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.

Any Old Palace will Do

As self-crowned, self-proclaimed Empress of Everything (mistress of none), I have always enjoyed the ease and luxury due my supposed station. I eat well, travel relatively often, and keep the finest of company. It’s only appropriate that I should also live in the palace of my own choosing, or better yet, in various fantastic palaces in different fabulous parts of the world whenever I happen to be there. Of course, the locales and the company I keep in them determine my level of happiness far more than the buildings and their furnishings do themselves. Isn’t that always the way? No matter how plush it is, a glamorous structure is only a gilded cage if it allows no light of love and adventure into it and no correspondingly venturesome, happy soul out of it.
Photo: S:kt Jakobs

So far I’ve managed to establish my string of palaces remarkably well, along with fulfilling my many other requirements of that life of luxury I don’t necessarily deserve but am quite capable of desiring. I’ve stayed in, lived in, visited, and wandered through many a grand, gorgeous, impressive place. I’ve designed many on paper and in my mind that would knock the socks off of any person who saw them. Yet I still can’t understand the people who look at glorious, showy homes and think only of whether the places would genuinely suit as their own dwellings. If your energies are devoted solely to thinking that “this master bedroom is too small,” all I can think is that your imagination is too small, your life too tightly fitted around what you perceive as Impressive Enough, to allow you to find your palace in whatever motel room or suburban house with one bathroom your life lets you land in at the moment.
Photo: Davenport, Spokane

Many of the palaces I’ve inhabited I have done only as a passerby, a visitor, a tourist. And I have nothing against that at all. After all, wherever I close my eyes to sleep, even the most cramped bedroom with a creaky, narrow, deeply bowed bed where the very middle of the mattress is the only almost-level spot to rest, I can turn it into any one of the palatial places I’ve visited, or continue to invent my own. The roof I am under is irrelevant in determining the luxury of my existence, so long as it’s safe and not lacking a place to lie down without breaking anything (furniture or me; I prefer to keep both intact) and not hideously cold or hot or wet. In my dreams, I remain Empress, and there I can build and inhabit the most astounding of palaces if I choose to do it.

As such, I am also constantly grateful for the many wonderful places I’ve visited, stayed,  and/or lived, and especially for the extensive ranks of friends and family and acquaintances who have through their immense kindness consistently supported my ability to live—and feel—like royalty.

A Little Something for a Friend

Photo Montage: Manhole Covers 1I discovered quite some time ago that the admirable proprietress of a photography blog I enjoy very much, inte fan gör det det (I’ll let you look up the translation, you non-Swedish-speakers, for your own amusement) shares my affection for many things that escape attention from lots of others. Among those oft-overlooked everyday objects are the steel caps that separate cars and pedestrians and the like from whatever dwells in the underground infrastructure: manhole covers.Photo montage: Manhole Covers 2

Some of these utilitarian items are made without much regard for their aesthetic potential but even so, manage to become rather special and interesting by virtue of the patina of age and use. On top (no pun intended) of that, there are many manhole covers deliberately designed to be special and interesting and aesthetically pleasing. I don’t much care what the original intent of a manhole cover’s design happens to have been, as long as part of the purpose was to keep me from falling into the sewer.Photo: Manhole Covers 3

But it does beg the question, for me, of why, outside of emergencies, one shouldn’t make every single thing one makes as beautiful as it can be. Maybe I should simply be content that so many things, like manhole covers, can become beautiful through use and time. After all, that’s what I would like to be able to do, myself. Ah, perhaps that is precisely what is at play in the manufacture of a manhole cover; it is made expressly to become beautiful through use and years. Perhaps, indeed, I’ve stumbled onto a cosmic truth, and we mortals are also designed with that in mind. I suppose I’d better get busy!Photo: Manhole Covers 4

A Glimmering of Sweetness Exceeding All that has Gone Before

This is my wish for all of you as the new calendar year begins. May you find goodness and contentment all around you, and may you in turn share and propagate it everywhere you go in 2014. Peace and abundant happiness, my friends.photoI rarely have an actual Plan for the upcoming year, but this time around I do want to move toward a few specific things. First and foremost, I want to be more deliberate about finding ways and excuses to be an even happier person, and to leverage that happiness to spread it as far and wide as I can to other people. Call it intentional optimism, call it doing random acts of kindness, call it whatever you want, but I think it’s more likely to be good for the overall tone of the year than not, and that alone is worthwhile.photoIn addition, I intend to start making money this year again, however little it may be. I have no delusions of getting rich, but would love to put my own tiny dent in our family expenses, savings, and/or retirement. It’s been a long time since I got any actual dollars for anything other than a present, and I know that, however unlikely a choice I may be on paper for anyone who’s hiring, I will find a way. Or two. It may not be a regular job, or it might be a conglomeration of tasks and sources. I’ll keep you posted, friends, but if anyone happens to have any brilliant insights before I do, chime in; I’m listening! Meanwhile, I’m happy to keep working on increasing the happiness quotient however I’m able. That’s Job #1.

Hither and Yon

photoTravel calls. It almost always does. I am grateful that travel doesn’t always require a lot of concrete resources. Because when travel demands that I join hands and run away with her, I may not have instant access to the time, money and practical resources needed for physically hitting the trail.

That’s when I travel Inward. While I love traveling in fabulous cities and foreign countries, unknown rural roads and famous tourist sites, I also delight in traveling the interior world. I make inner places both based on those lovely locales I’ve visited in real life or know of through others and on ones wholly invented by my strange little imagination, and they’re populated with all sorts of people and creatures, real or magical or, better yet, a nice mix of the two, doing whatever the denizens of such places should or can do. Anything can happen, and in the inner world I can be the one deciding what that Anything should be, playing puppet-master and ringmaster as I see fit, and returning home to my conscious and ordinary world of day-to-day life when it’s time to do so.

And when traveling Inward is not enough or the moment of wealth arrives when I can afford traveling Outward again, that’s what I like to do. So much unexplored territory remains for me to learn, experience and enjoy. To assimilate as fuel for further inner invention! So many friends and towns and countries I long to revisit. Beauty and mystery and joy and adventure that removes me from my ordinariness. That, whether my journey goes inward or outward, is a grand and miraculous thing.

May we all travel well, wherever our travels take us.photo

Against the Grain

It’s not only thanks to dyslexia that I get lots of things backwards. Say, this morning, when I realized that I was about to publish yesterday’s post because I forgot about it yesterday. That was just plain forgetfulness. So here you go.

Backwardness, now that’s a much more deeply embedded part of my nature than just reading and seeing physical things differently than others do. I see life differently, too, and sometimes it sets me off on paths that diverge and digress from all previously known ones. And that’s not inherently bad.

I don’t necessarily advocate bucking the popular trend just for the sake of being different. I certainly don’t advise doing the opposite of what everyone else does all of the time merely to prove you’re above them all. That can put you right in the path of danger; sometimes rules and boundaries and well-trod routes and even conformity derive from practical need and hard-won experience putting people out of harm’s way.

But there are times, too, when it does pay to be willing to hang the painting upside down, go home by a different road, or get up and dance when nobody else dares to get out of their chairs. Once in a while, the gift of getting out of sync with all the rest of creation is that you will learn something none of the rest know, feel something you’ve never felt before or even discover something previously hidden from the universal view. Even if it only lasts for a short while, the inner evolution that results might well be worth holding in your heart, your inside-out, upside-down and backward heart, for a very long time indeed.graphite drawing

Windows into the Heart

photoConservatories

Shells of glass to shield from winter

Leaf and flower, root and seed

Give the tender lives inside them

Shelter that they crave and need

In the warming arms of friendship

We in kind find safety, grace,

Shelter from the world’s hard trials

In that other shielding placephoto