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.

Remind Me/Rewind Me

For a person who considers herself happily immature relative to her age, I am sometimes caught off guard when I realize how little of my youthful pleasures I’ve continued to pursue with appropriate enthusiasm into the present. Why on earth would I forego standing on a big plank swing, grasping the chains that hold it and me up, and pumping my legs until I feel like I could fly right on over the top steel bar of the swing set with the greatest of ease? Why not kick off my shoes and socks, abandon them in the dirt, and plunge into the cold river’s slippery, rock-strewn flow without regard for getting the legs of my pants all soaking wet? Is there any law that says a 52-year-old is no longer allowed to slurp her fruit punch noisily through a straw just because it’s so wonderfully refreshing and sugary?

Why, indeed, is the common phrase seemingly always about youthful enthusiasm, yet we tacitly agree to let only actual youths embrace it?

Remind me how being childlike and impulsively happy is so dangerous.photo

Despite being of an age where my childhood version of the high swing was of rock-hard rubber on a steel pipe frame and underlaid with gravel-strewn dirt, I am—well—still alive at this age. I never broke a single bone or chipped a tooth, and my only stitches derived from an indoor activity, a school game of floor hockey. Though I wandered recklessly through many a stream and ocean’s shallows, without regard for my pants or my tender soles, and even drank from the occasional icy mountain brook, the worst that ever came of it was a cut from beach glass, soon enough cleansed with stinging but healing salt water. No clothes were ruined, and I got bit by nothing bigger than a sand- or horse-fly or two. I failed to contract Giardia or E. coli from those wild rivulets I sipped. Even the vast quantities of evil cyclamates in my childhood fruit drink binges failed to kill me off.

So how is it that I lost my ability to plunge ahead without caution to where I seemed, nearly always, to find joyful things? Remind me how always being responsible and mature and playing it safe is better for me.

But write it in a note and slip it under my door. I feel the need to go out and look for a little happy trouble.

The Price of Innocence

Wye Not

Wye was an impoverished man

Because he didn’t know

The answer to all questions was

‘Because I told you so’—

Wye was a pauper and

He lies in Potter’s Field

Because he tried to find the truth

That others kept concealed—

Wye lived in such poverty

And died alone, unmourned,

Because he kept on asking things

Well after he’d been warned—

Poor Wye was a mortal fool

Despite being a hero:

In heaven, truth makes you a saint—

On earth, it makes you zero.graphite drawing

Youth in Springtime

photoFew pleasures can compare to children’s when they are allowed untrammeled playtime in nature’s kind and pretty places. We should all be so fortunate in Springtime, especially in the springtime of our lives.photoBy Babylon Creek

Babylon Creek

used to make the

children laugh as it ran

tickling fingers up

their summer-heated shins

and the older folk

chuckle shamefacedly

at its puns and the way

its hilarious licking made

them squirm like

dog-loved kids themselvesphoto

I Mean It. Don’t be a Meanie!

Ebenezer Scrooge was far from alone. And the holidays are certainly not the only time when Scrooge and his ilk get wound up. Still, big events and celebrations are and always have been pretty predictable catalysts and triggers for bad moods and attitudes of any sort. If we aren’t happy, we’re remarkably good at being as far opposite to it as we can figure out how to make ourselves. High horses are not so high that people don’t try to climb aboard them mighty often. High dudgeons are terribly popular dwellings with the general citizenry, who move into them and dig in our heels as though to that manor born.

Add to this our natural gifts for finding clouds obliterating every one of our silver linings, and t’s not much of a stretch to think that many of us are in a cynical competition to see who can be the snarliest, gnarliest meanie in existence. We’re always looking for the way to shoehorn yet more nasty junk and grim excuses for hideous horripilation into the darkest corners of ourselves and the universe. And when one looks for something hard enough, one almost always finds it. We may be a crotchety breed but we’re still good at some things. The latest news reports are always brimming over with greed and violence and hate. We make the news and we eat it up, too. More’s the pity.

graphite drawing

Captain Crankypants, the Crabbiest Creature in Creation

Why even mention it? Because we have choices. And now, in the shadow of the latest awful tales of murder and depravity and betrayal and any sort of human ugliness you can (or maybe can’t) imagine, it’s holiday time once again. Christmas, yes, and Hanukkah, Ramadan, the New Year (westerners and the Chinese, for example, celebrating it in full gear), Kwanzaa, Tet, a birthday or two zillion. So many opportunities for blow-ups and melt-downs and general cussedness. And we don’t have to succumb to any of them. We can be better than that.

And we should. We should, most of all, when it’s time for all that holiday innocence-wisdom-love-light-and-warmth, stuff that can both exacerbate and offset darker things, choose to enhance it rather than the opposite. The greatest possible gift we can give to others and ourselves for any celebration is to be agents of innocence, wisdom, love, light and warmth instead of any passing urge to give in to crass or cranky behavior. Hugs and kisses are the order of the day. Make peace; be nice–it’s a holiday. Give in to it!

When a Boy Grows Up and Becomes a . . . a Much Older Boy

photoHappy Father’s Day, Dad! I know there was a time when you might’ve wished you’d had actual children and got us instead, but since you never left childhood entirely behind yourself, I think we can call it even. And just think, your offspring are following blithely in your footsteps to keep our own youthful high spirits intact via non-emergence into full adult behavior, so between us we’re all waving the old family flag pretty handily indeed. We’re only so good at it, of course, because we’ve had such an outstanding and irrepressible example in front of us all along.photoI’m grateful for the training in reckless enthusiasm, Teflon ego-building, rampant silliness, and all of the other life skills you have generously shared with us by guidance and example all along the way. I like to think I’m getting fairly good at all of that myself, but will never tire of knowing that it’s shared and that I perform my junior jollities in the shadow of a true master. A good father gives his offspring a happy childhood; a great father carries it on with his children so they never have to give up its joys completely. Thanks to your showing me the way, I can’t imagine ever losing my delight in the mystery and adventure and simple goofiness that life can bring, and that is a fantastic gift anyone less happy would have to envy. I hope you know how deeply–and yes, seriously–it’s appreciated, not just on Father’s Day but every day I can celebrate an untainted sense of the grandest laughing love of life. Thanks for that.

And as with mothers, I am doubly blessed, as I realized pretty much the instant I met the man who would become my other Dad, my husband’s father. It took no time to see that there was a kindheartedness and a very merry twinkle in the eye with which I felt utterly at home, familiar and safe, and these last sixteen-plus years have continued to prove my first assessment correct. To have two fathers who keep the days filled with generosity and warmth and love and my face always turned toward the smiling sun is truly a treasure that will never, ever grow old.photo

Senility isn’t a Second Childhood If You Never Left the First One

It’s pretty simple, really. I’m planning to carry on a long tradition (I won’t name names) of remaining not just childlike but completely immature in every way possible. That way no one will catch on as I slide on down into full dementia.

One of the things that makes this so wonderfully easy for me is artistic license, naturally. But another is simply that I’ve never shaken the innocence of the young and naive twerp and am happy to continuously wallow in my ignorance and the fantasies it engenders. I’ll try to be a realist as far as required, sure, when it comes to stuff like keeping my teeth brushed and taxes paid and not subsisting entirely on quiescently frozen treats, no matter how alluring that may be. Beyond that, no promises.

photos + text

What good can come of being overly adult when there's still so much mischief to make?

I can pull up the ol’ Big Kid Underpants with the best of ’em, but much of the time I don’t really see the point. Far preferable to frolic the halcyon meadows of silliness for as long as I can get away with it.

parakeets in car + text

If you're not ready to just jump in and hit the road, step aside!

Too responsible or distracted by Real Life to get on board with that? See you later, pal!