The Art and the Heart

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Bell Jar

I haven’t read this book.

And, since I’ve mentioned it here before, in another blog post, I think maybe I should.

The first time I recall hearing the title? In the season one finale of the fine NetFlix original Show called “Master of None.”

MoN.jpg

A fine, New York City-based comedy that at first seems to be lighter fare, it becomes a much deeper affair in the last few of the 10 season one episodes, particularly in the relationship-revelation finale. In the finale, Dev’s father, an immigrant, sees his son’s thirty year old… uncertainty about what to do with his life… and mentions the metaphor of the fruited tree as it appears in “The Bell Jar.”

Life is like a tree, with almost infinite branches of paths. A kind of fruit tips each branch. Be a writer? Get married? Have children? Become a monk? An athlete? A wealthy businessman? A movie star? A hermit? A social butterfly?

Infinite choice.

Yet the choice overwhelms so many of us.

Me included. As I’ve mentioned before, it overwhelms me in the larger sense of “career and family,” and in the smaller sense of “what videogame to play next.”

Do you struggle with this pathfinding?

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Another reference to it that I recall came from a guidance counsellor. Not one I met, but one I heard quoted on the radio, perhaps. She referenced the crippling uncertainty of so many young people, young people unable to decide which path to take in life. What if they pick the wrong one? What if? She felt such empathy for them, in this World so full of choice, so illustrative of how freedom can be a burden.

The whole topic came up for me again, just under an hour ago, as I sat in the dark listening to Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” as masterfully read by David Horovitch. Coming about one third of the way through this my third listening-to of the novel, Constantine, at his country estate, questions the motivations of his visiting, intellectual brother. He feels something is amiss in how his elder brother comes to his sense of how to live rightly and helpfully. He senses that his brother comes to it not through his heart, through a deep, emotional certainty about what path to take, but through reasoning. And, Constantine believes, this results in a cold path where one is bound to one’s path with no more passionate attachment than to “a game of chess.”

Beer Chess.png

Seems as though Koznyshev, Constantine’s brother, could do with a release of some of his inhibitions so as not to be a pawn of logic.

Anyway.

This apt, eye-opening reference to “heart” as the cause of one’s cure to the problem of the bell jar life tree reminded me, of course, of how my father (and even an uncle) have “accused” me of imperfect writing due to “a lack of heart” in it. Not in all writing, as anyone who read my eulogy for my father knows, but more often in my fiction. I don’t “commit” to characters very easily, don’t know them fully, as even J.K. Rowling does.

Surely Sirius Potter.jpg

Ah but my father would SO have loved that “Airplane!” reference. Although I’m not sure he ever read the “Harry Potter” novels.

So it begs the question:

If I were better at fully committing to my characters, at “just knowing” with all my heart what THEIR path is, would I suffer less under the suffocating bell jar?

The other connection, of course, is to the Buddhism audiobook I listened to several times about fifteen years ago. I can’t remember if it was “The Art of Happiness,” co-written by the Dalai Lama, or “Buddhism: Plain and Simple,” but the idea had to do with how infinite choice is not freedom. Rather, “true freedom comes when you have no choice.”

That is to say… you just “know” what the right path is.

Your heart tells you. Full on. Plain and simple.

With passion.

The Art of Happiness.jpg

Buddhism Plain and Simple.jpg

I often wonder about my heart.

I know I have a big one. But I’m crippled so often by fear. My need for… safety… hampers me so much. Susceptible to great passions, I often suppress them in order to “keep the peace.” Romantic relationships suffer, although great communication and courage are needed if one is to un-suppress them. And “career” suffers, too. I just can’t “decide” to wholeheartedly devote myself to being a filmmaker, a social and environmental activist, a game-maker, a journalist, or even an author.

I just feel too much doubt. And it may be because I keep my heart off in the distance, misty and half-seen, visible only through a fog of safety.

Following one’s heart can lead to hurting people.

And I know all too well, as the channeler told me a decade and a half ago, that this life is in part a quest to deal with too much concern for what other people think. One should care about helping others, but betraying one’s heart so as never to make others uncomfortable, or so as to not be judged harshly, leads to trouble.

Climb Tree

That tree.

At times, one can even convince one’s self that the branches do not even bear fruit. So why risk the climb at all? Why be unsafe, both directly, and in the face of the “howls up at the fool” from below?

Fox Grapes.png

Ah, the Fox and the Grapes.

Those grapes, out of reach for one reason or another, were probably just sour anyway….

And so I stay on the ground, in a kind of comfortable, sedentary hot water, unaware that life is boiling me by.

Boiling Frog Global Warming

And how could I but finish with a reference to how Humanity is boiling the World by?

Although, in truth, the problem there is TOO MUCH certainty on the part of Humanity about the one true path. What a contradiction.

Galactic Conquest.jpg

Evolution is all about putting a little weight on every branch, and not all of it on one, which imbalances and tips over the whole tree.

If only I weren’t simply one man but rather… the whole scope of life. Then I could eat the fruit of every branch.

Galaxies have branches. Arms, really.

All arms? All branches? Alas, without access to all the realities in the “Many-Worlds Interpretation” of the Universe, I’m out of luck.

But so are you.

So choose.

No regrets.

Storm Trooper.jpg

I know. I know.

You’re most likely to do as I do, not as I say. Just don’t get pushy. I might tip over, infectiously drunk on Humanity’s fictional godly power as I likely am. And that would make me feel very, very unsafe.

Drunk Giraffes.jpg

 

 

The Art of Communication

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Delayed greetings and deferred salutations, my personally mythological friends.

It’s been a while.

I never cease to find it amazing how easy it is to grow disconnected from writing, despite the harm that such a disconnection does to me. One would think that, given how it’s my primary vessel of meaning in life and my shield from the killer D, I wouldn’t set it down for ages and let the muscles of my vessel and shield-carrying arms atrophy.

And yet I do set the vessel and shield down. It’s terrifyingly easy. Yes, the longer I write consistently, the harder it is: write 6-7 days a week for six months, and the agony of setting it down for more than a day is unbearable (idle hands do the Devil’s work). I’ve learned that meaningless agony extends for about a week, carrying on like a gasping, dying patient in a hospital, the pain and terror lancing through the body like wildfire. But keep the set down going? Two weeks? Three? The patient, so long lived, goes into a drifting coma, or a fugue state. The atrophy sets in, more and more, and soon a return to vibrant life becomes more and more nothing more than the bustle of life out in the hospital hallway, where family members, nurses and doctors go about their business, increasingly forgetful of the unproductive stasis bedridden in room 666.

Philosoraptor 666 Root

But it’s only the idea of waking up.

Those near the patient begin to lose faith. To move on. But it only takes a mysterious minute, a touch from the hidden hand of God or the Muse, to see the the eyelids flutter and the brain awaken.

That’s what happens when I sit down at the computer again and finally start. Not that, for a while, a relapse via weakness isn’t a great danger, if the staff isn’t mindful.

I have to keep at it.

The current habit rules. The old habit reclines. Blood-flowing strength and heinous atrophy war in the corridors of the mind, subject to the whims of emotion and fancy, to the pointlessness all endeavors more and more seem to carry around like chained stones around the neck, hung by Death.

Death Ambulence

Jesus.

Got a little over literary there. Sorry.

Where was I?

Oh right. The art of communication. Now that I’m back at my computer, the awakened creature active for the time beating, it seems easy.

Easy Maze

Communication.

It’s a constant source of suffering for me. God I’m so hungry for it, done well. But God I just have such a hard time doing it the “right” way.

What do I mean the right way?

You know. The way normal people want to communicate. Face to face conversation. Maybe just maybe the telephone. Not with handwritten letters sent through the post, the way people of the slender past did it, to keep up with people who didn’t live in the same town. And especially not by email, that it-once-was-a-tingling-new-thrill-but-now-is-a-medium-corrupted-by-Time-hunger-and-work-things-and-spam that makes even gold seem like nothing more than the iron pyrite, the fool’s gold of human intimacy.

But in modern life a good face-to-face can be hard, and rare, unless people are living together. Even then it’s hard. So many activities jockeying for our attention. Everyone raised so differently that in a very real sense everyone is a tribe unto themselves, hostile to the threat of a single lonely person constituting another tribe reaching out for connection in an isolated World. You know the feeling. Even though you feel the deep existential loneliness that you do your best to hide from, even though you yearn for connection, when that person reaches out to you, catching you off guard maybe on a train, or even in your own family, they seem desperate. Lonely. Terrifying.

That’s Evolution, I think. We identify our tribe, and, to preserve the diversity that is the watchword of Evolution, we recoil from members of other tribes crossing the boundaries. Of course “tribe” has many definitions, many levels, which is why we can feel unified as “Americans” or even “Humans,” if the time is right. But that doesn’t prevent the shame we feel, later, when that stranger opens his or her heart to us and we want to run screaming into the distance.

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Before my father died, for about a decade, I worked hard to be closer to him, as best I could.

I reached out to him, asking him to come over and watch movies.

I tried to join in with the activities in his world.

I emailed him.

Why? In large part because, after Michele’s breast cancer scare almost a decade ago, I came to an early “appreciation” of the tenuousness of life. I tried very hard to think about “death bed regrets.” What do people most often regret, if they don’t die suddenly?

Lack of time and closeness to those they love. Not knowing them well enough.

I was very aware that I didn’t know my father well enough. And I knew our relationship would end, probably in a few decades, possibly sooner. That it proved to be “sooner” didn’t surprise me as much as it surprised others: I always see the black cloaked figure with the razor scythe sliding with sleek familiarity from shadow to shadow, practiced in the art of passing within a car’s length of everyone, yet seeming not to be there at all.

I didn’t do a great job of meeting on his terms often enough. If I had, it might’ve gone better. I wanted to do it “my way,” so I could be at my best. and because of that, and because of many other things, he often more or less ignored me.

One time, in the midst of what, to me, was only a civilized debate across several mediums about the merits of audiobooks… he finally blew up at me.

Funny Grenade Love

By email.

I seemed “needy.” I seemed “desperate.”

That was when I broke. From then on, with great sadness, I forced myself to keep my distance. Sometimes I chose not to reply to emails because I felt I needed to give the impression that I could take them or leave them, as “normal” people can and do.

Sometimes I didn’t call him for months, to avoid seeming “needy” or “desperate.”

And all the while, inside, I cried.

I knew one or both of us, sooner or later, would have great regrets about how it “went down.” But I felt there was nothing I could do. If we tried to talk on the phone, one or the other of us was so often “not into it.” If I emailed, I’d only get a reply about 20% of the time (a rough estimate). And, lord knows, as busy as we all are, successfully carving out time for a face-to-face, when the twin lords of physical presence AND time must be subdued, often proved too much.

And then I moved even further away.

I could have tried to call more. So, too, could he have.

But I suffer from the fear that both my phone calls and my face-to-face time is… not good enough. I have a hard time feeling “centered” enough to keep people comfortable. And I get insecure at the first sign (surely often imagined) that I’m overstaying my welcome.

Ideal Guest

And so I idealize email.

Strictly speaking, as we all felt before reality corrupted it as a medium, it’s just about the easiest and most flexible way to stay in touch. Sure, many people don’t flourish as writers, but in terms of not stepping on toes… think about it as long as you want, and reply when you want.

It’s just words. The same words could show up by mail. On the phone. Face to face.

Should the words, if emailed, be blamed for spam and all that hateful rat race correspondence? Are those exhausting issues the fault of the words of a heartfelt email? Isn’t blaming a good email for the faults of the vile ones… kind of like racism?

And yet… and yet… over and over… when I reached out with my best self… to many more people than my father… the result is the same.

“I’m too busy.” “I’m too tired.” “I stare at a screen too much.” “I hate email.” “Wouldn’t it be easier to synch our schedules and drive six hours for a face to face please?”

Over and over, despite the flexibility of email, people had no interest.

I imagine them, over and over, seeing the heart and effort I put in. I imagine them feeling guilty. I imagine them, on some level, “knowing” that life is short, and that on our death beds we regret very expected things. But… gosh you know they’ve just been so BUSY…..

There’s never enough Time in the present. And there always seems to be plenty of Time in the future.

Time: God’s worst four letter word.

As my father reminded me with his last act (I won’t say taught me because I already knew all too well), we do not have as much Time as we think we do. Death somehow laid his hand on Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak after all. Whether or not he lays claim to the other Deathly Hallows I can’t say.

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I struggle with a huge tendency to give up. To not reach out to people. I can’t reach out, it seems, in the ways they’d accept.

They want to want to do more than the “one and done” email reply thing.

But they don’t actually want it.

So why reach out at all? I’m just not who they need. Better to impractically “know” that they love me, and try not to imagine them crying at my funeral (the way I will surely cry at theirs), when they finally “feel” like it… though it will be too late.

Not that I expect to have many people at my funeral. Not unless I have a lot more time. I’m not enough like my Dad yet.

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Like my father, I had the capacity for a deep understanding of women. A broad (no pun intended… all right yeah I intended it) love of them.

But unlike my father, that understanding and love has been crippled by my weaknesses and fears. Maybe, one day, I’ll have a singing group, or a congregation. But, as yet, the only time I’ve flourished is…

…by email.

The greatest flowering of email, for me, has been with women. In particular in the “budding romance” department, when one’s soul comes alive, and one seems to be, all of a sudden, the grand spirit one always knew one was, underneath all the caked on grime of the grind of daily living. Those emails, those instant messages, made, and terrifyingly still could make me, into something like a demi god.

What am I usually? Perhaps only a deep, interesting, and disconcerting enigma shrouded in fear.

The writing does not continue if the relationship does, though I keep the writing to look back on. The “early stages” pass, returning me to normal. Each party realizes it is not the superhuman that brief funhouse mirror suggested, but rather the same person one has grown so tired of, so beset with failings.

I fear the temptation, in any relationship, to become “that dating site” guy, minus the adulterous sex, who lies to get what he wants, until the time comes to vanish. How to get the writing no one I care about wants to give me (save for one or two: you know who you are), without carving out a second life from the flesh of monogamy?

I don’t know. I just don’t know.

Maybe it’s possible to, rather than finding people I care about, to “find writers.” Maybe they don’t have to be women in the early stages of love for me, or love for the demi god they perceive to be me.

But how to do that when I’m crippled with the fear my Father seemed to shed before the end? How?

Yoda Fear

Maybe if I just tell my fear that it’s being desperate and needy.

Screw it. Who cares? No one’s listening anyway.

Except God, who knows that loneliness is a sad side effect of life’s binding to Evolution. Everything, in secret truth, is unity.

I think I heard a monk say that once….

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Eulogy for my Father

Dad’s Eulogy

Oddly, up here at this church pulpit, I feel like a bumbling, novice pastor.

How to fix that…. Ah.

Dad? Little help?

Better. And it even feels like a hug.

I feel like an actor too. To be “good enough” actors need the lid torn off their heart and spirit, to learn to cry in a way I have yet to learn. And boy did Dad learn to do that with Ginny. He found a boundless love, using it to father still more, in others.

My father always loved theater. Offering. Performance. Teaching. Being valued by a familial audience. Giving and generosity of the transformed spirit. When I was in high school, he directed me in “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” a show he also played the lead in, long ago. I still remember him telling me about one night, live on stage, casually throwing a dart at a distant dart board. The audience gasped in awe when he hit the bull’s eye. But he kept as cool as Houghton Brook.

Being a father is a kind of theater too, and the endless search for the bull’s eye. Acting like you know what to teach. The giving and generosity of the ever transforming spirit. All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts. Alan worked to inspire and be larger than life. He came to baseball games, buying siren-and-flashing-light helmets for Christmas, and packed brown paper bag lunches at sunrise. All this while Life drained him as Life does. But he did his huge hearted best, with Ben and Amos Parker, with Aimee and Adam and Josh and Anthony Ducharme, then with Jed and Tamsin Flanders.

My father and I share a lot of things. Even now, for this service, since I don’t dress up much, the only clothes I’m wearing that aren’t his is my underwear. And with me he also shared a struggle to be “good enough.” With perceived failure, and with finding purpose. With the thinking too much and not feeling enough. Once when I was a child a teacher told him the lunches he packed weren’t healthy enough. I remember standing between the dining room and kitchen in the house he built in Tampico, sunlight spilling in while he trembled and cried. “Do you know what that makes me feel like?” he asked, heartbroken. “It makes me feel like I’m not a good Dad!” Heartbroken too, I saw past the everyday static, in the same way one does when a beloved man dies, the distractions falling away and the true spirit coming clear. “You are a good Dad,” I said, hugging him. It’s hard to hug so tall a man.

He was great Dad. His children know. After this service, go to Ben, Aimee, Adam, Josh, Anthony, Jed and Tamsin and ask them how he planted trees in their singular lives, thereby ensuring he’d live on.

I can only speak for what my father planted in me. And somehow that’s not about me, but him.

I remember fishing with him. With Ben. With the Ducharmes too. Strange joy, fishing. Taking the life of a worm on a sharp hook, casting it with hoping tingles far out into distant waters, and hoping to take the life of a fish in trade.

We did this at lakes. We did this at the Houghton Brook, where Dad’s cabin is and where he shared precious time with his first grandson George, a darling scampering and splashing to do his part for the photo we later rested on Alan’s last breaths in a sterile Lebanon hospital. Death accents life, as night highlights day, and poverty amplifies wealth. Modernity tries to impoverish us of the knowledge of Death, with a wealth of comfort. But valuable Death pursues us like rivers pursue the ocean.

Feel that, now. You feel my father’s tragic death reminding you of the true value of life. You’d only forgotten. See that silver lining like a lake lit to azure gold by the setting Sun, your cast worm arching toward it as Moon rises.

Jesus knew the value of fish. And even before he found Jesus, so did my father.

Another memory.

Ages ago my Dad and I sat behind our Tampico home, my butt on the red capped tube that topped the water well. I struggled with life and a numb, voiceless pain. School. Relationships. The future. And he understood. Remembered, rather. With love he wanted to help. I even told him I needed help, but admitted I was scared to accept it. To let the uncomfortable complexity and chaos out. So he put his hand on my shoulder with a man’s courage and told me he still wished to risk trying. I still wish I’d had the courage to trust him.

We saw some of each other at our best along our similar, spiraling paths. Life’s a game of cat and mouse, one person feeling ready to connect, the other disconnected by personal drama. And then the roles reverse. So often one would phone the other, in the open gear of confidence, only to hear the other miss the attempted shift to match it.

Ah, Life.

Yet he’d come with loving, fatherly friendship up to the cabin at Echo Lake in East Charleston Vermont, a cabin owned by my mother’s side of the family. He knew life overwhelms and obscures my core, but that overlooking that lake I feel like the real me, speaking like I write. And so we’d talk for hours, sharing a whiskey or a beer. Watching the water below, filled with wormless fish living their lives. Talking about Humanity and ideas. About family. About the loves of our lives. The Red Sox. We understood each other, joyful in the unity of the “true gear” his tragic early death has joined us in. And of course we ate Cabot cheddar cheese between Triscuits.

One of my father’s favorite things to say to me was “I love you, Amos Stone Parker.”

Sometimes hearing it was almost too much. It meant he loved every inch. Scary, to people who do not feel “good enough.”

When I said goodbye in the hospital, all by myself beside him after a nurse removed the wires from his head and left, I struggled to thank him for loving all of me. I’d already read him the Boston Globe article, printed when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004. The lid ripped off the heart of a nation. The words of others were easy to say, as he lay unconscious in that bed surrounded by machines that go “bing.” My words? They would only be easy if I kept the lid on my heart and didn’t let out my soul. They would be hard, breaking my voice if opened up and faced the tears. Saying goodbye with his full name was like… saying goodbye to all of him. It refused to skirt the issue. I did love him. I do still. And the goodbye of “I love you, Alan Fletcher Parker” was one of the hardest things I ever did. But I did it, finding an adult’s strength in the way all children must, to do their parents proud.

Later, we friends and family stood around him. The father, once so strong with a tiny Ben or Amos in his arms, had become weak, the roles reversed by Time.

We sang or played his favorite songs. “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong. “Graceland” by Paul Simon. “How Do You Stop” by James Brown. We shared memories of him. Ask Steve about the poems. Ask Ginny about the cooking. Ask Liz about the grandchildren. And, as he faded, I wondered how one could ever be “good enough” to honor such an end?

My best? I sat on his left side, his left hand in mine.

I watched the pulse on his neck, his face turned toward Ben.

I put my right hand on his heart.

It had beaten like the core of beautiful music for almost sixty five years, though everything. Through three hours of driving to Burlington for work weekdays, day after day, week after week. Like Groundhog Day. Just without the laughs. Through the bills he paid and the lawns he mowed. Even through the serpent’s tooth lack of the gratitude of children.

Then the ending began.

A breath every ten seconds. Every twenty. Every thirty.

His heart said “Please. Let me stay.”

How many beats does a heart get? How many ticks does it take to get to the worldly goal center of a goodly pop?

God only knows. And sorry about that convoluted Tootsie Pop reference, but that’s what happens when you take the lid off an English major.

So I started a new count, slower and slower, softer and softer. A ballpark count. Fenway ballpark.

A lot. A lot plus one. A lot plus… two. A… lot plus… three. A… lot… plus… four. A… lot… of… of… of… love.

Then the father’s heart stopped. I cried, trusting him with my chaos, the lid torn off.

A heavy price to pay for a moment of such power.

Thank you, Dad.

Was that good enough?

He says yes.

Right back at you.

But… he’s not up there. He’s here in our hearts, having trusted his performance and won over his audience.

Now do his many children a favor. And forgive me if the request sounds preachy, but remember I did begin here by asking a preacher for help

When you leave this warm closeness here and go back out into the long, hurtful battlefield of life, when its deadening grey soldiers reach your trench again, when those bills and rivalries and commercials crawl down your nose, ears and throat and try with cutting fingers to drag my father up out of your heart only to bury him in the front part of your logical left brain… fight back.

And if that feels like David against Goliath? Ask Alan for help. He will sling bull’s eyes for you as cool as the Houghton Brook, in tune with the hymnal song of your still beating heart, for as long as you’re willing to fight to keep him there.

Regret and Debt

Polonius 2

That’s Ian Holm there, above.

It’s not my new house mate, who I’ll get to soon. He’s central.

Ian Holm is a great actor, maybe best known for playing Bilbo Baggins in the three “Lord of the Rings” films. Prior to that, he played Polonius, in 1990, in the Franco Zeffirelli film version of William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” The film’s best known for being one of Mel Gibson’s first forays into “real acting.”

Mel Hamlet

But my clearest memory of the film comes from Polonius. I’m not sure why. The first time I saw the film, I’d never even had a credit card. I didn’t experience my first one until five years later, when I entered college with one, having promised myself I’d never use it, realized I needed books for class, took the card to the college book store, paid for the required books with terrifying ease… and realized I was in trouble.

“Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.”

That’s the line. Hamlet. Act I, Scene III.

But I’m not here to speak about credit card debt. Or rather, to write about it. I’m here about borrowing and loaning with people we know. Not faceless credit card companies. But friends. Family. Lovers even.

I remember, I confess, feeling some bafflement at the line, when I heard it in the film. Yet it stayed with me. Why? Fascination with stuff? Money? The value I placed on friends?

Also, Polonius seemed… hurried. Rushed. Almost confused. Desperate to convey wisdom before his son departed on a journey. He may not even have been reliable as a giver of wisdom, given his lack of charisma. But as a father his love shown clear. He meant well. And he had something important on his mind.

So what was it?

New SNES

I want to start with a story.

About a year after the release of that cinematic version of “Hamlet” in 1990, I found myself in the summer of 1991 filled with rapturous eagerness about the coming release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Scheduled for release in September, almost tragic because it meant the dawn of a new school year would interfere with my newborn, newly-opened obsession, I set about figuring out how to get one, on release.

I did not have a job, at that age. Being only about 14 at the time, I hadn’t yet gotten that far. Soon after I’d spend the summers on my uncle’s Christmas tree farm, in part to pay for games, but in the summer of 1991 I was SoL when it came to self funding.

To the rescue came my grandmother Margaret Stone. A wonderful woman who lived through the financially traumatic Great Depression, she volunteered to help.

My reaction, at first? Joy and gratefulness, of course.

How did she agree to help? Work. Not a gift, but work. I was to spend some of the summer doing some labor on her home, her fine Richmond VT home that she occupied even after the 80s death of my grandfather Fred Stone but before age and infirmity forced her to move to a smaller home. I remember, at her request, painting the deck. I don’t remember other tasks, though I’m sure there were some. And, know you, this was a home that rested on a foundation located an hour and a half away, by car. A distance almost as far away as September seemed, from June.

Squirrel Summer Vacation

That, of course, would be the normal reaction to the onset of summer vacation, for a junior high student about to enter high school. But a boy who loved videogames, with the release of the “SNES” imminent, could not be expected to have a normal reaction.

So.

She gave me the money in advance, I believe, so that I could pre-order the console, complete with its pack in copy of Super Mario World. Again: joy and gratefulness.

Then my grandmother had me do some work. And, to my dismay? I found my emotions beginning to do funny things to me, as time went on. I started to feel… resentful. Of the debt. Even of her. Why was this? I realized it was because I already had all the reward, and was, in a sense, working for nothing. I’d been given my pay, in advance. I felt icky, in the resentment, but feelings, as they are wont to do, ruled the roost.

As I recall, my grandmother did not make me work off all the debt. I think the total bill for the SNES came to about $200. Easily the most expensive thing I’d ever worked for or even owned. But my grandmother ended up giving me much of the money as a gift.

Maybe she sensed the problem. And, like any grandmother, she wanted to spoil. The idea of being resented by a grandchild was anathema.

Spoiled Grandma

Why do I bring this up?

First off, I’ll also bring up how, even very recently as an adult, I’ve experienced the same problem. I consider myself a normal person. I even consider myself a good person. But, a few years ago, when I was out of work and in debt, having just made a critical rule-reading error with PayPal credit, I found myself with no way to pay back a soon-due high-penalty loan of about $3000.

My girlfriend, who luckily is still my girlfriend, agreed to help. Of course I felt joy and gratefulness at the time. A short period of time.

But very soon? The stink of resentment began to waft out of me, from somewhere. She became “a creditor.” I already had everything, and could only look forward to having to separate myself from my precious job-earned money, chunk by precious chunk, for a long time to come.

I pretended I wasn’t feeling it. To me. To her. I tried not to think about it. I felt a huge pull to… delay. I wanted her to remind me when it was “that time of the month,” no menstruation pun intended. And I didn’t feel, things from her point of view. At the time, I’m not sure I had any clear experience I could call on of being in a position similar to hers, of being a creditor to someone I cared about.

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But now, because of my desperation to make a good impression on my new house mate, a nice young man of 21 who’s a full smoking age younger than me. A full selective service age. A full high school graduation age.

Part of my desire to please? A lack of a circle of friends. Then someone comes along who just… lives inside a circle, leaving only the “of friends” part out, and it seems easy. Like shooting fish in a barrel.

So I’d just gotten a deal on, yes, a videogame system. New. An XBOX One, exponentially more powerful than a Super Nintendo. I got the deal as part of a “bundle” that included a 43 inch Ultra HD television, a Vizio LED backlit LCD TV, highly reviewed for that old tech style. Saved about $300 in theory. But I only wanted the TV, having too many games yet unplayed for older systems (makes it hard to choose to play any, a problem SNES scarcity never allowed me to have, round about ’91).  So I chose to sell the XBOX One. Which meant, possibly, unpleasant shipping and eBay fees.

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And while I’m at it, here’s the TV… which I didn’t even keep, because I decided if I was going to upgrade, I wanted a better one. An LG OLED, new tech 55 inch.

Vizio:

Vizio M.jpg

LG:

LG 55

Anyway. At the time, I just needed to get rid of the XBOX One, and both wanted to avoid fees for a heavy thing, and to “make a new friend.”

Solution?

Sell to my new house mate. And I’d be nice! I’d be so generous he’d KNOW I was a good guy. I’d just give it to him, saying he could pay me when he wanted, and charge him a lot less than a new one would cost. Less than $300. Boy would he love me! I felt a nagging worry, but hey, he seemed nice, and my semi-landlord had vouched for him, as did her 35 year old Down Syndrome son who also lived in the house and who knew him from work.

So I had hope. Faith. What could go wrong? I knew what the warning signs would be if something were to go wrong, though. Signs he was avoiding me. Saw me as unpleasant. Not talkative. In essence, seeing me as not a friend because I was “a creditor.” Who would want to be friends with a credit card company?

And indeed he did pay me about half, fairly soon, after only failing to pay me that half when he said once or twice, over a period of about a week.

And to be fair, I went out of my way to say I didn’t need him to pay me back fast. I wanted to be so nice! To make him love me! I was probably generous in a way that could cross the line to creepy. Can’t be too nice with people or it’s worse than being mean. Can’t, ever, look needy. Cardinal sin.

Another point? I offered to be the one to spend my time, money and effort to take control of the shared house goods stuff. You know. Toilet paper. Laundry soap. He said I’d just have to ask and he’d pay me a bit.

Side note: with young people, you never know how much they’re still used to… living with parents, and having “the people who live with them” be “the people who take care of them and give them money.”

Anyway, he hasn’t come to me to say anything about the other half of the money. And, though I asked him once about money for a big discounted order of toilet paper, to which he said he didn’t have his wallet with him, he hasn’t come to me, though I leave my door open, unlike him.

His friends seem more interested in talking to me than he does. They know I gave him a videogame system… but they aren’t in debt to me. Different outlook.

I haven’t tried to talk to him, but I do see clear signs that he seems maybe like he hopes to not run into me. To not talk to me. Like he wants to get through the room without me stopping him for anything when he passes. Possible avoided eye contact. Who wants to part with their money, for no reward? He has all the reward already, and has acclimated to it. The thankfulness, in practice, has maybe worn off. Now there’s just the pain remaining.

Eye Contact.jpg

The worst part? The worst potential outcome?

I don’t even feel like it’s the prospect of never getting the money back. Of him, say, vanishing, of having his feelings convince me that, really, why would I need the money? Look at my amazing TV!

It’s….

Well, I go out of my way with time, money and work, to do something nice, with no reason to trust him, but trusting anyway. A major generous gesture.

And my reward?

I become… someone to avoid. Someone he doesn’t want to be friends with, as a result, when maybe he would want to be friends if I hadn’t been really generous.

Money messes with heads and hearts. God, the examples! Destroyer of relationships. Of romantic partnerships. Of marriages. Now, of course, I sympathize tons for my girlfriend, who so generously loaned me $3000. And I feel, what… shame? Shame. Shame that I could let myself be so blinded by the tricks money and debt play on the mind and the heart.

But life is about learning. I didn’t lose my girlfriend. But will I lose the friendship of my housemate?

Even as I write this, he’s walking back and forth from his room to the bathroom, in clear view outside my bedroom door. He could say hello. He could acknowledge me. But, very likely, he hopes to just be allowed to mind his own business.

I can think of all sorts of things to say. Ways to start.

Some would be wise and true, but likely condescending. Threatening even.

Snowman Threat.jpg

“I worried from the start that you’d start to seem like you were avoiding me.”

Then every time he passed by he’d feel obligated to acknowledge me in some way, to not give the impression, and it would become a chore. Inorganic.

“I want to tell you a story about my grandmother and the summer of ’91….”

“Is this my reward for spending my time, money and work?”

“I’ve realized I’m paying 14% credit card interest on the money I’ve loaned you, so I have to make myself a bother and be that person who chases you for owed money.”

“Bet you don’t have any interest in giving me your money for no reward, eh?”

“Could you tell me when you plan to pay me that remaining $150? And if being in debt to me makes me unpleasant to you, we need to get this out of the way and then do our own toilet paper and laundry soap.”

Almost anyone would lie to some of that. Even to themselves.

“Oh no I don’t have any problem with you.”

They might feel threatened as I try to peel away denial.

Overthinking.png

Obviously, I need to just start simple and non-threatening. Part of me wants to write a long email or FaceBook message. But then, even if they were short, he’s replied to only one of the several friendly FB messages I’ve sent him since we friended each other. The worrywart in me sees trouble. But then so many people hate written communication, and see no social faux pas in ignoring such communication, even if the same words ignored in a face-to-face would be a major faux pas.

Part of me feels like the only way to “not be unpleasant” is to… never say anything. But, if he’s like me, I could imagine his feelings slowly convincing himself that maybe I don’t WANT the money. I could imagine him moving out, having… forgotten all about it.

Money does that to minds. I’m sure money has made YOU stupid.

{Sigh}

Somehow I’ll work it out. Maybe I’ll even report the end result to you, my imaginary audience that I never feel exists in reality.

Debt. I have it over others. Others have it over me.

Moneymoneymoney…. Those green presidents are our real community, separated as we are from what we are evolved for. They are our support. We love them. And love is blind.

But that’s another subject for another blog post.

Superhero Grandmother.jpg

Oh Grandma.

Even in death you can teach me wonderful things.

Do me a favor? Never stop. To be (helpful) or not to be (helpful). That is the question. The former, please. My girlfriend will thank you, in her prayers.

The Power of Habit.

Ah-nuld

Here I am once again, hard at work at what feels like a “cop out.”

Blog posts? In my own voice? Just following the meanderings of my mind on a topic? Feels easy and self indulgent, as I’ve said before. I’m not creating a new world, by way of fiction. I’m…. Well, in a way I’ll say it feels masturbatory.

Church Masturbation Typewriter.jpg

But hey. That’s a good way to begin talking about habit.

When I’m in the groove on a novel, or even in the groove on a short story tear, one of those tears where I feel like I want to vomit if I don’t get “some good writing” done at LEAST six times a week, it’s easy to like myself. I don’t feel like an evil person murdering potential, like babies, day after day. And it’s habit, that.

But it’s amazing how easy it is to fall off even the most potent habit wagons. One can do one’s best to help the wagon to go at an easier pace, along smoother roads, with trained horses with the “mustang” whipped out of them.

But nevertheless.

Habit, I believe, is a vastly underrated force for the direction of a life. We, I believe, often like, often wildly contradicting daily evidence, that we are creatures of pure willpower. We, we believe, can do what’s right. What we need to. All we need to do is decide to. It is much like smoking, or drinking. We could stop them (and start not doing them) “whenever we want.” We don’t have a problem.

And until then? Everyone should just back the fuck OFF!

You may know the feeling.

Is it with that novel “you’re writing”?

Writer Kill You

Is it with that exercise “you’re doing”?

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Is it with that healthy diet “you’re following”?

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Is it with that degree “you’re pursuing”?

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Is it with those children “you’re spending more time with”?

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(If that joke’s not too subtle for you give yourself a platinum record medal)

Ahem. Habit and goals. Life.

The list goes on and on, for human beings. Most of us are not creatures of pure will. Most of us are, as they say, “normal.” It’s just a question of odds. When it comes to those other things? If we were creatures of pure will, we would have done them already. And saying “as soon as I’m ready” or “when I want to” is just an excuse.

One of the great jokes God…

God Weed Burning Bush.jpeg

…or the Universe…

Miss Universe

…or the Economy…

Purses Need Economy.jpg

…plays on us is that, when we’re young, it’s easy to change. That’s when we’re built to be flexible.

And (here’s the punchline) that’s when we’re resilient enough not to need to be, because we’re young enough to be vegetables and eat broken glass. You remember what it was like to be young? Did you feel like your body clung to every calorie? And, on a related note, do you still believe, fully, that you’re only as young as you feel?

I feel like it’s justice that I’m still 19.

Flexibility.jpg

That’s a yoga position. I call it “Reality Pretzel.” Good luck with it.

Of course, do you know how that dude (who STILL isn’t still 19, despite being as flexible as a baby) got himself into that position? Yeah. Habit. Practice. Lots of it. And, I think most of all, probably daily.

Power Habit.jpg

Yeah. It was a bestseller. Means it must be good. Get off your lazy butt and read it.

I think I’ve talked, before, about how I finally, after 15 years or so, found the “writing switch” in my brain. The flipping thing was so flipping hard to find, I tell you. Took getting fired, being TERRIFIED of slipping back into old habit, and EVERY DAY making sure to write, for months. All the while scared that if I didn’t the monster of the old “this doesn’t feel right and is mentally exhausting…” habit would return.

How do YOU handle, say, that exercise that you know you should do? That you stick out your chin to others and say “I’ll do it when I’m ready and on my own so butt out!”

{Amos pours himself a glass of fine, fine Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey, as the pure cocoa powder looks far enough behind in the rearview}

Tullamore.jpg

Where was I?

Oh. Right. “Butt out!”

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Lucky skinny-ass bastard….

Anyway.

My contention is… that habit, like many things about the body and mind, follows the same pattern for change. How long does it take for exercise to begin changing the body? A few weeks, when done really regularly. How soon does one build a tolerance to alcohol?

Tullamore

A few weeks, when done regularly.

How long does it take to build a habit?

Let’s ask TED!

Thanks Ted!

Or how about this?

Wait.

It takes more than a few weeks? Well, I was about to admit that two months might be good. That’s how long I let fear burn away optimistic overconfidence, in order to build up that writing muscle habit.

Look at it this way. And let me know if you can poke holes in it as a functional analogy.

Say you don’t exercise. That you’re unfit.

You ARE getting exercise. Seven days a week you’re exercising the “don’t exercise” habit muscle. And it’s pretty big. Pretty fit. It’s an Ah-nuld kind of habit.

Ah-nuld Flipped

 

And the “do exercise” habit?

How fit is it?

McDonalds Wheelbarrow.jpg

And don’t you tell me dude’s gettin’ his exercise!

Now.

Let’s say you make a New Year’s resolution. Let’s say you wanna change. So you tell yourself you’ll start exercising. And you go with the status quo. The dogma. You know. I know you know.

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Right.

Three times a week. It’s what you’re SUPPOSED to aim for, right? I mean, society says so, right? So society must be right, right? The same way society is right about consumerism? And about SUVs? And was right about segregation over a century ago?

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I can’t believe it either….

Now. Think about it. Going back to my “don’t exercise” is a muscle idea.

What happens when you exercise the “exercise” muscle three times a week (if you even manage that), and the “don’t exercise” muscle four times a week? Is that gonna atrophy the “don’t exercise” muscle? Is that gonna build a new habit, when the old habit gets reinforced a fucking MAJORITY of days in a week?

Or is the old habit gonna, at the first “I’m sick” or “I’ve gotta take a week long business trip” opportunity to smack the weakling new habit down?

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Is that old habit just laughing at you just outside your range of hearing, so as not to arouse your real willpower, knowing he has the upper hand?

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Side note:

Bad news.

My body’s feeling funny. Whisky’s gone sideways….

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Turns out the cocoa powder ISN’T deep enough into the rearview mirror. Dunno why they don’t mix, but I’ll just have to keep going.

You know: with willpower.

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Hey! I already GOT my exercise today.

Delayed, yeah. Had to go into work early because the other driving dude didn’t know he was on shift. But I knew I couldn’t have my best writing head on if I didn’t do it when I got home. Nothing like dangling upside down on an inversion table!

Inversion.jpg

Surprisingly hard to find a photo of a DUDE using one. I guess men prefer getting blood to the other head, eh?

Ba dum bum!

Anyway.

Let me know if you’d prefer I do better at staying on topic and not roving for funny tangents. I’m flexible.

Where was I?

Right.

Days a week.

Is three enough?

Three Amigos.jpg

{Editor’s note: prolly tequila, not whiskey, to the right.}

I know that when I start writing just a few times a week for a few weeks, even beloved writing, the focus gets muddled. It’s why I exercise seven times a week. Not for hours every day, only hours a few times a week. The other days? Just twenty minutes. But even that denies the “don’t exercise” muscle it’s exercise.

Much better, I’ve learned, to exercise daily for a total of maybe an hour and a half a week than three times a week for a total of six hours. Only one denies the “don’t exercise” muscle a majority of days to exercise.

And the remarkable thing? Daily is easier than three days a week. Because it’s the rule you get used to… not the exception to the rule that you dread.

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Can you go ahead and improve with three (ironically alone)?

Well, put yourself in a position where you’re battling an entrenched habit by trying to tackle it that way. See how it goes. Then try to detach yourself from you innate human stubbornness and identify if it’s working or not. Will your entrenched habit, fueled by four days a week, say on those days “Ah! Sweet blood flow keeping me strong!”

Will the strong old habit say “Oh jeez I guess he’s (or she’s) serious!” Or will it be… like taking antibiotics three times a week?

Use Lose.gif

But try it anyway.

Give it time

And then….

Are you writing that novel yet?

 

What a novel way to draw faces!

Now. If you don’t mind… I need to start not combining cocoa and booze, and keep doing it for seven days a week.

Because I feel funny….

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Keep running dude. Just stop at 1:18….

Moe knows booze.

And Amos knows his “Simpsons” clips.

Familial Communication.

Sleepless

Pardon me if this blog post comes out “off.”

Last night, after some fine Mexican chocolate at midnight, I found myself unable to fall asleep when I went to bed at around three am. My brain buzzed too much like a hive of bees for z’s. That would’ve been a better time to write this, when I found myself wide awake and thinking quite a bit about that female friend and her estranged sister, both of whom I’d mentioned in a past post.

I didn’t stop tossing and turning in the dark, however. I just let my brain spin until about five am, pleased by the clarity of the thoughts, and looking forward to “this moment.”

And now “this moment” is here. And it feels kind of dull.

But it’s about what I expected when my alarm went off, at ten am. I didn’t feel as sharp as I’d hoped, when I’d climbed into bed feeling good, and with seven hours until my alarm went off. At that moment, the idea of it going off didn’t seem hateful. Funny how things change, as they say.

Gun Alarm

Anyway.

I’ll just start. Maybe the thoughts will come back to me in a way that drips down well from that “me” to “the keyboard” and from there to “the MacBook Pro screen.” And from there to the Internet.

This friend of mine. This woman.

Sad Woman

She feels all kinds of sorrow about her relationship with her only sister. It’s really getting the better of her, it is. She wishes, in talks with me, that she knew how to fix it.

But there’s nothing to be done.

Why? Nothing can be done when her sister shows zero interest in having a real conversation about anything. When her sister does nothing with every attempt to reach out to her. When her sister show all the signs of only a “hail madam well met” attitude, as brief as possible, wreaking of little more than minimal, familial “keeping up appearances.

My friend has tried all kinds of approaches.

Calling on the phone. The result? The sister never answers. Only texts back that she was busy. And texts requesting a good time to call get ignored.

Emailing funny pictures about sisterhood. The result? Brief bafflement, or even signs of suppressed anger. No indication of amusement.

Sister Skeleton

Texted inquiries about whether this or that weekday evening, as my friend works weekends, would be a good time to make the three hour drive to her sisters to watch some TV and drink wine, the burden of effort all on my friend. The response? Polite refusal, with no indication of gratitude or other ideas for sister time.

Wine Pour

Oh. Right. Something I haven’t mentioned yet.

My friend’s sister, my friend’s only sister, has the only children in the family. Two of them. Two little girls. Very cute. They’re my friend’s only nieces, never mind nephews. And it just kills my friend that, in a very real sense, her sister’s holding them prisoner.

Because, she wonders through her tears, how can she even clearly see her cute little nieces when the problems with her sister loom so large? It’s like a wall, or like a monster with calves so muscular that even crawling babies and toddlers can’t be seen through the angled, marble pillar legs under the crossed arms. It’s almost as if my friend’s a Greek ship out in the storm-tossed sea, trying to get a glimpse of safe harbor beyond the carved form of the Colossus of Rhodes.

Colossus

Of course, my friend has tried harder to communicate.

One night, late at night, in the wee hours of the morning where the Muse and I like to dwell, she wrote a long, heartfelt text message to her sister, figuring there was nothing to lose. Why not try? Why not lay it all out?

The response?

Wooden thanks, a promise of a loving reply soon, and then, when soon came around, a superficial summary of how life was going for her. Also an asking of how it was going.

So my friend replied, trying to continue the conversation.

No reply. Or at least, a reply saying she didn’t want texting to be deep. To which my friend replied “Who said you had to reply by text? Reply by email if you want. By phone. I only texted you because people are often busy when the phone rings, and emails often get missed when texts don’t.” The reply? “Noted.” But nothing came of it. My friend felt as if were a secondary dodge, the primary dodge being exposed as one.

Text Back

So yeah. My friend knows married people with house issues and children are Time-challenged.

So she gives them slack.

Them? Her sister and her sister’s husband. The parents.

But of course the disinterest my friend feels like a knife began cutting long before her sister had even her first daughter.

Daughter Cute

Not either daughter. Just cute. For emotion.

Anyway.

So what’s my friend to do? She tries to hammer out an answer with me. I do my best, but I don’t know how to help. Every solution seems flawed when the sister gives every impression of wanting more than anything to avoid real, challenging conversation, and of having hidden, powerful anger about something in their past.

What things? My friend can only guess. Sometimes she makes lists, doing her best to keep an open mind.

Her sister sometimes got angry that she didn’t get new shoes from their parents as often.

Her sister got furious once when their child-of-the-60s mother, having been told by my friend that the sister had done drugs at a New Year’s Eve party, flipped out with rage. She had wanted such reality to be a secret from “the parents,” when my friend had been certain, as had the mother obviously, that such youthful behavior was only real and even amusing. Humanizing.

Or there was the time the sister had invited my friend to go shopping, but my friend hadn’t felt like it, but had forced herself to, wanting to spend time with her sister. But she didn’t enjoy the trip like she’d thought she might, and later when she told her sister that she’d forced herself to go, the sister had been very angry.

“Well then why did you agree to GO?”

Sad Sisters

To try, my friend supposed.

Time is short, my friend knows. One day either she or her sister will die. And then the dislikes of the past will seem as weak as a paper eviction notice left out in a rain of tears. Minds and hearts also change. Family distance almost always leads to regret.

My friend knows this. But what can be done without communication? Fixing a relationship without communication, a relationship where my friend knows she’s granted theoretical love but doesn’t really have practical “like,” is like fixing a car without a set of tools. Or a jack.

How can you repair the engine? How can you even get to it?

Pony Mechanic.jpeg

Women like ponies. Or so I’ve heard.

Relationships are two way streets. Cars drive on them, yes. With their repaired engines. But people can also walk on them. Sometimes toward each other.

What’s to be done when one of the lanes is shut down?

Or is it, really?

Honestly, you may be thinking that my friend should just have a very direct thing with her sister. But she has every indication that her sister would do anything to avoid that, to avoid confronting the “difficult real.” There’s evidence. A history.

My friend remembers her sister complaining about the negative attitude of one of their high school friends. A friend of both of them, between them in age. Her sister got really annoyed by this friend’s attitude. Then one weekend, late at night, they all got drunk and the negative friend… broke open with warm, sad confession about how she felt guilty about being so judgmental. She didn’t want to. She loved everyone. But she just had trouble governing her emotions.

My friend felt sure that her sister, who’d stood strangely apart from the bonfire around which the confession took place, must’ve loved hearing the outpouring.

But no.

Later, my friend’s sister said… it was just about the most boring drunken conversation she’d ever heard. And my friend has, ever since then, taken that admission as a symbol of the amiable, successful kind of person her sister is.

Successful Woman

She still doesn’t know what to do about it, though. She wants to be part of her nieces’ lives. But she’s terrified.

Of what?

Of rejection. Of being seen as a sort of “symbol of weirdness” by her sister. Wanting to “be real,” and at the same time not being as “successful” as her sister, makes her worry she’s been dismissed. Loved superficially, but tragic, like a failure of an older sister, and worse, one that her sister and her sister’s husband might, if pressed, have to find ways to… keep away from their daughters. To protect them from the weirdness.

It’s like a kind of stage fright. Always feeling like she has to perform for her sister. And hence, not being an improv kind of person, failing to perform.

Bad Improv

Lots of people love my friend. I should make that clear.

Lots of people don’t make her feel like she’s on stage. Or rather, she doesn’t find herself feeling like she’s on stage around them, unable to ask openly if she is in fact being forced to perform for her sibling supper. And my friend is much more fun at some times that aren’t family gatherings, where their father, who’s kind of superficial like her sister, adds to my friend’s performing sense of unreality.

But it’s not relevant. Her sister has too much going on to be tolerant. Too many choices. Too much family. Too many friends.

My friend also remembers her sister’s wedding.

Picked as one of the bridesmaids, my friend wasn’t cut out for it and didn’t live up to it. Her sister and her sister’s friends were very different kinds of people, very social and energetic and they expected her to be the same. They went out drinking before the wedding, and paraded around in fine costumes for the wedding. My friend got exhausted trying to keep up and be like them for hours. To fit in.

And she lost a part of her highly-planned wardrobe for the wedding. Everyone was supposed to have the same outfit.

Bridesmaids

The… suppressed rage she felt from her sister when everyone realized the lack of a perfect costume could ruin the wedding terrified my friend. Luckily someone had a spare bow. But after the service my friend couldn’t stay out on the dance floor. She had to go lay down and rest. Then when she came back one of the other bridesmaids seemed almost enraged at her for not staying out there and supporting her sister during the big moment.

It all made my friend want to cry.

Sometimes my friend imagines asking her sister to be the maid of honor at her wedding.

Maid of Honor.jpg

If she ever gets married.

She hopes it’d go well. She knows it’s a great honor in theory. But she’s terrified.

She’s terrified that her sister would know it was a great honor, treat it like a ploy from a failure of an older sister who’s wasted her great talents, and have to find a way to refuse in a socially acceptable way. And resent it rather than be thankful. But my friend still dreams about it. She doesn’t know what other arrow she has in her familial Cupid quiver.

Of course she could just flat out ask, in an unavoidable way, if her sister would like to be closer to her. Lay it out on the table. It’d earn respect, right? The love has to be real, right? Isn’t family forever?

Wonder Woman No

“What would my sister say?” my friend asks me.

I can only shrug and answer “I wonder too, my favorite woman.” I pause. “Maybe you can write all this down, or I can, and you can give it to your parents? Get their thoughts?”

She closes her eyes, slouches and moans softly.

Something will happen. Sometime. And when it does, I’ll keep you posted. Even if I have to get drunk to confide it. And even if you find the confession boring and a waste of a good opportunity for a verbal bonfire.

The Case for Optimism.

Optimism Eggs

Today, while on my pizza delivery rounds in Dover and Somersworth (when it wasn’t dead and I wasn’t cutting vegetables for tomorrow), I heard part of a grand “TED Radio Hour” on New Hampshire Public Radio.

“The Case for Optimism.”

Here’s the link to the episode’s main page, on the show’s page within the main NPR page.

http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/476490556/the-case-for-optimism

Great hour of radio. As the show often is. I think I’ve mentioned the TED Radio Hour before. Right? In some other context?

TED in this context, contrary to my first impression years ago, doesn’t stand for the “Ted” in “Ted Turner.” The founder of TBS and many other media thingamabobs didn’t start some program to educate people about vital issues of technology, entertainment and design. It’s merely a series of lectures, run by no particular group that I know of, designed to educate people in those fields.

Always fascinating. But this episode struck me more than most, although I wasn’t able to listen to it all and have yet to use the Internet…

Internet Spoken

…to listen to the rest. But I do plan to.

Some of the episode argues that human beings  (and perhaps all life) has a much more innate tendency for optimism than we think. In fact, how could Evolution have it any other way? The specifics? People almost always believe things will turn out better than they actually do. Love. Work. Money.

Often it has a great effect. Think…

BosSt.jpg

But not always.

A key example of how it can be bad? Money. You know that feeling credit cards give you? That “I can spend $1000 on that HDTV! It’ll be fine!”

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Often things in life work out great. Yay America!

But when they don’t work out and you have optimism? The “failure” isn’t a bad thing. That very optimism leads to a belief that the failure was bad luck, and to the finding of silver linings.

Silver Linings

Those who don’t believe things will turn out better than they actually do? Very prone to depression. This is all documented medical research.

In many ways I think a lack of optimism is a difficulty of mine. I relate the whole thing to faith, which of course relates to religion, which is another thing Evolution could hardly help (to anthropomorphize it) but instill in us, after leading us by the nose to sentience.

As I’ve said, I lack faith in many things, and have to be led by the nose to other things than just work. I don’t yet have “God” or some similar magical force backing up my will.

So.

Optimism? Surely it helped Humanity spread out from Africa, helped the young to believe that greatness was to be found over that hill. Villages. Game. Families.

And, perhaps most importantly for me, it’s necessary to… believe in the future of Humanity on Earth.

Ishmael

That book? As I’ve said, struck me with truth like no other. But, as it perhaps did for many, detached me from easy faith in Civilization. Started me down a dangerous path. A path that feels rooted in unshakeable truth, but dangerous nonetheless. A sense of doom. Of gloom. That, rooted as it is, Civilization is fundamentally unable to deal with the task of creating a sustainable future for Humanity and the World it pretends to rule.

Global climate change? Ecological disaster? Inconvenient truths?

AIT

Al Gore’s famous documentary. From almost a decade ago, I think.

So in some ways the most magical part of the Optimism episode of “The TED Radio Hour” was the finale, wherein Al Gore showed up to say that… he’s brimming over with optimism.

Frankly it surprised the Hell out of me.

I hadn’t heard from him in a while. Not that I do all the work necessary to keep track of the proper news feeds, but I’d begun to have a sort of mental image of him as an old man naked, shivering, sweating, and huddled alone in the dark corner of an underground bunker somewhere.

With the barrel of a pistol bitten between his teeth.

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Desperately seeking reasons in his mind not to pull the trigger.

Lethal Weapon Gun Mouth

From the Mel Gibson film “Lethal Weapon.” His wife got killed. Hard as the prospect of Mother Earth getting killed.

So.

Al Gore said he was a born optimist, but that global climate change and the like taxed (at times) that tendency quite a bit. But that… he’d come to a very full-bodied and complete optimism. Boggled me, that did. Some stuff about the price of renewable energy reaching the tipping point of being cheaper than fossil fuels. Like the magical moment when frozen and immoveable ice melts at zero Centigrade or thirty-two Fahrenheit to become flowing liquid water.

Could it really be true? Could Civilization, that contraption which its passengers think is flying when it is really falling, really be flying?

Ishmael

Boy would that change my life. If I could just have faith in the path of Humanity….

Sure it still devours diversity and the planet, and sure it….

{Amos slaps himself to shut his logic up}

OK. All better now.

If Al Gore can remain an optimist, with all the learning he faces, all the details and facts I get scared to learn, then so can I.

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Optimism? That’s actually understating Gore’s mood.

He was PUMPED!

Like air into my mood.

May Sci Fi Microstory #1.

*Theme for the May 2016 contest:

Theme: Virtues and/or Vices (interpret however you wish)

Required Elements: A trope (see http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php… for examples)

Mildred wiped the hot sweat from her brow and looked through the row of tasseled corn stalks at the cadre of robots.

She squeaked as she stood, decades of wear and tear on her knees making their presence felt, though they resided in the past. The pain, under the skin of her bare, dirty knees, extended up and down her nerves like fingers handing our reminders of mortality. Standing then, she removed her black tee shirt, giving the green alien sun freer reign. Only faded, torn blue jean shorts remained to cover her inner turmoil. Her dry, red, sun-baked flesh managed no concealing effect.

A piercing, undulating siren wailed just under a hundred meters off, from out of the concrete compound rising out of the mineral-hungry tentacle grass. Mildred glanced at the robots, so humanoid in form, green in the light as fresh lettuce, and then looked up at the sleek golden transport humming down out of the stratosphere. It slowed, nearing the landing platform on the hill insulating the encampment from the sharp mountain peaks.

Before Mildred could take a barefooted step toward the compound, and even before her stomach could rebel against the idea of dinner there, she felt a tickle in her toes.

“Hey there,” she said, looking down at the worms.

Adapted from Earth, but to a degree that put them almost beyond recognition, they wore an almost snake-like shell of tiny, shiny scales. And they needed eyes, eyes shielded and blinking out of 14% of the scales, as a defensive mechanism against the local fauna.

Hiss!

Mildred looked up and ahead, at the source of the sound, just as Walter strode up behind her, his thick leather boots knocking over mounds of dark dirt. He stroked, as always, the fat scar on his forehead with the ring finger of his right hand. Injury from one of his first robot prototypes. Junked. Mildred felt his need for a greeting from her, felt it like a squeeze on something by a giant, unwanted hand.

“Got that one good,” Walter said with his gravelly, suggestive voice, pointing over her left shoulder at the lead robot even as the machine lowered its phased plasma rifle. His dark, meaty forearm rested on her shoulder blade with its full weight. “I love how the orange feathers catch fire.” His forearm slid in toward her neck, almost shuffling, inching along, until the arm hairs touched it like something wanting to suck for a red blotch.

With a lithe, almost slither of a motion Mildred dropped and released the nape of her neck, stepping forward in a way that made it look like all she wished to do was examine the corn. With both hands, with all fingertips, she took one of the leaves and bent her face close.

A sharp flash of cold air struck her. Used to it, to the bursts coming hard down out of the sky on strange meteorological currents, she shivered without noticing.

The hairs on her arms rose as she examined the tiny holes in the leaf she held. Tiny. Perfect. Inexplicable. With a wince she strode away from Walter, toward the tomatoes that, somehow, suffered no ill effects. The only crop not to. She stripped the only fruit from the nearest vine as she passed, biting down and cutting through, the way virtue does to adversity.

“Oh come back, would you?” Walter cried, sounding nervous. “I brought food. You don’t have to go down into The Cave, Mildy.”

“Don’t call my Mildy,” Mildred snapped. “If I have to tell you again….”

As she passed the first of the cadre of robots standing on the edge of the flagstone zone, one of them looked up at her, a strange, virulent look in its purple eye. It raised its rifle, hesitated, aimed at her head, aimed over her head, pulled the trigger, and….

Hiss!

“God damn it!” she cried, dropping hard to her knees. “Oh god….” Her knees screamed at her, like the nocturnal monstrosities did, beyond the walls, past midnight.

“Hey!” Walter shouted. “Careful! I didn’t….”

He knelt, with surprising grace, or so it felt to Mildred, and rested a hand on her shoulder. “You OK?” And then he let go, surged past her, and knocked the offending robot down with all his muscle. Being Walter’s property, it let him, keeling over, stiff, and landing in semi-stasis on the flagstones, shattering several with its weight.

“Hurt anyone but her!” Walter shouted down at it, kicking with his thick boot.

The siren wailed again. One of the other robots raised its rifle and shot down another dactyl bird. Colonists with their bags of seeds spilled out of the golden ship.

“Dinner,” Walter said to Mildred, lifting her by the hand.

Pain, and something else, found her feeling different. She nodded, following him down into the feeding realm of The Cave.