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.

Stars Everywhere

Photo montage: Stars in the DarknessThis world is a dark place. War and strife, fear, hunger, hatred, greed, self-righteousness, and poverty gnaw the bones of suffering people on every continent at every hour. And all of these menaces are, in accordance with early expressions of the idea of Tragedy, nearly entirely the making of our own species.

Little hope, at least in my mind, of that sorrowful truth changing as long as our species continues to dominate the planet. We are deeply flawed. Even the finest among us tend to forget themselves and their mortal limits at time; regardless of how educated, high-minded and genuinely well-meant their attitudes and actions may be, it’s sadly true that underlying those attitudes and actions is a firm belief in their rightness. Only natural that it’s hard, from that perspective, to allow that others might have an equal possibility of being right, or at least as wise and well-meaning, as they themselves are, and to show them the full respect of that acceptance.

What, then, of accepting life among my fellow flawed beings in this imperfect world? No comfort is found in denial or in persistently, aggressively resisting what may not have the possibility of ever changing. But to accept this grimness as an eternal truth and let it lie like lead on my soul is no help, either.

I look to the stars.

Physical stars exist in a surprising number of places, many lower and commoner than the depths of the sky, and I look to them and rally as I realize that they stand, every one, as beacons reminding me of what is good not only in the nature in which we imperfect beings live, but what is good within us as well. Small as our fineness may seem, individually and corporately, at times, it does exist, and if there is to be any hope of overcoming the dark, it must come from the nurturing of every little glint seen starring that darkness.

I look to the stars in the indigo distance of the sky, sparkling like promises of better things as they look back at me. I look to the lesser stars of reflected light that dazzle on earth, the  diamond dashes on every body of water and glimmering in every eye, never mind among real gems and the many things made expressly to be beautiful and good and positive. I look, more than anywhere else, at the multitude of stars that shine from the hearts of good and true people, people who are thoughtful and generous, merciful and hardworking, and kind and loving, sometimes despite and against the dark things of this world, and often, wonderfully, for the sole reason that they were made to be such earthly stars.

Insisting on Persisting in Resisting

The more the situation calls for me to behave with gravity and proper decorum, the more I’m likely to drag my heels and stubbornly glue myself to being silly and irresponsible and to frustrate any attempts to make me act however is deemed suitable to my age. Those nearest and dearest to me have long since learned the futility of asking me to behave in any sort of adult-appropriate manner and they tolerate, or to varying degrees, enable this impossibly impish attitude on my part. No wonder I love them so.

digital painting from a mixed media original

. . . so I'll just keep lying around and looking at the pictures in the clouds . . .

Perpetuating Childhood

In all probability I’d be prone

to be an insufferable old crone,

a hag, a harridan, full of mold,

if I had to mature–grow up–get old–

because, in truth, the prospect’s grim

when responsible heart meets creaky limb,

and milky eye and baggy middle

drag joie-de-vivre down a little–

I’d rather, by far, annoy my peers

by being unfitted to my years,

guffawing, as boisterous as a sinner,

and eating six Popsicles for dinner;

skipping like a stone across the Square

and having wild grass seeds in my hair,

wearing skirts too short; taking much too long

to figure out what I’m doing wrong,

yet enjoying the doing things just the same,

since it’s all a bit like a great big game

anyway–this journey we call a life–

so why should we let it sour, be rife

with tedious, tiresome old-age gunk?

I’d rather go back to school and flunk

for excessive dreaming and foolish pranks.

Grow up? Grow old? Mature?

No, Thanks!

Don’t Blame Monday

It’s true, I’m among the horde of cruel people who put the onus for all our Monday growling and grumpiness and grunge on the day itself. Many of us see Monday as the End of All Things Fun, coming as it does on the heels of any sort of weekend respite or recreation we might have enjoyed. I’ve long had that nasty habit of looking in the mirror on a Monday and seeing monstrous presence there, only thinly veiled by the black cloud of my ill-humor.P&II think perhaps it’s time to take a little responsibility for the ogrish attitudes myself and reclaim Monday as the Beginning of something fresh and new–by making it that, if need be, by force. The end of one thing is almost inevitably the beginning of another, and if the follower isn’t to my liking, then who’s to change that but me? Isn’t it just possible that in the open spaces between my crotchety complaints and snarky remarks, there could be room for the tiny wedge of reinvention to be driven in for a start? I think I should see what I can accomplish in this. No need to keep glowering at a meanie in the mirror morosely.P&IOne of the first things, I suppose, is to make sure that my Mondays hold something that I look forward to eagerly, something to start my week with a measure of pleasure. So I am taking that step in a small way already: Monday is my day for planning and for clearing the decks. As an inveterate list-maker and lister-of-lists, it’s my day to ‘walk the fences’–and since my Spread (no, dears, my Texas ranch, not my posterior measurements) consists of a house on a typical city-sized lot, it’s not too hard to accomplish that part, at least in temporal terms. But I must do so with eyes wide open for details that need attention so that I know of all the things that require mending, tending or improving. Those light switches that are going to be replaced. (The replacements have already been bought–check!–so it remains only to install them: Note!) The wood handles on the washtub need a preservative oiling. The seed starters are lined up as kits in the garage work area but need to be assembled now. And with the Must Do list is the ever-mutant list of how-abouts: would the window coverings in the reading/TV room be better insulation and easier to open and close if I redo them? Can I put a more comfortable seating angle on that chair by shimming the front legs? Do I have all of the supplies from my shopping list for finishing that little art project? Is the grocery list for Tuesday complete?

There is a surprising amount of satisfaction in not just being able to cross little things off those perpetual lists as Finished but being able, as well, to refine the remaining items so that they are more clear and purposeful and prioritized, and give shape to the rest of a busy week for me. It’s just the way I operate. It also makes me feel a little freer and lighter about what pleasurable things I can do while accomplishing my list-work, how I can distribute things in the short and long term, and when I can break up the flow of Projects with Fun–this latter being an essential thing and not, then, needing to feel like a disruption of the flow but rather a welcome island in the stream. Me, I like a wildly numerous and exotic archipelago of what others might admittedly think purposeless delights in my life’s flow.

So I am on a campaign of making Mondays a favorite day for me by turning my old attitude on its ear. I always had a fondness for forcing a change in point of view by whatever literalistic or foolish means necessary, after all: if I can’t see my artwork with enough objectivity to make intelligent editorial decisions about it, I need to shift how I look at it in order to adjust how I see it. Stand on my head. Come into a dark room and turn on the light on it suddenly. Imagine I’m a six- or ninety-six-year-old looking at it and how I’d describe it.

In the case of Mondays, I’m guessing many a 96-year-old with healthy feelings toward life would simply be delighted at being alive for another one. And six is an age when everything is still new every day, and electric with possibility. Why shouldn’t I adopt both of those attitudes?

P&IFor now, I intend to arrange at least one additional Fun Thing to be included in my Mondays on a regular basis, but perhaps a different kind of fun each time, so that I can’t get jaded and lackadaisical about it. Certainly it should have elements of silliness included, because that’s something that never does grow old with me, and perhaps is part of the reason I expect I shan’t grow old myself any too soon. Looking out my window, I see that the bare-branched trees of winter are suddenly covered with black lace, that the intermittent wind gusts have kicked up a ballet of curlicued oak leaves in the corner of the patio, and that the cardinals stopping by for a nibble of grain have somehow taken on a much deeper and brighter hue of red. Is it a change of seasons coming on? Perhaps it’s just that I’m letting the seasons change within me.