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.

The Magic of Books

Photo montage: The Magical BookIlluminations

A leather-covered volume with its pages edged in gilt

Slipped from the deck into the sea but, cradled in the silt

Where oxygen could not intrude, nor prying eyes descry

Its ancient glimmer in the mud, a century did lie;

One century—another—no, nine centuries of dark

It passed in sleeping silence after falling from that bark.

And then one day, a ray of light passed through the waves above

Just at the perfect moment for a mermaid, as she dove,

To catch a glimpse of gilded pages in that sea-deep sun

And swim down to investigate this treasure—only one

Quick sparkle of that golden edge brought her so close to look,

To brush aside the lazy silt and so, reveal the book.

Nine hundred years in darkness had it lain in quiet wait

For just this passing moment to wake up, illuminate,

And catch the passing fancy of an unsuspecting maid

Who’d bring it to her grotto in the deepest ocean’s shade.

In dappled dark, her opal eyes lit up the page, and next,

She read it, eager, mesmerized, the calligraphic text

Transforming, leaping from the book, becoming swiftly wild

And glorious, and telling tales that moved the mermaid child

To bend with sorrow, weep with joy; to palpitate with fear;

To live the story as her own; and, as the end drew near,

To grieve that such a magic fable had to end at all,

For it had seemed so rich and real, had held her in such thrall

That she’d begun to think it true, this tale of mythic men

And women wondrous wise and brave—she turned to read again—

Thrice through, in fact, she read the tome, and every time the more

Believed its great, compelling tale of life beyond her shore.

Full hearted, then, she closed the book, but never ceased to wish

That other mermaids, other seas, and other sorts of fish

Than those she knew in her own place were, as the story’s, real,

And though once happy, now she longed to see and hear and feel

What was beyond her native coast. One day she must return

To where she’d found that magic book, and see what she could learn.

One day, indeed, an older lass, but nonetheless enthralled

By the old book (she’d read again six times, if she recalled),

She caught the rolling afternoon’s most fearsome wave and rode

Under its lashing, crashing crest to where the book was stowed

Within its silken, silty bed so long, so long ago,

And knelt down on the ocean’s floor, and watched the water’s flow,

And saw the ripples up above, a thousand fathoms high,

And wished a little inward wish that something from the sky

Up higher still would pierce the waves, would light for her one ray

Of visionary hope the way it had upon that day.

Out of the darkness streaked with kelp, the passing sea life came

To look at her, this pearly lass, but swam off just the same,

For curious though she appeared, they’d naught to give or tell

That would assuage her longing or relieve her of her spell.

For days she hovered in that place, to gaze with fading hope

And heave a soft and bubbling sigh, and comb the gentle slope

To see if some small, overlooked companion to her find

Would rise to hand and help explain; but none was left behind.

At last she turned, quite woebegone, to drift for home, undone,

Her childhood fantasies all dashed—but wait! A ray of sun,

One faded spear, had pierced the deep; it beckoned her to draw

Back to the place her book had lain, and in its light she saw,

But faintly, now, another book, this one yet older still,

And as she took it in her hand, she felt a silent thrill

Race up her spine. She sailed for home as swift as mantas fly,

Gripping her treasure to her heart, this book dropped from the sky.

There in the grotto, as before, she read with trembling care

The prologue to her favored tale, the key unlocking there

The meaning of that history and mystery so grand,

The explication of her longed for never-ever-land.

Page One of this tremendous tome opened the secret wide

And startled her to drop the book, for there she saw inside

The preface to her deepest loved tale of that mystic place

Began with an engraving of her own familiar face!

Around her portrait, mirror-like, the title read, in part,

“The Story of Our Lady-Queen, the Owner of My Heart.”

Her own heart skipped a beat or two ere she once more to read

Took up the opus in her hand, to see where it might lead—

There in the shell-lined grotto sweet, she pored over the lines

Telling her life from this day forth, as writ by kingly hand:

Who authored this spoke of his love, and how she ruled his land

Long years to come, and how, in sum, her people throve as well,

And in the book, she met her love, who had such tales to tell,

And read them through with eager joy, to see what else she’d learn,

‘Til by the end-page she loved too, and had begun to yearn

To know this King and how it came that time had backward spun

So that these books of things yet dreamed fell from the present sun.

The end-page held, as she had hoped, engraved once more, two eyes

Whose gaze made her young, beating heart in recognition rise!

She dashed outside into the swell, and ne’er looked back again,

To find that place the boat was moored, to greet the sailing men,

To follow them to distant seas where they in their bark would roam,

And find the heart that from its start had known she would come home.Digital illustration from a photo: The Mermaid's Tale

Dangerous Desires

My little retelling of the story of Hansel and GretelYes, I prefer a slightly less virulent interpretation of the tale than the early versions focusing on the stereotype of the ‘Wicked Stepmother’ and a father cruel enough to go along with her determination to abandon the children. After all, there’s still plenty of blame to go around when ordinary and seemingly decent people do thoughtless and stupid and even horrible things without considering the ultimate consequences, and even a fairly charitable interpretation of the story seems to me to illustrate that quite handily. And, lest I be accused of excessive softening of what is, after all, a pretty grim [!] tale, I left off the traditional cozy ending, to keep the pointy parts more firmly entrenched in any conscience that will allow them. Wink, wink.

graphite drawingLaw of Unforeseen Consequences

Late, when the children want to play, When chores are a burden at end of day, Why, what harm can come of it, anyway?

Who would begrudge their choice, this chance To lay down the work and pick up a dance? Who would look on this sweet play askance?

What if their Schottische, when lightning flashed, Upset the pitcher and milk was splashed? Ah, suddenly, their mother’s lashed

At them with her anger in surprise At such wild waste of the poor folk’s prize, And tears are smarting in all their eyes!

The rich folk scarcely would give a fig At spilling milk over one swift jig, But their consequence never did loom so big.

No innocent children ever guess That a tiny slip and a modest mess Will afford their mother such deep distress,

Nor mother foresee that her sorrowed scold Will send, heavy-hearted, into the cold Her little ones, lost to the family fold.

And how could their father know what would fall If they failed to answer his panicked call And foraged instead far from safety’s wall?

Too distant from hearth and garden run, Could the children know that their crimeless fun Would lead to endangering anyone?

So off to the forest’s gloom, replete With wild strawberries, so good to eat, They skip unconcerned, when a wilder sweet

Appears before their young, hungry eyes In the most appealingly false disguise Of a gingerbread palace, whose luring lies

Present irresistibly tempting charms To lead them directly into the arms Of the wicked witch whose most horrid harm’s

The deceptive sweetness her cottage seems To hold in its sugary halls of dreams–What covers in icing the children’s screams!

(How could these tender young cherubs guess That under the sparkling prettiness Was a ravening monster intent to fress On their flesh and bones in a gory mess!)

But the most nefarious in the tale Was also most ignorant that such frail And tender tidbits might possibly fail

To end up feeding her heart’s desire, Instead being fueled by fear and ire To shove her into her own oven’s fire!

The story is old, that in unformed youth We may lack the wisdom to see in truth, That apparent delights may be foul, forsooth

But we still hold on to our foolish ways Of dreaming and hoping in wishful haze And never considering that this daze

Can blind us to sanity–in its mire, Can lead to such unexpected, dire Results–unintentionally, Desire Makes us leap from the frying pan into the fire.

Kindred Spirits

line drawingEven when I meet them in places of common interest I am surprised to encounter like-minded creatures. I suppose that’s part of the human psyche, to imagine ourselves so individual as to be unique in all ways. What we really are is unique combinations of characteristics, so we might be better explained as having innumerable subsets in common with others, but not all with anyone else.

And that makes for practically infinite possible serendipitous discoveries of the shared traits, ideas, bits of history, likes, dislikes and curiosities. The potential for finding ways in which we are like others is probably greater, when it comes right down to it, than for finding differences.

Of course, having desires in common means that, like siblings, we still find our shared interests a reason–if not an excuse–to compete with each other, even to fight. We might get a bit too busy comparing ourselves with each other because of our commonalities as well, and whether we think ourselves superior or inferior the imbalance in the equation can lend itself to conflict. We are contentious beings, we humans.

But all told, the advantageous delights of finding others with whom we share views and loves and hopes and pleasures far outweigh the complications. Whether we are introverts or extroverts, worldly or otherworldly, there is great happiness to be found on discovering kindred spirits. It is possible to live our own fairytales when we find the right characters with whom to share them.digital artwork

Magical Night & Mystic Day

photoEnchantments

One night I stood upon the green

And every nightingale a-wing

Stopped in the linden trees to sing,

A perfect choir though all unseen,

Encircling in the meadow’s crown—

Night-blooming flowers ‘round my feet

Reflected moonglow, and their sweet,

Sweet breath rose up as stars fell down

In meteor showers to earth because

Its beauty was so great, so dear,

They longed to draw the night sky near

To all this peacefulness that was—

And while I stood upon that lawn,

Aching with joy, with ecstasy

As sharp as ice and flame in me,

I woke full wide, and it was dawn.photo

The day that came up in that place

Made all the green-wood hum and quake

With quivering for pleasure’s sake,

At seeing the full sun’s clear face,

Yet, basking in the softest fall

Of constant rain, as mist, to fly

In colored arcs across the sky

And shower prisms on us all—

The birds of day joined in that hymn

And coaxed the foxes to the green,

Contented beasts not often seen

In sun, and as I stood, a slim

Grey foal came, too, and nine or ten

Of rabbits, and the beasts all danced,

And I stood still, transfixed—entranced—

And blinked my eyes, and it was night.digitally painted photo