#82 More Than Strange

More Than Strange.

A message popped up on my phone indicating there was an immediate battery problem so I put the repair at the top of my “There is way too much serious stuff going on” list. Can any of us be without our primary communication tool, the lifeline of all those numbers and email addresses you no longer know by heart, the place holder for appointments that keep us responsible and accountable?

ln the Apple store I watched the impossibly smooth white skin of the hands of the young employee, keying on both my phone and on his iPad, hands looking newly formed, not hands of outdoor work or hard physical labor, moving faster than mine could have ever moved at any point in my lifetime, my hands-old, coarse, dark, and wrinkled-in comparison. His questions were polite, with touches of kindness, and the results of his work meant my life could resume after a 50 minute repair. Sweet.

To enter an Apple store you glide through openings between giant metal-framed glass paneled walls that melt away while open. There are no counters or lines or cash registers, just a myriad of same colored T-shirted helpers floating in a widely open space with wooden display tables and cubed wooden boxes for sitting. Every current Apple product is available for touch and tapping, the prices jaw dropping, the designs clean and flawless. Glazed customers float from device to device, a sea of color and slickness. To enter this realm is to walk into a version of a manufactured, non-nature-bound future, exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.

This marvel of a future world is located in the large, local, traditional shopping mall. Current media frequently reports the retail apocalypse and, not having been in a mall in years, the reports make sense to me after this visit, like a trip to a living archaeological dig or one of those historical reenactment “museums”. I am of the generation before mall culture took over teenage life, having grown up in a small town far too many miles away from the closest mall hangout. As I approached the intersection of corridors, I felt all those years melt away, like a slickly polished morph between way-back-then and now, the dystopian factor looming large as I walked past nearly empty spaces, one or two employees present filling idle time sitting at counters, nary a customer in sight. It was like watching a still-moving dinosaur encased in glass and gloss, the sound of too loud, too trendy, upbeat music blaring into emptiness, the air filled with artificial scent, the kind that triggers migraines.

Later, when I stepped out into the 10 degree winter night, the rush of frigid air brought  relief and deep, fresh breathing. I looked around at the vast concrete splayed everywhere, no natural surface in any direction. What was bulldozed to make this site? What had this land once nourished and, after these mall doors permanently close as surely they will, what good can come out of all that abandoned hard scape?

The juxtaposition of the futuristic store encased in the anachronistic architecture baffled me, rattled my sense of what is and what is possible. It was as if I’d projected forward and backward at the same moment, neither making much sense, a telescope of time and building smashed together, the destruction of a natural environment for a quickly passing human whim.

 

Photo: American Sycamore tree bark.

See: 
https://www.businessinsider.com/american-retail-apocalypse-in-photos-2018-1

#81 The Sex Thing

The Sex Thing.  

Who cares what old people think about sex?

One scandal after another has broken out involving powerful, rich men occupying high positions within our culture. Some versions of this involves the sexual exploitation of young girls–children is the more appropriate description. This story seems to repeat itself in endless versions, a Sisyphean tale damaging to everyone. 

I am hardly the only voice that thinks this kind of behavior has as less to do with sex as it does about control and quite a lot about a lack of emotional intelligence of men drawn to seeking sexual release using those too young to understand sexuality. Listen to the voices of those preyed upon years later as they come to microphones, speaking through tears describing how they did not come forth sooner because they thought they had brought the sexual exploitation (rape, groping, degradation, etc. on themselves.) This is about SEX? It’s not and all of us know it. 

Sex between adults committed to exploration with equal-playing-field partners is an opportunity to open to the divine nature of ourselves, a path of discovery to our inner being. It’s complicated ground worthy of deep diving. The more each person brings to it, the more possibilities there are for expanded consciousness as well as physical release. The possibilities are endless, joyous, full of awe and maybe even fear and always complex. 

The purported sexuality described in headlines and the explosion of internet porn suggests to me that our culture’s view of sexuality is adolescent in its nature: distant, based on a false sense of imagery, potentially violent, and definitely not about deep exploration with emotional attachments over a long haul (you define “long” for yourself). Is there any harm to just getting off? No. And yes, when it stops at that. There is so much more—sex as the nth degree of finding amazing ways to experience being human.


Having sex with young women, underage girls or boys, forcing anyone, male or female, into complying so they can get off is not about sex. Our language is not serving us well when it comes to sex and gender. We need a new vocabularies to clarify sexual activity so the variety and meanings are not confused.  We’ve a long way to go before our culture grows into the adult phase of sexuality.

And that part about old people piping up about sex? Those who are eldering often have years of observation and resulting opinions from all that seeing, some of it valuable and some of it not so much. 

#79 Cheating

Cheating.

When I was growing up, “cheater” was an accusation that carried great weight. The matter of degree wasn’t the point, whether the charge was leveled in backyard play out of the eye/ear range of adults or not, once the label of “cheater” stuck it was going to be an uphill climb for a long time. Formal charges of cheating in institutional settings wrecked future opportunities in education, jobs, careers, and relationships.

In the present world it feels like there’s been a shift and my aging self can’t quite wrap my head around what seems to have flipped. Childhood efforts to follow some kind of straight and moral path seems locked in history.  Way-back-when parents felt a sense of failure if their children did not measure up. Getting caught cheating was serious business indeed.

In this new world the concept called “Gaming the System” is grudgingly or enthusiastically accepted (and sometimes openly admired). “Gaming the System”, means finding ways to advantage oneself or one’s interests (individual to corporate), creating a way or ways to alter desired outcomes to achieve desired results. Is this a now accepted form of what I would have once called “cheating”? It feels like the value shift demonstrated by “gaming” is placing millionaires / billionaires on admiration pedestals as we collectively turn our gaze away from the “hows” to focus our adulation on the “haves”. Are we now enthusiastically embracing the Machiavellian concept that “the end justifies the means”, where “Having“ is the measurement of all success?

There are so many small, daily, versions of cheating.  Cars running red lights is one of these as their drivers shout through their actions that the rules of the road do not apply to them (thus endangering the rest of us).Or how about our referrals to slip ups from self imposed food prohibitions or our lack of meeting self-generated goals as “cheats”? Big picture cheats include money paid to college personnel for spots in freshman classes of selective schools, behavior demonstrating the lack of trust wealthy parents have in the worthiness of their children. These desperate acts damage everyone,  the potential students most of all. And then of course are the endless stories of politicians of all persuasions ranging from phony vote getting promises to the myriad ways of bending the rules in order to stay in office, via examples of gerrymandering districts to lining the pockets of cronies, reminding us all that making as much money as possible and grabbing power are what matters most.

Despite my tone, choice of words, and the examples I’m using,  I am not on a high moral horse accusing others while holding myself unaccountable. My thoughts are on the personal damage done through little and big cheats, those I’ve done myself while my internal “compass” waved in alarm. When we cheat we know it. Cheating is giving ourselves zero credit for our ability to surmount obstacles, its essence a demonstration of a lack of faith and a lack of trust in our capabilities to find solutions without resorting to “shortcuts”.

I (maybe we) have reached a point of exhaustion on cheaters and cheating as the daily headlines scream the latest versions. I know we will not return to my childhood backyard concepts of what was fair and what wasn’t. All implications of implying a return to an earlier era as the solution for current problems is useless. Selective memory forgets it wasn’t that good then nor would it be now. But my recollections remain; cheating back then was a far bigger deal than it is now. Our weariness is showing through, our seeping cynicism akin to the proverbial leaky boat filling with water on its way to the bottom. I believe we are longing for trust, in ourselves, in our loved ones, and in our leaders. Not having to suspect every motive and action would allow breath to expand, hearts to grow, and allow the possibility of love to replace suspicion, all of which would alter our existence.

From Wikipedia:

Gaming the system (also gaming or bending the rules, or rigging, abusing, cheating, milking, playing, cheating the system, working the system, or breaking the system) can be defined as using the rules and procedures meant to protect a system to, instead, manipulate the system for a desired outcome.

# 77 Honoring the Women of OLLI

Honoring the Women of OLLI.

If we have spoken face-to-face or by phone  or via email in the last couple of years you have heard me gush about OLLI. There are a number of such lifelong learning programs throughout the country: Senior College, Elderhostel, and the Osher Institute of Lifelong Learning are three such programs. I found my way to the program in Portland where the offerings are broad and the people are fabulous, where OLLI has its own LEED gold star building, and the program was founded and funded by a native Maine philanthropist. There are OLLI programs throughout the country and they get raves everywhere.

No doubt my course choices (Consciousness, Aging, and Women’s Issues mostly) have led me to coming to know more women students than men and Oh! what women! (both students and instructors). Having the privilege of returning to school over age 50 brings out some of our best qualities; egos left outside the door; our ticking clocks  keeping us mindful and focused; the collective intelligence and vital inquisitiveness of the participants are all baseline.

Where there is joy there is also sorrow. I attended the service for one of the women I met in a fabulous class entitled Women & Aging that was offered a year ago. It is logical that given our age range (classes are free for those over 90) loss should be expected. Only it wasn’t. The depth of wisdom and intelligence of this particular woman made it a privilege to have known her in that context even though the class contact was defined and brief. I could write that about dozens of women with whom I’ve shared these classes and this woman would still stand out.

“Lifelong learning” is bedrock. Why did we ever think anything other? What is brilliant is taking this truth and giving it space and place and opportunity. This can be done in a formal setting like Senior College and it can be done in libraries and living rooms, in church basements, most anywhere there are numbers of retired people of active minds and deep conscience, people who have life experiences to share and longings to continue exploring.

The women (and men) I’ve met in these classes in these last two years have altered the path of my later life. I’ve been in school in one form or another since I was five and none of what came earlier was as richly rewarding as the expansiveness possible at this age and through these classes. To these wonderful women-and men-of OLLI, I give thanks.

And to Sally: Godspeed.

# 76 The Obvious

The Obvious.

Another ”Duh” moment has arrived. I was trying to figure out why I have kept one particular library book so long overdue. “I like this author”, I rationalized only then realizing in the past I have purchased her books while “forgetting” to read them or, like this time,  I’ve pushed past a library renewal due date while leaving the book abandoned and untouched on my bookshelf. “But she’s so clear, so succinct in shedding light on important issues of the day…” continued the swirl in my head, until it dawned on me that it does not feel good reading about hard world realities no matter how gifted the writer.

I then thought of my current tendency to binge watch series TV. I rationalize, thinking this is a temporarily distraction which allows my thoughts to escape into ease. I avoid dire. I cannot abide violent themes or films with protagonists with no redeeming character. I crave ”uplifting” and ”heartwarming”. I relish “overcoming” and gleefully immerse myself in stories where difficulties lessen as progress is made.

Lightbulb moment:  I watch or read things that allow me to feel good. ”Why is that?” I ask myself and the immediate, and obvious, comeback is that my aging body already hurts enough. Reading or watching stories containing pain and suffering pile emotional discomforts on to physical discomforts already present in sufficient amounts. Diverting attention toward things that feel good helps. Enormously.

Maybe a dash or two of “reality” reading or watching is enough, in the same way adding chili pepper flakes or jalapeños to food is sometimes worth a bit of gastric distress. Just not too much and not too often.

# 71 Elemental

Elemental.

If you witness the sun rising over the ocean at daybreak and see it only as “pretty” you are missing something vitally important.

The pulse of the world is elemental. It can be experienced beside vast water, at the base of tall trees, viewing distant blue-gray mountains, in meadows of sweet grasses and wildflowers, with birds flying overhead.

It might well be what moves fire before a great wind or nestled in the parched landscape waiting for rain.

Faint or pounding our earth breathes, it’s heartbeat present in the smallest of moments whether or not you are aware.

The fishes know it, so too, the bears and the deer and coyote moves by it, always.

The animals we dismiss as lesser beings than ourselves, live inside it. We humans mostly pretend. We pretend we are masters of this world, our cars and our electricity and, oh Lordy, those distracting computers and cell phones and gadgets, bent heads holding our gaze so absolutely unable to know it.

We make our games, our talk-talk, in our flimsy shells deceiving ourselves about the nature of our lives, ironic for how far from Nature we have come.

We occupy frail bodies, even those focused on muscle and prowess; one snap and we are reduced to howling.

The earth endures our attempts at destruction, bears the scars, bides it’s time. When it’s had enough it will “shake us off” (as someone I knew once said) “like fleas” and it will go on breathing, our opportunities for witness gone.

#70 November

November.

November has come like an 19th Century taskmaster in an unforgiving boarding school. Cold awakened me at 3 a.m. seeping through the walls. The full moon light outside the windows looked and felt icy, the light shaded a faint pale blue rather than the usual soft glow of yellow. The first snow came as a thin blanket, not enough to help insulate the herbs I’d hoped to keep going a little longer. With this temperature plummet they may not survive at all and Spring, a damn long way from now, will mean tiny bedding plants rather than strong wintered-over stock. Such is life in northern climbs, only now the proof of erratic weather conditions predicted by climate change scientists feels more true each day. How easy it is to forget September and October were glorious and often warm; what feels like an abrupt plunge may be that the natural order of things is restored and this cold is appropriate. No. I don’t believe that either.

I went to hear a speaker, a young immigrant man who told his miraculous story of winning the Diversity Immigrant Green Card Visa lottery, a program targeted for elimination by the current administration. Twenty million people apply for this lottery worldwide and one hundred and twenty thousand are initially selected then whittled down to half that. This was the number of immigrants and refugees who actually got to come to this country five years ago when he won his chance to fulfill his coming-to-America dream.  I am one of we oddly faceted humans, dimly aware of and feeling awful about, the plight of a million refugees and still don’t DO anything, yet a singular story told in person holds me (and those in the room) in attentive awe, the story opening our hearts to the plight of many. A young man stood at a podium describing situations we’d never imagined,  our consciousness awakening in tingling shock, our taken-for-granted richness, our privileged lives in contrast, hanging in the large room, an audience touched–at least for the moment–by more than a little shame. Did we not know? Yet our lack is not as much evidence of our guilt but rather more his telling of his joy, courage, and determination in being here, his brother permanently denied the same path, his mother never to come, leaving him without family, braving the uphill climb to adaptation, education and earning money as a translator to send money back to help feed a village of others.

Is this not a November story? Thanksgiving is not a holiday in a land frequented by drought and killing hunger yet the concept of the holiday alone is proof of American bounty. His is the story of stressed possibility, amazement at his good fortune, a continuance of joy despite hardship, of thanks through adversity, survival, and what comes after.

Later, snuggled under blankets in the dark night of winter’s first plunge, I wonder about one part of his story, of coming from a hot, dry climate and landing is such a frigid one, one more hurdle in rebuilding a life out of impossible odds.

 

To read his story:  Abdi Nor Iftin [with Max Alexander]. Call Me American: A Memoir. NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.