This issue is going to be a tale in three parts, about the increasing uncertainty of what is real, anymore. You may not see this theme as it begins, because I'll simply be telling you about what is real for me, this year . . . and it is very real, with no lingering uncertainties. But as I move into the tale, I think you'll begin to pick up on the larger question.
The fact is, I have started to draw a line, or maybe a curtain, between my own world and the one that seems to be happening around me &emdash; because I honestly am less and less sure, about that world 'out there'. In some respects, this is okay. But in other respects it raises a lot of concerns that I'll be addressing in the course of what follows.
Since we are all fixated on a world with one objective reality, we tend to resolve any turbulence in it by assuming that someone (sometimes ourselves) is either lying or imagining, or is outright looney. That is how we deal with cognitive disconformity: realities that don't match our own, or elements in our own reality that suddenly 'don't fit'. But I find that this is happening with increasing frequency, these days, and I want to explore it a bit.
1. My Summer and its Discontents
As I've said many times, the year presents its gifts (often seen as demands) early in its course, usually by mid or late February. It is most often a single visible sprout, compelling and/or inviting, and invariably a surprise. This year, as befits a major (septide) spring, I had several to consider, and I greedily grabbed at all of them.
I note the characteristic element of surprise, but on examination sprouts are clearly part of a recent trail, which further confirms their seasonal nature. I spent several months tutoring three kids in Chengdu, China, by email, in their English, and its trail aspect went back to last October's inquiry as to whether I might be interested in going to China to teach English, sent to me by a longtime email-pal, herself Chinese. I took a 'wait and see' position on that, but was nevertheless surprised by the form in which it finally sprouted.
Then there has been a very typical midyear buildup kind of thing, in the activism, here, to get a community center underway, that similarly harked back to last October, by way of a letter of mine to our Housing Authority, in which I proposed a way of enhancing the community space in this building where I live. It had nothing to do with the property we tenants now have targeted, but it resulted in an exchange of information that made us aware of the upcoming availability of what is now in our sights. And there is the long trail, too, of my activist interaction with the Housing Authority, to further accent the trail aspect.
The prompt to republish Innocence Abroad, which you already know about, was a more classic instance of an early February sprout commanding immediate action, for it gave me exactly two weeks (by the time I actually received the info) to get in under the wire, and save myself $300. I think I dwelt at sufficient length on that, in the last issue.
I say I greedily grabbed at all three sprouts, but this is not quite true; the community center kind of pulled me in, against my preference. I had to help it find some footing, instead of leaving the entire burden on the back of a single fellow-tenant who had none of my experience in coping with the Housing Authority. It has been a more rugged course than we'd initially expected, since SHA does not view its tenants as being capable of carrying such a responsibility, and was not about to give us preferential terms. In fact, we had to court outside help, while fending off the bid of other parties interested in the site at the same time. It's still too early to tell if we have succeeded or failed: summer doesn't end until it's over with.
I did get greedy, however, in another way. Realizing that both my age and the relative scarcity of a Septide Spring had given me what could well be my final window for one more vagabond trip, I figured I should go for it. I haven't much doubt that it will be my last opportunity, so I might be excused for making the attempt, ill-advised as it was, in terms of falling outside the range of my sprouts, and demanding of energy that I may not have, by late summer.
Oh, boy, did I go for it . . . I set up a fantastic journey that would have put me on a slow boat to South America, where I figured on spending four weeks at large, roaming from Chile to Argentina to Brazil and beyond. The east coast of the U.S. would be my point of departure and return, and I'd visit with friends long not seen, along the way there. Then I'd go through the Panama Canal, debark in Chile, to get my grounding in Santiago with a gracious couple met online, track down an old friend when I got to Buenos Aires, and have a free week or more in a private apartment on Rio's Copacabana (promised by a longtime email friend who seems to have the right connections). I hadn't even put that much energy into these arrangements . . . everything seemed to fall nicely into place.
. . . Until the middle of May, the 17th to be exact. That was Joy's birthday, and the day she found out she had a spreading ovarian cancer &emdash; at stage 3, they told her. Wow, it hit like a Paradigm Shift! I don't know how many of you have had to cope with that kind of sudden news in your world, but I can tell you that it is miles away from finding out that some 'good friend' has cancer. Or to put it another way, it told me how deeply attached to Joy I actually am. Living arrangements and other formalities are only incidental to the reality of a fully involved relationship, which is revealed in a pretty quick instant.
Needless to say, there was no way that I could any longer contemplate two months &endash; even two weeks &endash; away from home, anytime this year. The journey was off. And the $300 that I'd 'saved' in getting Innocence Abroad again underway was spent in cancellation fees and already-outlayed journey miscellany. It made no difference, however &emdash; it's only money.
As fast as they could manage it, Joy was in the hospital undergoing major abdominal surgery to get as much of the cancer out of her as they could. As I write this, she is back from that, recovering handily from its direct effects, and has already begun a hefty course of chemotherapy.
Joy is an amazingly resilient person. Upbeat, as you wouldn't believe! If anyone ever licked cancer, she is the best prospect for it I can imagine. But it's something we have got to do together, and I am as committed to it as she is. Along with her widespread family, I should add, who have been incredibly supportive. She is particularly blessed in having one daughter who is a full-fledged M.D., so we've been able to stay on top of all facets of this thing, about as well as can be done.
I've had a privileged view, as a kind of fringe benefit, of 'family' at work, as only a soap opera generally details it. Krista (the doctor) took an immediate two weeks off from her Boston prep toward a two-year AIDS project she is about to get underway in Africa, to see Joy halfway through the hospital process, and is out here again to assist as the chemo takes over. Paul, also from the east coast, flew out to fix a computer problem that might have blocked Joy's ready access to her far-flung family and friends. He, too (along with other east-coasters), will be out here again for her. Michael and his wife, Jennifer, provide the local anchor, ready with transport and backup for Joy's every need. They set up a new telephone system to further assure day and night family contact.
Seven kids, in all, are pooling their capabilities and pulling for their Mom's recovery. And I am lucky enough to be a part of it. With the steady traffic of phone calls and email, I watch the modern marvel of distance vanishing as a separative element in our lives. I witness, now, this singular difference between life in the 20th and 21st centuries, even for those of modest means . . . along with seeing how a family pulls together for its own, in a display that belies the oft-heard dismay about what has become of the American family.
That phenomenon &endash; the vanishing of distance &endash; is something that has crept up so gradually, over the past century that we take it entirely in stride. But its most recent manifestation &endash; the proliferation of cell phones &endash; has finally jogged me free of that blind and casual acceptance, to realize the extent to which I remain out of this loop. I am still largely trapped in a 20th century headspace that considers distance a natural and thereby acceptable barrier, not to be remedied but for emergency conditions.
Or else, for the indulgently expensive bypass &emdash; like my projected journey to South America, which was slated to fulfill a dream or two that I have secretly nursed for the better part of my long life. Oh, yes, I was cataloging the tribes of the Amazon basin, as a wannabe explorer back in the 1940s, and planning bicycle trips going south from our own continental Rio Grande &emdash; all of which got waylaid by the more immediate adventure of going to college.
I was born a generation too soon, for the kind of life I wanted. For the sort of indulgence that boomers, twenty years later, seemed freely able to choose, I could only aspire to a job that might provide and justify extended travel. When it ultimately came to pass that I was sent, as a programmer at the age of 40, on a two-week 'mission' to New York City &endash; my very first time 'abroad' from the west coast &endash; I was in such profound glory that you would think I had gone to the moon!
Even having now gone to Europe, my headspace is such that I still tend to see it as an impossibly great distance . . . the friendship gap to be bridged by very occasional letters, and phone calls almost unthinkable except for emergency. Sure, email is available to me, now &emdash; but I still think that way, and it continues to frame my reality. I am a throwback to another age, like those old folks who used to yell into a telephone mouthpiece because 'the other end' was so far away.
Today, when I stroll the grounds of the university and continually pass those, young and older, with a phone at one ear or the other as they hasten to class, my head shakes in wonderment at their need for such instant gratification. Seldom, if ever, has a phone call been that important to me. I am self-contained; even my recorded message at home makes it plain that I really don't care that much if I miss a call, or who it is that's calling.
Even now that I understand what it's all about &endash; the erasure of distance &endash; I think this particular parade is not for me to join. And why? Because I happen to prefer some of the perquisites of distance. I don't like the idea of being instantly reachable. Solitude, for me, is the most important element in privacy. Any discourse will be by my choosing, at my own good time, at least as much as by anyone else's.
You might think it odd that I should balk at cell phones when I so readily took to the internet. But the internet does provide that kind of 'my choice' control; and those who interact with me online know full well that I as often let their email slide, as not &emdash; and hope they understand. While it might seem dismissive, it's just an affectation that provides the ultimate refuge for those who like to think awhile (a long while, sometimes) before they respond . . . for those whose lives have narrowed to a few choice concerns, and for whom the casual chatter that marks a longtime friendship holds little appeal.
Or for one, if the truth be flatly told, who has reactively begun pulling back from the world of today. Despite my continuing involvement in it, I really don't fit in here &emdash; not in this 21st Century world, as I see it shaping up.
2. I have to talk about why that is . . .
. . . that I find myself increasingly alienated, as I move ever deeper into my 8th decade &endash; the 70s &endash; and what I'm doing about it . . . pulling ever backward, to a world now fast fading into the forgotten past. Maybe this is nothing new for me, but it seems to have acquired a greater appeal as I gain a stronger sense of just being, as I've said, a throwback to another age. I look at evidence all around me, of a world moving at chaotic speed, with little sureness of where it is even going . . . in education, in international politics, in science, in the faltering pursuit of human values, even in daily life &emdash; for who has any real sense, today, of where their own life is going, let alone the world around them?
Maybe we never did &endash; I will certainly grant that likelihood &endash; but we functioned in a world of reasonably known possibilities and a timeline of change that carried a reasonable expectation of both input from, and adaptation by us, none of which is any longer so.
I am still dazed and reeling from last year's election, which told me so many things about this country, its present reality and processes that I would really rather not know. What I mean, of course, is that I'd rather they not be so, but I can no longer pass it off as just a bad show, an aberration. It is a sad but true fact, that I'll never cast a vote again in a national election &emdash; not that anyone will miss it except me, but I now see it as a hollow act, a pacifier that no longer pacifies, and hence I can no longer get serious about it. Were I very much younger, I would likely leave the country; but at this point in my life it makes little difference.
This isn't so much a burnout, as it is sheer disgust at what this country has become. And it keeps getting worse, with each passing day's news! The evident transcience, and apparent trash-ability of everything that had been slowly, painfully built, up to the turnover, is gradually showing itself as the most devastating aspect of the country's insanity. It has been commonly observed that a president's appointive power over the Supreme Court is his most potent weapon, effective for many years beyond the life of the appointing administration. Yet, without a single such appointment being made, we are seeing the future being shaped, today, by a re-shaping of the past.
With the blink of a mis-counted election, international compacts and treaties, long-standing policies and solidly dedicated commitments of the American people are being cancelled, abrogated, cast into the trash, right and left. Whether or not a dictator was elected, what we've got is certainly carrying on like one! And thus far, I've seen precious little opposition to his dismissive fiats, his careening ego. As a populace supposedly outraged (a good 50% of us) by that November debacle, we are giving it about as much resistance as did Europe's Jews as they were being corralled into the ovens.
What is it, with us? Are we so cushioned by freedom, comfort, and a weekly paycheck that we think "it can't happen here"? Hey, guys . . . maybe that was only an American-style 'putsch', but IT'S HAPPENING! When Adolf Bush can declare an international missile treaty to be "out-dated", with no court of any sort standing to deny him that power, how remote is it, really, from the earlier Adolf walking right over treaties in 1939?
You think, of course, that we'll see it coming if it gets that bad. But tyranny comes by means of small and gradual steps. It arrives, invariably, in the guise of someone with a clear mandate to do 'what is right' for the people and the country . . . someone with a sense of 'mission' and most usually with a mission that resonates with moral authority. You think that we're protected by a Fourth Estate that will always put the spotlight on any such effort to pull the wool over our eyes. But how does one cope with a media that simply backs away from a major story, because it is 'politically incorrect' in terms of what the government prefers that they convey?
Consider, for example, the incredible spectacle of a major national press conference with the vanguard of several hundred people who once had unimpeachable authority (in the military, or occupational positions where they were 'in the know' about what was going on, with respect to the half-century long investigative history of unidentified flying objects) finally coming out of a government-imposed silence, to tell what they saw and what they obediently kept secret for so long . . . to a media establishment that would not pursue the story!
This borders on the fictional. It raises denial to a platform of either irrationality or collusional censorship, and puts the stamp of deliberate blindness on an age that is supposedly extending the boundaries of informational truth and accuracy. Wow &emdash; I am really at a loss for sufficiently outraged terms! I heard the press conference, myself, broadcast over the web, and saw it totally squelched by the media. Is it my innocent imagination that thinks this story is important?...that the validated presence of actual aliens in our world (wherever they are from) could be newsworthy?
Or take this one more incident of a managed media... Not very many weeks ago, a California friend sent me the link to a web site where some clever folks had rigged a kind of tension reliever: a cartoonlike thing where, with a mouse click, you could activate a fist to punch a George Bush image, and watch it get battered and bruised before your very eyes. It was fun, and useful as a relaxer. Just recently, I went back there, only to be confronted by an apology for the material having been removed... "due to conditions beyond our control." In other words, we now live in a time of the political censorship of free speech. Were you aware of it?
Well, the bottom line is that I'm a survivor. In practical terms, this is my world, and this is my culture, and I have to get along in it for the few years that remain. The resolution is to pull back from engagement with its energy-depleting aspects. I don't believe in noble deaths, I am for low-profile living, and I have never seen a more appropriate time for getting down to it. From here on, I shall increasingly immerse myself in the pleasures and serenity of a vanished time. I can still surround myself with many of its traces and treasures, and it takes only the active imagination to bring them once more to life, in my private world. The music, the art, and so many enriching books that I could never stop finding or reading them.
The internet is a gift of immeasurable value, in this respect &emdash; I'll happily give credit where it's due, despite my primary aversive inclination to new technology. From home, I can locate just about any book or piece of music my treasure-hunt instincts track me toward. I have lately turned to collecting old college and high school yearbooks, maybe the most evocative vestiges of those vanished times that could be found.
It's an odd passion, grown from a desire to rediscover the lost yearbooks of my own school years, which long ago vanished in the turbulence of my later life. I turned up other yearbooks, here and there, learning a few things about the genre in the process, and it would have remained an idle pursuit, in the course of booksales and such, except that I discovered that the auction site, eBay, devotes a full section to yearbooks, with a running average of about 1500 items regularly offered for bid. Naturally, I began watching it, to see if any of my own &endash; Lowell's Red and White, or SF State's Franciscan, for the appropriate years &endash; should turn up. So far, none has. However, I have a growing collection of Franciscans from other years, before my own, that have cost me less than $10 each. But that's almost a sidelight, now, to what is evolving from the pastime.
No matter how old you may be, the yearbooks you've likely seen are almost like clones of one another, a 'standard model' that seems to have emerged in the Depression years. But as you move back in time, prior to the 1930s, a whole different picture emerges. Yes, they followed a thematic pattern similar to their later offspring, but their way of handling it was unique to each school and graduating class. This is creative product, and there are gems to be found among them, so redolent of the times, even the place, as to be windows into the past worth taking a sidetrip through, as the time for it may be available. It can be every bit as evocatively nostalgic as listening to old records.
In some respects, much more so, for it sets off an entire rainbow of feeling as one's imagination is stirred by the visual prod of these onetime slices of real lives. Until you've let your eyes drift among the radiant faces of those graduating seniors &endash; some of them vivacious, some shy, some with that expectant look only found in the innocence of youth &endash; you cannot know its effect. Each is the keepsake of an entire life already lived, though unknown at that moment. Each is a dream, in effect . . . a dream that plays differently at every viewing!
But going back to my original point, these old annuals are part of a growing counter-attack that I make on the debilitating, worrisome impact of today's world on my well-being. It can be argued, of course, that I am simply in denial of reality &emdash; but it would not be the first time that I have made a positive choice for my own reality, in preference to the 'standard model' being offered; and I hardly need to observe that when I last did so, thirty years ago, I made a choice I've never been sorry for. So, perhaps the time for it has come again.
3. We have this absolute conviction that reality just is,
...and that we've got to learn to live with it, which omits any recognition of a creative potential that we possess, over our own reality. I'm not talking about the course of our lives, here, but a deeper aspect: the functional framework within which that path is pursued &emdash; how life is understood to work, the way things can and do happen to us, and for us, the things we regard as possible (or impossible), based on prior experience or belief. This is our reality framework, and I'm observing that there is a creative fluidity to it, and therefore that it can be different for each one of us, and at various stages in an individual life &emdash; maybe only a tiny fractional difference, but it needn't be more than that to have a profound effect on the lives we experience . . . after all, recall that there is only a 1.6 percent difference in the entire genetic structure, between humans and chimpanzees.
The whole concept is generally unacceptable, because of our enchantment by the 'hard reality' world of science, the primary present-day religion, regardless of how much we posture about a side-by-side existence of some separate religion, which at best is only shadow of what it once was. We live by science, in every sense of the word, and I know no better evidence of a super-arrogating belief system (i.e., a religion).
Well, I do not mean to challenge or deprive you of your 'religion,' and I'm sure you can resist this argument of mine quite easily, if you wish to do so. After all, there is a long history of science at your disposal, and an abundance of its 'clergy' to be consulted, for support. But I want to offer an alternative view of reality, for those who think there may be something wrong with the 'authorized model' of it. And I can best do so by telling you how I arrived at it.
My life, for many years, as you may know, incorporated poverty at a welcome level. Welcome for several reasons: 1) it was an acceptable tradeoff for the need of a job-based regular income &emdash; I no longer wanted to be in the labor force; 2) it made life adventurous and interesting; 3) it became, for me, the avenue to an experiential knowledge of how life works, impossible to know unless one lives, in some way or another, 'on the edge'; 4) it resulted in a steady, positive flow of Providence for me.
For as long as I stayed within the common reality (what I perceived, then, as the only reality) I had no idea that 'how it worked' could be an individual matter. Things just worked better for some than others &emdash; maybe it was perseverance, maybe luck, maybe knowing the right people or coming from the right family, but I had no reason to think that their operating reality might be different than mine, since science, and the rational outlook on which it stands, do not support any such concept.
However, practically from the very day that I walked away from the job world, and faced a whole new range of life conditions, I began to see my world working in strange &endash; sometimes amazingly strange &endash; ways. I paid a great deal of attention to this, filtered through a greatly prized rational mind, and ultimately I had no choice (short of pure denial) but to recognize a direct connection between the way I was living and the different way my world now worked.
My earliest journals reveal a wonder at the amazing, once-in-a-million, pinpoint instances of things falling neatly into place for me, when I left the old way of life, and I thought it was nothing but pure fool's luck. But two years later, when I was observing the unaccountable constancy of a major early-August crisis in my life, for three consecutive years, I was no longer willing to take it as coincidence. It became, instead, a springboard into the primary study of my latter years: a seasonal effect on consciousness and reality.
Many have told me, since that time, that they find no such correlation in their own lives, and I can only assume that my passion is a blend of discovery and reality-creation. It makes little difference to me . . . for I'm sure, now, that everyone's reality is a similar blend; it's just that most folks live in blended realities that are not much different from one another. And it ends up being called "everyday reality," assumed to be objectively uniform. So we have the absurd spectacle, for example, of magician James Randi devoting his life to trashing the personal reality of Uri Geller (which had been demonstrated before millions, and validated at the Stanford Research Institute) because it does not accord with Randi's own . . . and it cannot enter his head that they just have different realities.
I don't know all the operational factors that surround this, or what the spectrum of possibility may be like; I only know that it has to be so. There's no other way to account for the plethora of variant realities, among demonstrably sane people whose subjective realities are increasingly in conflict with one another. Ultimately, you just have to question the notion of a fixed and stable reality &emdash; or the possibility of any such within the scope of our senses and perception.
Personal belief system regulates a feedback filter for one's reality, such that one's beliefs can limit what one will see &endash; literally, what one is able to see (this has been experimentally valid-ated) &endash; in the swirl of everyday life. By the time we've grown up, this 'limitation of reality' is fairly well set, and inviolate. However, a radical shift in the way one lives will pull that person out of well-worn ruts, so that perception is no longer habitual &emdash; for a period of time, at least. Within that window of fresh vision, an opportunity exists, to re-evaluate reality.
It is not an assured process, however. The security value of an already conditioned life generally compels one to force all that is newly seen into a comfortable prior fit; it can quite easily be done, by resorting to clichés like luck and coincidence for what takes place. But those possessed of a mind by nature curious, and inquisitive, and maybe more than a bit ready to challenge authority, will find such anomalies in their world important enough to dwell on.
How can someone change their everyday reality? A good question, but I can't give you a solid answer for it, because the perceived reality is such a governing force over everything we do. But I can make a few suggestions: Watch for anomalies in your world, and assume that they are trying to tell you something about changes that may be possible. 'Go with them' as often as you can. Devise ways of finding an open channel to your inner 'voiceless' self, where these anomalies originate. (I have used things like a deliberate [de-liberate!] effort to sketch with my left hand, and I've 'appointed' message signifiers, such as the occurrence of synchronicities, or my I Ching readings, that can thenceforth be relied upon as valid message channels).
Of course, you have to believe that it can be so, or it will never happen for you. Maybe that's the biggest barrier for most folks, for once you're locked into the conviction that there is a fixed, immutable reality, it is pretty damn difficult to break free of it. But to do so offers a true Paradigm Shift, open to every one of us. It can literally change your world.
Well, I guess it is time to pack this issue in, and get it out to you . . . more than time, since it is already several weeks overdue; and even more for those of you that I have to get letters out to. Just a further note or two: The new edition of Innocence Abroad is slow in coming, but it's on the way. I'll have the details in the next issue. If you just can't wait, however, http://www2.xlibris.com/bookstore/search.asp will have the info before you get it from me.
And finally . . . that stuff about me being in this year's edition of Who's Who &emdash; I treated it as a joke, in the last issue, quite sure that they'd realize the mistake and file my bio in the trash when they received it. But, by God, it is really happening! This is truly off the wall, and unless someone can give me a credible explanation, I can only regard it as a proof of what I've been saying, all along, about the ultimate viability of quirky personal realities.
Here's love to you, and I hope you can survive the rest of this wild summer.
3. Send response