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April 22, 2010

Boomer Angst, Back Again

A second chance—that’s the delusion. There never was to be but one. We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art. (Henry James)

Come here. I’ll let you glimpse in the window at my mid-lifeness, for Mr. Jim Houston told me, quoting William Morris: “Writing is finding out what I didn’t know about what I knew.” Apply liberally to self. Because I don’t know what’s wrong with me or why, but I do find myself asking myself, “what do you want,” several times a day. Though sometimes the question is: WHAT DO YOU WANT!!!

The severe thing is that I have no consistent answer. The severer thing is that the answer may be that I already have what I really want. It’s become a path to a pathological question, one that everyone I know can eagerly debate to infinity, except those who’ve brainwashed themselves, or are anesthetized, or sold-souls, or are so busy they don’t ask, don’t tell.

There’s a new lottery in Italy that pays a good monthly wage (about triple mine) for life. No millions raining from heaven, but the common sense of paying bills and having a little left for a summer trip or a new bicycle. This is a country in which the wages are so low, they call it the fourth week problem. You can eat pasta and fagioli and keep the lights on for three weeks, then the cash runs out. Most bank accounts contain hundreds of euros, alternating red - black. Squeak.

So do I want dirty money? Financial security, 10-weeks salary a month, the relaxation response? My buddy Mike has always accused me (correctly) of searching for the leisure life, riding the gravy train, taking it E.Z. Would that reduce the tension? But, wait a sec, the poor people I’ve met around the world are often the happier. Couldn’t I just trust that the cash flow will keep flowing like the water cycle and peace out?

So is it spiritual bliss I want? Hell yeah. Only I’m not on any spiritual track so finding something I’m not looking for is gonna be extra hard. I think enlightenment takes more work than luck. Plus I lost my faith about forty years ago. Other than that …

Or do I confuse bliss and peace with tranquilizers and neck massages? Maybe I just want the stress to go down a notch or two, not all the way to zero like a flat line. That sound dangerous, huh? Plus I’ve become a coffee drinker in my old age. Awakeness please.

So I want movement, excitement, rock and roll, shit happenin’, hoppin’ and boppin’? Yeah, I guess, whatever. A rise in my Levis? Hey, let’s not get into that. A hot actress? A wonder woman? My buddy George once said to me, “it’s not that big of a deal.” Extreme wisdom in seven short words. Not worth chasing the bunny’s tail round the track every day.

And while it’s been scientifically proven that men think about sex 99% of the time, I believe that to be high by several points. As Dr. Jane Goodall said, more or less, “Yes, chimps have wars, but that doesn’t mean humans have to have wars. We have the instinct, but we also have self-control.” And self-denial, I add, and self-pity and self-centeredness and self-loathing.

So where’s the power? What big big dream is left? I want … um … I want the Nobel Prize for originality, the Olympic Gold for being me. Will I be a great school teacher? (1970’s) A folk singer? (1980’s) A scholar? (1990’s) A novelist? (2000’s) I can have all these lives in one, but then I can’t have one in one. And I may have passed the expiration date for each career. I am now older, for example, than every player on my baseball team, every player in all of baseball AND the Giants manager (ancient Bruce Bochy’s 4 months younger than I). So though I may train and dream, it is unlikely I’ll make the team. Another job I’ve cut myself out of.

Is it ‘work sucks’ versus ‘find a job you love and never work another day’? To paraphrase Confucius (read ‘confusions’). A promotion, a career, a position of prestige, recognition of professional excellence? Well, in this funny country prestige is bought and sold; professional excellence is punished; a career is a sick joke. So maybe the Sicilians are right: work less is best. Get out of anything you can, the smartest avoid the strenuous. But you can’t get out of one thing.

“What’s that, Martin (tell us wise guy)?”
“You can’t not be yourself.”

If you alone feel a sense of duty, pride in a job well done, a foreign sense of the just-ness of credit earned and given, then you can’t “do as the Romans do.” You gotta be yourself (to be true) simply because you can’t be/do any other way/one. There’s the wild dog metaphor again. In Italian work jargon a “wild dog” is someone who doesn’t play by the rules, someone out of control and, therefore, dangerous. Grrr.

What’s left (he asks in his questioning, questionable anti-sermon)? Dunno. I’m spinning around the Merry-Go-Round without getting anywhere, and the colored lights, the painted horseys, the flashing mirrors, and the tinkling music I liked so much when I was young are giving me the creeps, about to make me puke. I’ve auto-diagnosed some pre-freak-out form of epilepsy. It was fun while it was fun, then it became the Twilight Zone. Dudududu dudududu.

I think more than one person has concluded that we girls just wanna have fun. Then the question becomes, “What do you like?” But I’m a Norski, so the answer is elusive, and the question's unintelligible. We’re worker bees, not lazy street dogs rolling on their backs moaning for a scratch with their legs spread apart. We’re Scandinavian protestants on a mission, not He-Done-ists. Back to the grindstone, boy, like it or not. And a sugar cookie on Christmas. Back to rolling the grindstone up the muddy hill, that is. Sissy.

If I were alone in this feeling of taking myself hostage—mime in a phonebooth—I’d call myself crazy and shut up, but recent conversations with friends my age tell me it’s a crowded boat with no rudder, oars or sail (and no boat). We’re all seasick with no land in sight. Let’s play Charades! I know, let’s sing BINGO!

Hyla Bolsta put it best in her essay (scroll down a couple months). And re-read Ken Kesey’s spiel on the Mystery (also below).

Well, I’d like to blabber on some more, but I gotta get back to work. As Surmelian said: "... writing out of his own bleeding wounds; knowing he is probably the most absurd of men ..."

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: So tell me a story and make it good.
Jeff: A woman has twins and gives them up for adoption. One of them goes to a family in Egypt and is named Amal. The other, who goes to a family in Spain; is named Juan. Years later, Juan sends a picture of himself to his natural mom. Upon receiving it, she tells her husband that she wishes that she also had a picture of Amal. Her husband responds, “If you’ve seen Juan, you’ve seen Amal.”
Mutt: I don’t get it.
Jeff: Tough.
Mutt: Here’s mine, watch out. There were two skunks—Out and In. When In was out, Out was in. One day Out was in, and In was out. Their mother, who was in with Out, wanted In in. “Bring In in,” she said to Out. So Out went out and brought In in. “How did you find him so fast?” the mother asked. “Instinct,” he replied.
Jeff: P.U.

Origin of a Scar

A British friend, let’s call him Neal, had an accident many years ago in Germany. He’s a big burly guy, from up North. He doesn’t talk or dress like John Steed, but he has a gentle charm and can tell a great story. Here’s what happened.

Neal was getting off a train, walking along the platform, when someone asked him directions in English. Being an extremely obliging chap he turned to help the English couple find the exit. Neal speaks fluent German and can read the long signs. He felt a warm glow in his heart for having helped his countrymen on their way in a strange land. As he proceeded down the platform, Neal, who’s about six feet two, wasn’t paying much attention to his surroundings, still glowing with pride for his small Samaritan act, and he bashed his head full on into an overhanging sign.

Why or how the Germans could leave a sign hanging over the railway platform low enough for a tall but not basketball tall fellow to crack his head on is a question with no answer. The fact is that Neal hit his head so hard that he blacked out, fell right there on his back, blood gushing from his forehead.

A thin German woman, not unattractive but clearly quite shaken, was the first to offer assistance by kneeling beside Neal and trying to rouse him. "Geht's dir gut?" Maybe she thought he was dead. However, as she bent over his bleeding face it was too much for her, and she fainted and fell onto Neal with her beautiful bosom right on his face. I cannot say that this felicitous position was what finally aroused Neal’s spirits, but he did come to and awoke under the weight of a strange woman’s boobs.

Naturally, he could not really comprehend the situation, and so he carefully pushed his helper’s limp body off his own, lifting her upwards with his strong arms. His arms may be strong, but Neal was just as sensitive to the sight of blood as his passed-out German friend was. When he raised the woman and saw that her entire chest was covered in blood dripping down onto his face, Neal thought that she was the one bleeding, and the sight made him faint again.

I think I will leave the couple right there on the train platform, wilted but still breathing, sharing their bodies in a ritual of intimacy, the bloody embrace. Not unlike the couples in ancient ballads or Hammer films. Rather touching actually.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Today is Thursday, you know what that means…
Jeff: A special guest? Annette? Spin and Marty?
Mutt: Definitions!
Jeff: You mean like “Alarms: What an octopus is.”?
Mutt: Dockyard: A physician's garden.
Jeff: Pasteurize: Too far to see.
Mutt: Toboggan: Why we go to an auction.
Jeff: Enough. If you want anymore, go look ‘em up in our book: Mutt and Jeff are the Funniest Guys on Earth by Mutt and Jeff.
Mutt: That’s the one. It’s about voyeurism.
Jeff: Right. A peeping tome.
Mutt: Did you know that reading while sunbathing naked makes you well-red?
Jeff: Boy, am I glad I can’t read.

April 13, 2010

Peekaboo, I see you.

A close friend just had both eyes operated on. My spouse recently got new custom-made contacts, and I got new, very progressive lenses for my fashionable yellow spectacles. We can all see better than ever before. It’s a coming into focus from the slightly blurred vision of so many years. It’s a high-definition miracle of new, improved eyesight. It’s a shock.

The houses I see from my balcony all have lovely clear lines; the windows have curtains, and behind the curtains I can finally see dancers, partiers, and couples making love and fighting and murderers disposing of bodies. I can see everything I couldn’t see before, the gold pot at rainbow’s end, the guy in the hood hiding around the corner. Those roadsigns jump out at me, telling me where to go and what to buy. At long last I can tell a strike from a ball even sitting in the upper deck.

There’s a problem with seeing too clearly. 20-20 vision is considered normal (called 10/10 in Europe), but 20-10 is too good, it’s very disturbing to the psyche. Blind people who have had sight restored through surgery, for example, often have serious neuro-perception and adaptation difficulties. Cataract surgery has been around since ancient times, bringing sight to the partially and totally blind. About 3 million procedures are done each year in the U.S. The new awareness is both a joy and a burden.

... she was permanently blind in that eye. A disfiguring layer of scar tissue formed over it, rendering the previously outgoing child self-conscious and painfully shy. Stared at and sometimes taunted, she felt like an outcast and turned for solace to reading and to poetry writing. Although when she was 14 the scar tissue was removed—and she subsequently became valedictorian and was voted most-popular girl, as well as queen of her senior class—she came to realize that her traumatic injury had some value: it allowed her to begin "really to see people and things, really to notice relationships and to learn to be patient enough to care about how they turned out." Who said that? Alice Walker.

I’ve read about people who kill themselves after losing their sight, but also about people who kill themselves after regaining lost sight. Some of the ex-blind become dependent and weak, refusing to socialize. Some continue as if they were blind in a tactile world, ignoring their new sense. The longer they’ve been blind, the harder it is to see. The eyes say yes, the brain and heart say no.

On a small scale, new glasses cause headaches. All those details to process, all that sensual bombardment. It’s tiring for the rusty old wheels. It takes growing into.

Peekaboo [the baby game] is thought by developmental psychologists to demonstrate an infant’s inability to understand object permanence. Object permanence is an important stage of cognitive development for infants. Numerous tests regarding it have been done, usually involving a toy, and a crude barrier which is placed in front of the toy, and then removed, repeatedly. In early sensorimotor stages, the infant is completely unable to comprehend object permanence. Psychologist Jean Piaget conducted experiments with infants which led him to conclude that this awareness was typically achieved at eight to nine months of age. Infants before this age are too young to understand object permanence. A lack of Object Permanence can lead to A-not-B errors, where children reach for a thing at a place where it should not be. (from Wikipedia)

You’re getting my drift, right? All this can be taken metaphorically (duh). Hard to see crude reality, reaching in the wrong place, etc. You can make poetry or philosophy or horror stories from the sight/insight motif. Better wise and weighted-down, or light, happy and stupid? Oops, answer’s in the question. (It is?) As always, the eyes have it.

When I was eight years old I went to visit the Blind Camp, and I was the only sighted kid in camp. But, heck, I’ll tell you about that another time.

Happy trials, Martin

Mutt: Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly, but when they lit a fire in the craft it sank, proving once and for all that you can’t have your kayak and heat it too.
Jeff: I’m sorry for you.
Mutt: Whatever for, my dear friend?
Jeff: You’ve got it all wrong.
Mutt: Well, lay it on me, brother.
Jeff: The husband of Kate was called to court on a charge of bigamy. Kate told the judge that her husband’s other wife, Edith, was causing too much friction in their marriage. The court ruled that he could not have his Kate and Edith too.
Mutt: For the love of Mike!
Jeff: Quite. And I propose we should quit right there.
Mutt: Fine. This one is true though: a polar bear, a giraffe and a penguin walked into a bar. The bartender said, "What is this? Some kind of joke?"
Jeff: Joke? What’s a joke?