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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Mayan Apocalypse Blog Post

So. Bad week. End of the world feel to things, huh? The 9th grader came home yesterday looking like she needed to say something. There was a rumor going around school that someone is planning a shooting for this Friday. Apparently the chatter amongst the students was so great that teachers discussed it in class. Then the principal made an all-school announcement that these rumors have been investigated and are unsubstantiated. Understandably, she was upset. What could I say or do? I said it’s very unlikely. I said it's probably just somebody's idea of a joke. But I also said to take a look around each of her classrooms tomorrow and scope out the closets. If anything ever happens, get down and run for the closet. What else could I say? 

Anyway. Bear with me, because this is not unrelated. (Litotes -understatement for emphasis.) The other month, I came across a journal called The Intelligent Optimist. I had to buy it. Partly because I was looking for places to pitch an idea about meditation, which I still haven’t done. Partly because the title is an oxymoron. Or rather, because I was raised in the kind of atmosphere that considers an optimist a moron, which would make the title an oxymoron. I grew up under Murphy’s Law. Remember that? Anything that can go wrong, will. Something like that. Sound familiar? 

So the idea that the title is not an oxymoron is refreshing. It’s a definite step up. A moron’s a moron, and an oxymoron is a contradiction, but in this case it’s a paradox - a contradiction that may in fact be true. Therefore - insert geometic symbol for therefore, which is maybe a triangle  - no, it's three dots in the shape of a triangle, so I was close - therefore, it’s possible to be both intelligent and optimistic. 'Cuz that’s what I’ve been aiming for. And, frankly it’s been working, overall. Despite the terrible massacre in Connecticut, despite my sadness, despite my anger. 

I also bought The Intelligent Optimist because it had a cover story about persistence and success, which is, you know, up my alley, so to speak. It’s my bailiwick.

Lots of vocabulary words today.

Talk of the end of the world has a certain tang considered in light of certain events. I don’t want to write about that. Leave it at horrific. My point is that inside The Intelligent Optimist were various articles about this supposed end of the world, all amounting to this idea: that this time in history has been earmarked by various cultures or religions or traditions as a time of change. There’s an interview with a psychologist and shaman who says that Dec. 21, 2012, “means the beginning of a new era in consciousness.”  He says the Hopi described this time as “the great turning.”  Then there’s another article about a Tibetan Shambala Buddhist prophecy about “coming darkness and the summoning of the warriors.” Since this sounds a little glum – perhaps not the aim of a magazine about optimism – the author goes on to say that the warriors will “look like normal people,” but using their powers of compassion and insight, they will “go into the corridors of power to dismantle the beliefs and behaviors that are destroying life.”  She suggests that we ordinary folk may in fact be these warriors.

Compassion and insight. Yay, meditation! And psychotherapy.

But it’s not just possibly flaky fringe scholars in a possibly flaky fringe magazine reporting this transition/end of the world stuff. On one of my favorite podcasts on public radio, On Being, I heard a naturalist talking about our era being described by various cultures as both “a great turning” and “a great unraveling.” The unraveling is of our industrial culture, which is destroying the climate, but it is also creating opportunity to turn itself into a “life-enhancing” one.  On a different day, I heard a philospher whose latest book is about his idea that humans need to amplify their understanding of “being,” because he believes there is a purpose to our being and the world, and that they are related, but unless we can bring our full awareness to the scope of our brain’s potential, we won’t get it.

Awareness and brain power. Yay, meditation and science!

But it's not just possibly flaky fringe scholars on a possibly flaky radio show talking about the symbolic end of the world.  Last weekend's New York Times devoted a whole page plus to “It’s the End of the World.” There was poetry and a short introduction that said, “Predictions vary: it could mean that all mankind will undergo a spiritual transformation, or that the Earth will collide with a black hole or the planet Nibiru in which case, there’s no need to finish all that Christmas shopping.”  That statement pretty much sums up my feelings, which I will parse for you, Readers. 
  • A. The kerfluffle is kind of funny. 
  • B. There are plenty of things that make me think of doom and destruction. 
  • 3. However, there are plenty of people who are looking beneath the surface and are examining the Big Questions, and this can only be good.
What does this have to do with me? Well, I’ve occasionally wondered, as perhaps you have, too, Readers, why I am going on and on about success. Is it because I want to have a nice stock portfolio when I head into Nibiru? Or is it perhaps that I am a symptom of the more positive reading of the times?  Maybe my delving into this topic of success, which has led me into subtopics of "meaningful life" and "happiness" and "fulfillment" is itself a symptom of this turning. Maybe my blog is one tiny emblem of the movement to counterbalance the terrible things that have happened to people and of the terrible things that some people do to other people. As terrible as they are, they aren’t the sum of all that people do. People also struggle with ways to live meaningfully and to improve the world. Maybe, in my way, I am part of that?

This is reminding me of yet another episode of On Being that I listened to, this one last week.  It was an interview of a sociologist named Brene Brown, who studies vulnerability and it’s opposite, bravery.  One of the things she said was that “hope is a function of struggle. Hope is not an emotion. It’s a state of being.” I always prick up my ears when someone talks about Hope, because Hope is me, after all. Ever since I learned in Latin class that hope (exspectare) is a verb that means means waiting or expecting, I’ve had this weird cognitive dissonance about my name. We moderns define hope as optimism, when really it is what BBrown says, it’s a state of being. Optimism is looking on the bright side, but hope is always about awaiting a result. There's the possibility of a negative outcome and the hint of dread, but it's all potential. You’re in a state of pre-fulfillment. That’s perhaps a curse, but while you’re in that state, there’s opportunity.

Does this mean that I don’t despair of our culture and of our politicians? No. I often do. But I look for positive signs, and I see them. People are talking about a re-awakening, and enough of them are doing it that a mainstream newspaper mentions it. No doubt, some scary shit has happened. Now, though,  there’s talk of gun safety legislation. And there’s evidence that radical, conservative Christian Evangelicalism is on the wane as a powerful political force. Global warming is in the conversation. So there’s a lot of unraveling, and a lot of struggle, and frankly, I wish it didn’t take a massacre, a prolonged siege on human rights, and the flooding of New York City to bring out the warriors, but I think they’re coming. We’re coming. We’re here. 

So I've done my shopping. Most of it, anyway. My kids have gone off to school,  they'll go on Friday, and unless I'm totally wrong, I won't be sorry. These rumors of a shooting are probably just rumors passed by invincible-feeling teenagers. I no longer feel invincible. I think that passes by around age 25. So I've called the police just to let them know I'm another parent who wants to know if they're beefing up security. Meanwhile, I'm betting against Murphy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Twelve Twelve Twelve

It feels important to post something today. It's 12/12/12. A date that is cool, but also melancholy. It's a triple header, a three lemons in the slot machine day. Or is it a three dollar signs day? To realize I’ll never live another date like this. Anyway, any time I’m aware it’s a last for something, I get a little sad. 

Twelve twelve twelve. It was a perfectly nice day. I interviewed a perfectly nice person at the food co-op, and I bought some perfectly nice groceries. Then I took my dog to the SUNY campus center for a therapy dog event. Milo was swarmed by stressed out undergrads about to take their final exams. He performed countless high fives on command, endured more than one vigorous and all-encompassing hug, and had many, many photos taken of him - all of them flattering, of course. He is much more photogenic than I. Or than the perfectly nice gal I interviewed at the food co-op today, who kept saying she looked like she was "on something" and begged for a redo on another day. Of course I said no way, lady. Okay, no, I did not. Then I came home and discovered the 9th grader was sick enough I felt she needed to see the doctor to rule out strep. Which is a perfectly fine way to ruin a perfectly nice day. The intrusion of misfortune and illness into an otherwise pleasant day.

The photography reminded me of the 5th grader the other day. She was petting Milo and photographing him AGAIN, and I said we had more pictures of the dog than of us, and she said, off-hand, that she wanted to make sure she remembers him. I was struck by how loss was on her mind. Or, to be really upfront about it, death. He's only three-and-a-half. I wondered at her, only 10, thinking that way. But of course “only 10” is so patronizing. After all, she’s at that point where the abstract thinking and the concrete and the idea of mortality and other abstracts are cohering in her. There’s a good title. Mortality and Other Abstract Ideas. Sounds like an academic paper, doesn’t it? The point is that I think kids that age have all the structure in place, and it hasn’t yet been worn down and modified by peer pressure and relativism and tolerance. You know, put that way it doesn’t at all sound like what I’m trying to say, which is that they’ve got morals and ethics and an ethos, and of course these have all been shaped by external influences, but they somehow seem purer than what happens later. Maybe it’s just that they tend to be more absolute now, because perhaps circumstances haven’t required them to equivocate or rationalize, to embrace relativism in a way that throws into question their bedrock beliefs.

Am I just describing narrow minded extremists? Possibly. Maybe I admire narrow minded extremists for having clear beliefs. Whereas for me, I recall a time of knowing my own mind about various issues  and of believing my opinions to be correct FOR ME. Whereas later on I temporized. Experience, or observation of friends’ experiences made me question my stances. So I see girls of 10, 11, and 12  as fully formed in a purer way than say, a twenty-something, who may have more experiences and more tolerance, but also more confusion about where she stands.

Does this have any relation to mortality? I mean, Readers, we have to deal with it. I concur with those who suggest we are always dealing with it, even if, or especially if, we appear not to be. Frantic struggles for success and achievement, fear of losing control that morphs into all kinds of tics and strange behavior. At bottom fear of death. Yes. It sounds a bit trite, but I think it’s true. Just because you’re not wallowing in despair over the pointlessness of it all doesn’t mean you’re unaffected by the reality that we have to die, we have to lose things we love. Like our dog. It was a sweet moment with the 5th grader photographing Milo, and I have enjoyed 12/12/12, despite knowing I'll never live it again.

(No strep.) 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Non-Fiscal Cliff - and Career Advice

Is it okay to just say “Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!” and supply audio of a voice fading as it falls off a cliff? Because that’s where I am today. Just a bit overwhelmed. I have a small amount of paid work – yay! Although the work is straightforward, learning the ins and outs of the company is not. It’s like being in the car with someone learning to drive stick shift. Remember that? Start, stall, restart, move, jerk to a halt. Restart. Get my drift?  It’s the nitty gritty details of my invoice and checking my daily report and learning Google Docs.

Whine, whine. Gimme some wine!