Saturday, September 24, 2016

Zombies

You know how myths and legends are actually early stage psychiatry?  

They are stories that illustrate behaviors, offer life lessons and explore the dynamic between certain personalities.  They demonstrate the impact of misunderstandings, the consequences of acting hastily and the importance of not dismissing people because they don't meet your assessment of being a valuable player.  They remind us of the need for courtesy to all (really, you just never know), and countless other helpful guideposts to better understand and survive in this complex world.

Jealous Hera, mischievous Loki, the old beggar woman asking for alms, the simple son, witches, goblins, vampires, werewolves, zombies....

Zombies! Yes, it sounds a bit ridiculous.  Despite Haitan folklore, Vodou, Voodoo, or whatever spelling or incantation you choose—or even the possibility that the Undead do indeed walk—our present Zombie craze is highly stereotyped and stylized.  

But you perhaps never thought of the Undead as a valuable life lesson—an accurate explanation of what life is actually like. 

Think again.




It all starts innocently enough, you're living your life, hanging out with your classmates, co-workers, colleagues, spending days, months, often years together, cordial, close, connected.  You chat, share meals, share stories, share your life, your dreams, your experiences.  

You think you are surrounded by humans, but all it takes is a change to clarify who in your group are the living dead—surviving off flesh or brains—and who are actually human.  You graduate, your kids go to different schools, you move, you change jobs, you retire.  Suddenly, you no longer have a brain or flesh worth eating—you have nothing to offer.  

In fairness, you can't stay friends with everyone & the drifting apart is often mutual, but it's still an odd feeling to achieve invisibility with people you may have seen every day for years. 

Retirement may be the most challenging adjustment, as other changes often just trade one group of the Undead for another.  Opting out of the workforce can often eliminate your usefulness to others quite dramatically.  Suddenly, you have nothing worth eating....

Visiting the old workplace you realize you are a ghost in the machine—invisible to most.  Though it can sometimes be quite surprising who you are visible to, and to whom you have disappeared.  

Just like in a Zombie film the humans are often not the ones you would expect.


Thursday, September 15, 2016

Cantaloupe. Yes, really.


It is likely that almost all the cantaloupe you have eaten--at least in America--has been unripe.  Certainly every salad bar, every plastic box of cut up cantaloupe in the grocery store, every breakfast buffet, has served you unripe cantaloupe.  It is a tribute to the deliciousness of cantaloupe that we all eat these fairly tasteless, hard chunks and think them not only edible, but OK.

If you think you like cantaloupe melons, please do yourself this favor.  Buy one at the grocery store.  Sniff the end where the vine came out and see if it smells like a cantaloupe.  If it doesn't, put it back and try another.  Fruit tastes like what it smells like, so if that beautiful peach doesn't smell like anything, than that's what it will taste like.  You don't even need to trust me on that, just do your own experiment.  It will be convincing.

Back to the cantaloupe: if it passes the sniff test, push gently simultaneously on the two ends to feel if there's any give. Usually there's not much, which is OK, it just means it's not ripe yet.

Take it home. Put it somewhere that is not the refrigerator: a windowsill, a shelf, a bowl.  Every few days, give it a sniff, press the ends to see if there is more give, and give the cantaloupe a shake.  You are listening for the sound of the interior seeds to have loosened from the inside wall and shake around.

You are waiting for your melon to ripen, and guess what?  It will likely take over a week, possibly two. The cantaloupes you buy are UNRIPE and hard.  They need to be to be able to ship and sit in stores and not get bruised.  And most places can't afford to have them sit around for days/weeks to ripen before serving.  But you can!

Allow your cantaloupe to ripen. Restrain yourself (I know, an un-American trait).  Think of this as the Adult "marshmallow test."  Until the seeds loosen, the cantaloupe isn't fully ripe.

Wait for it.  It's worth the wait.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

It's easy to criticize...

...but I wish there were rulesat least with any public criticismthat required the critic to present a viable alternative (and "viable" is a key word here!). A sort of Thumper-like commitment that if you are going to say something negative, you have to provide a reasonable positive alternative.  That would certainly shut a lot of people up (yours truly among others!).

Is there a better way of doing it?  Is there a better choice? Think about it. Actually think.

If you do, you may determine that the results you are complaining about (sub-optimal as they may indeed be) are the really the best alternative.

Every day we all experience the complex algorithms we work with in daily life to get something accomplished.  It could be the choices we make in getting our kids up, dressed, fed and out the door to school or it could be a business merger.  We balance encouragement, threats, incentives (bribery), etc. to get the job done as well, as quickly, as effortlessly, as humanely (or not), as possible to motivate behavior and get the results we want or need.

That can make for a lot of complex juggling of timing, personalities, personal values, choices, priorities, mood, costs, external pressures etc. The end result often may not be ideal or what we had hoped for. But that's part of being an imperfect person in an imperfect world.  Life doesn't usually give us "do-overs."

The situations we and others face are rarely black and white.  But especially with technology, we can make a judgment without any knowledge or context and we actually expect to be taken seriously.
Complaintsespecially now about politicians and the political processdisplay a startling naïveté, absence of thought and a shocking lack of awareness of history.

I have to admit to being Kinseyan in my assessment of human behaviorif most people have been doing something for centuries, it is unlikely that any person, belief-system or rhetoric will be able to airbrush that behavior out.

It's not that change can't happen, it can.  But it's a slow and hard fought battle and all the incremental gains can be easily lost. There needs to be a realignment of incentives (and there's usually no incentive to realign them) so it takes real thought and effective politics to get something done.  If you can't read actual history, watch Lincoln or All the Way for an understanding of what it actually takes to get something done.

As a female, the history of women's suffrage is depressing—it's been less than century (19th Amendment was August 18, 1920) in the USA, something to remember as Americans finger-point other countries' lack of gender equality. That's about 150 years into our nationhood, and there are still a fair number of Americans who are feeling a bit sad about it & would like to turn back the clock. Change takes time.

Yes, it's easy to criticize. But it's far less appealing to be criticized, so before dishing it out, consider if there is a viable alternative (and "viable" is a key word here!) before excoriating the stupidity of others.  

Judge something on its own merits/demerits: don't blame the peacock for its tail or wish it were a chicken and provided eggs.




Friday, June 24, 2016

Self-brainwashing...

from my favorite paper: Funny Times
I know, most of America drives around in their own cars, but those city dwellers who find themselves in the back seat of a taxi or other hired conveyance may sympathize with the situation. 

Many people that drive for a living have the radio on: talk radio, music, endless news, NPR.  

I have to confess, I am a big advocate for silence, and feel there should be a bi-partisan movement for the right to not have to listen to stuff (on airplanes, in elevators, in malls, etc.).  

Sure, I could get (and indeed have) earphones.  But I don't want to block out the world, I want to hear itjust not endless marketing jabber or musak or whatever.

But I am particularly unhappy with having to listen to endless news or much of talk radio.  

There are a few talk radio stations whose goal is to be entertaining or informative.  But most lure their listeners in with conflict, outrage, fear, danger, scary information, etc. like a fish with a dangler lure....


These kinds of shows—TV, radio, whatever—wind listener's clocks, pull their chain, and give them some frisson of energy—hate, fear, anger—which seems to be far more addictive and universal (clearly part of one's "lizard brain") than a feeling of peace, happiness, learning or engagement.

It exhausts me to listen to the streams of exhaust!  And I don't have adequate shields to effectively block out noise.  Yes, I freely confess, I can't pack with the TV on.  It's just too distracting.

Propaganda works—if you hear information over and over again, it wears away at your critical faculty (if you have one).  It's convincing, even it it's patently untrue and utterly ridiculous.  If you see it, hear it, read it, talk about it it gets truthified through endless repetition.  So I now not only ask the drivers to turn off the radio, but tell them to stop listening to this endless, depressing stream of fairly useless information. It isn't good for their outlook on life.

It's all a creepy, voluntary self-brainwashing.  

I now feel much more charitable towards endless sports!  But really, they should be reading romances....

Monday, May 23, 2016

Criticism...

I just read Anthony Lane's 5/16/16 review of "Captain America: Civil War" and "The Lobster" in The New Yorker. And, to semi-quote Peter Finch in Network, I really just can't take it anymore!

Clearly, Mr Lane has not gotten the excellent advice a friend gave me in college when I asked him (a little desperately): "What do you say when a friend asks you to read something they wrote and tell them what you think? What if you didn't like it?  Do you risk the truth? Or lie for the sake of the friendship?"

I'm not comfortable with a polite lie; it seems to denigrate the friendship.  Yet very few really want to hear the unvarnished truth about something they have created, labored over and are taking the risk of sharing with you.

What do you say?

The advice, which I have internalized in assessing all creative work was: "Liking or not liking is not at issue. When you read something, think about what the creator was trying to accomplish.  Did they achieve their goal?"

This opened a door to looking at any material and considering it in its own right.  Not against my personal opinion, but against itself, and if I have the background, in its context.

I would always laugh (quietly) when people would comment on series romances and say: "Well, it's hardly literature!"  And I would think Why are you making this absurd comparison? Neither is The New York Times, but you probably read it every day.  Assess something in its own right, or against its peers, in its own context.

Of course everyone is entitled to their personal taste: I like this, I don't like that.  I don't even have to have a reason.  But that doesn't require any critical faculties or judgment, really.  It's just your feeling, your opinion, requiring little beyond your capacity to express yourself.

True criticism, in my opinion, is to put aside your personal tastes, your possibly narrow and judgmental vision of what is 'proper' or 'acceptable' or 'intellectually validated' and open your mind and heart to what the work itself is trying to achieve, how it relates to the history of material trying to achieve similar goals, and how it may succeed, fail, or break new ground.

Mr Lane seems deeply respectful of the surreal, science fiction and absurdist vision of "The Lobster," but childishly, rudely dismissive and disrespectful of an comic-book based action adventure film (which, full disclosure, I very much enjoyed).  It clearly wasn't deemed worthy of being assessed on its own merits, in the context of comic book action-adventure films, because Mr Lane's universe only validates things that are...?

Good question, and I can only speculate.  His universe would contain things that are perceived to be intellectual.  Certainly they must be difficultpopularity and success are likely, by definition, unacceptable.  In that world, it would be unimaginable to like someone lots of other people like, for that would weaken their self-vision of being extra-special.

But in fairness, I appreciate the desire of many reviewers and critics to support difficult and unpopular work, to take up the challenge to bring worthy material to the public eye.  But then don't review popular stuff.  And certainly don't dump on it in such a shallow and disrespectful way.

I realize that many critics and their readers delight in creating a polarized world of Good and Bad, but it lacks humanity, offers little insight, and seems...well, small.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

All about Eve


During a difficult dating phase in my youth (single and looking) I felt I'd set the bar for boy behavior about as low as it could go (on the ground).

But it kept being too high to clear in terms of what seemed like basic human decency. It was a bit depressing. At the time, I was thinking: WTF? (but without the acronym).

Indeed films of the era, like Unmarried Woman, confirmed that after dumping their wives of decades, guys mostly just traded in for a new model, whereas women were left holding the family together, coping with lost income, lost self-esteem, and taking a long and difficult journey to reconnect to their sense of self.

Guys remarried and started a fresh new replacement family, no remorse (though if the new wife turns out not to treat him quite as well as the earlier model, there may be some self-centered regret).

Males in general seemed to find a simpler way to negotiate the universe.  Direct, uncomplicated, without self-doubt, self-questioning, able to dismiss mistakes and move on....Clueless.  Happy.

Drove me crazy.

Then I thought about Genesis and how the Bible presents paradise as an innocent world.  An ignorant world. Clueless.  Happy.

Within that world view, the "Original Sin" that humankind is cursed with, is the sin of disobedience. Though what is particularly poignant is that when you look up "original sin," it is referenced as "Adam's sin" in eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And as you knowper the BibleEve got there first and is vilified because of her actions.  But in terms of history, it is his actions that are referenced, because, really, he's the only one that counts.

So I was thinking about the "curse," and that it was not just the "sin" of disobedience, but the declared "sin" of desiring the knowledge of good and evil.  The desire to know more, to understand more, to open the door to informationwith all its responsibilities, challenges and demands.

To stop being ignorant and be aware, accountable.  To go beyond the self and not only appreciate your impact on others, but to acknowledge that you have choices.  And that you are accountable for making those choices, and  responsible for the consequences of your actions.

You have taken a bite, and the knowledge of good and evil is now inescapably part of who you are. It is a burden.  It is a gift.

So during these difficult dating times, I wondered why women, on balance, seem to suffer more, be more aware, and often got the short end of the stick.  It didn't seem fair.

But then I reflected on Genesis and was helped by the following insight: Eve took a bite of the apple from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil before Adam did.

And it seemed that that Eve's first mover statusin reaching greater awareness and thus greater responsibility, sometimes greater painwere metaphorically (and actually) carried forward though life.  Women are cursedor blessedwith the ability to tell the difference between good and evil just a little bit sooner, a little bit more than most men.

That was a helpful metaphor for me in explaining the fact that women are usually just  a bit ahead of the game in that area.

And even more helpful when I asked myself the big question:  would you rather be blissfully ignorant and happy, or accept the burden of knowledge, even if it might bring unhappiness?

My answer: If I had a choice, I would bite the apple.  Despite the cost, no question.




Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why I'm not rushing to see Batman Vs Superman

Bad reviews? Don't be silly. Many reviewers don't value the things I valueand often value things I don't, so a negative review, even a lot of negative reviews, may be irrelevant. To see Tars Tarkas? To hear Bianca Castafiore sing? Priceless.

So why the disinterest from someone who is fond of superheroes and comics? Here is my insight:

I am not into hierarchy.

I think of hierarchy as being mostly a guy thing, and pitting one superhero against another is certainly an appealing and oft indulged in device in comics. Bracketology is nothing but a drawn out hierarchical methodology. Everything has to "fight" everything else to establish a clear pecking order. But I don't enjoy this constant creation of winners and losers.

It is unappealing to me, even a bit depressing, as I often feel bad for the loser.

As Deborah Tannen notes in You Just Don't Understand, male conversational styles default slightly to autonomy, sensitive to hierarchy. Women default to connection, team. This perhaps helps me understand why I love most of the Avengers films, where the initial challenge is assembling a reluctant team, bound by a mutual threat/need. Not to mention The Magnificent Seven, The Dirty Dozen, Hoosiers, or The Replacements (you get the drift).

These stories demonstrate the difficulty of compromise, the need to be respectfulindeed, appreciativeof differences, the development of trust. And ultimately the powerful visual of how the team can (and will) succeed in ways that no one individual, however skilled, could ever have managed alone.

While Good Vs Evil is OK, I don't usually enjoy the winners and losers trope, though it's clearly appealing to many. Interestingly, team sports combine the value of team with hierarchy. And when we see a team, perhaps lacking in star power, win against the odds through their ability to work together, I think the delight we feel taps into that value.

There's an African proverb: You can go faster alone. But you go farther together.