Sunday, September 19, 2021
Many thanks to Bob Dylan for putting his stuff up on the 'Tube. “A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall” Bob at his earliest.
There's a nice scene in the first Avengers movie when Bruce Banner, played by Mark Ruffalo, is told by Iron Man that his services as the Hulk are required immediately. Stark says something like, “time to get mad!” Mr. Ruffalo, beginning to expand and turn green, replies, “That's my secret, Tony. I'M MAD ALL THE TIME.
Some little thing happened today and I just lost it. I exploded. The feeling passed within a few minutes. In calmer seas, I can be relaxed and charming for weeks at a time. Right this second, however, I am facing ten or twelve unpleasant challenges at the same time. It has reduced me to paralysis. I can sit quietly and read my huge, fascinating new history book; I can watch a movie; I can have a pleasant lunch with my wife and then do the dishes. Why, you'd think that I was a normal human being. But let one thing add even slightly to my load of ridiculous impositions, and that's it. Boom!
I calmed down quickly today, and apologized to my wife. I'm not angry with her at all. In fact, quite the opposite is true. “But,” I said, “it's all too much now. Any little thing, and it all blows up, everything at once.” Then I surprised myself. “I'm mad all the time. Usually I can live quietly and hide it.”
At this point, anyone who knows me is thinking, “duh!!!, alert the media!!! Fred has figured out his mental condition!!!”
Then, as I resumed learning about Japanese carrier warfare doctrine in early World War II, I realized that I have always been like this. Never always at full boil, but always at between 205 and 210 degrees Fahrenheit, so that any little thing would throw me into a rowdy, rolling boil.
My friends have always known it. My birth family knew it from the beginning. “Oh, God, don't tell Freddy! He'll go crazy!” I really hate to do it in Thailand, and I have more-or-less successfully avoided doing it for over a decade. Showing anger is a major breach of protocol here. So I've been careful to keep my mask in place, especially with my wife. That, my friend, is one egg that cannot be unbroken.
This last couple of months have made it impossible to keep this anger under wraps. Now, with the COVID, and the COVID rules changing day by day, and the plethora of new software for cyber tests and cyber classes and cyber meetings, and the lists of places that you can and cannot travel constantly changing, and the government offices (like immigration) opening, and closing, and requiring appointments, or maybe not, and the government websites that have either displayed the same pages since 2014 or now just display a “closed for upgrading” sign that's been there for months, and my own country getting crazier by the day, and everyone with any power or authority in the world still ignoring the really impressive list of new climate catastrophes, it's all too much.
Today was a breakthrough for me. A breakthrough within a breakdown. “It's all too much. Any little thing, and it all blows up, everything at once.” That simple statement of the problem was a breakthrough. I had never seen the problem so clearly before. I'm always ready to go off, and when I do, I'm reacting to every, single thing that has every terrified or annoyed me, past, present, and future. That's really not a good plan.
I've discussed it with my cardiologist. I call it the clench, because usually I can stifle the explosion. But inside, every muscle in my body tightens up, and I hold my breath for a minute, and probably close my eyes. “Yes,” says my cardio, “every time you do that, it's very bad for the small blood vessels. They tighten up as well.” And that, of course, is my cardiovascular problem in a nutshell. Those spidery little blood vessels around the perimeter of my heart. My heart itself, and the valve, and all of the larger veins and arteries around the immediate area are perfect. The smaller ones further out are fixing to kill me, though. I already have stents on two of them, including the one they call the “Widow Maker.”
Is there anyone out there that thinks the world will become MORE livable any time soon? Or ever again? And I'm supposed to adjust to these multiple new realities simultaneously with my adjustment to imminent death from old age? I'm afraid that I'm not up to that challenge.
I can't believe that I used to write about politics! Trump broke me of that bad habit. In fact, Trump broke me, period. I knew that he would be a millstone around our necks for many years to come, because that's his nature. He had a taste of being president, and it magnified all of his negative traits. I knew that he'd get away with damn near everything, because that is the nature of American politics. Brush it under the rug. It might weaken people's faith in democracy! Quaint to think that someone still thinks that's a good way to go.
It's almost impossible for me to comfort myself these days. If I am sitting comfortably and marveling at the contrast between opposing doctrines for preparing and launching a deck-strike from the flight decks of carriers belonging to two countries at war long ago, I can seem relaxed. But if I only close my eyes, much less return to the real world, I become rigid with the effort that it requires to refrain from worrying about everything all at once. Rigid like a thirty-five hundred year old statue of Amenhotep II. The best man at my first wedding had a similar problem. He often fantasized about walking into Queens General Hospital, announcing himself as “The Screaming Gypsy Bandit,” and demanding an immediate shot of Demerol, after which he would quietly sign himself into their care. “Sometimes,” he would say, “I don't see any alternatives.”
(He has predeceased me, rest his soul. He was a wonderful human being. Just wound a bit to tightly. That's why we got along so well. We lived in the same hell of sparks and powerful gusts of wind. He did finally calm down. He became an adjuster for a big insurance company, one of the biggest, in fact, and had a very successful career that lasted twenty-nine years and ten months. They laid him off in his late fifties, two months before his pension would have vested. That's what many of my fellow Americans call “Freedom.”)
So yeah, I'm angry. And afraid. There are a few financially significant countries that may go tits-up any day now. I'm worried about that. And to think that we used to laugh at the French for keeping gold sewn into their mattresses! One of the things that I worry about most is the dollar. Don't give me that look. Do you trust the gang of idiots who are in charge in Washington? It's not only the Republicans and the Democrats working against your interests. It's all of them. Including that bunch of hacks now infesting our Supreme Court (six of them at last count), and all of the corporate weasels that the whole crooked tribe of them take orders from. One crusty cave full of charred bones, flying the black flag, that's our government now. They don't just want to take away your rights and your votes. They want your money, too. And your property, so they can rent it back to you for $4,000 a month. More of that precious Freedom that people go on about. Can't pay? You have the freedom to get a second job. I have a lawyer friend in Los Angeles who drives Uber at night.
“Oh, Fred,” you're thinking. “Quit your bitching. Everything is fine.” That, my darling, was the unanimous opinion of every American newspaper's financial pages right up to the day before the Stock Market Crash in 1929. No one likes a Casandra, or a Jeremiah, or whatever. Even if they all knew what was coming.
Good old Bobby D. could see it, and it slowly occurred to more of us. Now it's all on display! “Seven sad forests...” start with the Amazon basin, and forests on fire in California, Spain, Greece, etc. “A dozen dead oceans...” you'd think there would be money in all of that plastic! “Guns in the hands of young children...” more examples than you could shake a stick at, including toddlers shooting their moms, child soldiers everywhere, and kids shooting up their own schools. “Pellets of poison flooding their waters...” Flint, MI, just for a start, but really, everywhere. We've all got “wild wolves all around us!” Can you count the countries “where the people are many and their hands are all empty?”
Be serious for a moment and realize, that “black is the color and none is the number” in our wonderful new world of space-tourism! Admit it: “the executioner's face is always well hidden.”
And, of course, “nobody's listening.” I like Bob Dylan, and I believe that he is one of our great musical geniuses. I hope that he's happy; he deserves to be happy. I'd bet you good money though that even he wishes that he had not been so on-the-nose with this song.
Thursday, September 16, 2021
Saturday, September 11, 2021
Monday, September 6, 2021
Our personal beginnings are shrouded in mystery; our lives drift along almost without our notice; and our end generally comes with surprises of one kind or another. It may be a surprise car accident early on. It may be a surprise heart attack when you least expected it, which is probably true for all of them. It may even surprise the doctors! “The occurrence of this type of cancer in a man your age is most unusual.” On the battlefield, or in the hospital, the moment of death is usually greeted with a look of surprise on the face of the deceased.
If we are being honest, we all know that it is coming. That final moment may be exciting for us, as individuals, but it will be quite mundane for everyone else, outside of a precious few. The most interesting thing is our lives as they drift along. It is a mistake to overdo it on the self-examination, but to hold the human experience up to the light, in the manner of an amateur philosopher, can be fascinating.
Our perception of the passage of time changes continuously over the course of our lives. The passage of the time between two Christmases seems like an eternity to a preschooler. Toddlers see Christmas as a delightful, one-time experience. They do not expect it to ever happen again. Babies, of course, don't notice Christmas at all.
Life seems to take longer before the age of forty or so. Perhaps because we still see a long future before us; perhaps because we are still experiencing things as somewhat unfamiliar and still very exciting. The passage of a year still seems like a considerable chunk of time. We are still growing before the age of fortyish. We see ourselves growing in power and experience every year. Our bodies are still flooded with the appropriate hormones. Sex is always an option, on demand, and then again in twenty minutes. We are still at the height of our powers, and we are as yet untroubled by worries regarding health and mortality. This is the flood tide.
The process of creating memories changes as well. What is your earliest memory? Chances are that it was something shocking, or exciting, or surprising, and the chances are that you were at least three or four years old. There are people who claim to remember things that happened to them very early in life; some even claim to remember being born. I am very skeptical of these claims.
There is nothing wrong with babies' brains. I'm sure that they could start remembering things if they thought that it was important. They are very busy with other things, however, so I believe that their minds are otherwise occupied. They are observing, watching, listening, judging, they are busy ingratiating themselves to any bigger person who shows the signs of willingness to be helpful. That is something that all babies share: the fear that no one will care for them. Because they know one thing for sure, and that is that they are hopelessly incapable of caring for themselves. I am sure that babies remember clearly the faces of those who have helped them in the past, or bothered them, or helped someone else, or hurt anyone. Somehow, though, none of that process is committed to long-term memory. It is all jettisoned when the information is no longer required.
The psychologists have done fascinating experiments with babies regarding their process of judging adults. I say adults, but the babies are not thinking in those terms. Anyone larger then them that seems capable of providing assistance with food and locomotion is judged. The psychs do it with puppets. One puppet is eating something that looks good, and the puppet then shares that treat with a smaller puppet. The baby's face registers delight. Another puppet steals something that looks enjoyable from a smaller puppet. The baby's face clearly displays anger. As the experiment goes on, puppets from earlier on may reappear. The baby remembers them all. Just the sight of that mean puppet brings the angry face to the baby. They judge you by your facial expressions, your voice, and your deeds. They see and hear a lot of things that do not make any sense to them, but for now they are concentrated on the important things. Nourishment; comfort; play-time; hygiene; sleep.
People in their teens, twenties, and thirties form memories in a very systematic way. Memories are sorted and collated in our sleep, and long-term memories are solidified in our sleep. Friendships are stronger and more easily formed at this stage. Our attachment to certain music, cinema, etc., is almost ecstatic. Our earlier sexual encounters take on a magical significance. We must be careful to remember all of it, because, “we have our entire lives in front of us.” And then, suddenly, it all moves to the rear-view-mirror.
I am sorry to report that I believe that the process of memory formation changes a bit as we hit the ebb tide. At some point, around our early forties for most people, we achieve the certain knowledge of death. We lose our immortality. Physically, we lose everything over the next thirty years or so. Things that seemed important to our younger selves lose their sheen. We apply a different set of criteria to judge the importance of things, which includes the process of deciding what things are important enough to remember. There have been many things that happened to me during this period which I have actively tried to forget before I had a chance to be tortured by the memory.
By now, waiting only for the other shoe to drop, my memories mostly torment me. Memories that were once either great, good, bad, or indifferent, now vary only from bittersweet, to horrifying, to merely embarrassing.
Calling it “life” in the first place is cruel. Everything after birth is death. The process, “nature,” is not focused on the individual. We are born to procreate. After that has been accomplished, even our usefulness as caretakers is debatable.
All roads lead to, well, you know. But cheer up! There's always jazz, and Netflix.