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.

Confounded Conversationalists

For all of the talking that we humanoids do, we certainly get very little actual Stuff resolved. Our individual biases and filters make it far too easy to hear things with a skew that makes every verbal interaction less of a conversation and more of a convoluted Baroque dance performance. It’s not just that I often realize, after having haggled at length over any given topic with anybody from my husband on outward to complete strangers, that we are in fact sharing the same view, but stating it so differently that we might as well be talking entirely different languages. It’s also not easily brushed off as a problem specific to age, sex, political or religious affiliations, educational status, culture or any of those other Issues we get hung up on all the time; those can play into the ‘failure to communicate‘ plenty, to be sure, but I think there might be a little something broken or at least unfinished in us that makes us almost preternaturally unable to fully and clearly communicate with each other on a consistent basis.

Photo montage: Grizzolar Talk

Does my commentary seem especially grisly to you, or do you just automatically give it the cold shoulder?

We can do it. If we simply couldn’t, not ever, why then we wouldn’t know the difference. So it’s silly of us not to spend at least as much energy on learning to communicate with each other better as we do on miscommunicating or simply failing to even try. I am past-master at garbling what I meant to say, or saying things in such a way that everybody else on the planet hears something different from what I thought I was expressing—I’ve long since outed myself for having that particular foot-in-mouth gift. I guess that means I had better clean out my ears, open my heart, get my brains in better order, and let other, more skillful communicators do the talking more often, and just sit back and listen and learn. Though of course there’s still the possibility that I’m hearing it fine yet completely misinterpreting the information. It goes that way a lot in my particular part of the planet.

If You can Read This, You’re Already Contaminated

When is an advertisement not an advertisement? A warning not a warning?

When bad signage happens. And oh, boy, does it.

photo

It looks okay from here, but if it’s installed in a corner that cannot be seen from across the sidewalk when approached from the correct direction on a one-way road, it loses something in the translation.

Sometimes it’s the glaringly obvious kind of crumminess that comes from ugly design, inaccurate information, typos, misstatements and inappropriate imagery that destroy the intended impact of signage. Sometimes it’s subtler stuff, though. To install signage in the wrong place–or not in the right place–or backward or upside down or in a hidden spot is not only unproductive, it’s counterproductive. It sends people the wrong direction down one-way streets, makes them turn machines on when they’re supposed to be turned off, and lets them walk past the place they seek six times before realizing that what looks like a reflection in the window is actually the back of the sign.

Sometimes, not maintaining the signs properly leads to, erm, lead poisoning, if the sign cautioning that toxic lead is present is no longer readable until one is actually in the toxic zone. A neon sign in my longtime home of Tacoma was half unlit for months on end, supposedly inviting visitors to come to a cheery little mini-mall near the freeway, but I often wondered how many people who didn’t already know the place were actually enticed by the come-hither sign winking at them, ‘COMA PLACE’. There was a family near another home of mine who liked to let everybody know which was their house, so they put up their name by the mailbox in a beautifully scripted plaque proclaiming their home the location of ‘The Balls of Bothell‘. I’m a little surprised that the city didn’t cite them for indecent exposure.

photo

My guess is, the paint that was added over the old pump [and sign] is lead paint, too.

Funny how much we read into these things. I realize that my eyes aren’t what they used to be, but I hope that anyone wishing to tell me anything in print, whether as sign or label or translated instruction book, would take into consideration that bad signage can make bad things happen to good people. If nothing else, you’ll save one life when I don’t have a pulmonary infarct from laughing too hard at those grocery labels you put in the display uncorrected to sell me ‘Semen Tea’ and ‘Mini Bums’.