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Monday, December 18, 2017
I settled in to making meat pies last Saturday in preparation for Christmas, a tradition I began nearly ten years ago. As someone with a French-Canadian background, meat pies have always been something of a cultural and family touchstone, but I have only recently merged them into Christmas tradition. Christmas had always been at my mother’s house, and then it had been passed to my sister, and then to my wife and I. So we’ve had to make new traditions, but in doing so we searched through our heritage to make sure that what has been has not been forgotten.
For the first time since starting the meat pie tradition, my wife was elsewhere as I started, though she promised to return in time to help me with the crusts. She was at her father’s house, going through his things and deciding what would be given to whom, what would go to Goodwill, and what will be thrown away. Her father is now in hospice, and it will be the first Christmas since her and her siblings were born that he will not be at the home they grew up in, where so many Christmases were spent.
It will also be my first year without my Mother around. She fell ill last Christmas Eve and died soon after. However much we try to hold on to traditions and memories of past holidays, time takes its toll, and some things will never be the same. And yet life goes on, and we attempt to bring what we can with us.
I take out my recipe for meat pies, which is a printed-out discussion I had with my Aunt Eileen via e-mail. Though she died not long after sending me her recipe, as I read the instructions I hear the words spoken in her voice, her personality coming through in her choice of words. She speaks to me every year at this time as she helps guide me through a job I’m not very good at. So long as I live, something of her lives on as well. So long as I hold on to tradition.
My Aunt Esther passed away last week. She was another aunt who was quite good at baking, and I might well have asked for her recipe for meat pies had she been available on the internet. But she was a little more old-fashioned, not there is anything wrong with that. Instead of e-mail, we would get an actual card from her every year at about this time.
I remember when I was a child, all the cards that would flood our mailbox from people who had strayed from our lives but still kept us in our thoughts at this time of year. My mom would proudly display them. So many connections, tenuous, but unbroken. People my parents had known since when they were young, people who they had known since the olden days. I thought of them as being old even in the olden days, but now I am older than they were when I thought such thoughts. We eventually become our parents, we eventually become older than the parents we knew when we were young. Roles are handed down along with traditions.
There will be no more Christmas cards from Aunt Esther or Aunt Eileen, from so many other people who were so important to our family once upon a time. When we went through my mother’s things, there were hundreds of cards she had hung on to. It seems as you get older it gets more difficult to throw things away. But eventually all these connections, like strands of a web, fall away.
As I work, I decide to put on a little music to get me in the spirit. Over Thanksgiving, I went through my mom’s things and brought them to my brother’s, to allow family members to take whatever they might like before bringing the rest to Goodwill. While doing so, I came upon a Glen Miller Christmas CD and that was the music I choose to listen to. It was made for her by my Uncle Paul, also taken from us this year. But listening to the music takes me back to when I was young, and when all of those people now gone were younger than I am now. It speaks to me of another age, one that I can only half-imagine. It must have seemed to those who grew up in such an era that it would last forever, but it is gone now. They are but the further ripples that fade as they echo upon humanity’s consciousness, drifting slowly to nothingness. They are gone but they live in my memory. As much as possible, I want to keep their memory alive.
For the first time I decide to use the leftover pie crust to make petes de soeurs. It sounds like a fancy pastry doesn’t it, but the English translation is “nun farts”. I remember my memere (French Canadian for Grandma) making them, remember enjoying the name as much as the pastry. I remembered it had brown sugar, butter and cinnamon, but I check online to see if there’s a recipe. I’m amazed to see many options out there, how popular petes de soeurs apparently are. You never know what from your childhood will pass away into obscurity and what will continue to thrive. Perhaps it is what we choose to give meaning to, what he hold most dear and refuse to let go.
We try to hold on. So much slips through our fingers however much we want to keep it. And other things—like my mother’s possessions—we must learn to let go of. Cleaning out a parent’s home is so very difficult, because every item was something that had meaning to them, every item was something they chose to keep with them. Each item we throw away feels like a betrayal to their memory, like telling them they didn’t mean much to us. I tell myself they are just things, that they are not what really matters. But in letting go of the physical ties to our loved ones and the past, we are left with nothing very tangible.
We need to find physical items to hold onto, need to know that something endures in a world where so many people are taken from us. But even more important than things are the traditions we are able to maintain. What is the point of anything if it is not worth passing on to future generations?
So I try to save what I can from the wreckage that time inevitably wreaks. Old traditions slip from us, but from them we weave new ones. Like a patchwork quilt we take all that still remains from what once was and attempt to weave it anew into something we can pass on to our children.
I see a new generation growing into positions of power, and I have no desire to force upon them those things I hold dear. But I do want to share with them what has been shared with me. I did not embrace all that my parents told me was right, but what I did I clung to tightly. I want to introduce the younger generation as best I can to my Aunts and Uncles, share with them the memories that stuck to me in hopes that they may gain from them and that their influence may remain. But I have no delusions that those I learned from were flawless, that in the passing from generations nothing need be changed. I love those who came before, just as I love those who are to come. I have no wish to limit them but rather inspire them. I want to give to them what inspired me, and those who have gone before us will never cease to be worthy of influencing us. We need not fear that, and so we need not fear that future generations will ever stop appreciating and learning from those who came before.
What tradition passes on to future generations is every bit as important as what is passed down through our DNA. So long as the line is not entirely broken, nothing is ever truly lost, though it may for a time lie dormant. And like our genes, that which is most applicable in helping us deal with the world we live in will survive while the rest will fall to the side. In this way traditions survive, so long as we do our best to pass them on.
This Wednesday I will be makingmolasses cookies, my favorite. But I will not be making them alone. My daughter-in-law will be helping me. As we bake, I'm sure stories from Christmases past will be shared. In some small way I will be introducing her to people she never had the opportunity to meet.
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
We live in an age where the words decadent and awesome are used interchangeably. Think about it: This chocolate cake is decadent, this chocolate cake is awesome. Now you may say the words are knowingly used out of context, but the more words are misused the less their original meaning has value. When was the last time you heard the words awesome or decadent used in their original sense? I’m sure the last time I came across either of them is while perusing an old book. I can’t recall ever hearing them on television.
When we lose the meaning of such words, the very insight they give us fades away as well. Awe: a mixed feeling of reverence, fear, and wonder, caused by something majestic, sublime, etc. Decadence: a process, condition, or period of decline, as in morals, art, literature, etc. ; deterioration ; decay.
Does anybody see through such eyes anymore? Perhaps on the fringes of society, but even there it is rarer than we would like to think and has less in common with the original intent than those who use them would like to believe. If those in the evangelical movement speak of an awesome God, they do a poor job sharing such an awe through their words and actions. But such words as awesome and decadent and, hence, such insights are utterly absent in our mainstream culture. Concepts that have clung to civilization and have been a major part of what it means to be civilized have vanished, or else been bastardized by advertisers looking to push product.
How did it happen, where did we go wrong? How did we lose understanding of such basic terms? It’s not like we have to agree with them, it’s not like we have to go about using the words decadent and awesome in their correct meaning, but we should at least understand their original meaning before dismissing the ideas the suggest.
It began, I guess, with the advent of modern advertisement. The abuse of language has given us such abominations as “Wessonality” and “manscaping”. It began in a different sense in the 60’s, when a young generation began to question the institutions upon which our society was built. It was a necessary questioning, but the problem was they never got past the questioning stage in order to find answers. As the Baby Boomers grew up, they put aside their quest for answers, settling instead for a reluctance to judge. Judging was what their parents did, and they weren’t going to be their parents.
So they didn’t judge, they accepted. They accepted everything. Instead of forging anew standards and ideas upon which a society could exist, they let it grow wild. Finding no other moral precept than tolerance, which was just a lazy way of avoiding building new ways of building a better society, we abandoned society’s moral structures. But abandoned buildings are breading grounds for vermin.
With no moral guidance from the Baby Boomers who were now in positions of power, money became the only motivating factor. With Boomers unwilling to become moral leaders, to say after lengthy contemplation and discussion that “this is good for us” or “this is bad for society”, profit was the only morality left standing. If you could make money doing something, it was good. If you couldn’t, it was bad. A nice simple replacement for those complex moral problems mankind has been grappling with since the beginning of time. Let the market sort it out. When you think about it, there really is no difference in saying “Let the market sort it out” than “Kill them all, let God sort them out”. Both take away any responsibility from the actor and his behavior and place it on an invisible and unknowable agent.
So money became the new morality. And English majors fresh out of school, their minds swimming with the deepest thoughts of the wisest thinkers, were thrust into a world that cares not a whit about Plato, Shakespeare, or Goethe. But there are people willing to pay graduates who know how to argue persuasively: advertising and marketing firms. Thus, those who are entrusted with holy and meaningful words such as “awesome” and “decadent” find different purposes for them.
When words like awesome and decadent have no more relevance to society than words like “crunchewy”, we have lost a vital insight into our world, our society, our existence. We can no longer see the world through the eyes of the world’s greatest thinkers, we see it through child’s eyes. For marketers have long ago learned to speak in emotional rather than intellectual language.
Again, it is up to the individual to accept or reject the ideas that such words suggest, but it is crucial we understand the terms and what they mean. It is crucial we gain the perspective that seeing from such a lofty height gives. The world we live in now is one built upon a single and simplistic notion, that the pursuit of money and what it can provide is the answer to all of humanity’s deepest needs and aspirations. There needs to be individuals and institutions willing to give a counter-argument to such a powerful and, yes, decadent notion.
Monday, November 20, 2017
I have in my possession the memories of another. While attending a play recently, Wait Until Dark, I bought a few raffle tickets to help support the players and the theater. Well, it turned out I won, and what I thought was baskets containing gifts for multiple winners all went to me. Gift certificates to local restaurants and elsewhere, a wall clock, a basket of champagne, and a doll that was a central prop in the play.
This antique doll, so out of place in our home with no children, stares at me and asks me to invest in it meaning. She sits and waits upon my judgment as to what her fate will be. Is she to be cherished or dismissed, placed upon a shelf with pretty and delicate things or thrown in a box to be brought to Goodwill or, Heaven forbid, bagged and taken to the dump. Quite a burden to be placed on my shoulders. I never expected to win, and if I did I only really had my eyes on the champagne. I did not ask for this, but it has been thrust upon me and I now feel responsible for it.
How did I end up with it anyway? Why was it not given to one of the cast members, the female lead or the high-schooler playing the part of the young girl, a reminder of something they once held so dear? Have they so quickly moved on from something they invested so much of their time, talent, and efforts? For truly such an undertaking must have been a major commitment. A live performance of a full-length play is not something that can be accomplished lightly. Sacrifices must have been made by all involved, bonds must have been established, memories created…and then gone. A few nights live in front of an audience and it is all over, to be discarded like a prop that no longer has any use.
Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Shakespeare understood my thoughts. I wonder what where his feelings upon closing a show he had worked so hard to stage? Did he truly think it was the end or did he somehow know his plays would still be popular hundreds of years after his death?
That (among other reasons) is why I have chosen to be a writer rather than a performer, because I hold forth the (perhaps foolish) hope that what I create might outlive me. I dislike the notion of things going to waste, which explains why I sit here and ponder over the fate of this doll that is now in my possession. How wonderful and how generous of artists to give of so completely of their talent and then freely let go, saying goodbye to what has been and moving on to the next adventure. And what a precious gift it is to the audience to be able to share all of your hard work in the moment. I wish to honor your gift by hanging on to the memory you have created for me and for all those who attended your performances.
And there is the conundrum: you live in the moment and I seek something more. You are able to let go and I am reluctant to do so. Is not something worthwhile worth holding on to?
Yet those who are unwilling to let go of memories soon find themselves with basements cluttered with items too precious to part with, also known to the outside eye as “junk”. I can see myself on a future episode of Hoarders, the man who could let go of nothing. My fear, though, is that once I’ve started letting go, I won’t know when to stop, that once I admit one thing is not important I will come to see that nothing is really important. Once I let go my grip, everything shall fall from my fingers. Like it was for Macbeth, nothing shall mean anything to me any longer.
So here I sit and contemplate the fitting future of a doll that in reality has no actual feelings except those I and others invested in it. Because I don’t know where to draw the line between what matters and what doesn’t. Because someone gave to me what by rights belongs to another. Because we live in a world that too lightly tosses things and people and memories aside when they no longer interest us. Perhaps it is because I do not want to be tossed aside so lightly when I am no longer of any use or interest to others. Which is why I write, and I contemplate, so that perhaps my words might take on meaning and purpose of their own. Perhaps they may take up residence in the basement of someone’s soul. Or perhaps I would be content to have them amuse you for a brief span of time, like the actors who worked so hard to mirror for us the lives we briefly walk through. Somewhere between the past and the now lies meaning, there has to be. For if there is no meaning, there is no future, no point in what has been or what we are doing now.
Sunday, November 19, 2017
When I was young I killed a snake. I wasn’t alone, I was with a couple of other kids, but since my memories are of my own feelings and behavior, I will relate the story without mentioning the others. The memory of what I did disgusts me now, but at the time it seemed like an ordinary thing to do. Killing was something people did. I saw it every night on TV, on cop shows and war movies, everybody did it. You just had to be one of the good guys, that’s all, and it had to be a bad guy you killed. Those were the rules, and if you played by them, it didn’t matter how many you killed. You might disagree, but that was the impression I got and those where the rules as I understood them.
Animals were a different story, I suppose, but if you were looking for a bad guy, you couldn’t get a better animal to fill the role than a snake. But it was okay to kill animals, I was taught that early on. Animals, at least the fierce kind, were always being killed by explorers and super heroes in the adventure books and comic books I read. It was a sign of virility that Tarzan could kill a lion with nothing but a knife. I can still remember the line from the Davey Crockett song: “killed a bear when he was only three”. I couldn’t have been more than four years old when I heard that.
So I saw a snake in the grass one day and decided it needed to die. As I followed it, I picked up a rock. It wanted nothing to do with me, was attempting to get away. But it had committed the sin of occupying some of the earth that still belonged to nature and not to man, the grass that was allowed to grow around the houses that spread out all across suburbia.
I got close enough and I threw the rock at it, hit it. I played a lot of ball and had a pretty good arm. I hurt it, knew I did, but it was still attempting to squirm away from me, injured though it was. I found I really had no heart for this endeavor, but knew I had to finish what I had begun. If you’re going to injure a snake, you have to kill it. But damn, I had no idea how hard it was to kill a snake with a rock, because the snake really wanted to live and I discovered I really found the whole process most unpleasant.
Someone more adept at killing would have made shorter work of it, would have made the snake suffer less, but I could barely allow myself to see what I was doing. I felt a horror inside of me and the only thing that allowed me to continue was that I was able to project this horror for my own actions onto the snake.
I began to feel a great hatred for the snake, I imagined it to be the symbol and totem of all that was bad in the world. The more I injured it the more I hated it, because of the mindset my actions forced me into, a world of hatred and violence, of blood and death. I had to believe it wanted to cause me violence, because that was the only way to justify mine. I needed to believe that snakes and humans were incompatible and eternal enemies, because what the hell else could make me feel so almighty awful inside?
In truth, the snake had done nothing to me, it had only sought to exist in a world dominated by man and his constructions and his possessions. It only wanted to live its life in my neighborhood.
There was blood now, indistinguishable to my eyeball from my own blood, or the blood of my mother or my dog. It was blood, the universal life-giving fluid, the universal symbol of violence and death. And still the snake lived, though its life now was nothing but agony. The deed still needed to be finished. I discovered that throwing the rock was not going to get the job done. It was easier for me to throw it, because it somehow distanced me somewhat from the violence. Eventually, in order to finish the job, I had to use the rock like a club, get up close and personal about it, intimately involved so that I could no longer have any illusions about what I was doing.
And having finished it, the immediate desire was to wipe it from my memory, to distance myself as much from it as possible. The dead thing I gazed at was far more repulsive than the live snake it had been a moment ago. I would have buried it if I could, but instead I picked it up with a stick and flung it in an out of the way place. “There is evil in the world,” I thought to myself, “evil that is best to keep distanced from the ordinary world we live in.” For a long time there was a dark spot in my mind in that corner of the yard between two fences where I flung the evidence of what I had done.
I behaved the way I did because I knew no better. If I had had an older brother who owned a pet snake, I wouldn’t have done what I did. Had I lived in a family or a time or a culture that respected nature and all life more, I never would have done it. But I was born in an era that still believed nature was something that needed to be conquered.
I was disgusted by the incident, though at the time I didn’t fully understand why. But had I lived in a different situation, one where violence was expected of me, I’m sure I would have learned in time to ignore the feelings of horror and revulsion and eventually take pride in the violent actions I participated in as long as society approved of it.
I don’t seek to avoid blame by shifting it to society, indeed the point of this essay is that we should not look away from the evil that we do or rationalize or excuse it. But the fact is had I been raised in a different culture, I wouldn’t have behaved in a way that was so obviously against my nature. And as much as the individual is responsible for his own actions, he is also responsible for shaping the culture he is part of. If we continue to accept a culture that sees the individual as completely separate from the larger world, then we will continue to shape a culture that justifies violence, the us against them mindset in which conflict is inevitable.
Nature has been conquered by man now, as much as it ever can be while continuing to support man’s existence. The point of view that directed or at least suggested my deed to me is no longer acceptable or workable in the reality we now face. We must come to realize that we cannot continue to live in violent opposition to nature but must find a way to peacefully coexist with it. The change we must make is fundamental and profound. We must switch from perceiving anything or anyone that is not our immediate friend, family, or countryman, as enemies which excuse our violence and hatred.
We must stop viewing what takes place within that narrow bit of nature that we call a yard as our domain where we are absolute masters. We must stop viewing ourselves as apart from nature and the rest of humanity and start seeing ourselves as a part of it. Only then will we be able to see violence as the destructive force it is, incapable of making a better world or a better future.
Wednesday, November 15, 2017
I write these words with a ringing in my ear, an aching in my shoulders, and a firm conviction never to do anything ever again. The next time we require a new smoke alarm for our house, we shall simply move.
My wife and I decided it was time to get a new smoke alarm. I’m not sure what put that idea in our heads, but I’m willing to bet it was our way of avoiding doing actual housework in order to go shopping. In my lifetime I’ve spent a lot of money in order to get out of the house where countless projects await. The problem is that once you go shopping, you end up with one more project sitting at home for you. The trick is to go shopping, buy whatever junk food is on sale, and conveniently forget that item that had originally justified your trip. That way you can say you tried, you will get to it another day, and you have bags of junk food to eat while watching TV. The ideal Saturday afternoon.
The problem with bringing your wife along is she usually remembers that pesky item you’d be so willing to forget. She won’t be the one installing it after all, so it’s no skin off her nose. All of the shopping, none of the work, and half of the junk food: a pretty good deal for her.
Not only does she remember to purchase the offensive and utterly unnecessary item, within a few weeks, she actually reminds you that it needs to be installed. I suppose the piles of purchased items sitting on the kitchen counter can sometimes get in the way of her dinner preparations.
I, on the other hand, have become so used to the sight of the smoke alarm sitting on the kitchen counter that I no longer notice it. It’s like that coffee mug I never use but sits on a shelf because it was a gift and I don’t know how to get rid of it. But eventually the constant drone of reminders threatens to become more piercing than the sound that awaits me when I test the fire alarm, and I am urged into reluctant action.
It’s not a big deal, I tell myself. It’s just a smoke alarm. This is a ten minute project, tops. Unscrew the old one, throw it in the trash, and screw the new one back in. I cut open the plastic container to appraise my quarry, and the first pangs of regret are upon me. Why the hell do they have to package these things the way they do? Why can’t you just have a cardboard box that opens up, why do I have to awkwardly cut through unyielding plastic, being very careful not to cut the instructions that inconveniently spill to the very edge of the plastic.
Ah, the instructions. 36 pages of instructions, I kid you not. This is not going to be a ten minute project. Evelyn Wood couldn’t read the instructions in ten minutes. Granted, only half of those are in English, but I’m having a hell of a time figuring which is which. The instructions start on step 3, and I unfold the accordion-like piece of paper searching for the beginning.
After turning the instruction sheet over like five times trying to find step one, I finally eye it. Oops, my bad, it’s numero uno. If only I had taken my Spanish studies more seriously I could get started on this damn smoke alarm.
Some men throw away the instructions and figure it out themselves. Others read and obey the instructions thoroughly. Me, I choose the worst of both worlds. I read step one, realize I’m already on step three, and then have to go back to step two to figure out what I missed. My eyes glaze over as paragraph after paragraph warn me about stupid things like how I should not touch the 9-volt to my tongue or stick it in my ear. God, the amount of warnings is insane. Nobody dumb enough not to know such things is intelligent enough to read the warnings.
So I bounce back and forth between directions, bounce back and forth between trying to figure it out on my own and having questions I need answered. I bounce back and forth between number five and number four…oops, that’s numero quatro. I read enough to believe I have a fair idea of what I’m doing (I lie, I have no idea what I’m doing, I just got sick of reading unnecessary details like how screwing in a clockwise direction will tighten, not loosen, the screw).
So I’m now standing on the step stool which is just tall enough to convince me I can reach the smoke alarm, and just short enough to force me to the upper limits of my tippy-toes. I have my multi-tip screwdriver in hand, phillips tip inserted, the rest jangling within the handle in case a phillips won’t do. Which of course it doesn’t. So I unscrew the lid of the handle and accidentally spill the tips on the floor. As I pick them up, I look at each one and see assorted shapes so unusual that they were never discussed in my high school geometry class. Screwdriver options that I have never required nor will I ever require. In what parallel universe do they use the star-shaped head and what unusual set of circumstances caused it to find its way into mine? Why, Dear Sweet Jesus, why did they feel it necessary to give me not one but two hexagon sizes to choose from? And where the hell is the flat head?
I scan the floor, looking first in the most obvious place, and slowly work out from there. I get flat on my stomach to peer under the refrigerator. I ask myself where I would go if I was a flat-head screwdriver attachment. I briefly consider torching the house myself and then remember that the insurance won’t cover it if they discover the smoke alarm wasn’t installed.
The circle widens as my hopes for ever finding it continues to shrink. I am now left with two options: I am losing my mind and cannot find something that only fell a few feet onto carpeting, or else there never was a flathead screwdriver attachment, that it had already been misplaced long ago. I choose option number two because I want to cling to the illusion of being sane for a while longer yet, and also because I do have other options. In the garage, I know, are two tool boxes, each containing an ample assortment of screwdrivers. This thing shall yet be done. I am a man, I can do this.
Optimism accompanies me on my walk to the garage. It is still with me as I opt for toolbox A rather than toolbox B to begin my search. It shouldn’t matter which one I choose, there must be at least one flathead screwdriver in each of them. I open up Toolbox A and am happy to see a plethora of yellow and black colored handles within. I grab one, a phillips. I grab another, also a phillips. Each failure brings me closer to success. Another phillips, what are the odds? One last screwdriver to go, this has to be it. The laws of the universe dictate it must be a flathead, the law of averages not to mention moral laws compel it to be so. Except it isn’t. I gaze into the inky depths of the toolbox, see the wooden handled screwdriver and make one last desperate grab not only at a phillips screwdriver, but at my fast-vanishing sanity. Phillips.
The second toolbox contains a flathead, apparently the only one I own. I put the rest of the tools back, the process of actually fitting them back to allow the lid to close as difficult as it was with the first one. I march back into the house, get back on my tippy-toes and strain to reach the screw. My bifocals are useless in helping me see the small object as it lies at the top of my vision. I try and I try until suddenly the revelation is inescapable: perhaps it was a phillips screw after all.
It was. It was just one of those poor fitting phillips that is too small for the large phillips and too large for the small phillips. It’s one of those you-can-unscrew-it-but-it’s-going-to-take-every-ounce-of-will-you-have phillips.
My shoulders ache. My toes ache as I balance on them in a way that makes me wish for ballerina slippers. I consider trading the stool for a chair, but damn it, this should NOT BE SO DAMN DIFFICULT. A while later I realize the chair is needed.
Those things I considered before I began my task go quickly enough. Until I get to the “insert battery” step. You would think this would be the easy step, wouldn’t you? Except there’s this red lever that sticks up, making it impossible to close the lid to the battery. I consider simply breaking it of but worry about the consequences. I have come so far, so far. I can do this. I want to make my wife proud. Well, at least not ashamed. Taking a deep breath, I peruse the instruction sheet one more time.
And in the end I succeed. The alarm is tested and installed. It sits upon the ceiling ready to traumatize my dog the next time I leave bread in the toaster too long. I am a man. I am a doer. I am…exhausted.
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
I took my dog for a walk on a fine fall day yesterday, and while we shared the journey, we were soon lost in our own worlds. My attention was grabbed by the endless variety of leaves—even in my own neighborhood—all differently exhibiting the effects of a turn to colder weather. Meanwhile my dog was more interested in the smells that lay at the base of the trees, so much so that she often resisted when I tried to urge her onward when she wasn’t finished.
Each tree had a different response to the change of season. Some were already quite bald, while others were still relatively green. Some trees seemed to lose their leaves as if they had contracted a disease, the leaves developing black splotches. Others turned brown at the edges, as if slowly being overcome with rot. Still others turned riotous colors, determined to go down in a blaze of glory. Some trees were dressed in red, others orange, still others a most definite pink, fragile yet angelic like memories of my grandmother.
And then, while indulging my dog in a particularly intense sniffing session, I chanced to gaze upon a single leaf. It contained a black spot, surrounded by brown, edged by orange, then going into red and finally green.
The thought struck me suddenly that there was more complexity within that single leaf than ever I could hope to understand with my intellect. It had a personal history that made it the size it was, had a more recent history which caused it to be the colors it now was. It had a variety of veins bringing nourishment from branches, even as it transformed the sun’s light into energy for the tree. Millions of cells composed of billions of atoms, each placed in their proper position to do their job, each encoded with genetic information distinct to the tree it belongs to.
If my mind was incapable of truly understanding this single leaf, how then was it expected to make sense of the billions of leaves I saw on my walk, not to mention everything else I encountered? How was I expected to know not only a small thing in itself but its relationship to the myriad other pieces of the universe that are constantly interacting and affecting each other?
Then I glanced at my dog, who was still exploring the world around her in her own fashion. She was absorbing information through her nose the way I was with my eyes, in a way I could never hope to understand. She perceived the universe through her dog senses in a way completely different than me, and yet it was enough to permit her to function within it. Her search for information was as important to her as mine was to me, if perhaps a trifle less reflective. Each scent told her something useful, provided her clues that might alert her to potential food or danger. But she, like me, was living in her own little bubble, no more aware of it than most of us are.
I couldn’t help thinking that if there was any lesson to be learned that it was how much we do not know. If we ever hope to be even slightly wise, the most important thing to remember is how lacking our intellects are. Intellectual humility must be our defining guide in life. To be proud of being smarter than another is like a child who brags about having captured more of the ocean’s water than a child with a smaller pal.
Meanwhile my dog continued to sniff, indifferent to my thoughts. I realize that perhaps the nose can tell us more about our world than our thoughts can. A person surrounded by pleasant smells is usually happier than one who is not. I trust my nose far more than my intellect, trust my ability to smell spoiled milk more than I trust the date listed on the container.
But beyond even my sense of smell, beyond the accumulated information my collective senses provide, there is the internal sense of well-being that is more important in explaining to us our relationship to the world. Define it how you will, philosophically, psychologically, or spiritually, there is a way of perceiving the world that leads us to life, health, and happiness that is far superior to the intellect. It is more than time we quiet our intellects and listen attentively to whatever information that sense is providing us.
Tuesday, October 24, 2017
I remember, as a child, first encountering my shadow. It was a beautiful bright summer day. I was in the backyard running with the energy of a child when suddenly I became aware of something following me. I turned and saw on the bright grass a darkness that ran as I ran. It was following me.
I remember the fear it caused in me. It seemed something I had been unaware of all this time, and now here it was. I could not shake it, it pursued me, matched me step for step. I looked at my mother, as frightened children do, hoping she could save me from this thing that would not leave me be. But she only laughed and told me it was my shadow. This did not make me feel any better. I ran, I dodged, but I could not shake it, could not even momentarily confuse it or slow it down.
I don’t remember how long it took me to get used to it, to understand it and realize it had no power over me. It only echoed my movement, could do nothing to me. But I eventually learned it was nothing to worry about. As a matter of fact, thinking of it was a waste of time. Nothing I could do in regard to it would ever make my life any better.
I’m an adult now, and yet there are moments I find myself still reacting to the shadows. I’m still tempted to take arms against them, to respond to their actions, forgetting that they can only respond to me. Too often we feel we must battle the darkness, that the cause of good is to combat evil, the cause of life to combat death. We spend so much time battling evil and death that we forget to concentrate on goodness and life.
Evil will always exist. It clings to our every movement, seeking to divert the power of good to its own designs. The true power evil has is that it is capable of distracting us from the good. We react to evil when we could be enjoying and participating in the good.
Death will always exist. It is inevitable and will consume all in time, but it cannot erase the time we are given, cannot take from us the allotted days we possess unless we spend our days thinking about death rather than living our lives.
Shadows exist everywhere, but they mean nothing. They have no power except what we bestow upon them. To worry about evil is to prevent our ability to spread goodness. To obsess about death is to distract us from the miracle of life we are given. I once ruined a beautiful summer day by worrying about the shadow that followed me. I will try my best to never again ruin another precious day.
Thursday, October 19, 2017
We have become so afraid of looking like hypocrites that we no longer try to be better than we are.
I have the same amount of energy I had when I was a child of 8. Unfortunately, I now have four times the body mass to push around, and it now flows through joints that are resistant to movement.
I think what has largely been forgotten in the last 20 years or so is the timeless idea of passing down to the next generation what has taken a lifetime to learn. Rather than transferring the lessons we have learned from our parents, we are now feverishly trying to follow what is the newest trend, abandoning everything once considered to be holy, sacred, wisdom.
Just because you believe passionately about something does not make it true. In fact, it kind of undercuts your beliefs if you are so dogmatic about them that you never stop to question them.
There is nothing so good for writing as doing a bit of gardening, and there is nothing so bad for gardening as being a writer.
It’s hard to believe in ten years I’m going to wish I was the age I am now.
Cynicism is not a road that leads anywhere but a resignation to stagnation and a commitment to unhappiness.
There is no virtue in pointing out the ugly truths of life without providing alternatives or accommodating hope. It’s called cynicism, and it is equivalent to a doctor cutting open his patient without actually performing an operation.
In law, the life of an animal is worth nothing unless it is owned. In other words, it is property not a life form. We need to develop a way of seeing the world that goes beyond this.
Does saving money always increase your happiness? Buying ice cream by the gallon rather than the pint saves you money, but not calories. Life is not so simple that you can evaluate it by a metric like money.
It is not war, or people like Charles Manson or Adolph Hitler that make me question the existence of God, but things like toenail fungus and tape worm. Why God, why?
Americans don’t have roots, they have routes. They don’t have homes, they have travel plans. Other countries have edifices that have stood a thousand years, the U.S. has Route 66. Balzac wrote about a city, Kerouac about a road. Shakespeare wrote about history and the return of the natural balance, Thomas Wolfe spoke of further.
Primitive humans did not know how bees helped pollinate flowers or how photosynthesis worked, but they knew how to live in harmony with nature. They knew her secrets without cutting her open and sticking her under a microscope.
We don’t need to tear things down, we need to build things up. We need not destroy but create. The old will rot on its own, it is the young that needs tending.
All literature is children’s literature nowadays. The only thing that separates children’s literature from adult literature is swear words, excessive violence and overt sexual descriptions, and those are slowly filtering down to younger and younger audiences. In the past, an author had to be clever in order to avoid censorship, find a way of saying something that could be both innocent and extremely dirty.
Why are we all rushing through life? What is it we think awaits us at the end?
I see people, in thinking they can make the world a better place, race into the turbulent waters of discontent. Like waves crashing into one another, they seek to make things right by opposing force with force. They see the turmoil and they want to correct it, but they only become a part of it. If you wish to end the conflict and chaos, do not dive into the maelstrom but instead raise islands. This is what we need more than ever, since the constant conflict has erased from our minds any thought of consistency. They have swallowed the islands up, and the islands, being made of sand, were easily brought low. It is our job to build, it has always been our job to build.
Technologies do not develop if we don’t tolerate them. There is no such thing as baby shock collars, though they would be easy to create. The surprising thing is that we tolerate so much of what we now have.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
Have you ever, in a public place, walked past someone and have the urge, not to ignore them but to look into their eyes and smile, to acknowledge that we are all sharing a similar journey, and that life can sometimes by very beautiful?
Not seeing him or her as a potential threat or sexual conquest, not judging them or fearing being judged, but simply seeing another sentient soul, someone capable of spirituality and kindness, of love and charity, of beautiful thoughts and an openness to awe.
For that briefest of moments you are not comparing yourself to them or them to you. You do not feel jealousy for what they possess nor pity for what they do not. You feel only unity, similarity, oneness.
And though the moment is brief, it stays with you, that person stays with you. He or she is a friend to you, though you have only shared a glimpse, because they have affirmed for you your connectedness to the world beyond the physical. It has shown you that no matter your physical or economic state there is a beauty deep inside all of us more important than all other matters.
This happened to me today, at least I like to think it did. I like to think the other person involved shared in that briefest of moments the openness and goodwill I shared in a glancing smile. I do not know for sure, will never know, but I like to believe that in some small way I was capable of making someone feel what I felt. And who knows, perhaps that feeling was not born in me but was inspired by the other person. Perhaps it was something we both created together. Or perhaps it is something that is always there and we were both fortunate enough to witness it at the same moment
Of course, it could all be in my imagination. Perhaps I am a silly dreamer who imagines what does not exist. But the alternative would be to deny that such an occurrence could ever take place, to cut oneself off from being open to each day’s potential miracles and magic. I prefer my approach. And in that spirit, I hope I am able to share it with you.
Saturday, October 7, 2017
Madness whispers a little louder to me every day. as sanity’s offerings continue to pale. Wonder and awe or dark drudgery.
“Why not?” she speaks softly, seductively. “Why not?” And what answers I can muster come from far away as if muttered by another’s lips.
Let me be mad. Let me drift beyond the boundaries sanity has lain out for me. Sanity kills dogs and grandmothers, it hands out parking tickets and extinguishes color. It need not be.
“There is another way,” she says, her voice ripe with brightness and hope. “You can choose.”
As I drag myself to the dark dungeons of truth she holds out her hand to me and pleads, “I am yours.”
Her laughter is beguiling, the laughter of youth. She speaks of butterflies and bright blue skies while reality talks of factories and polluted seas but its voice is one of authority. Madness, madness is me.
Reality is a cage, a boundary, a prison, a resignation. It is what is left after every other option has been exhausted and extinguished. Reality is despair, it is a sad surrender. It is social security for the tired soul, the old folk’s home, a morgue for the body that awaits the grave.
Reality is a pre-arranged marriage made by my parents without my consent. Its laws were laid out by those long dead, a corpse’s hand clawing the face of the future. It is written in code to coax the mind to betray the heart.
Reality unites us in thought, but madness unites us in spirit.
Monday, October 2, 2017
(This post has some harsh points of view and probably won't win me any friends. Why post it, then? Because it needs to be said.)
When I read a review of a new book or movie or album that tells you how completely it satisfied the reviewer’s criteria, it makes me want to puke.
So you, the reviewer, wish to be satisfied on every level. You spend your money and you expect to get the utmost satisfaction in return. To you it is all a business transaction.
You know what you sound like, don’t you? You sound like someone visiting a brothel. Before the financial transaction begins, you explain to your partner for hire what it is you expect, what you want her to do, and how much you are willing to pay for the services rendered.
This is not how it works, at least when it comes to art. Now maybe you don’t want art, and that is fine. But if that is the case, don’t pretend you’re judging your experience at that level. Let’s call the transaction what it is: a greasy trade of money for titillation and satisfaction of your baser desires. Don’t try to elevate it.
Let me tell you a little something about art. I know, your college English professor taught you everything there is to know on the subject, and you never once bothered to question his intent. He led you into a cozy little room stuffed with old books with gilt covers and there he seduced you. He lured you into a world of fine ideas while slowly separating those fine and beautiful ideas from the world in which ordinary people live. In short, he showed you the world that should be while increasing the gap between that world and the world that is.
And you bought it. He showed you a world in which you were better than the money changers and the manual laborers and the small-minded businessmen. He created for you a refuge you could hide in when the real world got to be too much. You were better than that. You were apart from it.
Except you weren’t, not really. You see, there was a price to pay for this refuge from the real. You had to protect the sacred vision and so you had to do whatever was necessary in order to hide it away from the ugly world.
In other words, in order to save the lovely visions of the possibility of a better world, you had to detach it from the reality that would tear it to pieces. Like an overprotective parent who believed their child too precious for the world, you kept your precious hidden. In truth, you did not have enough faith in what you cherished to place it in the outside world, permit it to survive or wither according to its vitality and rightness.
You created a fantasy world for yourself. You took the external trappings of stories, the kind that lure children into a deeper understanding of the world, and you abandoned the deeper truths the storytellers were trying to share. And you did so because those deeper aspects of your reading would have required you to reconnect to the outside world. You would have had to commit to such ideals, put them to the test, and you were afraid to do that.
You saw the beautiful words in Hamlet but you did not see inside the heart of the man who struggled with the existential essence of his life and dilemma. You never bothered to see deep enough into the character nor the man who wrote it. You excused yourself by calling Shakespeare an unfathomable genius rather than plunging into the depths of his genius the way one who appreciated genius would. You feared where such genius would lead you, and at the same time you feared not appreciating an acknowledged classic. Sometimes your tepid little soul even sought to pass your tepid little judgment on a great work, a profound work, by adding your advice on how the work or the author or the character was lacking.
You detached yourself from the essence of all that art is, because it frightened you. It was too bright, it was too brilliant. It pushed you away from your quiet reading spot, shoved you out the front door into the big bad world you wanted no part of, just as Gandalf pushed Bilbo into adventures that were more easily read about than lived. You wanted to believe in wizards, you just didn’t want them showing up in your neck of the woods.
Art is not a sterile thing. It is not meant merely as a distraction from the real world, not some abstract but beautiful and ornate creation upon which we can for a moment ignore the uglier aspects of our lives. No, art is intimately tied to our lives. It makes us see our lives, our reality, in new ways, makes us less satisfied with what is so that we can work upon creating what should be. It is a map that can lead us to places we never would have imagined. But instead of following that map, we too often frame it and hang it upon the wall.
It is the artist’s job to make you see things from a different point of view. It is the artist’s job to make you uncomfortable. You must enter into the relationship with these expectations. It is not that the artist is above you, superior to you, it is that the artist has spent a great deal of his time and attention on a particular line of thought that he puts before you and wants you to consider. It is his job, it is the one area where he is, through endless hours of research and practice, qualified to give you his expert advice. He is no different than a doctor or a mechanic, but like them, it is his job to tell you the facts, not tell you what you want to hear and make you feel cozy.
So this is art. Maybe you’re not interested in art, maybe you think art is shit. That’s all well and good, just don’t pretend it doesn’t exist. Don’t pretend that everything that is worth writing needs to conform to your criteria. It is easy as the reviewer to believe you can criticize without being criticized in return. But reviewing is a job as well—a review, a work--and as such it is worthy of criticism itself. If you cannot or do not relate to deeper aspects of a work, you leave yourself open to criticism. It is like judging a piece of music solely on the lyrics and rhythm, ignoring the melody.
Artists aren’t here to amuse you. We have all been amused for too long. As Neil Postman said, we are amusing ourselves to death. No, it is not my job to amuse you but to awaken you, to bring you from your extended adolescence into adulthood. To lead you from amusement to amazement. This is not a bad thing. No, it is a wonderful thing. Magic is not something that exists only in the mind of a child. It exists, really exists, only to the adult mind capable of perceiving it in all its glory. It is not so frightening, you merely need to take the next step…
Wednesday, September 27, 2017
I've developed the habit of looking at countless pictures in order to help me get a feel for the subject matter that goes into my novels. I think it started in Perchance To Dream, but it really became necessary when I began writing not in the present but of events that took place 100 years ago. I needed to describe an era I had never experienced, and I needed to get a feel for it. I also read a considerable amount and watched movies that were both from and about the time, but that is beyond the scope of this post.
My point is, the search for images leads to interesting discoveries. I thought I'd share some of the more unusual ones with you. They are not only oddities, but they might also give you an insight into the book I'm writing (no name, as of yet).
My point is, the search for images leads to interesting discoveries. I thought I'd share some of the more unusual ones with you. They are not only oddities, but they might also give you an insight into the book I'm writing (no name, as of yet).
Here is a painting of Mary and Jesus. Gaze at it for a moment, and let me know what you think:
Yes, the blonde-haired Jesus is a little odd, but not too much so considering Europe's bias in favor of a European Jesus. But the artist of this particular one is Adolph Hitler. As I don't consider myself a student of art, I'm unable to give an intelligent opinion of the work, but I'd appreciate any comments.
The rise of Hitler was a gradual one, having its roots in the first World War. Germany was a defeated nation, a people that had spilled the young men onto the battlefield only to have them returned old in spirit and infirm in body. Postwar Germany, like other nations, had to adapt to millions of men who were bearing the scars of war. Below are shown the many attachments available to those who lost a hand or hands in the war. Not pictured are the spoon and fork attachments that helped amputees in the simple task of eating.
The reparations demanded by England and France for their losses in the war were more than Germany could cope with. Desperate to continue to make payments while keeping their economy afloat, The Weimar Republic did what so many others have done: they printed more money, devaluing their currency in order to delay for a time dealing what were impossible demands. What began as an unwise response quickly spiraled into an insane situation, as inflation hit the Germans in a way it never has anywhere before or since.
Money became so useless people used it as wallpaper and even fuel for the fire. Rather than saving, people rushed to spend their money as soon as they were paid before it became useless. Seeing no future, people began to live for the moment. They spent their money on cocaine and drinks at strip bars. People who had saved their whole lives found they had nothing, while those who spent recklessly discovered their debts easily forgiven.
Hitler believed that since he was a symbol to the German nation, that he was married to the German nation, and thus never married his longtime love interest, Eva Braun. She was always kept in the background, never mentioned and only incidentally photographed. This photograph being a rather unusual exception. Here we see Eva Braun in black face. Given the extreme racial policies of the time, this seems almost a harmless bit of fun by comparison. Yes, it expresses ignorance, but it does not demonstrate the willful hatred her beloved showed for virtually every ethnicity that was not Germanic. It was more an imitation of what Al Jolson and others in America were doing.
Here's the Eva Braun who caught Hitler's eye:
Hitler eventually did marry Eva Braun, but not until their very last day alive. Hiding in their bunker, the Soviets bombarding Berlin, Eva Braun and Adolph Hitler were married underground, only to commit suicide a short time after.
Nothing says Christmas so much as eggnog, sharing presents, and swastikas. When the Nazis came to power, everything was co-opted. Everything needed to reflect the ideals of the Third Reich. Nothing was sacred except the party and its leader:
A couple of propaganda posters, basically saying that Jews and communists will destroy the world if you do not support Hitler's fight against them. Yes, it's propaganda and evil propaganda at that, but you can see how it could be effective.
Just want to give some idea of the size of the rallies that took place during the Nazi era. It must have felt wonderful to be part of a crowd so large and so uniform. Deep within all of us is a desire to belong to something larger. This is actually a very beautiful thing, but it unfortunately can be manipulated into becoming a very bad thing.
Friday, September 22, 2017
Another set of truth missiles aimed at the heart of preconceived notions and complacency. Little tablets that, once ingested, will open your mind to new perspectives...and a few attempts at humor.
My problem as a writer is that—whenever I meet someone for the first time—I immediately invent for them a personality and background that are invariably more interesting than the ones they possess. And confirming this character to be uninteresting after a few minutes of conversation, I decide that they are unnecessary to my story and begin devising ways to kill them off.
If the flag you raise is one of defeatism and negativity, only a morbid few will rally to it, and they will never accomplish anything.
It is society that gets to decide who is the blasphemer and who is the prophet. But it doesn’t matter, because they stone them both.
A library is a sacred place where the voices of the ancients can still be heard if we but give them the required silence.
A prophet is merely someone who rises beyond the warring factions of his day and proclaims a pox on both houses. He sees beyond the narrow framework within which the opposing factions tear at each other like rats in too small a cage. He sees what must be done while those who claim to be leaders see only the struggle for power.
When we find that the only answer rationality and the intellect can provide is death, then the only option is to open ourselves to spirituality. The precise job of the intellect is to define reality, and in defining, it limits what it defines. Reality is winnowed away until the spirit is lost, until possibilities unforeseen are lost. It is necessary from time to time for the individual to transcend the intellectual world he has fashioned, rediscover with the eyes of a child what he no longer sees with wise ones. A society too becomes trapped in its perceptions.
The goal is not to change minds but awaken them, not to make people believe but question. For in questioning, they shall find their own path to truth.
Our memories of the fields we played in and the house we lived in in our youth seem so large. And yet when we visit them when we are older they seem so small, not at all as we remember them. So too does the future seem. It appears to the child as a field so large we could never hope to traverse it all, but the adult slowly begins to see the fences appear on the horizon, until at last the old man sees only the smallest of gardens.
If war created peace, wouldn’t we have it by now?
It is impossible to be in 2 places at the same time, but by fixating on where you think you should be or want to be, to the point where you do not live in the moment, it is possible to be in 0 places at once.
Be careful what you call progress. Be certain before you call something inevitable. So much that is bad for us is accepted by us because of those two words.
Calling something inevitable is just another way of calling yourself powerless.
People strain too hard to see miracles, set the conditions under which they will accept the reality of a miracle too high. Miracles are all around us, they are daily occurrences. Miracles occur with every new sunrise and in every speck of life, no matter how small. If we cannot see the miracle of life, of living, we have lost the very reason to go on living.
If you are a smoker, just remember every time you inhale you are choosing smoke over oxygen.
Ask yourself what technological advance you most hope to see and then ask yourself what technological advance you most fear. Does your hope outweigh your fear?
If ever it was a good idea to hold up those who create much as heroes to be admired it is no longer the case. Perhaps a century or more ago, when scarcity existed, those who converted nature into product had their use to society. Today we must learn to hold up he who consumes little as the model to be emulated.
The secret of life is to live joyfully an existence which requires the utmost seriousness and provides us with death and hopelessness as the ultimate end.
Gather about you the various aspects of your personality, assemble them into a single entity that is you. If you do not, if you will be unable to find a center, an essence, an identity, then those various aspects of you will not be under your control and are potentially controllable by others.
Happiness is an elusive prey one can pursue but never possess. While it is a criminal act for someone to step in between you and your pursuit of happiness, it is a greater crime to expect another person to be responsible for your own happiness.
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
A Drive To Work
(If you are a writer, you write about anything you experience.)
I now drive 40 minutes to get to work every day. As an environmentally inclined person, I feel bad about that, but I do need to make the house payments. And despite the fact it takes a bite out of my day, I enjoy the ride. It’s through rural areas, and a good stretch of it is along Lake Michigan.
What I notice most is the number of dead animals lying on the road: deer, racoons, skunks, opossums. Once, society took the time to remove the bodies from the road, but now we leave them there. We no longer have the resources available to do such things, no longer have the political will to do much of anything. Everything that is done is done through the market now, and the market doesn’t care about animals, dead or alive.
Perhaps it was only ever a matter of cosmetics anyway. Perhaps we were just lying to ourselves about how a technologically advanced society treats the natural world. We didn’t want to know what our need for speed was doing to the rest of God’s creatures, or the planet, so we hid the evidence. And now that we have come so far, we no longer care. We’ve grown used to it, like the factory farm I drive by that smells of animal waste, where semi-trucks daily haul out milk in shiny metallic tanks to be packaged in little cardboard containers imprinted with pictures of cows in a pasture.
A veneer of trees obscures much of the crops that grow behind them. Once I imagined vast forests lay beyond, now I know they are mere barrier walls for crops of corn to feed the cows to feed the people.
I reach the lake and soon I am driving past the closed nuclear power plant. Within its depths somewhere, God knows what is stored in God knows what kind of containers. There is no plan to deal with the radioactive waste, and so they sit and will gradually become forgotten about. It is part of our mental makeup to forget about things, no matter how important and dire they may be, if we don’t have a good way of dealing with them.
Not far past the mostly-abandoned nuclear station, I see several signs on people’s property warning about the health risks of wind turbines. I am incapable of understanding the degree of disconnect required to not notice the irony.
Working nights, I drive home in darkness. It seems I have encountered thunderstorms almost nightly this summer. I can never remember a summer so full of thunder. One becomes aware of such things when one has a skittish dog and a long drive at night.
I’ve become aware of the weather of late. It almost seems that nature itself has become unnatural. In late August, I noticed the moon was just a tiny sliver, but that sliver was more red than I ever remember seeing it. A harvest moon, I know, but still it seemed an omen to me. Perhaps it is just me. I know it is foolish to look for signs in the sky. And yet, the desire to do so is deeply imbedded in our species. Perhaps, like animals who can sense impending natural disasters, human beings too are capable sensing danger without being able to understand why.
Nightly I drive home and encounter the wildlife that must contend with traffic while crossing the road. I see a chipmunk speed across, a frog taking large jumps to cross as quickly as possible. I see a deer peering at me from a ditch, a couple of raccoons who, once committed, seem unable to turn back even with my car speeding right into their path. I brake and the disaster is narrowly averted.
My eyes are wide open, my mind alert. I do not want to hit anything, not even a frog. And yet there is something within me urging me to go faster. I need to get home, back to my life I’ve had to abandon in order to do my job to earn money to afford my car payments, car insurance, and gasoline. There is a subliminal urge too great for my conscious mind to control, and my foot applies a little more pressure to the gas pedal. Time is precious. I’ve calculated that driving even 5 miles an hour less should be sufficient to prevent an accident should something jump out in front of me, but somehow every time I look at the speedometer, I’m going faster again. Have to race my coworkers, have to beat them home, win the race.
What is wrong with me? Why do I love nature and yet not only drive so far to work, but drive so quickly from it? It is technology, it enables me to do what objectively I would never wish to do. It is like being home with a box of Twinkies: I would never imagine gorging myself sick on unnatural food, would certainly not go out of my way to do so. Ah, but if it is already there… If bad behavior is effortless and satisfying in the short term, it makes it far more difficult to do the right thing. If all it takes is pushing my foot a little harder on a gas petal, why not go faster? If gas is so damn cheap that I suffer little by polluting the atmosphere and endangering God’s little creations, it does make it more difficult to do the right thing. I do want to do the right thing.
The answer is to fashion a world in which it is easier to make good decisions. We’ve done a poor job of that. We’ve made a world where advertisement is constantly telling you to buy what you do not need, consume what is not good for you, trust in the system advertisers perpetuate. We are told that progress is our only good, and that progress means continually pushing further down on the accelerator.
We are, each one of us, driving down the road at too great a speed, heedless of the damage we cause to the natural world we ultimately rely upon for our survival. We must be reminded again and again that not only are we in control of the gas pedal, but we also have a brake.