The Rainbow Connection

I wrote a column last week about watching the new “Cosmos.”  It’s sort of wishy-washy, or at least unfinished, in the way most everything I write these days is.  Unfinished.  Not saying exactly what I mean, because I’m not sure what that is.

I wrote that I thought “Cosmos” was attacking what it sees as a religious war on science, and attacking it pretty unsubtlely.  I don’t blame the show’s creators at all; I just noted it, and noted that the show looked pretty good, quality stuff, so far, but that’s really not what I wanted to say.  Because I am unfinished, you see.

I don’t think it damages the average adult to believe in fairy tales, in ancient allegories and fables.  To believe in a flood and Noah’s ark; I’ve told the story myself, in church, with enthusiasm and funny voices.  Even to children, who can be damaged by fairy tales.  “The rainbow is God’s assurance that He will never again end the world through flood,” I say, and at that age it’s not a bad story about rainbows.  Why are there are so many songs about rainbows, and what’s on the other side?  And so on.

Children, of course, are harmed by fairy tales that God made the world in a certain way, in a certain number of days, a certain number of years ago.  Because it conveniently ignores truth, and trivializes God.  It makes God into Dumbledore.  It chills exploration and innovation and learning, if the basic blocks of science are undermined by Hebrew metaphors and fireside stories.

But this is old news.  I mostly wanted to write to those people, many old and dear friends, who scoff and conflate and ignore scholarship and truth.  “I am an atheist,” they state, over and over again, and they complain of their victimhood as nonbelievers as they post stories about ridiculous Christians who believe dinosaurs were on the ark.

These are people who, by the way, would be horrified if the stories they posted were about Muslims, or Jews, or Buddhists.  They are good people, who believe in the honor of ancient traditions and the freedom to practice.  They just see the majority religion in this country as filled with kooks and deniers, and so they don’t mind being bigots.  It’s a weird thing.

Understandable, a lot of the time.  Just weird.

I don’t think they’re harmed by their atheism, either.  Mostly.

But they are remarkably uninteresting to me, and that should have been my point.  Intelligent, kind, friendly, industrious, competent people who are a pleasure to be with, and their politics and outrage at abuses of some religious people has made them into scolds, completely uninteresting to me, and, sometimes, appearing completely without wonder.

When wonder is so easy to grasp, regardless of your philosophy, and why we have always looked up and out, as a species.  Wonder doesn’t mean understanding.  It means wonder.  You can find it in the cosmos.  You can find it in science.  You can look out a window, and be an interesting person, because you don’t know and you want to.  You certainly don’t have to believe in God.  But you might be better off if you gave God the benefit of the doubt occasionally, because trust me on this: It can make the cosmos sing.

 

Day 27: Because dawn. #lenten
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The Meaning Of It All

It’s officially the soggiest March in recorded history in these parts, which can explain any number of things.  Including mudslides.

But also cabin fever and windshield wiper woes and the wrong kind of hydroplaning.  It’s a matter of degrees and percentages and just plain numbers, like living somewhere when you set a record for number of days in a row over 100 degrees.  One of those days it’s only 99 and there’s no record and maybe nobody’s talking about it, even though it’s just as hot.  It’s not like it never rains in early spring.

The feeling is more weariness, just a What? Again? feeling.  Numbers just reassure us that we’re not crazy.  This March has been so rainy it could have been November; could have been in the top 10 wettest Novembers, in fact (if you’re not from around here, you don’t want to know nothing about no Novembers).  The average rainfall in November is about 6 and a half inches.  The current March 2014 rainfall is about 9 and a half.  So there you go.  Soggy.

And yet, aside from the natural disasters (Oso will get worse; missing people haven’t just gone fishing) that accompany saturated ground and swollen rivers (and foolish construction, and foolish clear cutting, and all the other foolishness we do to make nature worse), it’s hasn’t been that bad.  And considering that the long-range trends are suggesting a drier and warmer summer than usual, we might all just want to do a little singing in the rain while we can.

I’d rather not drive in it, though.  I had to yesterday, drive the 20-odd miles east to Redmond to rerecord some dialog, and I remembered.  Rain bad.  Accidents happen.  Be careful.

But once I’d negotiated the wet roads, listening to the soothing directions from Ms. GPS (it’s not hard at all to find this studio, but I have GPS so why not let it do the navigating?  Hmm.  Good question, maybe a great question, but let’s not digress), I found myself back in the summer, away from the rain, warm and bright days that I spent with young people, doing something different.

And differently.  It was all so new, this making a movie, and so I’m grateful, so very grateful, I was allowed to do it.

It reminded me of how fulfilling that adventure was, how everything it was.  Boring, exhausting, exhilarating, fun, funny, relaxing, tense.  How I learned to stop being so self-conscious and just be conscious of who I am and where on the time-space continuum I exist.  I look like this, I sound like this, and even if the camera distorts the image a little (it adds 50 pounds, I swear), it is what it is.  No more avoiding the shutter clicks; I got used to them.

So it wasn’t as bad as I thought, staring at my face on a monitor while I tried to match my lip movements and also maybe improve the line delivery, just to get better sound quality.  It’s a perfectly normal post-production  activity, which means that everyone is taking it seriously.  There’s no money left for the quality left to do, so I’m unclear as to how that’s going to happen, but eventually we’ll have a film ready to be seen.  In a couple of weeks, maybe, there’ll be a teaser up to watch, how fun.

In the meantime, though, I learned a lesson about recovering moments, about remembering.  It made me happy to do that, make this little movie with all these passionate people, and I need to remember that happiness.  Not much chance of me making another movie, but working with passionate people on a common goal?  Tell me why we exist, tell me the meaning of life, and tell me it’s not that.

Day 26: Remember what was fulfilling. Do that. #lenten
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Or Forever Hold Your Peace

Spent the morning in Redmond at the Microsoft Production Studios, rerecording dialog from “Winning Dad.”

The bad news?  I think the camera adds 50 pounds.  Also I mumble.

The good news?  I did something.  Not just today.  I made a little noise.  Just a tiny bit, hardly will be noticed, but if not now, when?  Good question, for me.

Day#25: Speak to the world as if it were listening. #lenten
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Look Back In Earnest

That was the winter of my discontent.  Some spring too.  Just realized that.  How Elizabethan of me.

It’s OK to have a blah winter; sometimes, that’s what the season is for.  But I had sort of a bad winter and now a bad week, just lots of work and being tired and kind of sickish, just me and John, lots of soggy weather, etc.  That’s all I mean.  No tragedy.

And it pointed out where I seek comfort (frozen food aisle, episodes of “Buffy,” reading books on physics I will never, ever understand), and while there’s never an end to needing comfort, it sometimes reads as weakness.  Flaws.  Failings.  Defects.

And I’m OK with that, too.  We all joke about our tendencies, our indulgences, our passions better spent in other places.  Humans: We try.

But this has also been good.  I’ve been having some conversations lately, many of them not just with myself, and I find them progressively circling a particular drain.  Gotta be yourself.  Gotta do what you do.  And, particularly, what you want to do, sometimes.  Because, otherwise…ugly and unhappy.

A lot of this, to be less alarming and more clear, has to do with a manuscript I’ve had sitting around for a long time that I can’t decipher.  Can’t really decide what to do with it, how to fix it, if to fix it.

Let’s analogize this a bit.  As we progress in our understanding of different things, even as we run the risk of pathologizing simply bad decisions (which is a real risk, but probably overstated), we know more about compulsive behavior.  There’s been a move around for years now to slowly retire the jersey of “addiction,” since it’s so commonly used that it’s almost meaningless in a (sorry) pathological sense.  You might be addicted to “Dancing With The Stars.”  I understand what you mean if you say that (although not why you feel that way).  But it’s not the same as a Percocet addiction.  I think we’re in agreement here, right?

So let’s stick with compulsion, because we all understand that word, even if I disagree with your use of it to describe TV watching habits.  And the more we understand about our complicated brains, the more similarities we see between, say, your Percocet habit and your uncle’s blackjack habit.  Some stuff is happening there, with reward and withdrawal.  We can see it happening with the right equipment.

And then there’s food.  Lots of us overeat at different times.  Overeating can be a lot of fun.  But there are chronic overeaters, we know, and compulsive ones, and we understand that better, and we shake our heads a little.  Because conventional wisdom says that if you have a problem with a substance or an activity, the easiest, simplest and most effective way to deal with that problem is to abstain.  Stop drinking.  Stop gambling.

That’s why we shake our heads.  Everybody has to eat.  How does one manage compulsive overeating when eating is still in the picture?

Because most overeaters do not stuff themselves with broccoli.  They may have a wide variety of things they eat too much of, but I think we’re all pretty clear that it’s not that they’re just eating several days’ worth of well-balanced, nutritious meals in a couple of hours.  They’re eating bad stuff, stuff loaded with sugar and fat, stuff that tastes great, and they can’t stop.  If they were compulsive salad eaters they might still have a problem, but it would be a slightly different one, and they probably wouldn’t be sitting in a 12-step meeting.

A successful recovering overeater, then, probably learns to abstain from certain foods.  Not hard to understand.  Even obvious.

This only applies to people who have trouble with moderation.  A lot of people don’t.  Just to be clear, talking about specific types of people here.  Anyway.

But all of us, or most of us, or some of us anyway, we hope, whatever our personal psychological make-up, learn to be empiricists and scientists when it comes to what we do.  This tends to work.  This tends to cause trouble.  And so on.

I used the Lenten season as a good reason to focus on what was going on in my life, and how it could be better.  That’s all.  Just focus a little.  Think about it.  Not so much with the goals as with the thinking.

So I know what my weaknesses are, whether it’s frozen or fermented.  I know what some of my strengths are.  I know what makes me feel better, and what makes me feel worse.  All of this is of absolutely no use to someone in the throes of serious compulsion, not without some other sort of help, but in my current condition I’m finding it useful.

And, so, I’m finding this Lenten exercise useful.  I’m still doing dumb things, but I’m thinking a lot, and then trying not to think so much, and other things.  And mostly I’m remembering what I did right, once, and how that felt.  That’s all I’m saying.  Remembering my influences, remembering my inspirations, remembering my efforts, remembering my successes and failures.

I’m a big fan of change; to me, you change or you die.  I get that.  But sometimes, the thing is, you just need to change back.

Day #24: Dance with who brung ya. #lenten
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Seminal Issues

How do you do this?  I think you just do; there’s no formula, it’s all subjective, arguments and counter-arguments can be made, etc.  It could also depend on one’s mood.

So I’ll just say it, and qualify it: Most of the time, I think of the period 1973-1974 (let’s just say the school year) as landmark for me.  Crucial.  Life changing.  Crossroads.  Also, interesting.

For lots of reasons, but some of them occurred to me last November, when I was in Phoenix and saw some old friends, including some I first met back in that magic time.

And the only reason I even think about it is that it’s been 40 years now.  Forty years of friendship.  Forty years of a lot of things that all seeped into my future from that period, my sophomore year in high school, when I was 15 and everything looked to be ahead.

It’s weird to have such specific memories of 40 years in the past.  If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it’ll be weird when it does.

Just like it was weird to get an envelope the other day from a urologist.  It said it right there at the top: Urology.  I’m not unfamiliar with marketing but in the medical field, it’s mostly LASIK or naturopaths.  Not urologists.  They shouldn’t have to market much.  When you need them, you’ll find them.

But of course, urologists innovate like anyone else.  And while anyone of any age can need one of these guys (remarkably few female urologists, as there’s still sort of a battle between them and OB/GYNs, although I’ve met a couple), obviously older people have more medical issues, in general, and in particular Men Of A Certain Age.

As anyone who has ever used the Internet knows, there’s a lot of information out there on all of us, public records and so on.  You don’t have to be a super sleuth or a civil servant to scrape out a list of local men who meet a certain age range (say, over 40).  Print out some labels, send out some brochures for your new product, and hope for the return professional marketers hope for (I have no idea).

I have no need for this service, not yet.  Maybe someday.  Who knows?  Glands are funny.  The prostate serves a noble purpose, providing a delivery system for a valuable element of the persistence of our species, but it’ll get old.  Bigger, sometimes.  Press against the bladder and cause issues, most commonly, although it can also go all hyperplastic and malignant on you.  Don’t trust the prostate.

And certainly I’m in the right age range to be getting brochures from urologists, no question.  I learned something at my last physical exam, as prior to gloving up and giving the prostate a once-over, my doctor did the other exam.  You know.

“The good thing,” she said while she was feeling around (and yes, it was a she), “is that the likelihood of testicular cancer drops pretty drastically around your age range.”  Good to know, but then what are you doing down there?  Practicing?

That risk drops, prostate problems rise, this is life, I’m OK with getting older.  I’m just saying.  Sometimes the mail surprises you.

 

Day #23: Brochures targeted at people your age is just God’s way of telling you not to read brochures. #lenten
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No Batteries Needed

I  have the flu, which is what we say.  That should cover it, I think, without going into details, although of course it’s not the flu.

It might be a virus that slightly resembles the flu.  It might be a flu frat brother.  It might be a virus that never got in the game, but rode the bench like a good team player and so got his letter anyway.  An underachieving virus.  A virus on the chess club.  Stop me.

If it were anywhere near, even distantly related to, the flu, my immune system would now be at Defcon Something and my white cells would be multiplying and the energy output would go up and so would my body temperature, and I see no signs of that.

On the other hand, I can’t breathe very well and I keep stumbling.  Stumbling all the time.  Tripping over imaginary electrons of nothingness.

Also sort of a headache.

So let’s just call it the flu.  Even though it’s not.

————

I ordered the extra-special Super Bowl Seahawks Blu-Ray and it arrived a few weeks ago, a fun way to recap the season without feeling too fannish.  It was just fun, and it’s fun to get a review, except I never got around to watching it.  There was always something going on, and then the one time I slipped the disk in John asked me to please keep the noise down.  It’s hard to be me.

So I moved the Blu-Ray player into my work space, since I actually use a flat screen 32-inch TV as a monitor, and watched it in here.  Which was fine, and maybe I should just keep it in here.  Nobody else watches Blu-Rays.

Here’s the rub: This is one of those new-fangled TV machines with no audio out jack, just digital audio.  No way to plug in headphones.  Might want to watch my complete collection of “Rocky” films on Blu-Ray one of these days, very late at night.  Could be a problem.

But no problem.  Just ordered me a converter on Amazon, a couple of bucks, transforms that digital signal into analog  just like that.  It came yesterday.  Oh, the Wells Fargo Wagon is a-comin’…

Sorry.  That was the flu again.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve been buying electronic components for at least half my life, longer if you count stereo system stuff.  Half my life.  Big components, small components.  I know my way around.

And I wouldn’t even need instructions with a mere converter.  I know about converters.  Often necessary in this day and age, this transition period.  So this converter has a couple of component jacks on it, red and white, you know what I mean, easy enough to run those to my headphones.  As for the digital output to convert, you just, I guess, I mean, probably some sort of, I dunno, digital audio cable from the jack to, um, the converter, and then, I mean…

It’s fine.  The digital audio cable comes today.  It was like 3 bucks.  Free delivery.  It’ll be fine.  And it’s definitely the flu.

 

Day #22: Always make sure the cable is included. #lenten
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Worth A Thousand Words, At Least

A friend and I spent a nice evening together the other night, and among other things we talked a little about photography.  We’re both firmly in the amateur and even beginner camp, so as we talked about lighting and lenses I sensed a common frustration: We know where we’d like to go.  We also know how much it would cost.  I see a stunning picture from National Geographic and I can marvel at the composition and angle and chance/not chance aspect of when and where, but I know ultimately it comes down to the fact that this photographer had a $5000 camera and I do not.

And then there are the great photos we’ve seen taken with phones.  I mean.  At some point you wonder if you’re not approaching this from the wrong angle all the way around.

But then, I’m not interested in vistas so much, except to stand and stare.  I admire the art of those NatGeo photographers, but mostly I’m looking for faces.  Faces that smile and frown and grimace and grin.  And mostly faces that are familiar.

I don’t need Lent to remind me that I need to work on loving and closing gaps with those I love.  That’s a year-round process, and there’s no lens that can capture the history and the emotions.

But I was fooling around with lights the other night, just trying to teach myself about shadows, and my son volunteered to help, and that’s when I understood where great pictures come from.  You have to love what you’re looking at.  Learn that lesson, and they almost will take themselves.

Day #20: Take pictures of important people. #lenten
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Handle The Truth

There’ve been a lot of articles in our local newspapers about climate change lately.  Must be something in the air.

Climate change deniers are like people who think you can’t solve your problems with ice cream.  It’s like they never even went to elementary school.

I don’t really care for the term “climate change deniers.”  It’s too clumpy, covers too many people with too many ideas.  There are a variety of opinions about all sorts of factors, including time and intensity and impact.  Nuanced ideas, even.  A blanket term makes them all look crazy.

But the crazy ones write in our papers, I guess.  It’s been sort of remarkable.  I stay out of it, not knowing all that much and trusting a few sources that seem reasonable and scientific-y.  The rest of it looks like politics to me, same old same old.  These people over there?  Bad people.  Stupid people.  People trying to take your money and your freedom and your car and your way of life.  That sort of commentary.

What strikes me about these pieces, though, apart from the wispy science, is the total lack of humility from the authors.  Plenty of sarcasm.  Lots of fudge-like facts tossed around.  An occasional nugget of something that looks suspiciously interesting, like it might be truth.

But there’s not an ounce of humility.  Not an ounce of, “I can see where, at some point, I’m making a conjecture based on certain research that could, in theory, change my mind, but until then…”   Puh-leese.  This is Internet arguing only.  I AM RIGHT.  YOU ARE SUBHUMAN.  STOP TAXING ME.

Just observing here.  Certainly not engaging.  I’m a veteran of these arguments, and I know the eventual outcome.  Someone says you kill babies and then no one wants to talk anymore.

I’m not even suggesting that humility has a place in opinion writing.  There is such a thing as being wishy-washy, weakening your point by arguing with yourself; I understand the form.

But humility is much too valuable to be completely ignored, even by ice cream deniers.  I don’t know how I’d still be alive without staring at some serious humility at various points in my life.  I certainly don’t know how to make jokes without it.

It’s not a virtue we’re usually encouraged to nurture, or at least not aggressively, but it’s a virtue, and I certainly would be lost without it.  A little humility, once a day, maybe to start the day, is not a bad Lenten project, I think.  And then you fix everything with ice cream.  See?  This is all doable.

 

Day #19: Always keep a mirror around for those days when you think your butt isn’t that big. #lenten
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Old Friends

There are all sorts of things to do on a day off here, and it’s always going to be a situation spent negotiating between time for projects and time to just take it easy.  And I did both.  Moved some stuff from one part of the house to another, hardly divestment but still organizing.  And I did empty out a cardboard box sitting in one corner of our messy bedroom, filled with miscellaneous unnnecessaries, most worthy of the trash can.

And then there was the journal, way at the bottom.  Just a simple spiral notebook with “Chuck” scrawled across it by somebody else, containing three weeks of something I can’t really describe.

“This is your feelings journal,” the counselor across the desk told me, that first day.  “Do you know what you’re supposed to write in it?”

“Recipes?”  I was trying to keep things light, and also not get overwhelmed by the obvious.  There’s a lot of obvious in chemical dependency treatment.  Stop using.  Try not to use again.  That sort of thing.  I was fighting a preemptive fight against disillusionment, or skepticism about woo-woo psychology, although none of that happened.

I wrote in that journal every day for three weeks, printing my letters because I didn’t trust cursive, not after all these years on a keyboard.  So it seems an odd narrative, almost like a grocery list by aesthetic standards, and rawer and duller than a blog post.  It was supposed to be about feelings and I wrote what I felt, which was not all that interesting and certainly not subtle.  Fear.  Loneliness.  Resentment.  Loss.  The big unsubtle feelings.

I did it because it was an assignment, and then I brought it home and tossed it in a cardboard box, I guess, and now eight years later I haven’t had a drink and I found it yesterday.  I have no idea what to do with it, other than keep it safe, maybe transcribe it, maybe reflect on it, I dunno.  It’s really not that interesting, other than as a memory tool, a narrative of awakening, a day planner for rehab.

But that’s where I was.  Here is where I am.  There is where I’ll be, and so on.  It was nice to see it again, actually, after all these years.

Day #18: Remember where you were, and where you’re supposed to be. #lenten
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