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.

Tell Me Not What Lies Ahead

digital illustration from a photoEven if I could I would rather not see the future. If it’s not to my liking, then I’ll despair and give up all attempts to improve upon it; if appealing, it will tempt me to live in constant yearning and not invest my heart and hands in my own present.

That doesn’t stop me from persistently trying to scry any hints of what’s to come in whatever handy crystal ball I can conjure. We’re curious creatures, we humans, and impatient at that. I wish and want and hope and dream, along with all of my fellow mortals, thinking that if I just knew what lay around the next bend of the road, surely I would be content, or at least if not content then prepared. But few who have access to dates and deadlines, foresight and certainties actually prepare in full, and once the approaching events are known they so often become the sole focus of the journey, not a point along the way, in fact distracting us from all of the possibly meaningful points that do exist en route.

I would rather not give myself any excuses for being even less attentive than I already am, and to be honest, I think it would take a fair measure of the charm out of discovering my life with a degree of surprise as it happens. Do I hope that what comes will be pleasurable and kind and fulfilling? Naturally. But whatever it is, I will let it keep its secrets for now; there is a lot to be seen and felt and done long before I get there, wherever there is and whatever it holds.

It’s Beginning to Look a Little Like . . .

Now, I don’t know if I’d call it exactly Christmasy, but in the relative scheme of things, it is beginning to look a tad more wintry around here than it’s been up until now. In my nordo-centric upbringing I was never exposed to such stretches of overheated weather that I’d begun to disbelieve in winter altogether by the time the second week of December was commencing. So it’s kind of a relief to hear that we’re about to drop down to freezing temperatures overnight within a couple of days here. To see some turning leaves actually, really, truly drop off and leave a tree or two naked; berries lighting up as rosy as Rudolph’s nose; to hear the branches both leafy and bare whispering cool secrets in anticipation of the frost that may or may not arrive before the clock’s run out on potential wintertime.photoThe embarrassing thing about this is that, having had seemingly all the time in the world myself to prepare for this winter thingy, I’m still not exactly ready. I’ve got a whole big, fluffy list of stuff I can–and maybe should–get underway, if not completed, before this mythic seasonal happening arrives, and no, said list is not small either. I did get a small few things done in the long, sloping stretch leading toward this change of the weather, but it’s never quite so much as I would have liked to have accomplished. Story of life, isn’t it. I guess if I’m honest I should say that it’s beginning to look a lot like every other year I’ve known, every other change–or lack of change–of the seasons. And you know, I’m okay with that. Life’s been mighty good to me, and if it can be this nice even when I’m so far from perfectly keeping up with it, lay it on me.

Oh, and I’d appreciate it if I can have a sweater to go along with the seasonal change too, just in case. Thank you.photo