PessimOptimism

Graphite drawing: Self-Inflicted“Prepare for the worst but hope for the best.” It’s part of my credo, I guess, and may well have been aided in its development by doing those hilariously futile duck-and-cover atomic bomb drills of the Cold War era. And the air raid drills—we lived in a Ground Zero area near several military bases, strategic coast, and a handful of Nike missile sites in those days—fire drills, earthquake drills, tsunami drills, and later when we lived in the midwest, tornado drills. You’d think we’d all have grown up incredibly paranoid after such stuff in childhood. But I think that besides being remarkably resilient, kids use logic on such daily puzzles far better than they remember how to do when they hit adulthood and have been taught their prejudices, and are much more easily distracted and blinded by grey areas.

I don’t remember ever believing that crouching under a flimsy little wood-and-steel desk would save me even from the shrapnel of shattering windows and imploding walls in the event of an attack or large-scale disaster, particularly since I imagined the desk itself would become shrapnel along with everything else in the atomizing roar of a bombing. Little and naïve though we were, we had gleaned hints of the enormity of such things from our beginning school studies of the world history of war (skewed to our own culture’s view, of course); no matter how grownups think they’re shielding kids by sanitizing and limiting the information the wee ones are allowed to see and hear, children are quick to notice the blank spaces where redacted information interrupts the flow of facts, and no adult is more curious than a child to hunt for clues as to what was redacted. Frankly, if there really is any use for an institution like the CIA in this day and age when practically anyone can find out practically anything with the aid of easily accessible tools like the internet, cellular phone, and, apparently, privately owned drones, along with all of the more traditional tools of spy-craft, I suggest that the crew best equipped to uncover any facts not in evidence would probably be a band of children all under the age of about twelve.

Meanwhile, we still have large numbers of people who think it prudent to withhold or skew the information passed along to not only kids but even fellow adults, giving out misguided or even malevolent half-truths or remaining stubbornly silent and in full denial about things considered too dark for others’ knowledge. And what do we gain from this? Are there truly adults among us who still think that even smallish tots can’t quickly discern the differences between a fable or fairytale, no matter how brutish and gory it may be, and the dangers and trials of real-world trouble? Does delusion or deception serve any purpose, in the long run, other than to steer us all off course in search of firmer, more reliable realities?

As I just wrote to my dear friend Desi, it seems to me that the majority of humans always assume a fight-or-flight stance in new or unfamiliar circumstances before allowing that these might be mere puzzles to decipher, and more importantly, we assume the obvious solution to be that whatever is most quickly discernible as different from self IS the problem. Therefore, if I’m white, then non-white is the problem; if I’m female, then male. Ad infinitum. And we’re generally not satisfied with identifying differentness as problematic until we define it as threatening or evil. This, of course, only scratches the surface—quite literally, as the moment we get past visible differences we hunt for the non-visible ones like sexual orientation, religious or political beliefs, and so on.

Unless and until we can change this horribly wrongheaded approach on a large scale, we’ll always have these awful problems, from petty playground scuffles right into the middle of the final mushroom cloud. The so-called justice systems of the world are set up and operated by the same flawed humans who make individual judgements, so the cycle is reinforced at all levels. Sometimes it truly makes me wonder how we’ve lasted this long.

Can we learn from kids? The younger the person, the more likely to blurt out the truth, whether it’s welcome or not. The subtleties of subterfuge are mostly wasted on children, who unless they’re engaged in happy storytelling for purposes of amusement and amazement, would rather be actively puzzling out the wonders of life than mucking about in search of evasive answers and duck-and-cover maneuvers. We might gain a great deal by reverting a little to a more innocent and simplistic view of the universe, one that blithely assumes that others are not always out to get us, that direness and doom aren’t lying open-jawed around every blind corner, and that the great powers of the internet and cell phones might just as well bear cheery tidings of goodness and kindness, and drones be removed from deployment as spies and weapons to work instead at delivering birthday presents to friends and packets of food to hungry strangers.

I’m not fooled into thinking any of this is easy to do, any more than any savvy kid would be, but I’m willing to believe it’s possible if more and more of us will commit to such ideals.

Hard Boiled Character

I’m very much a child of the Sixties. I was born at the beginning of the decade that brought to a point of confluence such disparate events and ideas and people as space exploration and spaced-out hippies, the Beatles and the Batmobile, suburban composting and the Cold War. Every one of those might be said to have had at least a little influence on aspects of my self and my character, but one of those I particularly remember from preteen days is that the very little I knew of the politics of the day was that my classmates and I were trained in school drills to dive under our desks and cover our heads with our arms as protection against The Bomb. Because we all know that there’s nothing better than skinny little kid arms and a plywood desk to save us from nuclear holocaust.

A corollary of this perhaps, is that even as a shrimp I could recognize the futility and insane ridiculousness of what the world’s Superpowers liked to tell us was inevitable and what, conversely, was going to stave off such things, so I preferred to play the 60s’ iteration of the 50s’ cowboys-and-Indians, that being a game that, as far as I’ve been able to discern, was all about galloping around on invisible horses, making a lot of noise, chasing each other, and brandishing toy guns in ways that would’ve cleared the Old West in an instant by accidental and ‘friendly’ fire had they been loaded. Our upgrade for the sixties was Spies, because as it was utterly clear no politicians in ours or any other country was going to be sensible and deal in saving self and planet by means of either successfully waging a visible war or, even more remotely, by learning to sit at table and negotiate anything like Peace.

So we played Spies, the cowboys-and-Indians or Us vs. Them variant that swapped invisible pinto ponies and buckskins for invisible (or better yet, pedal car) sleek, speedy autos with magnificent tail fins, the ten-gallon hats for fedoras and the chases across the Western plains for slinking around our own houses to peer Unseen into the windows—the ones we could reach—and spying on our own parents who stood in for Commies. And only if we were really lucky maybe really were Communists, though I knew no one who would have said so openly in suburban America in those days. In point of fact, I had no goal of catching anything other than perhaps a glimpse of where Mom kept a box of candy hidden, and certainly no wish to fire my terrifyingly realistic plastic squirt gun at anyone with anything other than a zip of icy cold water, but it was all Terribly Exciting.digital illustrationThat, however, was pretty much the pinnacle of my career as anything racy or dangerous, and I’m quite content with that. But the memory of how thrilling the entirely artificial and manufactured world of child’s play was still charms me, and I still kind of like to revisit the image of self-as-desperado with a laugh and, yes, a tip of my broad-brimmed hat.