Islands In The Stream

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April 12, 2021- Most people I encountered today were on point with how their lives intertwine with the wider society. All of the students with whom I worked, save two, were focused and completed their tasks in a timely manner. Of the other two, one is a recent arrival from another country and not sure of his feelings towards this one, as yet. The second has focus issues and is given to being sneaky-which, he found, just brought about more vigilance on my part.

I did my weekly laundry run, after work. There are, quite often, some interesting characters at the laundromat. An inquisitive and energetic five-year-old decided I had a kind face and engaged me in conversation, a couple of times asking if I would join her outside in the “fresh air”. I agreed, the second time, after letting her mother know that we would be just on the landing outside the door. Of course, the Mini- Explorer wandered down the walk, just far enough to bring her mother outside, with the command to get back indoors. I knew she was safe, but it was more essential for Mommy to feel that way. Of course, also, the “Village Watchdog”, a woman slightly older than me, assumed the worst, began scowling at me and muttering about perverts. God only knows how far off the mark that woman was.

People whose sole frame of reference is themselves, whose views on anything under the Sun are rooted in fear and ignorance, are like islands in a slow-moving stream. My mother raised us to try to see other people as they see themselves. It is possible to do that with those who jump to conclusions, yet I always have this feeling that their game of parkour may find them falling short of the next roof, and on the sidewalk far below.

The Power of Observation

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April 8, 2021- When I was about nine years old, I climbed up into a tree across the street from my house. One of my afflictions, over the years, has been getting so deeply into my own thoughts that occasionally I would imagine myself in conversation with others. Yes, that is one of the bigger drawbacks of autism. Unbeknownst to me, another neighbourhood boy was higher up in the tree, for whatever reason, and sat silently, watching my fantasy conversation. It was a shock to me, at the time, that someone I had known for four years would amuse himself, climbing down the tree and gleefully saying I’d been caught.

No matter where I’ve been, these many years, and noticing others- perhaps on the job, like the plainclothes cop who would sit in his car, in the outer edges of the parking lot at the grocery store where I once worked or the random individuals I have encountered, deep in the woods, some sitting and meditating-others taking photos of people on the trail, it strikes me very intensely that we are ever monitoring one another.

I have been more present and focused, as the years have rolled on-and haven’t been nearly as off-track, even when completely alone. Certainly, being a husband, parent and school official, responsible for the well-being of vulnerable people, has brought the necessity of such focus vividly home.

If nothing else, one accomplishes more, when in touch with physical reality. Friendships are also deeper, both when one is being observed and is being observant. This all may seem self-evident to the neurotypical, but it is quite striking to someone like me.

The Reluctant Conspirator

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April 7, 2021- I have been given a strange and whimsical mantle: Conspirator. This came this morning, after expressing my humble opinion that, after death, one enters a different state of being. One of the others in the coffee house stated, matter-of-factly, that our afterlife is another shot at being human, on planet Earth, and that any argument to the contrary is an attempt to rid us of our earthly freedom. To that individual, there is nothing else in the Universe, but the creatures of Earth. I am, therefore, trying to obfuscate and distract freedom-loving Americans.

Hmmm. Perhaps next will come the claim that non-English speakers are destined to be reincarnated-as English-speaking Americans. We have gone half circle, it seems-as there was once a time when belief in reincarnation was anathema to political conservatives. At any rate, once the honour of being a conspirator was foisted upon me, I did what any craven oppressor would do- quietly went back to my crossword puzzle and half-empty cup of joe.

The ruckus continued, across the room, as the ruffled feathers continued to rant-about everything from chemtrails to The Virus. I’d like there to be a good deal less air pollution, and IF there is spray being sent us, to dumb down the masses, or IF the virus and its attendant vaccines are part of the Master Plan, well I’m opposed to such deviousness, in all its forms.

We are, however, put here to develop our spiritual qualities-not to hand off responsibility for our growth to someone else, either by giving it over, or by blamecasting. If any of the conspiracy theories are proven true, I will resist control from above. Come to think of it, I will resist control from any direction. I was given a brain for a reason.

No Fooling

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April 1, 2021- I’ve learned a few things about levity, over the years. There is a time when it is the best course of action, at a party or when someone could use lightening up. There is then a time for vigilance, such as this morning, when a small child was near flowing water and his mother needed a second pair of eyes. Splashing about, in the river, might have been fun otherwise, but no matter. Keeping people safe is a vital task for any of us.

There is a wider application to discerning between seriousness and tomfoolery. Anything that diminishes the dignity or humanity of another human being, or involves cruelty-either physical or emotional, needs to be off the table-no matter how “witty” it appears at the time. It is hard for some, if they are “on a roll” in terms of amusing self and others or are using humour as a means to increase social standing.

We are, however, as a species, raising consciousness and maturity levels. Meanness to children and small animals is being, thankfully, increasingly called out. People are consulting more about what might be acceptable or unacceptable. Someone’s name is less and less being made the brunt of jokes. There is much left to be done, yet with increasing acceptance of diversity, across all areas of human interaction, we can look forward more to a healthy style of humour.

Hope all had a pleasant All Fool’s Day.

The Wealth of Characters

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, March 27, 2021- As long as I have been an educator, the antics of Beatrice (Beezus) and Ramona Quimby have been a staple of my after lunch read-alouds, to children from 6 to 10 years of age. “Lonesome Dove” was both a favoured read and good television viewing, in the mid- to -late 1980s.

Beverly Cleary and Larry Mc Murtry, two beloved American writers, died a day apart, each leaving a legacy of work that will sound like clarions, for generations yet unborn. Mrs. Cleary’s work was drawn from her own childhood experiences, in the Portland of the 1920s and 30s, a time of rambunctious personal freedom, followed by harrowing economic ills-all playing out in an undercurrent of Victorian attitudes towards children, which would fuel young Beverly’s rebellious anger. An only child, she determined that her characters would have at least one sibling and a number of both friendly and adversarial contemporaries. Henry Huggins, his dog Ribsy, his friends Robert, Murph and Beatrice (Beezus), all characters from the 1950s, are sensible, but get into their share of mischief. Beatrice’s younger sister, Ramona, tops them all in the mischief department, constantly getting into tiffs with “That Grace”, her schoolyard rival.

There was, likewise, all manner of mischief to be had in the world of Lonesome Dove, which was the Texas-Mexico border of the 1870s to 90s. There were cattle drives, going from Texas to Montana, thus giving us a picture, through Larry Mc Murtry’s eyes, of the Great Plains in both tradition and transition. Mc Murtry, in reviewing the public response to his opus, referred to the Old West as “the phantom leg of the American psyche”. The Eighties were a time when many people were still mourning the passing of John Wayne, and with him, the Old West of mythology. Indeed, the original game plan of Larry McMurtry was to cast John Wayne in the role that eventually went to Robert Duvall. John Ford, with whom “The Duke” is closely associated in the Western movie genre, opposed the project, which languished for twelve years, making it to the small screen in 1989.

The characters remain memorable: Duvall’s Gus McRae; Tommy Lee Jones’ Woodrow Call; Danny Glover’s Joshua Deets; Diane Lane’s Lorena Wood; Robert Urich’s Jake Spoon and, in the sequel, Frederic Forrest’s Blue Duck. There is a coming of age element, with Rick Schroeder as Newt Dobbs. The series did not, as is America’s wont, portray the Old West as it really was, brutal to the core-and in an equal opportunity way, to people of all ethnicities. It is said that Larry McMurtry got deeper into that aspect, in his screenplay for “Brokeback Mountain”, which I have never seen.

Thus, as we bid farewell to two authors who were memorable characters, in and of themselves, let us bear in mind just how close their concocted people are to some of us, or to all of us. That, the mirror, is the true value of fiction, across genres.

Bobby’s “Bad Day”

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March 18,2021- So, we hear, from a law-enforcement professional, with his own set of race-related issues, that the killer of eight people in the Atlanta area was, among other things, having a “bad day”. We hear, from the accused, that it was not a racially-motivated act, but rather an attempt to deal with his own sex addiction.

Three things come to mind here. First, while three of the victims were not of Asian descent, six of them were. The owners of the two spas that were targeted, both of which engaged the accused as a customer, in prior visits, were of Asian descent. The two Caucasian victims were customers, happenstance victims-as was the Guatemalan man, who wasn’t even connected with the spa-he was a passerby, taking care of other business at a neighbouring shop. He is, at this writing, still alive. The primary targets, by all accounts at present, were people of Asian descent.

Second, when is it ever a workable strategy to deal with one’s own afflictions, real or imagined, by killing other people? We have dealt with this, on this blogsite, once before-after the Isla Vista attacks of 2014. Back then, an apologist for the accused killer tried to deflect blame by lashing out at me for defending the right of a woman to freely choose her own romantic partners. In hindsight, I had a fair amount of work to do, in cleaning up my own act-with regard to how I viewed women. That work has been done-yet it remains that my own travails had nothing to do with the actions of a madman. I have never killed, raped, attacked or manhandled anyone, much less regarded them as being responsible for my psychological well-being; end of digression. The accused, in the most recent case, is every bit responsible, in and of himself, for the mess in which he finds himself.

Finally, and this is the most potentially problematic matter- Asian women have long been hyped as being overly congenial, submissive and alluring. They are not any of those, taken as a group-any more than other people who have found themselves so hyped. Perhaps it is a necessary experience for people who stereotype others, to have to go through one painful learning curve after another-but this much is something I have always found true: Regardless of real or imagined characteristics attributed to people of a certain nation or ethnicity, not everyone fits a given mold. In fact, I have never met anyone whose personal qualities were the result of a socially-prescribed mould.

Bobby’s “bad day” was, in sum, a hoist of his own petard. Even IF one were to happen upon people engaged in acts of prostitution or other sexual conduct, it would not fall to him, or her, to act as judge, jury and executioner.

Confirmation Bias

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March 13, 2021- During the McCarthy Hearings, in the 1950s, there was enormous pressure put on both investigators and witnesses to take any smidgen of evidence of Communist sympathy, on the part of suspects, and blow it up at least ten fold. Senator Joseph McCarthy had everything riding on conflating social Liberalism with Stalinism.

The term confirmation bias is used to describe a situation in which evidence that leads to a desired outcome is placed prominently in the investigator’s or prosecutor’s case file, while exculpatory evidence is filtered out and other evidence, contributing to a reasonable doubt, is overlooked. McCarthy and his associates reveled in confirmation bias, until it led them over the cliff of disrepute.

These days, I see confirmation bias used, with abandon, by several groups. Those on the Left go back in history, being willing to erase historical accounts which show any degree of complexity in the leaders of various historical periods. Those on the Right, conversely, reject any criticism of the same historical figures. The recent controversy over Theodore Seuss Geisel is certainly the latest such case, of both sides ignoring or discounting the very features of Dr. Seuss’s personality, which the man himself spent countless hours working to refine, to bring up to date with the times. A careful study of his work’s progress shows a fundamentally decent man moving on, from caricatures that clearly show a prejudiced bent to depictions of people that more accurately reflected changes in public opinion. Neither the Right, with its insistence that NOTHING he wrote was wrong, nor the Left, some of whom want a wholesale destruction of his catalog, are showing any degree of academic rigour in their posturing.

We are at the cusp of a public arena, in which stridency commands absolute fealty and careful discernment, in the course of assessing the march of history, is deemed a feckless approach. I will, however, maintain the latter course of action.

No one, save the Messengers of God, walks on water. No one, conversely, deserves to have even the smallest amount of merit discounted. Most of us are very much in the middle.

A Few More Random Thoughts

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February 24, 2021- Today was a day for accompanying a friend around Lynx Lake, which both of us found enjoyable. The lake’s water table is down, as we might expect-given our long dry spell of last year, but the water birds are already coming back- noisy ducks and showy cormorants.

I picked up two of Isabel Wilkerson’s books: “The Warmth of Other Suns”, about the African-American migration out of the South, starting in the 1930s and “Caste”, about the role of that system in the stratifcation of American society-and the true connection between that stratification and Nazism. These ought to be very insightful. I don’t see an immediate tie between “Trumpsim”, which is largely personality-based and Fascism, which has systemic goals-but there are people who subscribe to both-just as there are doctrinaire people, who also are personality-driven, on the other end of the political spectrum.

I have meditated on the mercurial nature of several people in my circle, at present. Having gotten past feeling a personal affront, when those who have been uniformly pleasant over the past several months, suddenly turn icy, I can sense that the sameness of the pandemic-driven regimen is getting to too many people, just a tad too soon. I can also sense that we are getting a handle on the disease- the “variants” aside.

Finally, just an observation: Those who act out of fear are less the problem than those who stoke that fear-and privately mimic their followers. Yes, there are people egging the masses on, who take Lenin’s view of “useful idiots.” They are the true problematics.

(In)tractible-Part I

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February 12, 2021-

So much of what remains to be resolved, in our world, seems insoluble. People speak of being depressed, mired in anger or even bored by “same old” requests and demands from others, day-to-day. Many of the same headlines get pushed, in the news cycle.

Allow me to post an observation: In reading just two friends’ posts on another social media site, this afternoon, I saw people about whom I care deeply, with one foot in the a land of compassion and justice, and the other in a place of suspicion and the denial of humanity towards people of a different point of view.

It is, simply put, this dichotomy, this lack of inward and outward unity, that keeps the individual, and thus the community, from addressing what truly matters. Unless and until we can truly, of our own choosing, put our eggs in the basket of the Oneness of Mankind, the same problems WILL continue to pop up, and put a damper on our days.

I am keeping this post, and its companion post on Sunday, short and succinct. In that post, the focus will be on two continually vexing issues, of which some of my fellows in Faith are aware, but about which they choose to complain, wishing the matters would just disappear. As my late wife said, “Standing at the foot of the mountain doesn’t put you at the top.”

Dereliction

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February 6, 2021-

There are many people still in my life, and several causes that seek attention. I gather that this is true of just about everyone. The question then arises: Is there a point at which being oneself and prioritizing one cause, or group of people, over another constitutes dereliction of duty?

Being an empath, I feel other people’s energy very strongly. That doesn’t explain the underlying reasons for that energy. Only the person feeling it can divulge those. I feel it even more so, when the energy is collective. So, to all those who have expressed the view that a person ought commit to one organization, activity or community, I say godspeed. I will help each organization as alignment allows. My own energy focus allows for a modicum of time spent in virtual meetings- knowing that, as with any human endeavour, there are those who would be on Zoom, or Microsoft Teams, 24/7-and again, godspeed to them. My greater energy, though, is spent away from the computer.

For the time being, that is, for the next two weeks, my priority is helping a couple of schools in dealing with COVID-related staff shortages. Some time will be spent on Red Cross classes, and with a small, but spirited, group of college students who are earnestly planning sustainability activities. There is also the 50% chance that jury duty will transpire, towards the end of this month.

Dereliction of duty is clearly defined, when it comes to parenting, supervision of children in a school setting or service in the public realm. It is less clear, when it comes to the matters of those generally self-sustaining adults who are suffering emotionally or spiritually. This gray area is also on my mind and in my heart, and occupies some of my time, on a case by case basis. Thankfully, most such people are appreciative of any time and energy that others give, as it at least validates that their situation is important to someone.