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.

We All Wear Our Masks

digital illustration (B&W)It’s so much easier to hide behind convention and other convenient facades than to let our true selves be seen and known. Don’t we almost always prefer that sense of safe anonymity or at least ‘appropriateness’—however tenuous or specious it may be—to taking the chance that in our own skins we might not measure up to the occasion or to the  expectations of others?

It is, of course, a foolish conceit. One can rarely cozen anyone else, let alone oneself, by such a means. No matter how hard I may try to appear in the guise of what I think will qualify me for the In Group or make me richer-thinner-prettier or smarter than I really am, if it’s all show, the mask will like any faulty exterior prove too thin to cover my realities. It has always been so, and yet I am far from alone in continuing these futile attempts. I do believe that constant practice can transform us into a nearer semblance to the disguise, but that can work for ill as well as good.

Probably wiser is to recognize that the urge is age-old; that insecurity and an assumption that others will find me inadequate in my natural state are neither new problems nor absolutely decisive. The masks of the past remain, both in those symbolic and ceremonial concrete forms and in the records of our history books and art, to amuse, bemuse or warn us, if we will pay attention. And a close enough, thoughtful enough reading will remind any of us that no mask covers the truth forever—and yet, all the same, that we as a species continue (however astoundingly) to survive. Perhaps unmasking isn’t entirely as dangerous as any of us have feared.

I spent enough years acting the part of a brave, socially mature person, one who was more comfortable hosting a gathering, letting others see my art and writing, lecturing, teaching and doing so many other things that in truth absolutely terrified me to tearful agony behind the scenes that it turns out I am capable of doing all of those things after all. I still fuss and worry, yes, but nothing like the self-flaying horrors that I used to suffer just to get through what were apparently no-big-deal occurrences for most other people, and now I can experience them with fair equanimity. Funny how, when you’ve spent your whole remembered life in the grip of a belief that every second was one degree away from total disaster and death, any tiny bit less becomes magically huge.

And each of those instances becomes a step toward understanding that I have perhaps begun to grow into my mask of wishful improvement and become more like it underneath. Or better yet, that it never did matter as much as I feared, this different reality behind the convention. Best of all, I find that the more I let people see me as I really am, the more kindly they seem to look on me, and in turn, I begin to think the real me is perhaps pretty likable, respectable. Even lovable. Who knew.

digital illustration

Unique doesn’t inherently mean Alone.

You’re Not Afraid? You *will be*!

digital collage

The Jitters

Remember the years when we were young

And captive among our babysitters?

Sheer terror would reign with its horrid thrill,

The unspeakable chill we would call the Jitters.

Under the bed or under the house,

A mouse isn’t safe when the Jitters gleam

Reptilian fangs and rhinoceros horns;

O! The scorns we would risk to release a scream!

Anything dark and anywhere doored

Could harbor a horde of Jittery creeps;

They hide under blankets and lurk behind stones:

The wrack in the bones that never sleeps.

Do I hear the wind? Did you hear an owl?

Or was it the howl of the restless dead?

The moan of a sailor just as he drowned?

All around are the sounds of the things we dread.

That flickering light! The curtains a-moving,

And both of them proving that something is near:

We’d writhe in our agonies, plagued by deceptions

And all the perceptions of what we fear.

This, you remember, was life with the Unknown,

And all of the fun known as children was moot

Whenever night fell or a stranger came calling;

Appalling how it never stopped its pursuit.

Now deep in adulthood, responsible, sane,

We scoff at the pain of those gibbers and twitters,

Yet get us alone, in a vulnerable state,

And sooner or late, we succumb to the Jitters.digital collage + text

Endless Falling

A whisper in the gloaming just pre-dawn
A shiver or a prickling on the neck
A flutter of the eyelid, quick, then gone
And hope of any sleep is now a wreck

Above me in the dark are broken dreams
Above my brow an icicle of fear
Above the awful emptiness, the screams
In silent agony are all I hear

And under all this brittle disarray
And under skin and in the bone and soul
And under some enchantment, night and day
I know this wickedness will eat me whole

Against the dangers present in this fright
Against the door of Death I’ll knock tonight

The Vast American Landscape

 

digital image from a photographAs November approaches and the always-tedious white noise of political ravings grows ever louder in the US atmosphere, I find myself musing once again that so little is what we think it to be. Clearly, if you read my post the other day, I am seldom content to accept the appearance as the reality, but it is never more significantly the case than around the time of elections. For all that Americans love to crow about being the truest democracy in the world and having the power to determine our own destinies and that of our nation (never mind our meddling globally), what’s most notable around voting time is how little anyone really does his or her research and how thoroughly gullible, petty and narrow-minded most of us are on our best days. It’s really kind of miraculous that, young as America is in the way of being a nation, it still exists as one. We’re all on our own paths, wavelengths, and possibly planets around here.

And those who rise to power in our country are no less prone to manipulating that sort of foolishness than those we claim to abhor elsewhere. We give things whatever ‘spin’ we prefer and, by golly, hordes of similarly spun fellow denizens jump right into the vortex with us, leaving reason and, ultimately, hope far behind. One might think that the current age of electronic wizardry would make us more aware, if not more cautious, of all sorts of trickery and monkey business, but alas, we cling to our ignorance and wilfulness with just as much dimwitted fervor as always. Knowing that the camera sees only what the photographer aimed it at and the recorder hears only what the engineer had it turned on to hear–and that the results of both operations can be almost endlessly manipulated after the fact so as to be something entirely new and different from the initial truth, however truncated that might have been, we still choose to stand with facing our own chosen suns while right behind us, out of frame, utterly different realities are carrying right on with their appointed happenings.

So in honor of this form of deception, whether imposed upon us or self-inflicted, I give you my image of the Grand Canyon. Or, as it was before a little Photoshopping hocus-pocus, a dirt pile under the freeway overpass, whose ‘magnificent agaves’ are small tufts of grass, whose brilliant coloring is all hand-applied, and whose vast open sky is a digital blanket pulled down to cover the abandoned storefronts looming behind the little hillock. What you see is what I get, my friends. Keep it in mind on the way to the voting booth, won’t you?