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.

Things I Tell Myself

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…and whatever you do, think of your glass as half full. You’ll tolerate your self-criticism better, put it to more positive use, and still remain thirsty for truth, goodness and happiness.

Leave the Lights On!

digital illustrationWhile I’m closing out an old notebook that I kept in blog form a number of years ago, I found yesterday’s post and this companion one. So what the hey, I’ll share this one with you, too.
It’s Thanksgiving Day [2005!] and I am particularly thankful this year for having celebrated a whole year of emergence from clinical depression. For anyone out there who has been mired in it, or still is, I send out a fiercely made wish for your recovery and new joy in life, along with this meditation I wrote after realizing not only how far and how long I had been away from my true self, but the cultural setting in which it is possible to get there without realizing it or even having others see it clearly.And with deep thankfulness that it is possible, with help, to be revived.* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Let’s stop all this rubbish about Depression as a romantic notion.

The myth of suffering being necessary to ennoble the spirit or, more commonly, to shape creativity and artistry and the personalities that foster them, is an inaccurate and unhealthy construct that belies the potential power of sanity and contentment. The idea that much of the great art that has sprung from the work of troubled or diseased artists throughout history would have been impossible, or the artists Not Themselves, if they’d been well or happy is simply a gross assumption of the inflexibility of the human spirit at best, and an insult to mortal intelligence, invention, and character at worst.

In a telling moment of literal as well as figurative turning-on of the lights, participants in a 2004 Canadian study on Deep Brain Stimulation as a possible treatment for otherwise-untreatable depression noted that the world became a visibly, physically brighter place when “area 25”, or the central zone of depression response in their brains, was stimulated to relieve depression. Many of the patients described a distinctive, even poignant, instant of pleasurable shock when the electrode stimulation, suitably placed, flooded them not only with unaccustomed sensations of contentment and ‘rightness’ in their world but also a clearly discernible brightening of their visual perception. It was as though, one commented, he had suddenly remembered a whole range of colors and values and sensory impulses and emotions that had been locked away for decades.

Nowhere in this was there any indication that the participants in the study experienced a negative change in their self-concept when their depression was eased. No mention is made of the patients losing their creative impulses or intellectual depth. Not a note of regret or sense of personal diminution.

The breezy optimist, on the other hand, is not by definition dimwitted or shallow or uninspired. While cultures that have embraced a darkly Romantic mythos of the suffering genius tend to dismiss brilliance that emerges from happier sources as a fluke or as slick, glib cheapness that won’t withstand the value-test of time, many stars and their accomplishments defy those definitions.

Yes, depressed, manic, even twisted and tortured souls with the deepest of psychological, physiological, or chemical-addled warps and wounds have been the vessels and sources of high art and equally high drama, but they are far from alone in that. To say that they only achieved their greatness because of their damaged state is a cruelty, an insult, and a cop-out that says we all could not be greater than we are, if not equally “gifted” with darkness. If being let off the hook ourselves is what we seek, then let’s just be honest and say we don’t relish the burdens of effort and experimentation and get on with other things. I have a suspicion, as it is, that if there’s a notably higher percentage of mental illness among persons who could be classified as particularly ‘creative’, then the cause/effect relationship is one of persons being used to having to problem-solve their way out of unusually difficult circumstances on a regular basis, and so developing stronger problem-solving (read: creative) skills.

Meanwhile, cheer up! Look at the dazzle that being joyful brings. See the energy and wit that, when not wasted on grief and moroseness and morbidity, can be devoted to pursuing greatness instead, and run after it with childlike delight.

A Moment for Contemplation

photoWorlds of Peace

In the sleepy little world where

kindness can prevail and thrive

The beasts and people live in peace,

all happy just to be alive

Their gracious ways, generous hearts,

their gentle speech and thought and will

Protect them all throughout the day,

and through the nighttime hold them still—

Would that this dreamy little world

could bloom and flourish here on earth

And that such hopeful tenderness

pursue us all straight on from birth

My wistful wishing is not vain;

this virtue could embrace us all,

For we do know how to be so,

if only we would heed the call

And so each morning as I rise

I make a small and silent prayer

That by the night’s new-darkened skies,

we’ll find ourselves all living there

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All This and an Open Floor Plan Too

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Lots of natural light, established yard, easy access to transportation (railroad across the street), air conditioning included.

I love a good ruin. While I understand the urgency of need for shelter among the homeless of the world and I generally don’t condone waste, the beauty of a derelict and decaying building speaks to me of history, mystery and longing. The reclamation of the ruin by nature, so astoundingly quick in geological terms, appears in the lifetime of a human to be perversely slow, creeping up and catching observers unawares. Deferred maintenance–a term that has taken on a modern oxymoronic twist I despise, given that such deferral is really deference to eventual wrack and ruin of a very irresponsible sort–becomes dire in what seems to have been the length of the watchman’s single circuit, and when we come back to the front door of the property we thought we’d only just circumambulated, it’s already hanging by one rusty hinge.

The character in and inherent fairytales posed by ancient ruins are naturally enhanced and perhaps exaggerated by their superior age, so a once-fine castle or cathedral, stone cottage or pillared temple has an advantage in terms of potential drama. But I am equally fond of a tumble-down shed or an industrial derelict, for nothing in its skeletal state lacks the piquant possibility of backstory as the mind attempts to re-flesh it with purpose and activity. Given half a chance, I might attempt to revive the corpse in the way that I went with cousins and undertook the rehabilitation of an abandoned cabin near our grandpa’s when we were young, because the romance of emptiness is that it’s always seemingly waiting for something special to happen. On the other hand, spending time in a ruin only to contemplate what did or might happen there can be just as alluring.

In this regard, I suppose I think of ruins as endlessly optimistic, though it may seem quite contradictory: the sense of their potential, whether for new life or for telling their stories of what has gone before, tends to outweigh the sense of sorrow that is in their current state of dishevelment and disrepute.

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I wonder, then, how I so often forget to see imperfect looking people in the same way.

Today is a Great Day

 

photo + textphoto + textBy the way, today is especially delightful in my own life as it’s the sixteenth anniversary of my marriage to the most astounding and outstanding man I know. Happy day, my love, and here’s to many, many more.

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