign countries, so we've a steady diet of them at home. i confess i hate television. the stories, the commercials, constantly hype me up, deliver a crude and powerful shot of adrenalin, deadening my ability to empathize. billboards, neon signs, nothing lets me rest. when the angels of aesthetics came for me, i said, i go willingly. 

i'm no different than schopenhauer, who ultimately regretted giving up human love  for the ineffable and perfect products of the imagination. yes, i did attempt to mix romantic love with adventures in foreign parts. each a fairy-tale of its own which did not, like the real thing, end with a return to everyday life, simply the next quest. odd, this journey put me in rather degraded situations. say the night i spent in a winnipeg salvation army hotel, a loud fellow in the hall banging on another door for half the night, "let me in, talk to me." or the night riding a rattle-trap bus from bali to jogjakarta, stalled in the jungle god-only-knows where, me the only passenger.

yes, i've definitely seen 'lonely men in rented rooms' while passing families in new zealand parks and thailand restaurants. even as i walk through the university campus these days, i watch the girls living into their cellphones and think, they too think someone will break into their conversation, the shock of the present would cause a cry. i thought long ago, we won't be totally where we are, for then we can totally die. unfortunately, an eternity of form, color, and sound keeps my feet off the ground. and a poem like this from Osip Mandelstam makes me swoon:

When Psyche - life - descends among the shades, 
Pursuing Persephone through half-transparent leaves, 
The blind swallow hurls itself at her feet
With Stygian affection and a green twig. 

Phantoms quickly throng about their new companion, 
They meet the fugitive with grievings, 
In her face they wring weak hands, 
Perplexed by bashful hope. 

One holds out a mirror, another a phial of perfumes - 
The soul likes trinkets - is after all feminine. 
And dry complainings, like fine rain, 
Sprinkle the leafless forest with transparent voices. 

And uncertain what to do in this tender hubbub,
The soul doesn't recognize the transparent trees. 
Psyche breathes on the mirror, slow to hand over
The lozenge of copper to the master of the ferry. 

                                                                       (trans. by james greene)

Saturday, March 29, 2014

will the wealthy take down the titanic?


okay, i admit it, i keep whistling as i pass the graveyard, telling myself, don't project your own decay on the world. i've experienced many a retired professor doing it. it's natural to assume the world can't exist without me. alas, i'm pretty sure this is true! doggone it, i try to be more humble. after all, i'd like to help other people, especially the young, survive to enjoy tubing on the river and petting under the apple trees. it's not right for me to drag down the world with me, but what can i do?

we (I) have lived through the most affluent civilization the human world has ever seen. today, picking up soap and fruit-juice at a wholesale warehouse, i watched all the loaded carts lumbering toward the exit, parents, children, the old, tagging along behind. and the expensive cars being loaded up in the parking-lot! yes, one of those days of clarity when my eyes opened. the earth is being mined for all this stuff. and an amazing amount of it will go into storage.

or on the trash heap. i'm chagrined by how much garbage i discard every day. even with recycling a bit of it, my conscience isn't clean. and yet, and yet, i remember belgrade in the sixties and st. petersberg and moscow in january of 1992. the bleakness of streets without billboards, the somber dress of the ladies without fashion, listening to my hosts whispering about smuggling razor-blades out of the west. the alternative offered disheartening, to say the least. 

along with this incredible abundance, i can feel, here in the middle of the ship, the top deck getting heavy, a little bit of listing already occurring. no, it's not a surplus of people, rather diamonds and gold cigar-lighters, a glass of whiskey costing a hundred dollars and downed without a thought. the staterooms filling up with the smug. 

oddly, i don't see this as a political issue, rather one of science, and i regret the loss of all the gains in learning, craft, the arts. a character in chekhov's 'cherry orchard' says, i'm in mourning for my life. in my case i have to say, i'm in mourning for the young. no wonder they clutch their cell phones like worry-beads, like rosaries, like pieces of the true cross. in 'the wasteland' eliot writes, i will show you fear in a handful of dust. 

as i say, i'm trying not to relish the thought the world we know may go down with me, as exciting a consolation as that is. and i have to remember, all prophesies for the future have proved wrong. the black swans keep flying and none of us know when they will choose to land. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

looks like the end of the world began in 1981

NASA Study Concludes When Civilization Will End, And It's Not Looking Good for Us

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NASA Study Concludes When Civilization Will End, And It's Not Looking Good for Us
Image Credit: AP

Analyzing five risk factors 

for societal collapse (population, 

climate, water, agriculture and 

energy), the report says that 

the sudden downfall of complicated 

societal structures can follow

when these factors converge 

to form two important criteria. 

Motesharrei's report says that 

all societal collapses over 

the past 5,000 years have 

involved both "the stretching 

of resources due to the strain 

placed on the ecological 

carrying capacity" and "the 

economic stratification of 

society into Elites [rich] 

and Masses (or "Commoners") 

[poor]." This "Elite" population 

restricts the flow of resources 

accessible to the "Masses", 

accumulating a surplus 

for themselves that is high 

enough to strain natural 

resources. Eventually this 

situation will inevitably 

result in the destruction of society.

Elite power, the report

 suggests, will buffer 

"detrimental effects of the 

environmental collapse 

until much later than the 

Commoners," allowing 

the privileged to "continue 

'business as usual' despite 

the impending catastrophe."

Science will surely save us, 

the nay-sayers may yell. 

But technology, argues Motesharrei, 

has only damned us further...

read the whole article: 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

what are you saving yourself for?

a friend asked me that question forty years ago. i didn't have an answer then, and i don't now. he implied, of course, i should lead a life as chaotic and wild as his own. hmm, i knew one thing though, you cannot do in old age what you had to do young. 

memories of adventures in 40 countries, 3 years in new york city, too many love-affairs to be proud of, plague me, pop into my mind: a street-corner in india, a lock of hair in greece, the smell of sauerkraut in germany. what am i yearning for? infinite time, the carelessness of jumping on trains or boats, throwing myself into theater improvisations.

improv, that's the key, a life of leaping  out of windows and into beds, landing on my feet or backside. unfortunately, no adventure tempts me into the foolishness of trying to repeat it. and last winter, agonizing over what to do once fire-season done, i had a very strong feeling. sit at my desk, write, read, cruise on the computer. and so, the next days off, i found a little cottage to rent.

despite enjoying myself, and with spring bursting out in town, almond blossoms everywhere, i still think, "time is passing. what haven't i done? and the answer always comes back, if you don't want to make the journey, the destination meaningless.yes, i always listen to that little train-engine in my brain. and these days it likes loafing by the station and watching the roses pop out.

for i did my 'life-time goals' exercise last week, three lists: five years, one year, and six months to live. the first came out as expected: travel, friends, nature. ah-hah, the third, however, shocked me. if i'd only a few months to go, i'd simply like to lay in the grass, feel the sunlight, walk in the woods and cities too, soaking up the sensations of the earth. alas, i've never been a sensualist. maybe it's not too late?

this made more poignant by the stroke a much younger friend experienced four years ago. once home again, he didn't recognize his own family. the intellectuals at the university with whom he'd worked interested him not at all. a writer, the devastation in his left brain, the home of language. now he had strong likes and dislikes, loved food like a child, and lives in a home with three-hundred seniors, dancing and being accepted for who he's become.

as somebody who's lived on the left, despite many attempts at pleasure, i'm even a bit envious of my friend. he's a new person who has left the intellectual life behind and lives more in his physical body. i wouldn't trade, yet there's a appeal, the taste of a second life. the only bad part: i might experience this, but not as the person i was. that new opportunity erased by the fact i couldn't know it was new. 

i must have saved myself for this, spring sunlight streaming in the door, this tasty cup of oolong tea (supposed to keep the chinese from heart-attacks), the paper from the doctor lying on the table, proving the cholesterol medicine working. i do have the urge to make something of it all. all i can make of it is this.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

is there a cure for consciousness?

this question has wracked my brain for days. it is the question, no doubt about it. the problem's simple: yes and no create consciousness. in these terms, a computer is conscious. all it does is switch back and forth, choosing one here, one there. yes, it's a matter of choice, and not a very mysterious one. and human thought the result of this dualism. nothing is more painful to me than making a decision. i want to keep all my options open. unfortunately, i'd get hit by a bus the minute i put it in practice.

so, to cross the road or not? that is the question we have to ask ourselves, and it's maddening. why choose this lover and not that one, this dress, this pair of pants, and not others? and no matter what i do, i suffer terribly from 'buyer's remorse.' a package taken home dies on the way, the great significance it had in the store drains out of it. i'm left with an empty shell of hope. 

and if i had ambition, my god, it would be a hundred times worse. the intense desire to get somewhere, not even knowing the destination, and not believing i will leave an eiffel tower or boulder dam. i kid myself and say, "these words will live forever," imitating shakespeare, and i think of him in grubby grave, his line dying out after he sweated his whole life for a coat of arms, expecting to pass it into the 21st century. damn, the shakespeare line died out with his daughter. and he didn't protect himself  against plagiarism and actors. what a mess!

anyway, there we have it, damned if you do, and damned if you don't, a terrible disease. can we find a poultice? actually, they lie all about us. all i have to do is join a tribe, and god knows i've tried: boy scouts, tarot card readers, eternal students, anything i thought would calm my mind. you see, i do know the answer to my question: accept any system as the ultimate and true cross. it doesn't have to be religion, though it depends completely upon belief, and a book like the course in miracles just dandy. 

say i've decided sanitation will save everybody, i'm completely obsessed by urinals and drain-pipes, pollution and garbage. cleanliness becomes my god, every waking and sleeping moment dedicated to the problems of survival in an age of trash. see what i mean, i don't have to think outside this box any more, i've safely escaped the absurd, the ambiguous, the unanswerable. what a relief! and i didn't have to resort to the dangerous drugs: heroin, coffee, and love. haven't i been totally brilliant, plumbing manuals my life?

the gypsies draw a circle around you and you can't escape. in that limitation i'd like to  live my life.  i could have chosen the catholic church, physics, or drag-racing. hey, what about a motor-cycle and the endless accessories? alas, there's a further difficulty: the incurably indecisive like myself. i can toy with baseball, it's leagues and rules. i can dangle horseshoes in front of my nose, even wade in the troubled waters of mysticism, and somehow i return to the ghost of myself, the person who either believes there is an ultimate answer, or doesn't.

my advice: tie yourself down, don't let ambiguity creep in by way of the back door. start a collection of stuffed pigs and have the greatest in world. take up the ukelele and prove it can play beethoven. whatever you do, draw the bitter, thin, cutting line around yourself and tame a little piece of the world. if you try to deal with the whole of it, you will go mad, as i have. 

signs of the times.   


Friday, January 31, 2014

Signs of the Times 2


Click on them to enlarge.

Many many more at