Sunday, October 26, 2014

Good Morning Jessicca

Letter to my Daughter
Sunday, 26 October

Good Morning Jessicca…

The world can’t find enough somebody did somebody wrong songs.  It’s the flip side of every romance.  The trouble with love is its promise weights too much for human nature to bear.  Love may seem immortal, just not with the same person.  It’s a cute trick of the Valentine, guaranteeing a fool for love is born each day and the weight of human love doubles every few years.

Love has no season.  There’s a full moon at harvest and the first kiss slips quickly into a lost embrace.  A new awakening begins.  There is no going back.  You taste the mystery.  Nothing ever felt so right.  Two lovers are swept away by a glorious current of desire, need and hope. 

It happens again.  Nothing new occurs beneath the sun and moon.  Not now.  Not ever.  Not in the course of events between two humans tangled in love.  Go trouble yourself with researching love’s path through song, poem, book and motion picture.  Consummation occurs early then sinks from view.  The love we now know is never as it once was.

I love you.  This is all I have.  Is it still good for you… or should I ask? 

You’re young.  You’ve been there by now.  You know the joy and, probably, you’ve felt the cold as it slips away.  Then the door shuts, forever.  It’s OK.  Let it sink in.  This is another course of nature, much as the inevitability of birth and death. 

Your life is given a new chance.  Love springs eternal.  Someone new wants to be with you.  It’s not a question of good.  We adjust to the rules of living.  In fact, we may fall in and out of love within the same marriage.  Life has ways to intervene.  The partner we loved at nineteen is not the same one we love at fifty, despite they’re sharing the same name.  It holds true for you, as well.  Personal growth that is healthy and rewarding has the potential for trouble in a dynamic relationship. 

It’s true.  Change can be a threat.  Difficulties must be confronted.  Accommodations are made.  Despite this effort change can lead to an end.  It’s the parting of irreconcilable differences.  Where once there were rose color glasses there now seems only illness.  You can’t deny the unhappiness.  Bitter words are exchanged.  It’s the pain of losing what you once cherished most.  Damn you!

 A broken heart need not be a terminal disease.  Sure we spend time stumbling about, appearing before all in clown makeup – adrift, stranded.  What’s the cure?  Stay busy.  Be involved with what’s outside you.  Change for the better may start slow, almost imperceptible.  One day you notice there are pleasant surprises to the day.  Your step lightens.  A sunset is shared.  Happiness returns but not as before.  The joy is more measured, yet worthy.  You find love never quite left.  It may be recast but it is always there to share.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Letter to Christa

Excavation     De Kooning - 1950

Good Morning Christa…

One of the points you make in response to Michael Graziano’s column, Are We Really Conscious? , is that personal impressions are valid.  The subjective life is real.  Consciousness exists because it is an indisputable part of our experience.  The processing of input through the use of mental models does not necessarily make conscious thought an illusion.  Our minds evaluate an apple’s color, flavor, aroma, depth and weight.  The result is that the mind identifies the object as an apple.  This information is of no practical value to our biological brains without next determining the relevance of the apple to ourselves.  We don’t determine the importance of the apple without also providing further knowledge of the self.  Are we hungry?  Is this item safe for us to eat?  Do we like apples?  Would we prefer eating something else that is available?  The process of absorbing external world information also initiates self-knowledge, self-awareness.  Deprive us of all sensory input for an extended period and we may well lose in time the nature of our own identity. 

Consciousness requires our being able to continually relate with the external world.  Thus it does derive from the processing of information.  It also makes sense for the mind to require preexisting mental models – bundles of information – if it is to be capable of any meaningful evaluation.  Let’s return to our apple.

Of what use is the apple’s color if our minds are not prepared to interpret the wavelength it reflects?  A wavelength is a physical reality of the external world.  It has many properties associated with it.  A particular wavelength captured by the mind’s eye may induce a mental construct we identify as the color red.  There would be no recognition of red without first a model to interpret that wavelength.  So it also holds true for all aspects of the external world.  It isn’t enough to provide the biological equipment for hearing if there isn’t a corresponding model in place to convert vibrations into sound.  Sound is strictly a mental phenomenon, just as is color, odor or touch.  All of these sensations have been created, modified and refined over many millions of years.  The mind needs to know only what is relevant to survival.

A model produces a rough approximation of an entity.  Graziano refers to its product as a mere caricature of the object’s true properties.  Our awareness of the color white gives us no clue that it actually contains all visible colors of the spectrum.  We have no model for this because the information has no relation to survival.  Human reason enables us to acquire information not directly processed by models.

 What if it is true that consciousness is illusion?  Are we then little more than an elaborate information processing organism?  How coldly material and mechanistic this would seem.  It hardly depicts the human spirit as we know it.  The ongoing reasoned exploration of all things physical continually changes our perception of reality.  Copernicus destroyed the notion we were the center of God’s creation.  Darwin made a pleasant fiction of the Garden of Eden.  It seems now that neurological scientists are diminishing the mystique we hold for human existence.  Are we to believe all existence boils down to simple cause-and-effect mathematical logic?

I think not.  It’s tempting for some to misinterpret the overall significance of scientific findings.  There is no shortage to the mystery of existence.  How do we explain the fact of existence at all?  There is simply no need for anything to exist.  Still we do.  What is it we know of the underlying basis of physical reality?  That question actually remains a mystery.  Our explanations of the physical world only unearth more thoroughly puzzling questions – questions that challenge the very usefulness of reason itself.  Imagine that.  The universe we know is extraordinarily complicated from beginning to end – from light years in size to infinitesimally small material elements that appear to travel through dimensions beyond our detection.  Science has reached the point of being able to scoff at the scientific validity of writings by ancient people thousands of years ago.  That’s nothing to brag about.  We actually have far bigger challenges ahead when it comes to deciphering the nature and depth of our existence.  Chances are that if we have to rely exclusively on the reasoning power of our present biological brains we will never find the ultimate answers to the how and why of our being here.  That’s reassuring to me.  I’d hate to think existence is simple enough for the human mind to thoroughly conceive.  What a sad commentary for all of creation.

Every line of pursuit we choose to take ends short of our hopes.  Big deal.  There are so many personal rewards along the way.  Let us focus on living well.  Art is a splendid topic.  It isn’t caged within the narrow framework of scientific or mathematical reason.  It is sensual.  It stretches the vistas of imagination.  It brings to harvest our many emotions.  It is, best of all, just so damned dependent on the qualities of human nature.  Amen to that.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Good Morning Justin

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 19 October

Running against Obama

Good Morning Justin…

Early voting begins this Thursday in North Carolina just as the birds are flocking, about to migrate out of the state.  The latest polls here show the race for Senate essentially dead even.  Democrats are placing their hopes of a win on the time and money they’ve put into their grass roots organization.  Its primary purpose is to get Democrats to the polls that don’t normally vote in midterm elections.    This is a sixty million dollar bet laid down by the DSCC, Democratic Senate Campaign Committee.  A good deal of the resources has come here to North Carolina.  The Democrat incumbent is Kay Hagan but Republicans see the name Barack Obama on the ballot.  They aren’t alone.  The President is very unpopular in this state as he is elsewhere, particularly in the South.  This is why Republicans want to make this election a referendum on President Obama.  Democrats, on the other hand, want the election localized and avoid talking about the President as much as possible. 

Kentucky’s Democrat Senate candidate, Alison Grimes, refused to say who she voted for president in the 2008 and 2012 elections.  She said it had to do with the sanctity of the voting booth – votes are cast in anonymity.  Until this point the race was close in her contest with Republican Minority Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.  Her disingenuous siting of principle has made Senator McConnell’s reelection almost inevitable, leading the DSCC to divert further funding of her campaign to more likely winners.  Kay Hagan is one of those benefactors.  Republicans last week made an additional six million dollar ad buy supporting Hagan’s opponent Thom Tillis.  Tillis has recently overtaken Hagan in campaign funding but late money isn’t as effective at purchasing television time.  Early in the contest Hagan’s campaign reserved broadcast ads for the closing weeks – paying half the money Tillis is now forced to pay when television ad availability is at a premium.

The factor most critical to a candidate’s success is the makeup of the voters turning out at the polls.  Democrats generally enjoy an electoral advantage in presidential years but their numbers fall off considerably in midterm elections.  The difference nationally in their voting numbers fell by more than twenty-one million between 2008 and 2010.  The result was a loss of more than sixty seats in the House wing of Congress and the takeover by Republicans of several state legislatures and governorships across the nation.  The reason for this difference in participation has to do with demographics.  Older citizens are more likely to be Republican.  They are also the most reliable group of voters when it comes to showing up at the polls.  Republicans are mainly conservative and these people have an enthusiasm for voting second to none. 

In contrast, Democrats rely on a more youthful and diverse demographic.  Their success often requires sizeable participation from students, young single women and minorities.  Voter enthusiasm is largely absent among these groups without the drama of a presidential candidate at the top of the ticket.  This year is no exception.  Democrats have put enormous money, time and manpower into changing the historic turnout of midterm elections.  Whether this effort has been effective is still in doubt.  The Party hired four thousand workers to run regional and county campaign offices.  But this is only the beginning.  The program can’t work without attracting a good number of dedicated, reliable volunteers to man the phone banks and do the tough job of canvassing for votes by going door to door.  The challenge of contacting millions of voters in this manner is nearly overwhelming.  Burnout is a constant problem.

The results of many Senatorial contests this first Tuesday in November are too close to call.  An additional one or two percent turnout of Democrat voters could make the difference between victory and defeat, between a Republican or Democrat Senate majority.  No matter the outcome, though, the emphasis on sophisticated grassroots organization will undoubtedly continue.  Relying on saturating the airwaves with your political message has its limitations in changing minds and prompting people to vote.  At some point people may either tune you out or become annoyed enough to wash their hands of the entire political process.  Reaching the voter with the candidate’s message sometimes takes a neighbor showing up at your door to talk about their candidate.  That’s if you bother to answer the door and don’t run them off with a growling, “Get lost!” 


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Good Morning Jacob

Letter to my Son
Sunday, 12 October

Good Morning Jacob…

The moments in memory I have of you continually glow, embers from a bonfire ever rising, like Jacob’s ladder, forever in view.   Where are you now?  What is it you do?  The stars have caught a chill.  Spent leaves roll with the wind.  We circle round the year, taking note of all the now familiar milestones; next stop – Halloween.  You were Spongebob when others chose Batman.  You’ve guaranteed us a different take, an unexpected look.  I’ve always counted myself better off once I knew the page you were on. 

My favorite time of year is nearly here.  My ideal kind of day is one with clear skies and a cold bite to the air.  It’s comforting bundling in layers, fighting off the chill.  On a freezing night I for three blankets piled over me rather than slipping under the blanket you plug into the wall.  The downside, of course, is you don’t find yourself greeted with a preheated bed.  It’s always wool socks to bed and a spell of shivering before you begin feeling cozy.  The initial balling up to winter makes the coming warmth feel all the more generous. 

I like the experience of getting out from the cold.  The pleasure is more intense if every day isn’t always a pleasant 72 and sunny.  Good times should never get too familiar.  How do we awaken to vacation when every day is already vacation?  Am I making sense?  OK, let’s say I love driving everywhere with the top down.  On any given day I might pull up in front of Denny’s, wearing a Hawaiian shirt with a tropical Bird-of-Paradise print.  I step inside; find my booth near the window and order a Coke, patty melt and fries.  Something sounding like Beach Boys is playing from the speaker overhead.  Life is good.

Suddenly I get transferred to a job in the small, seaside town of Yreka, up the coast near the Oregon border.  Today begins brutal.  A gale blows in off the ocean.  I park near the entrance of the Chuck Wagon CafĂ©.  It should be daylight but storm clouds have extended the night.  Lights reflect off the puddled street.  I rush from the car, hunched over, fighting wind and rain, pull open the buffeting door, and step into the warmth inside.  There’s the aroma of coffee brewing, sausage sizzling and a hint of damp clothes.  Folks are alive with talk about all this nasty weather we’re having, the problems its wrought, and related such things.

Ain’t felt this cold since last February.  Makes a sane body wants to fly south.  Too bad I never felt all that sane.  Besides the waitress here has a crush on me and I’d just as soon not live without her.  Don’t flatter yourself none.  Only thing she sees in you is that healthy tip.  Says you, you say.  Anything tops the two quarters you been putting down all these years.  Maybe, but I still gets her big smile, all the same.  Ain’t that right, Ida?  You getting no smile from me, Bob.  That’s me wincing cause you still never learned about showers.  He gots no indoor plumbing.  The hell, you say.  I’d just like Ida sharing my suds one of these mornings.  There’s your invite, Ida.  We both be coming in smelling clean an sweet.  Thanks.  But Bob you just go on stinking up the place.  I prefer sudsing with my own soap.

Ida brings me coffee.  No need to ask.  It’s comfortable being here, all things considered.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Happy Birthday, Jack...

Letter to my Son
Thursday, 9 October

Jack's 17th Birthday

Happy Birthday Jack!

You’re 17 and it’s shocking me.  How could you grow up so fast?  I would like you to be where we were when I last saw you so we could pick up where we left off.  Growing up is rarely idyllic.  Setbacks happen but we are grateful for the love and happiness we have.  One day we will meet again and it will fill me with joy, no matter the potential problems.  The bond of father and son is not easily broken.  Google it.  You’ll find it’s a universal law. 

Be joyous.  Be safe.  I want for you a long and wondrous life.  I love you along with the rest of the family.  You are on my mind daily.  Happy seventeenth birthday, Jack.  Tell everyone hello for me.    


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Good Morning Jessicca

Letter to my Daughter
Sunday, 5 October

The intricacies of a simple fried egg

Good Morning Jessicca…

Artists need constantly to remind themselves of the nooks and crannies of everyday life.  We easily overlook intriguing details and, instead, too frequently turn life’s makings into items consisting simply of name and a corresponding thumbnail description.  We quickly reach a certain point as we grow where familiar surroundings no longer warrant anything more than the most cursory investigation.  We’re preoccupied with responsibilities that come with maturity.  How odd for us to stare at our food long enough to appreciate its fascinating minutia.  Imagine examining each bite before placing it in your mouth and then pausing to consider the complexities of its flavor.  This is not a behavior recommended for public observation.  People may conclude you are either abusing a psychoactive drug or you have a debilitating neurosis.  An unrestrained fascination with your food will earn you a card table in a lonely room so that your peculiar amusement will not disturb the other dinner guests. 

Of course food is but of trifle interest when compared with the captivating power people have over us.  We are all lifelong students of the myriad nuances of human behavior.  What theater the human face provides.  I’m guessing the eyes are people’s foremost means for determining the thoughts being processed behind another’s gaze.  Of particular fascination for me is someone’s unfocused stare.  Their sight is turned inward, riding a train of thought, and nearly oblivious to what is going on about them.  While the eyelids remain open the eyes themselves are placed in ‘park’, careful not to deliver information that would distract the mind’s own self-absorption. 

Second only to the eyes has to be the mouth.  So what’s with the lips?  We don’t really need a colored boundary around the mouth for eating.  It’s only natural to conclude this coloration emphasizes the mouth’s disposition.  Am I smiling?  Is my mouth downturned?  One can be a considerable distance from another’s face and still tell the nature of the approaching greeting, especially when the lips are parted to reveal the white of teeth.  Teeth make one’s smile more expansive or a downturned mouth more threatening.  Women augment their mouth’s display by adding dramatic color.  Men can approximate the effect by growing a moustache.  Of course, a bushy moustache obscures the mouth.  What are we communicating here?

Then there is the kiss.  A gentle peck on the cheek feels endearing but lips pressed against lips can be overwhelming - passionate, erotic.  This is not automatic.  Familiarity tends to neutralize this impact.  The parting kiss or one of greeting within a relationship may mean anything from an unstated “I love you” to a polite gesture to a mere absentminded ritual.  The sudden absence of this kiss is like firing a warning flare overhead.  Beware.  Something is amiss. 

Such intensity induced by the mouth makes it a clear scene-stealer.  Still, the eyes compete with their special ‘come heather’ look.  One secret to this attraction is the widening of one’s pupils at the very sight of you.  The natural follow-up to this invitation would be a passionate, lingering kiss.

The stars of our ensemble clearly are the eyes and mouth but they can’t make it alone.  The lines on our forehead play a solid supporting role – one that only increases with age.  The smooth appearance of youth is slowly supplanted by lines recording our most characteristic expressions.  We no longer are a blank slate.  We exhibit a readymade map conveying our disposition of kindness or humor or something maybe dark, troubling.  A smile on a face frozen with evil intent displays not so much a friendly welcome but more the lust of one about to devour a meal.

Albert Finney prepares for 'King Lear' in The Dresser

Eyebrows are like the animated hands of the storyteller.  They vigorously amplify the intended meaning behind the furrows of one’s forehead.  The stage actor’s skillful use of makeup projects his facial narrative to those without the good fortune of having front row seats.  The clown’s makeup is an artistic mask depicting his character’s one basic outlook on life.  He relies on his body language to give it variation. 

It takes experience, practice and a conscious effort to disguise our true emotions from other probing eyes.  Maturity requires of us this talent in order to smooth out everyday agitations and avoid dangerous pitfalls.  Good neighbors don’t often exchange angry glares when confronted with mishaps and misunderstandings.  Committed couples generally resist providing facial cues that invite romance with an attractive coworker.  We learn there are proscribed times for drawing back the curtain to reveal our current feeling in its unadulterated full force.  Unless swept up by overwhelming emotion we require both trust and love to give into the unguarded, naked face… wishing your child ‘Happy Birthday’; declaring ‘I love you’; ‘good morning’ to an aging parent enduring their steady decline.  Our complex lives make moments of genuine expression without the hedge of circumspection truly rare.  Being adult is a bit claustrophobic.  I desire the expanse of an open range where human contact is uncommon enough to most always be a welcome event.  Acting is unnecessary.  There is only heartfelt good will.