Sunday, September 28, 2014

Good Morning Justin

Letter to my Son 
Sunday, 28 September


Good Morning Justin…

The darkness brings to life my special nightmare scenarios.  With bat in hand I’m forced to patrol this house – switching on lights, room by room.  This place breathes with the gathering of an evil my mind has yet to describe.  My grip on the bat tightens.  My skin crawls.  They watch me.  I shout to keep them at bay but knowing my fate is out of my hands.  A chimpanzee scurries into the light from an adjoining darkened room.  It drops to the floor onto its back and beckons me to approach.  It seems friendly enough.  I scratch its chest.  I’m relieved by the presence of this longtime favorite pet.  Funny I have no memory of it until now.  I awake.

These are the streets of ancient Athens.  I’ve been called upon to advise Plato on how to serve up his views in a broadly palatable manner.  Brevity is your ally, my friend.  Limit your teachings to one page, single spaced.  Tell the story of the horse.  It captures pretty much all you have that is essential to say.  Your story goes something like this:  There are all the horses of the world and then there is the conception of what it means to be a horse.  Nothing in nature’s existence meets this standard of perfection.  A living, breathing horse can only approach the ideal but they all stray, flawed to varying degree from the universal template that gives us horse.  As is true with the equine so it is with all things of existence, including man.  It is for us, mankind’s artists and philosophers, to determine the mystical underpinnings of reality. 

That’s it.  And look!  We still have room to speak of Socrates, teacher of ethics through reasoned insight, friend and mentor to the young of Athens – participants of a street academy, pursuing truth by means of a discourse that involves answering penetrating questions.  Yes, it is a mouthful.  But you can bring it to life.  You were there Plato.  There is no one better able to explain this enigmatic man. 

Possibly we should lead with a joke.  A healthy laugh beforehand relaxes the listeners and primes their receptiveness to the topic at hand.  Well, it seems that Socrates generally began his session by relating a bit of humor.  He would dryly expound on some circumstance of everyday life and just as his listeners’ eyelids became heavy he would liven the discourse with an inadvertent fart.  Can there be a better punchline?  I think not.  Of course Plato, being Plato, reminded the gathering that all farts heard in the realm fell short of the ideal.  What characteristics describe this ideal?  There are three that come to mind; bouquet, tonality or musicality, and audibility. 

How can we determine the ideal when this topic appears so subjective?  I agree but let us try, nonetheless.  Can there be a more promising gaseous bouquet than one provided by a salad mix of bean sprouts, broccoli, garlic croutons and chicken cubes marinated in a sauce that guarantees gastric distress?  Sure, Texas chili has its diehard advocates but it falls short in tonal range, unless you think the blare of a truck horn is musical.  No, I believe the flatulence we seek begins in a low bass registry and then curves to a soaring treble finale.  You know you’ve heard it when after its thrilling conclusion you are irresistibly bound to point finger to the sky and sing out the word, “Excelsior!”

How audible should we make this flatus?  I, for one, believe that silence is considered a misfire by any aficionado of the art.  Still, this is not an easy characteristic for one to grade because it is context dependent.  One audible level does not serve all needs.  If, for instance, you are snuggling on a first date it is probably best to keep a breaking wind to a discrete registry – popping a beer tab comes to mind.  A small gathering for dinner can be accommodated with a sound level just short of a champagne cork letting loose.  Let’s say you’re taking in a lecture in a filled auditorium.  This requires a robust trumpeting.  I suggest you help yourself to a couple extra helpings of beansprouts beforehand.  Also, consider walking up the aisle at the moment of release to insure maximum distribution of the bouquet.    

I failed to add the importance of timing.  Think of the moment of expulsion as adding an exclamation mark to the proceeding.  Make your emphasis memorable by having it immediately follow especially intimate words or the “amen” when saying grace or during a dramatic pause in the course of the lecturer’s pontification.  These are some ideas.  The main point is to be creative.  Finally, keep in mind that a little goes a long way.  Surprise is of utmost importance.  Going to the well often only deadens the sparkle.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Good Morning Jacob

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 21 September

The Dream - Henri Rousseau

Good Morning Jacob…

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Why does anything do anything?  Why does a beetle suddenly change directions?  It suddenly decides to pursue a new direction after walking a fair piece.  Can it be a tiny mind such as it has makes decisions as we know it?  The beetle becomes impatient or bored with its current path.  Maybe it is curious about what is going on to its left.  That makes for one emotionally rich insect, doesn't it?  More likely the beetle simply responds to something detected in its current surroundings.  It rules that a change in course will, on balance, be more favorable to its existence.  Hogwash.  How can an animal with such puny problem solving capacity display clear, logical reasoning?  Yet, insects and even minuter, seemingly insignificant beings make choices in a manner that suggests a reasoned approach.  But reason requires some degree of consciousness.  What consciousness is there without a measure of self-awareness?

The alternative explanation for insect decision-making is a mental process that is comparable to computer programming where sensual inputs are weighted by their degree of importance to animal survival.  These priorities are determined by the process of natural selection.  Making choices in one’s behavior is hard-coded by the DNA that provides the individual’s nervous system.  It’s all quite mechanistic sounding but it is feasible so long as the animal isn’t confronted with a situation that isn’t accounted for in its genetic coding.  Such an encounter might provoke the animal into performing actions counter to its best interests.  It could ignore or be deceived by the potential threat.  It may display signs of hysteria – heightened excitement combined with confusion.  Imagine a fly banging repeatedly against a window pane. 

Consider the complexity of having an animal’s every response being dependent on its DNA coding.  First, all significant factors involved in its existence must be detectable and capable of being prioritized as to their relative importance to the animal.  An individual’s combined sensory organs may be sending many various inputs each moment for the nervous system to evaluate.  These inputs need to be graded individually and as groups in order for a determination to be made in real time as to its best course of action.  Add to these external forms of stimulus the information constantly sent to the brain regarding the animal’s internal environment or physiology.  Is it overheating or is it too cold?  What is its recourse here?  What nutrients is it most in need of replenishing?  How is its energy level?  If it is ingesting a vital food source but it is also becoming overheated by direct sunlight what should it do?  The risks are weighed and the response is made – all by its DNA coding.  If the solution is incorrect the animal dies and does not live to reproduce the offspring having its deficient genetics.

Why did the chicken cross the road?  Its life is more complex and enriching than that of the beetle but the chicken’s decision remains fundamentally based on DNA coding.  We observe the bird’s action and possibly infer some degree of emotional motivation.  Was curiosity involved? 

What is the basis for our own emotions?  A beetle’s nervous system need only command the entity to do something and it responds without question.  However our own brain is incomparably more complex.  We aren't robots.  There are numerous areas of the mind that appear to compete with one another – even to work at cross purposes.  We have both reason and emotion.  Our heart tells us we are in love but our head says this path flirts with danger.  Now here is a case of mind-boggling DNA coding.  One point of view does not usually win out over the other.  Instead we choose to suspend the conflict unresolved.  Can we always juggle, never to drop the ball?  What tension this creates.  Where is the remedy?  Aha!  We find something that applies to our circumstance in a movie we see, a story we read.  Maybe some form found in an artist’s painting stimulates our imagining.  An undercurrent springs to life from within the unconscious.  A dolphin is in the tree.  This is just another cockeyed dream - of beetle signs and coils of life and endless romantic themes.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Good Morning Jack

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 14 September

Good Morning Jack...


I tire of words eventually.  I’m no poet.  Words for me are but a tool of reason.  They pass along straightforward information.  There’s little nuance and definitely no frills here.


There was a time when I was comfortable with creating images.  I discovered I didn't have to be an artist – I didn't have to be good – to express something of what I felt.  It all offered no explanation.  I liked the mystery involved.


One’s own mind offers room to wander.  We find places we never thought to go.  I like it best when I don’t let thinking get in my way.  I’m not interesting when I try to be smart.


Is this how she truly looked?  Don’t be silly.  This is how she felt.  Actually this is how I felt about her as she sat across the table from me… making up stories; creating altogether new words to describe her thoughts.


It’s an image of a particular thought.  It’s like a hieroglyph.  Something captures one’s attention.  Something all too familiar is suddenly seen as though for the first time.  New ideas come to life.  New associations are made.  It only happens when we disentangle ourselves from our humdrum inner narrative:  yada, yada, yada.

no remedy

She was in a park.  I don’t know what was going on.  Does it matter?  Isn’t the face a marvelous device?  Our face provides a wealth of visual clues.  What complex creatures we are.  Think of all the means we use to express who it is we are.  Besides the face there is body language, words, voice, touch – and art of all kinds.  Dogs have tails, barks and whines.  Maybe porpoises use mental telepathy.  It doesn't make for Shakespeare. 


You can get lost in a face.  Age enriches one’s image with extraordinary topography.  Countless frowns, smiles, laughs and arched eyebrows leave their mark.  There’s history here.  All these telling nooks and crannies.  Wrinkles are magnificent; even sexy.

curtain up

Explanations can be tiresome.  Intrigue provides a fertile field to explore.  If you insist on talk, try substituting this desire with music – minus the need of lyrics.    


What is more personal than living in the moment?  It is its own reward.  We’re fully grown but we have all the observational powers of a three year old.  Here’s how we truly get away from it all.  Enjoy your day. 


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Good Morning Jessica

Letter to my Daughter
Sunday, 7 September

Good Morning Jessicca…

Who is it that next walks through your door to greet you?  There’s always a greeting of some sort to acknowledge the renewed acquaintanceship.  “Long time no see” serves the purpose even though your last conversation together may have been a mere few hours ago.  It’s a ritual introducing a new episode to your on-going relationship as friends.  It also serves to quickly acclimate us with the nature of our interaction. 

A simple “Hello” may suit the moment.  It’s concise so the nature of its meaning depends on the manner of its delivery.  A smiling exuberant “Hello!” provides an outburst of warmth that is shorthand for saying something like, “Boy, am I glad to see you.  It has been entirely too long since we last met.”  A quiet “Hello” accompanied by a small smile makes for a greeting reserved for someone you’re maybe meeting for the first time.  There’s a potential for friendship here but this preface to conversation may only be a polite gesture preceding a matter of business.  You’re each putting a human face on an interaction that is possibly as impersonal as the signing of legal documents regarding a transaction.  If the encounter has gone smoothly you can gratefully punctuate the end of the matter with a handshake and the comment, “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.”  The sentiment is genuine but you are relieved the event has concluded and you move on to other interests of your day unconcerned that you may never see this individual ever again.  A matter of necessity had brought you together.  Now that it is completed you each wish the other well while preferring your lives to move in separate circles.

Were you to greet an old friend with a similarly reserved “Hello” it is likely to indicate there is a problem between the two of you that needs to be resolved.  Possibly it is nothing more than a small misunderstanding having occurred the previous evening or maybe it was an unintended slight due to ill temper from lack of sleep or being plagued by worry.  The recipient of this unexpected cool greeting knows something is amiss, possibly a friction in the relationship needs mending.  If the friendship is strong and vital to both then the matter can be forthrightly addressed.  What follows may include an apology, an expression of relief, some laughter and the both of you quickly move on to happier moments.  On the other hand, the problem may be but one in a series of incidents that has brought grief between these friends.  Instead of a quick resolution of the matter there is a wary circling of the issue.  In place of owning up to one’s own complicity in the problem there is an airing of recrimination.  Antagonisms mount.  A larger more substantive threat to the friendship has been unveiled.  There is mutual shock at this revelation.  What is to be done?  The encounter ends with words of anger and alarm.  The visiting party flees the presence of the other.  The two injured friends separately search out other friendships, seeking validation.  How dreadful this other person has revealed themselves to be.  Where once there was comfort and joy now there is a cold, painful void.  What once had charm is now irredeemably wretched.

Oh, what suffering there is that comes from bad blood.  We are daily confronted with these broken shards.  Only time can mend the hurt.  What comes of the friendship is uncertain.  Possibly the two friends arrive at a more realistic appraisal of the other as a human being and their bond is strengthened by a more accepting appreciation of the other’s incorrigible traits.  This period of absence has reinforced one’s sense of need for the other.  How foolish and inconsequential the dispute now seems.  The words of greeting introducing this reconciliation are of small note.  Most any words will do.  One’s meaning and contrition is found in their voice.  Serenity is gratefully embraced, at least for the moment. 

Otherwise, we move on.  The friendship becomes a chapter receding from view by the accumulating time, ever fading in its importance to our daily life.  There are lessons to be learned about ourselves and our dealings with others if only we care to revisit the iconic moments of this relationship.  Knowing our own failings doesn’t mean we don’t continue to repeat them.  There are some behaviors too ingrained in our being to ever be completely relieved.  We hope to encounter others who may well develop a taste for our own peculiar emotional vintage.  Imperfections in modest amounts are the spices that provide zest to character. 

Who can love pure goodness?  It’s obnoxious.  The root attraction to Jesus undoubtedly lies in his humanity.  He exhibits at various moments fear, anger, love... most likely hate.  He suffers all the irritations and indignities of a biological existence among men and vermin in a parched land.  These are all matters removed from the experience of the creator of the universe.  Love God the Creator?  Not likely.  Give me Jesus on the cross.  He understood us.  He knew the attraction and comfort man found in woman.  He knew the rewards and pain of human relationships.  All our interactions contribute to a fabric loomed by humanity.  It is this we can love.