Your Mileage May Vary

Is there any time machine more reliable for Americans than a car manufactured in the years of their youth? I’m not even that much of a car nut, myself, but this weekend’s car show on the square in our town reminded me that a quick trip back to my formative years is only a muscle car grille away. The town’s annual car show is not one of those high end, multimillion-dollar auction deals full of people who phone in their bids from some remote private island and send their Handlers to pick up the two or three classics they’ve nabbed just for parts. This is where you go to watch little kids waddle around and have their tiny, mustard-coated hands pulled away from the chrome at just the last second by Daddy, who had turned around to talk with the next guy down the row about his customized low rider while Mom was off listening to the live music across the street with the lady who is showing her two vintage tractors at the meet.

The local preference, at least this year, seems to be slightly in favor of mid-century muscle cars, which suits me fine. I’m a mid-century model, too, as it happens, and while my gears are hardly a matter for general admiration, I’ve managed to keep my chassis from getting too badly dinged up so far, and my motor still revs a bit over anything from the great tail fins of the late-’50s models that dominated when I was a young whippersnapper to the sleek, hard-edged lines of the amped ‘Cuda or Cougar in whatever dangerous-looking color some daredevil chose in the early ’70s.

I never got to buy or drive one of those—the closest I ever came was the ’58 Mercury I was sorely tempted to buy for my first car because it did have a trunk big enough to tempt a mafia don (“room for the whole Family!”, if you know what I mean). But being a realist, I knew I had better invest my meager savings in a sturdy station wagon with a solid engine, so I could haul all of my tools for the few years I worked as a painter-slash-gofer at my uncle’s construction company between undergraduate and grad school days. It would’ve broken my heart to mess up that sweet Merc. As it turned out, the studly slant-six engine of my dorky looking station wagon took the sting out of the tradeoff pretty neatly, being able to handle anything I threw at it, and I did put some money into a sound system worthy of shouting along with ZZ Top, Van Halen, and Oingo Boingo tapes (depending on my mood) in the car, a fair consolation on the long drives to more remote job locations.

In any case, I was never the most spectacular driver, so practicality would, and will, always win for me. So it’s all the more entertaining on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, to wander around the parked prizes of other car owners’ loves and reminisce just a little about that brief period of my younger days when a car was more than just transportation to me.Digital illo: Your Mileage May Vary

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.

Through Winter’s Window, Dimly

Photo: Light Looks In

Change of Season

Between the rain spells, when the sun is glinting onto rose and road
The youthful smells of spring are hinting that ahead the broken code
Winter left in seed and scion will reveal its inner life,
Where what had appeared as dying wakes again with newness rife.
Open eyes and open windows! Let indoors the fresh new air,
Breathing in what melts the snows and pushes out all winter’s cares.
So renew the self and senses and embrace the growth and light
Breaking down all old defenses, setting earth again aright.

Unbalanced

Love always makes us a little nutty, and that’s not a complaint.

Digital Illustration: A Little Off Kilter

After all, it’s the only explanation for how I’ve managed to be so loved all of my life!Digital Illustration from a Photo: Longing Ladies

One could do a whole lot worse than beginning and ending with love.

If You’re Not Growing, You’re Disintegrating

Decrepit Like Everybody Else

I ought to get my rear in gear; encroaching entropy

Challenges my mere existence, yes, the being-ness of me—

photo

Why, I’ll be disappearing soon, with chaos on the rise—

Order is losing ground to it, and much to my surprise,

Growth falls to dissolution at a speed I comprehend

Is likely to outlast me, too, as I fade to my end—
photo

And now I am unraveling, unwinding, getting old

And obsolete, for that’s the end of every tale that’s told.

Goodbye to all you younger things: relish your hour of youth—

You’ll all join me, and soon enough, and that’s the simple truth.

The Baby of the Family

When my older sister has birthdays, I’m not overwhelmed by thinking about her age. I’m close enough behind her that I kind of feel her age already, myself. No big problem. Sister number three is a little further behind me, and being the first of my younger sisters to hit each milestone after me, is the one who always makes me feel that little twinge: ‘I have a younger sister who’s that old!’

Baby sister eases into place after the rest of us without creating much ripple. The fact that the youngest sibling is approaching any notable mark is mitigated by three predecessors having beat her to it. Today, her birthday, she’ll do her little bit toward ‘catching up’ again, and yet, naturally, she will continue to remain younger than the rest of us. Once the youngest, always the youngest.

Part of me can’t help but subscribe to the cute and cuddly image held by youngest siblings. For one thing, she is beautiful. All three of my sisters are beautiful. Only one can be the youngest, of course, so I can’t help it entirely if the picture in my mind of my baby sister keeps looking quite a bit like she did as a small child. That adorable infant thing, once seen, is hard to undo. Both little sisters, as a result, are at times in my mind the human equivalent of kittens or puppies or fawns, despite having grown up into fantastic women with real lives and real families of their own.

I have nothing against aging, either mine or my sisters’. As long as we get to do it for a good, long time, and my sisters are doing it wonderfully well so far. I might think of them, the youngest especially, with the soft-filter glow of nostalgic youth painting them into charming little toddlers all over again, but only in light of knowing that they continue to grow more wonderful and marvelous with their actual progress through the years.

Digital illustration: Little Woodland Creatures

Happy Birthday to my—ahem!—foxy baby sister!

I can say as a dandy postscript to this bit of nostalgia that my baby sister is getting some suitable attentions during her birthday celebrations, which began just a little bit early this year. Her youngest, our nephew Christoffer, is in the previously mentioned punk rock band Honningbarna, and they opened for Aerosmith and Alice Cooper last night. My sister and niece got to watch from very near the stage (yay, earplugs!), and when our nephew came off the stage to give his mom a birthday kiss, the crowd responded with all appropriate enthusiasm. Not bad birthday entertainment for a lady who is doing her best to catch up with my advancing age!

Remind Me/Rewind Me

For a person who considers herself happily immature relative to her age, I am sometimes caught off guard when I realize how little of my youthful pleasures I’ve continued to pursue with appropriate enthusiasm into the present. Why on earth would I forego standing on a big plank swing, grasping the chains that hold it and me up, and pumping my legs until I feel like I could fly right on over the top steel bar of the swing set with the greatest of ease? Why not kick off my shoes and socks, abandon them in the dirt, and plunge into the cold river’s slippery, rock-strewn flow without regard for getting the legs of my pants all soaking wet? Is there any law that says a 52-year-old is no longer allowed to slurp her fruit punch noisily through a straw just because it’s so wonderfully refreshing and sugary?

Why, indeed, is the common phrase seemingly always about youthful enthusiasm, yet we tacitly agree to let only actual youths embrace it?

Remind me how being childlike and impulsively happy is so dangerous.photo

Despite being of an age where my childhood version of the high swing was of rock-hard rubber on a steel pipe frame and underlaid with gravel-strewn dirt, I am—well—still alive at this age. I never broke a single bone or chipped a tooth, and my only stitches derived from an indoor activity, a school game of floor hockey. Though I wandered recklessly through many a stream and ocean’s shallows, without regard for my pants or my tender soles, and even drank from the occasional icy mountain brook, the worst that ever came of it was a cut from beach glass, soon enough cleansed with stinging but healing salt water. No clothes were ruined, and I got bit by nothing bigger than a sand- or horse-fly or two. I failed to contract Giardia or E. coli from those wild rivulets I sipped. Even the vast quantities of evil cyclamates in my childhood fruit drink binges failed to kill me off.

So how is it that I lost my ability to plunge ahead without caution to where I seemed, nearly always, to find joyful things? Remind me how always being responsible and mature and playing it safe is better for me.

But write it in a note and slip it under my door. I feel the need to go out and look for a little happy trouble.