Trust & Trojan Horses

The problem of what and whom to trust or distrust is far older (though my niece and nephews might be shocked to hear it) than I am, but it remains a puzzle to me, too. In some ways, I suppose, the difficulty only increases with the passing of time, both personal and historical. As I get older and, theoretically at least, more mature and educated, I should have a greater base of knowledge and experience and sharpened observational powers and discernment. As history flows forward and the world grows smaller through the connections of increased mobility and communications, there are exponentially more points of view, levels of experience and learning, and sources of information to be sorted. Yet each generation, each individual, is generally born with no more innate wisdom and perception of fact-vs.-fiction than the ones who’ve gone before. We—individually and corporately—have had the opportunity to not only be taught by previous generations and their experience and learning, but also an unprecedented ability to go places, do things, and otherwise see with our own eyes what is possible on this earth. Yet there remains no shortage of people who mistake their opinions or values for facts, and demonstrable fact for somebody else’s ill-informed opinion if it doesn’t suit them.

When our classical predecessors told about the defeat of Troy by canny Greeks who tricked the Trojans into hauling a massive equine sculpture into the city as a victory trophy when it was actually full of Greek operatives who emerged by night, opened the city gates, and let their fellow soldiers in to attack [the standard modern interpretation of the tale], they tapped this universal theme. Whether it was clever subterfuge or a foreseeable pattern in war tactics didn’t matter so much, perhaps, to the ordinary Trojan citizen waking up to the sight of a Greek sword overhead, but any survivor of the battle must surely have considered whether he might have realized the ‘gift horse’ of left behind treasure was such an improbability as to be highly suspicious. A number of citizens did, apparently (as told in other parts of the Trojan Horse story) come to this conclusion, but such is our nature: there’s always someone making a counter-claim, asking the opposing question, and coming to an equally fervent yet incompatible Truth.

It’s on this ambiguity of our understanding and interpretation that American politicians and their supporters, no matter what the Issue or which side of it, thrive. That’s not merely an aside, but a fairly typical example of our quotidian practices. How easily we attach to our ideas, and how hard it is to persuade ourselves, let alone anyone else, that those ideas might merit frequent reexamination.

Digital illo: Truth or Consequences?

Truth or consequences? Can I trust that the drawbridge will stay up as I sail under it, down as I ride over it? Or will some villain throw the counterweight in gear against my safe passage? Do I rely on its long history as a sturdy and reliable bridge, or do I need to worry that all this rust means it hasn’t been properly inspected and maintained? Will it hold a horse? Will it hold a horse full of spies and soldiers?

Ultimately, I tend to think there are relatively few absolutes beyond being Alive or Dead in this realm of ours. The marvels of the world, as little as we know of it, are compelling and astonishing enough to seem beyond pat answers and fixed realities. But I also think that if our existence has any cosmic purpose, then chances are pretty decent that we’ve been set to a few basic tasks and given a few tools with which to attempt their accomplishment. Task: question; wonder. Tools: observation, cogitation, research, testing, conversation, reasoning, challenging, and returning repeatedly to the questions and wonderment. All of these, in endlessly rearranged repetitions, fill our tool and skill inventories.

What was considered self-evident Truth might prove to have some wiggle room for better understanding or a new reality in the long run: a human does not, as once believed, have to sprout feathers in order to achieve flight more extensive and less potentially final than that made by falling off a cliff. What was impossible may become possible. Complications remain. Humans disagree on what is or isn’t incontrovertible. No universally recognized and accepted magic surtitles appear, blazoned on the sky, that define fact, fiction, falsehood and firm truth for all people, for all time. We interpret and surmise. The very ability for the human brain to entertain two opposing potentials simultaneously enough to formulate and ask a question assures me that, answer or not, we will always find ample possibilities for disagreement. And also that we can keep moving forward. Even under or across a drawbridge. Even on—or in—a horse.

Ambivalence

I am of two minds so much of the time! They might both be on the minimal side, whether you’re talking quantity of Thoughts or quality, but they don’t agree with each other as often as I might like. Often enough, they’re not even on speaking terms, despite living in the same brain-pan. Sigh.

One side of me is always excited about the next big thing, the newness and adventures just around any given corner, and the other is nagging me about how unprepared I am for it. One side laughs easily, sings in the car, and opens doors just to find out where they lead, and the other is dragging her heels to stop the impulsive and ready-for-anything side from falling off cliffs or forgetting her keys. And I’ll bet you the rest of the (ostensibly) adult world has the same duality, to varying degrees.

I can’t fix it, and maybe I shouldn’t even try. After all, the ability to temper daring with reason or cheery nonchalance with logic is often useful, if not life-saving. But I can’t help wishing at times that I could just shut the Hall Monitor side up for a bit and let the wild child have free rein, leaving fear and pragmatism behind, if only for an hour or so.

Don’t you?Digital illo: Ambivalence

Chaos is the Order of the Day

Whenever I think I’m finding my balance, getting the hang of things, or otherwise making rational sense of my life, something happens to remind me that in my reality, these things are impossibilities. And probably unnecessary anyhow. The longer I look at anything, the more its illogical qualities emerge; the more illogical and foolish the world appears to me, the more at home I feel in it. Go figure. Graphite drwg + text: First the Egg, Then the Toast

Fixity

“Why?” is a beautiful question, even though it terrifies most of us. A wise soul once said that the opposite of faith is not doubt but certitude. When we grow too attached to a belief and its perfect correctness, we disallow not only our own reexamination of that belief, which if it’s so perfectly correct should pose no threat to us and if it’s not, should allow us to become wiser and more faithful to our convictions; we also fail to show respect for the belief itself, if we are so fearful of its being exposed as wrong.

Standing fixed in a position of faith is only impressive if that belief can be defended in a calm, intelligent, reasonable conversation with someone who doesn’t yet share the same convictions. A shouting match or the refusal to discuss respectfully is as likely to convince and convert an unbeliever as punching someone in the nose is to prove that you’re smarter than she is if anyone’s questioned it. It’s more useful to ask, whenever any disagreement arises, whether one is genuinely defending one’s belief or just feels personally threatened. Egos so often get in the way of rational, logical conversation when we reflexively mistake the call for proof or persuasion of our beliefs for personal insults. It might be useful to remember that when someone asks for evidence of something we cherish as fact, we could give them the benefit of believing that they really want to know why we accept it as truth. A genuine discussion might actually lead to common ground.

It might also, if we let it, lead to greater insight on our own part. The dispassionate process of a logician is aimed not at debunking everything in sight but stripping away falsehoods and irrelevancies and fallacies to expose the facts in the matter. Truth can withstand all questioning. It trumps politics, rants, bullying, diversionary tactics, disinformation and pure human foolishness, if we dare to examine all of the input carefully and patiently and with respect for those who may have so far missed the mark. A reasoned and quietly stated truth will finally have more power than all of the smoke and mirrors that deniers propagate and cling to, or we will have to admit we’ve lost more than our own convictions.Digital illustration from photos + text: Zoanthrope

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

photoThe answer, if you haven’t already guessed it, is Nothing at All.

Except, that is the problem.

I saw pictures in this week’s newspapers of international leaders meeting in the Tuileries to discuss whether it would be a good idea to attack Syria in response to the country’s use of chemical weapons on its own citizens. The Tuileries, if you don’t already know it, are exquisite, bucolic, gorgeous, peaceful gardens in the City of Light, Paris. A park full of such prettiness and solace as you’d find in any fortunate, war-free spot in the privileged world. Where it wouldn’t seem out of place to have a gathering of polite, well dressed, well-fed people speaking in confident tones of insight and wisdom and deciding what would likely appear to be, if you were out of earshot, where to go for dinner and a nice glass of wine after the opera.photoExcept that this opera happens to be a particularly brutal one, from the chillingly despotic callousness of a leader and his henchmen willing to murder their own countrymen en masse to the remote offices, boardrooms, streets and parks where a multitude of other leaders and citizens of other countries debate whether to kill some more humans in order to redirect the battle. What’s wrong with this picture, from my view, is the frightening sense that unless all of those who think it their business to intervene in such a disastrous situation are willing and able to have these theoretical discussions in, say what was a pretty, bucolic park in Syria and now exists instead in the heart of its darkest hours and gravest danger, they will never likely have a realistic sense of the probable consequences, good or bad, of any choice for the people ‘on the ground’, their fellow humans, and of course, ultimately for themselves.

Until we Americans have something of this literal kind of skin in the game, as it were, I can’t imagine how we can expect to do any right thing in such a situation, and I sense that this same problem might well apply to many other relatively safe, privileged nations and their leaders and citizenry. I would hope that reason and logic and wisdom will prevail no matter what is decided, or how, or by whom. But more than that, I hope that the tide worldwide will turn toward resolutions of all troubles and trials through some more honest, unselfish, patient and wholesome means that leaves all parties with at least the possibility of sitting at peace in any quiet and lovely place, eventually.photo

I’ll Tell You a Little Secret

You shouldn’t be surprised, if you’ve been hanging about this place at all, to learn that I’m very fond of living in my imagination, and that as Ruler of it I am happy to say that reality is highly overrated and being a distinctive (or weird) creature surrounded by distinctive (or weird) happenings and insights is a far superior sort of happiness.graphite drawingWeasels Ahoy

There once was a stoat in a velvet coat

Sailed off in a sterling silver boat–

Yet here’s a clue: I don’t know about you,

But I think some things are too good to be true,

And just as a logical soul should think,

That shiny boat was bound to sink–

At least in a Normal world it would,

Yet some things are simply too true to be good,

So I live in a world that I much prefer,

Where stoats wear velvet right over their fur

And captain ships of a platinum hue;

I think it beats logic by far, don’t you?

And So, Good Night

photoBedding becomes at a certain time the only allowable necessity in the list of must-have, must-acquire things: a soft, squashy place in which to drop into docile dreams and a few gentle coverings to keep the nighttime’s monsters reasonably at bay. In the great grand scheme of everything, it is plain that eventually nothing matters so much to us as a modicum of food and a good night’s sleep, and that, with the essential and desirable bits of bedding to line the nest.

These are nearly universal enough desires that I think I can safely claim they’re innate and downright laudable human compulsions. And if that’s so, why then I’m quite happy to claim that as the possessor of an extreme quantity of the urge for lengthy, peaceful sleep and lots of delicious food, in that order, ergo I must be a particularly outstanding specimen of humanity. Fortunately, this approach to a philosophical stance on my being excellent by virtue of having a notable love and appreciation for the most desired of goals is so far removed from logic as to be virtually unassailable. Unassailable, at least, by persons deeply asleep, which in this tautology we all ought to be. Therefore, I adjure you, let us all seek and dive into whatever glorious sleeping comforts we can find, and make no more pretense of being productively awake.photo

Get Your Mower out of My Driveway

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Hang up and mow!

There are things you would think you’d never have to explain to others, but no. That old term Common Sense seems to have aged poorly, becoming a wistful irony at best, an oxymoron in general practice. Sense, yes; in abundance. Good sense? O, would that it were so!

I’m recollecting the time when our then-regular yard service crew decided it was time for a general pruning in all of their clients’ gardens. Besides the butchery of our precious rhododendrons that made me almost apoplectic when I came home that evening to their skeletal remains–a heartrending sight that on its own would have driven me to buy a cheap push mower and better pruning shears and end the ‘service’ contract–they decided to clear the gate at the north side of the house. Not having noticed, apparently, that I’d sealed that useless gate in favor of the wide open passage on the driveway side of the house, where mowers and wheelbarrows could pass with ease. So they tore out the tender seedling Garry oak by the gate, the one I’d coddled up to nearly five feet tall.

I would have assumed that a longtime yard ‘care’ business would employ people who knew the basics, if not the art, of pruning to do it; the several years of assiduous nursing it took me to save the rhodies were spent in wonder that it was so evidently not obvious to that crew. But yanking up a slow-growing native seedling tree without asking? Really? If I’d had the broom to ride, I’d’ve been skywriting that company’s performance review with the postscript, ‘RIP: Common Sense.’

No, it was not the end of the world, or even (happily) the end of those brave, scrappy rhododendrons. I suppose the only thing that suffered fatally in the event was my trust in that yard company. That, and my mower-free personal time per the end of their contract. But it certainly dealt a glancing blow, as well, to my naïveté about what is and isn’t Common Sense. Guess there’s always time to learn new things. Just keep away from my garden babies in the meantime and nobody gets hurt.

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I don’t care if it *is* growing in a crack on the driveway; if it’s in bloom, don’t mess with it.

Please Vote Responsibly

You know how much I hate politics. I almost titled this post ‘Friends don’t Let Friends Drink & Vote’, since it seems like a whole lot of people prefer to find a specific agenda that appeals to them on a visceral level and shape all of their votes around it willy-nilly, without either differentiating between candidates that do or don’t have any power to guide said agenda wisely or, worse, without first thoroughly checking their own facts regarding that particular point item of passion. Mostly, I hate that what I see and hear of politics is the brainless ranting of people who hang out at the various extremes, and very little of civil discourse and logical, reasoned thinking. Nothing would please me more than to believe that every person with the privilege of voting would not only do so, but do so after serious thought and careful consideration and with a certain amount of faith that the other voters and their points of view matter, too. But to be quite honest, I think we (at least in America where I’ve observed it in person, but I gather this is so in many other places as well) are mighty far from this my ideal.

So I tend to shy away from all things political as much, as long and as often as I can.

Yet I can’t help but wish, and sometimes a little peep of this pained wishful thinking leaks out visibly or audibly. Especially around election times. At least, given my particular bent, I’ll keep trying to publicly disguise my whines and rants in slightly more lighthearted forms when I get my own political itch.

poem [typeset text]

graphite drawing

 

. . . and While I’m on the Subject . . .

Oh! I wasn’t? Well, maybe I wasn’t talking about it, but I was thinking about it, and in my household, that constitutes a continuing conversation rather than a festival of non-sequiturs. That’s the way we operate. First, someone says something that appears to be completely out of the ether, Left Field, or a secret portion of the anatomy generally best left out of conversation. The ensuing stretch of interminable seconds is usually occupied with the second person working out madly in his or her head what the remark meant, how on earth it had any relevance, if it is possible to decipher, and–oh! There it is! Suddenly, the very long and convoluted train of thought that led from a comment or conversation long since ended (or so one thought) reappears, not having stopped at the station or even derailed but instead having wound through uncharted territory and visited innumerable exotic towns along the way before returning to view.

digitally doctored photo

Sometimes it's as though I'd taken some sort of strange potion and time shifted . . .

As my spouse and I have just returned from a theatre viewed the Metropolitan Opera‘s live-transmission broadcast of Giuseppe Verdi‘s ‘Ernani‘, I can say that we two are evidently not alone in this discombobulating sense of the very tenuous connectivity of perceived reality. I was quite delighted with seeing the broadcast, our whole reason for attending in the first place being the Met live-broadcast debut of the exquisite-voiced Angela Meade, who ‘graduated’ university with my husband in a sense, being a senior student and outstanding soprano soloist in the choir he conducted and took on his farewell Scandinavian tour as he left the university where he’d been teaching for 18 years. Besides her very lovely persona, we knew and admired the beauty of her voice then and she proved again today that it has only further ripened into full bloom. Frankly, she could open the poorly translated operating manual for a lawn mower and sing from it and it would be musically and artistically fulfilling and entirely worth the hearing.

While I’m being frank, I’d have to say in addition that I think the libretto of ‘Ernani’ could be surpassed in literary merit, coherence and comprehensibility by the aforementioned lawn mower manual. Opera is, admittedly, rarely sought out for its exemplary logic and natural progression or, probably, for much resemblance to the real world and its history and human actions therein. That’s not why we go to the opera. But among operas I’ve seen and heard, ‘Ernani’ is mighty high (and I use the word advisedly) on the short list of the most wildly improbable, disjointed and just plain wacky so-called plots. That train not only left the rails right out of the station, it went straight off a cliff.

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Let Elvira sing Hey, nonny nonny, Ernani, you ninny!

Meanwhile, back in his studio, young Signore Verdi was either smitten enough with the romance of a love quadrangle to ignore the outrageously outlandish pastiche on a plot-line, or perhaps had merely imbibed an entire Jeroboam of Barolo by himself, because he took that absurd libretto and proceeded to set the whole thing to equally incongruous music. Three hours of it. Thankfully, whether the Barolo had any chance to or not, Verdi eventually matured into writing stuff that had some relationship to the text, however ludicrous the latter happened to be.

Opera is at least so honest as to call itself ‘work’, it’s just not entirely up-front about the post-compositional work remaining to be done by audience members who might find it quite the laborious process to decipher what’s going on, with whom, and how. Never mind when, where and why. But I mustn’t pick at nits too freely; after all, our nice little cozy home conversations might just as well constitute the storyline of some incipient opera themselves. I have no musical compositional skills, so I couldn’t compete with Verdi even at his most immature, but maybe if I gloss over my melodic shortcomings with a few additional high Cs and a royal assassination or two thrown in no one will even notice that I’ve wandered far and constantly from my original subject. I may have mentioned that I tend to do that. I forget. Oh, well. It happens. And while I’m on the subject . . .

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Ooh! Pretty flower! Now, where was I?