Category Archives: Chaos

Because that’s where I’m most at home: in chaos.

Signs of the times

Aside from finding out there’s nothing really wrong with you, the best thing about going to the doctor is you get a chance to read the kinds of magazines you’d love to subscribe to, if only to put them on your own coffee table to look like you’re an intellectual. On a recent dental trip, I had the privilege to indulge myself in Archeology Magazine. It brought back memories of when I was a child and wanted to be an archeologist. It was a short-lived aspiration. As soon as I learned those folks often lived for months on end in tents with no “real” toilet, I moved on to another career goal.

One of the reasons why I still enjoy the study of archeology is because of the way modern historians interpret artifacts, texts and even graffiti on ruins to learn about a society. For example, there is plenty of graffiti in the ruins of Pompeii to suggest that not only were the inhabitants there on the lascivious side, they enjoyed their drink and defecated just about anywhere.

I don’t remember reading anything on how archeologists interpreted road signs in ancient Rome, but on a recent trip, I couldn’t help but wonder what post-apocalyptic historians might deduce from our street signs of today.

For example, there is a street sign near my neighborhood that says: Opposing traffic has extended green. I think I almost ran the red light there a few times before I figured out what it meant. What will historians think it means? Will they wonder if we met up at that intersection to have pro vs con debates and the opposing teem gets a longer time on the grassy area next to it to speak?

After seeing this sign, will they think we’re a careless lot:

I rather think someone in the factory got it wrong. Shouldn’t it be Done More Drinking Street? Will historians think the sign maker was drunk when he made it?

Or, will they think the deer were once literate when they stumble upon these signs:

There were all sorts of those as we drove through up-state New York. Sometimes the deer crossing would be for the next 3 miles at others for the next 10. How do the deer know how large their cross walk is? Do they get in trouble if they cross before the sign? If it says Deer Crossing Next 1 mile, do deer gangs challenge new members to walk across at 1.1 mile?

My favorite sign of all times is one we saw in a window:

Which, if I were an historian stumbling upon this amidst the ruins of our culture, I would shake my head in awe over that fact that we knew just how messed up we were.

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Our Shortening Attention Span

As a wannabe novelist, I’m told I need to fill my pages with non-stop action. I need to keep the scenes moving to drive the story. I need to keep having horrible things happen to my protagonist so that my audience must continue turning the pages to find out what happens next to her.

But as a reader, I find myself getting panicky and exhausted with books written like the above. I keep buying them, but never in my life have I not finished as many books as are currently sitting in my “partially” read pile(s). I start reading them and after the first two chapters of non-stop angst-inducing episodes, I’m in need of a strong drink and a long nap.

I’ve been told the reason for this need of non-stop action and emotional appeal is because the attention span of the current American market demands it. Everyone believes our attention span is shrinking.

I tried to find studies proving it. So far I haven’t. I found a couple suggesting that the more adolescents watch TV and play video games, the more problems they have paying attention, but I’m coming up short on studies concerning the reading public’s ability to stop, look and listen for an extended period of time. Perhaps I got bored with my searching before I found them. And there was this comedian on TV . . .

The funny thing is there’s much banter about the attention span of goldfish. One of Snapple’s Real Facts claims the attention span of a goldfish is only three seconds. I got a little distracted from my search on the shrinking American attention span and tried to look up the proof behind Snapple’s claim.

I couldn’t find it, either. I did find plenty of blogs challenging the claim though. Many of the writers did so based on a study by the University of Plymouth that discovered the memory of a goldfish is three months. Perhaps those bloggers had something shiny catch their eye and forgot they were writing about attention and not memory?

Regardless, I can’t help but wonder what Kurt Vonnegut would have done with this lack of knowledge regarding American ADD versus goldfish ADD. Would he have changed the characters in his 1985 novel, Galapagos? Would they have evolved into goldfish-people who eventually kill themselves off because they kept getting distracted from mating?

And if our attention spans are so short, why don’t we ever get distracted from mating? Oh, look! There’s a butterfly out my window!

But then again, Vonnegut’s work isn’t filled him in urgent desperation to fill a perceived constant demand for entertainment. Galapagos, like most of his work, is an entertaining read, filled with a pleasant use of words, oh, and meaning.

Do we have to lose such beauty? What are we evolving into?

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Filed under Chaos, Commentary, Uncategorized, Writing

No one has the right to have a crisis over age

For some reason, I’m becoming more and more obsessed over my age. I can’t decide if I’m growing old, growing immature, if I’m right where I’m supposed to be, or even if the subject is really worth the energy and attention I keep giving it.

Case in point: I was checking out at Whole Foods recently and the cashier was telling me all about her quarter-life crisis. She’s 23 and had just finished reading a book that told her she was a prime candidate for having a quarter life crisis. Several things about the conversation had me brooding over the whole age thing.

The first: it seems like I’ve prematurely turned into one of those Old Grocery Groupies (OGGs) — the old ladies who frequent the market so much they know everyone and all their business there. When I was 16, I wore a bright red polyester uniform as a cashier at the Piggly Wiggly in Ocoee, Florida. I knew several OGGs. I knew how many grandkids each one had. I knew who were Crackers and who were Yankee transplants and they knew just about everything about me. I remember them being much older than I am now, and yet I was so relieved the other day when J___ in produce told me she broke up with her loser boyfriend (finally), I know which of the women cutting meat behind the deli counter is a vegetarian, and when the 23-year-old cashier told me about her quarter-life crisis, it wasn’t the first thing I learned about her. I’m sure they all know quite a bit about me, too.

The second thing: my gut reaction to the quarter-life crisis issue was “What the hell is wrong with America’s youth today?” They shouldn’t be taking life so seriously at that age, should they? I didn’t. I don’t even think I’m taking it that seriously now. But really, how could it be that they’re that disillusioned with who they’ve become — when they haven’t really had time to become anyone yet? At her age, her biggest crisis should be running out of cheap wine before the party is over, right? After all, at my age, I consider a crisis to be running out of good vodka before cocktail hour is over.

But, it hit me that having an age-crisis is a luxury, pure and simple. Only people who have very little else in their life to complain about seem to have them. Do you think folks in Japan, Lydia, hell for that matter most of Africa, Haiti, and Greenland (before you go checking the front page news, I put that last one here because it’s so damned cold there all the time) have age-related crises? I don’t think so. I think they have real ones to worry about.

Which explains why, when said cashier was telling me about it, I told her the answer wasn’t to go skydiving, as she was intending to do to heal herself, but to go out and celebrate her age. Because I think that’s really how we put meaning into things and how we value them in the long run, right? We celebrate them. If all you have to complain about is that you’re twenty-three or that you’re forty-three, you should throw one hell of a party about it.

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Filed under Age, Chaos, Commentary, TASFUIL

Can Rasta language save us?

Caveat: I do not claim to be an expert grammarian. Nor am I an expert Rastafarian.

I am, however, the owner of more language reference books than should be legal in the suburbs. I use them each month in a “Grammar Smarts” column in the newsletter I create for the NJ Writer’s Society where I tackle common grammar and usage mistakes. But this week, my books failed me.

A Society member emailed to ask if I could clarify the he/she/it issue. Her exact quote is: “Reading several articles in Writer’s Digest, I noticed some pronoun gender bending. Instead of the awkward coupling he/she when referring to a general audience, authors avoid the conventional use of the masculine pronoun (he) and defer to the feminine pronoun (she). Which is currently in fashion?”

I love that she asked what the current fashion is — not what is currently correct. Unfortunately, no one with the power to create rules for the rest of us to use will address the issue definitively. At least no one that I could find.

The inclusion of “she” came with the era of Political Correctness and is yet another issue the era brought to attention and neglected to actually do anything about. Not that I’m against PC completely. It does have it’s place. I just sometimes think it’s hard to say for sure where that place is.

I am old enough to remember when “he” was the pervasive pronoun and was insulted by it. (In fact, in desperation to get some kind of a paper done in time for a Modernist Poetry class, I even applied Feminist theory to Yeat’s poem “The Second Coming” to suggest that he would support everyone using “she” instead of “he.”) But I think I’ve relaxed a little since them.

It’s just too cumbersome to try and include everyone using the words he and she. It reads awkward doing the slash thing — “When the patient has his/her physical complete, he/she needs to have his/her physician provide commentary on whether or not he/she is able to fulfill his/her work duties.” And doing the alternating thing — i.e., using she for one part then he for the next and so on, is beyond tedious. I recently completed a 65,000-word work on cat nutrition and my publisher insisted on alternating between he and she with each section. Seemed easy enough, until the work was almost complete and new sections needed to be added in and old sections moved. It took more time going back and changing the sexes than it did to write the freaking book. And it was annoying as hell.

So what is a writer to do?

It will not do — there are too many negatives associated with it. We refer to unknown creatures as It and we call the kid in the mommy-and-me class who is unattractive, full of mucous, and overly aggressive, the It-child.

One will not do. Sounds too British and formal for us Americans. One works well for us only when we want to be goofy or sarcastic.

We need a word that has no negative undertones and that sounds relaxed and comfortable. Sounds like we need a word Bob Marley would use. Yes! That’s it! Perhaps we could take a cue from the Rastafarians.

See, Rastafarians created a language without using negative terms. They did it in order to confront and reject Colonialism. (Yes, they created a way to use positive words to rebel.) I won’t get into all the political stuff here — frankly, I don’t think I understand all the political stuff — but I will dabble in their language. Here’s the deal . . .

Rastafarians replaced the word “me” with “I,” because the word me tends to make the person sound like an object, not a human, whereas I celebrates the individual. “I and I” is used to replace “we” because, in their religion, we are all one united with Jah. Actually “I” before a word is often used in a similar vein (e.g., Ireator means creator), and Idren is used for peers (like brethren or sisteren). Which might be what we need.

Idren — pronounced with a long I.

Let’s revisit that sentence earlier with Idren: When the patient has Idren’s physical complete, Idren will need to have Idren’s physician provide commentary on whether or not Idren is able to fulfill Idren’s work duties.

Hmmm . . . might be a possibility.

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Filed under Chaos, Commentary, Definitions, TASFUIL, Writing

The Bliss of Ignorance

I have a friend whose skin is so healthy and beautiful that I would hate her if it weren’t for the fact that she’s also nice and funny. I can forgive any form of perfection as long as the bearer is nice and funny. Anyway, she happens to work at a cosmetics counter in a large store at the mall (coincidentally, as she had healthy and beautiful skin before she took the job there).

This past Saturday she invited me to attend an event at her store where I’d be educated on skin care and the line she represents. I went and was educated.

After I showered Sunday morning, I found myself sitting before my vanity mirror somewhat frighted by what I saw: large pores, deep wrinkles, dark circles, and redness I’d never noticed before. Thankfully I’d purchased products to remove, repair or at least conceal it all. It had all the makings of an ego-destroying moment but I couldn’t help but laugh at how I got sucked back into the human obsession to make things better.

What some might call a pride in ingenuity, I’m beginning consider an unhealthy compulsion. We are all in a constant, almost frenzied, quest to turn everything into a problem and fix it, whether or not it really is a problem. And at what cost? I’ll tell you what cost: the joy, happiness, stress-free zen state a life of acceptance has to offer along with stronger, healthier egos. And if that’s not good enough for you, loads of cash and energy to boot.

Think about it — my son just informed me that “they” are re-making the Star Wars movies in 3D, which rather suggests someone somewhere found a problem with the original Star Wars films and decided they were no longer good enough and needed to be improved. But, the reason why Star Trek was so very faboo in the first place is because it was a NEW epic adventure tale of a NEW fallen hero created with NEW technology.  The 3D versions might be fun, but really, they will be yet more Sci-fi 3D flicks ~yawn~ that will make us all feel like saps for preferring the originals.

My daughter and I are ADD. When I was a kid, “they” said I was spirited and flighty, but there was no problem in that as long as I had a chance to run around like a lunatic periodically. My daughter, however,  is a problem, and you wouldn’t believe the time, money and stress (but alas, no running around like a lunatic for her) that is going into “fixing” her. There are results, improvements, if you will. But they are minimal, and I can’t help but wonder if we’d just let her go wild every now and then,that maybe she’d be able to concentrate better when she had to sit still.

And look at what we’re doing with Mother Nature. Here in suburbia, we are all obsessed with “improving” the natural state of our yards by insisting that grass actually grows into nice, green lawns. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I let my yard be taken over by crab grass (it would be so very easy, but to save myself from the local lynch mob, I’d probably have to rename it the “Emerald Spreader” or something). But the stuff looks like it would fill in all the bare spots rather nicely that turf grass fails to do. Seems to me I’d have a thick mat of green that would stand up to running feet, dragged lounge chairs and the occasional car tire on my side of the drive way. Do you know how much money I’d save if I just accepted crab grass as normal and not a problem? How much time and energy I’d get back by not fighting it so much?

(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

And look at Barbie! Feminists rail against Barbie because next to her, little girls begin to think they are too fat, too ugly and too not-normal, and yet Barbie continues to preside over a top selling toy empire. Barbie might be the epitome of where the human desire to find problems, fix them, and become “something better” leads us — “they” did the statistics and found out that if Barbie was a real woman with dimensions to scale with the doll, she wouldn’t have enough body fat to menstruate. Yes, girls yearning to look better, to fix all their “problems” are aiming to look like something that couldn’t be a girl (so, does this mean that Barbie is a Drag Queen? Hmmm . . .).

My point is (and I do have one somewhere in this rambling), we would have more time, more energy and even more cash, while living with less stress and healthier egos if we were not so damned set on finding problems to fix. If we’d just allow ourselves to wallow in a state of ignorance, one where “they” are not telling us there’s something wrong with us, then maybe we’d all be a little happier.

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Filed under Chaos, Children, Commentary, Conspiracies, TASFUIL

It’s Banned Book Week!

I took the summer off from watching, reading and listening to the news. I did my best anyway. It’s really hard to do that. I’m still hopelessly up to date with the major events of this round ball we’re all stuck living on.

But I gave it the ‘ole college try and mimicked the See-No-Evil and Hear-No-Evil Monkeys for three whole months. It wasn’t the first time I did that. Every now and then I have to take a break from all the nattering or I would go a little nuts. I always  know when it’s time to plug my ears and run from the room screaming “la la la la la.”  It’s whenever I start to feel anger or fear on a non-stop basis.

I’m not a big fan of fear and anger (though I loved Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). I believe, as Jimmy Buffett puts it, Anger can make you doubtful and Fear can cloud your mind. And I was blessed with a personality that encourages me to look at life from the TASFUIL perspective (that’s an acronym for Things Are So Fucked Up It’s Laughable).  I’m usually able to make a joke or find humor in most situations (except for when I have to tell my bleeping children more than five bleeping times to pick up their bleeping toys!).

Thankfully, regarding life in general, I’ve reached a stage of self-control where I can silently amuse myself while the folks around me are gathering kindle and gasoline to storm the castle. However, things still seem to build within me and on occassion I reach a point where I realize I’m taking it all a bit too seriously and need to cut myself off from the media. For example, back when I was watching the second John Kerry/George W. debate, I literally had a panic attack. I didn’t know that’s what was going on at the time (I wound up spending the night on WebMD trying to decide whether or not I was having a heart attack to be sure). But my fear that the public would love GW sent me over the edge and I realized I was taking it all a bit too seriously. I had to take a break until after the election back then. (I had to take many more during his presidency.)

As oil oozed into the Gulf last spring and the masses started taking the Tea Party seriously, I realized I was losing my sense of humor again and needed another break. So I named it the Summer of My Content and decided to ignore the news as best I could.

It’s fall now and I’m sucked back into CNN and the BBC. I’m reading all the RSS feeds from everyone who thinks there is only one answer or one correct spin. And I’m finding it hilariously absurd. The best part is, I came back into the world of streaming media this past Saturday, which happened to be the first day of Banned Books Week 2010.

To mark the occasion, I dressed in black and went to my local Barnes and Noble in an attempt to find a copy of Lauren Myracle’s ttyl. (Her book “won” the honor of being the most challenged book in American libraries last year.) They didn’t have any copies on the shelf. I joked with the woman at B&N and asked her how the lunatics will hold virtual burnings when all the books are digital. She either had no sense of humor or she didn’t understand. Regardless, I had to order it from Amazon.com.

But it occurred to me that perhaps more people should take time off from external stimuli. I mean if you think Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is a bad influence, or that And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson is a danger to all children everywhere, you might want to look at your anger and fear levels. Seems to me you might be filled with doubt or have a cloudy mind.

Take the season off from the news. Relax. Find a little humor in life. Or better yet, find a lot of humor in life. After all, one of these days you’re gonna die. And on that day, are you going to be content to look back on the years you spent bitching and bellyaching because not everyone thinks the way you do? Or would you rather go with a grin on your face?

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I think the bad side of technology will do us good.

I love the New York Times. I really do. I don’t read it on a regular basis, in fact I don’t read it at all. My father-in-law does, from front page to the last, and he regularly emails me links to articles that he thinks I’d be interested in. And usually he’s right. Lately, many of the articles have been dealing with the effects of technology on our minds and hence our relationships.

It all started with an Op Ed piece by Steven Pinker. He posited that the burgeoning brew-ha-ha over how technology is short circuiting our brains is a bunch of fluff (only he says it with more mature words and scientific techno-babble). He set off a small maelstrom of letters to the editor by people upset over what they perceive as the downfall of intercommunications because we’re all de-evolving into a Twittering species. They fear humans will lose their ability to fully connect, to be social beings, and to develop fully-functioning interpersonal relationships.

It makes for interesting reading. I always find it fascinating when people find yet another reason why we’re all going to hell in a hand basket. I’ve never found one of those reasons or theories to hold water at the level of drama and fear the discoverers hope to engender. The thing is, it seems to me that just about everything goes in cycles.

Remember when malls started popping up all over the place? There were people (anti-mallites?) who hated them and said that they were the beginning of the downfall of the current western civilization. They said we’d never spend time outside again. Our children would grow up without the benefit of sunshine. That it would only lead to the devaluation of natural and green spaces. I didn’t quite believe it. I figured we’d get tired of being inside all the time and eventually would start building old-fashioned shopping centers with open spaces, prizing our trees and grass. And, lo, we have. I’ve been to them in Florida, Texas and here in NJ. I’m sure they’re just about everywhere now.

And I’m sure one day, we’ll be tired of dealing with the rain and snow and want only in-door facilities. Let’s face it, we’re never happy for long.

Which is why I think the fears of how the current trends in social media are destroying our interpersonal communication skills are all for naught. I believe all the new avenues of communicating via a phone, computer, iPad, etc. is fascinating to most people for a while, but then they’ll want the old-fashioned face-to-face chumminess of their past soon enough.

But even if I’m wrong, I’m still not concerned. I know, if indeed it is a sign that we’re headed toward an intellectual decline, not everyone will be going down with the ship. Throughout history there are always survivors of technical revolutions, right? So the way I see it, the people who will be bred out of existence because they’ve lost the ability to communicate in ways that require more than 140 characters, might just leave us with people who have something of substance to say. People who can only talk in the bullet points of a PowerPoint presentation, are not exactly my kind of people, so I doubt I’ll miss them. And people who think they really need to take the time to update their FaceBook status with things like “I woke up this morning” or “I’m bored on the train right now” will probably not be missed by anyone. If those people are left unable to breed, is that really a bad thing? As long as we’re able to keep the vowels in our alphabet, I’m sure the rest of us will be just fine.

So technology, bring on the brain damaging effects. Perhaps the herd needs a little thinning.

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