The whole world it seems has been impacted by the dreaded COVID-19 pandemic which has left many of us with a good bit less to do; we’re either working from home, laid off or furloughed from our jobs. And Lord knows we have all watched a great deal more television than normal, at least I know Emily and I have. Maybe the world will get lucky and we’ll all become a tad bit better informed as a result.
I guess that would depend on whether we’re spending our television time watching 90 Day Fiancé or the Discovery Channel. As far as I know, there has been no official announcements or directives as to which programs we’re supposed to be watching…at least not yet. Me being the chameleon I am, I generally watch all sorts of unrelated stuff, but always devouring lots of information TV along the way.
One thing that has been quite noticeable about my life from a distance is that I haven’t written much lately. You’d think a fella like me who gets off on writing silly stories about nothing would write more often when given the opportunity. I guess, like a lot of people who enjoy writing, I began to wonder why I do it and who really gives a damn. I just wasn’t really motivated to do it.
At the end of the day, I guess it really doesn’t matter who gives a damn as long as I do. And its not even like that really; writing is not something I feel called to do nor do I necessarily have a story I’m itching to tell. There are just times when I get an idea stuck in my head and it amuses me to tinker with the idea.
Writing for me is that exploration of thought. It is a silent journey I take alone then later translate into something entertaining or thought provoking for others to share along with me. When people respond or “like” what I’ve decided to share, it somehow makes me feel more centered with the universe. I instinctively know that other people out in the world are thinking about the same things or are at least get what I am saying.
Last week I was watching one of my favorite shows and I learned that our sun is almost 94 million miles away from Earth. That translates to about 150 million kilometers for my European readers. How many times do you think I saw that or heard that information while in school or in life over the last 55 years? I can’t say for sure but I’m confident I’ve come across it several times in my life and never really cared all that much. I mean, what does that have to do with me, really?
But, for some strange reason, the thought of our sun being that far away from Earth really struck a chord with me. I started to think about all the light and heat energy emanating from it and how powerful that energy must be in order for it to have such a strong impact on us, nearly 100 million miles away. Universally, my mind wandered around to what life would be like if Earth had just landed one million miles different than where it ended up. Would Earth have the ability to sustain life as we know it if we lived just a million miles closer or a million miles farther away in our solar system?
Nearly a hundred million miles from here, deep in outer space, is an enormous sphere of hot plasma and fire producing enough light and heat energy to vaporize pretty much everything, yet, by the time all that energy gets to us, it’s perfect… it is just right!
How many of you out there got married before you were mature enough to know how to be a good spouse? I count myself among you for sure. It’s an unfortunate statistic but we all want things we’re not ready to have. How many of you had a driver’s license before you were mature enough to be a safe driver? I could go on and on, right?
But when I think about how I got here to where I am today, the path I took with all of its crooked roads, potholes, dead ends and roundabouts, it seems quite unlikely that I would have landed right here in this exact place. And when I analyze Emily’s life under the same lens, and formulate all of the things that did happen, didn’t happen, were supposed to happen, etc., and how it all ended up with us together and happy for so long. It kinda blows my mind.
I’m not suggesting that either of us are perfect or “just right” for anyone else, I’m just acknowledging what we both know, that we’re just right for each other and probably wouldn’t have been if we’d met each other 10 years prior. Just like if our sun were a million miles closer, we might have crashed and burned.
I won’t pretend to understand or even analyze karma or fait or divine intervention. Maybe they are all the same thing, I don’t know. But there is an order about things in this world that defies our ability to know every answer or formulate every hypothesis. Some things just happen because they are supposed to happen. Consequently, some things are allowed to happen to us because we can’t grow if we’re allowed to self-insulate ourselves from the kinds of pain we must learn to endure if we’re going to be happy.
So, I know this is way too early for a birthday card, so I have made it a blog instead. But I’ve learned the hard way; when inspiration hits you, it is always the right time to say something that needs to be said. Writing is my only superpower. Its easy for me to express myself with the written word but I’m not a naturally expressive person in my daily life.
So, in my open life, I’ve learned to say nice things when I think nice things. Otherwise, I never say enough nice things. I’m an internal person, and not particularly expressive. I can write a personal card or email pretty much anytime I want.
Saying and expressing the type of kindness my loved ones deserve to know hasn’t always been something I’m great at doing. I’m analyzing my weaknesses by writing about them and doing my best to let others really know who I am by making an effort to do better. If you have things you really want to say, I encourage you to do the same thing. The people who count on you, psychologically, will be able to let things go and move forward when they have confidence in your support and understand your own acknowledged weaknesses.
This journey of life never ends, no matter how short yours may end up. Think about it. I often think about what my great grandfathers were like. I have sat in a restaurant in Wales that was once my 12th great grandfathers’ home. Thousands of ancestors grace the pages of my family tree. These people, long since dead, are still part of my life and their energy continues to radiate in my own story.
If we’re going to live forever, we may as well be known for saying kind things. It’s a very long road to travel but seemingly shorter and shorter with every year that passes. I’m comforted to know that no matter how far away you go, no matter how lost you seem to be, there’s a good chance you end up in exactly the right place.
That is exactly what happened to me. I started off so far away from where I am today. I’ve been happy, sad, emotionally drained and on top of the world. I have failed and succeeded; I’ve contemplated life elsewhere; and, I’ve overstayed my welcome when I should have moved on. But through every experience and around every curve, I have managed to survive long enough to land right here in this exact place.
Likewise, the energy from the sun is immense; it’s far too untamed and powerful to experience close up. While it is almost hundred million miles away, it only takes 8 seconds to get from there to here. The gap between the lives Emily and I lived were, it seemed, impossibly distant and incompatible. But here we are, a hundred million miles traveled, scarred, bruised, broken, duct-taped and put back together.
And yet, finally…just like the sunlight, everything is just right.
There are times in our lives when inevitability and expectation crash together and we’re forced to accept that it’s inevitability that has the best odds. In a fleeting moment, circumstances and life take a sharp curve at a bad angle and suddenly we’re not as surefooted as we may have believed we once were. People in our lives, no, important people in our lives die, and we’re left behind trying to figure out what it all means to us, what we’re supposed to do, and more importantly what are we still capable of doing without them.
In the outrageously short span of a couple weeks, someone in your life who is outwardly strong, weakens and dies. My mom’s husband of thirty-two years, Bill, died last week. He’d been a part of our family story far longer than our own deceased father. There were some good memories and some bad too but this is not really a story about Bill; its about me and you.
Emily is probably reading this right now and saying, “of course, its about you”, and she’d be right of course, but I’m still determined to move forward with the usual piles of babble and gibberish I normally produce anyway, ignoring all the subtle innuendo and eye-rolling. Without any benefit of having literary fans, I’m merely forced to live up to my own expectations which aren’t really all that high – so read this at your own risk.
So if Bill isn’t the subject of this blog, why are we all here; all three of us? Well, it’s complicated. The easiest way I can explain it is that I’m a person who normally lives in my head and right now I really need to be living inside my heart. I think a lot of people, like myself, go into our heads when we’re sad or wounded because we think we’re smart and we need answers, or we want to take prisoners and need to build places to put them.
But sometimes a person just needs to get out of their head and into their feelings. The problem is that my feelings have grown an entire pant size since I last wore them. Alas, at the age of 54 I’m suddenly realizing the true value of stretch pants. I should be thankful that hearts aren’t made to stretch like old-man-jeans or else I may be tempted to live more comfortably in my heart, defeating the purpose of being born with a Y chromosome.
The overriding and principle motivation for this blog being that I really just want my mom to be OK. This is her second husband to leave her behind and I can’t imagine the experience of uncertainty and grief that she must be experiencing right now. If your life is lived a certain way, perhaps very independently, and something like this happens, it turns your world upside down because you can’t help but to visualize your life exactly as it has thus far been lived – only without your partner in tow or pulling the plow.
Those are valid thoughts and for many people who don’t have children or family to step up and into new roles, these kinds of fears can become our realities. But losing a spouse at an advanced age doesn’t necessarily put you in some predetermined box, especially if you have important things you want to do or say or be. You’re only limited by your thoughts; its the same for 8 year old’s as it is 80 year old’s.
While the moment is emotionally overwhelming, yes, time itself is not necessarily definitive. Who better to reinvent or reinvigorate their lives than a mature person who could give a rat’s ass about what other people think of them? Sometimes, you don’t need a plan, you just need to breathe, let go, and see what happens.
Maturity is the great equalizer isn’t it – you can finally take advantage of it. If life isn’t or hasn’t been giving you things to look forward to, do things or say things or write things that frame what precious moments you have left of your life in a way that is truly worthy of how you want others to know you – and look forward to whatever new beginnings you choose to cultivate.
Crisis need not be the catalyst for growth or change, but it sure does bring things into perspective. The selfish side of my personality is excited about having my mom all to myself again but the nicer of my temperaments ache for her as she so obviously craves some higher level of acuity as to her near and distant futures. It’s a challenge to find the right words sometimes, when you know someone you love needs to hear something they can cling to – or most importantly, believes.
Did I mention that one of my best life-long friends passed away last week too? Yeah, that one was a real kick in the gut. I think he deserves his own blog so I don’t want to wallow around in the emotion of that in this story and I don’t want to diminish the importance of the message I’m trying to convey here either. Everything in its own time right?
So let’s sum this thing up so that Emily will actually read the whole thing. We’re all getting old. Time is ticking for the 5 year old and it’s ticking for the 50 year old’s. Although the damn clock continues to tick, it also tocks…, tock rhymes with rock so lets rock shall we? There are only so many summers left and I intend not to waste them being old.
I don’t want you to waste yours just being the old chic either. Don’t be old, be vast and brilliant and expressive. Or you can be one of those fake palm reader persons, OR, your could be an old lady prostitute if you want, just be and be happy being. Life is short, even on it’s longest days. It’s not about existing, it’s about living. You can do this; we can do this together.
My brain has been rattling around quite a bit this week over the subject of parenting so I thought I might help myself understand the subject better if I put my thoughts down in writing. I can at times be a tad bit introverted so I have a tendency, when left to my own devices, to wonder around aimlessly inside my own head thinking about various things like this; ya’ll already know that about me.
Of course, it’s a bit absurd that I of all people would attempt to explain what a perfect parent is to anyone else being that I only did it once and I don’t think I was particularly great at it. That said, this is not necessarily a blog about how to be a perfect parent, it’s more of a letter to myself about the complexities of parenthood and perhaps an elaborate excuse for me sucking at it. You’re more than welcome to follow along and make fun of me if you want.
I hate to summarize my entire blog in the third paragraph for obvious reasons. So to better ensure that you will want to continue reading to the end, I will spice up my summary with what may be considered a controversial idea for the times in which we’re now living – the crazy idea that no one person could ever be the perfect parent.
This late-in-life recognition comes from multiple realizations. First of which radiates from my own personal experiences; second, from outside observations; and third, from the school of life. It’s the worst kind of school to go to, it has no monkey bars nor a recess.
I am an individual person with my own set of natural abilities, inclinations, habits, beliefs, deficiencies, and proclivities. There are certain aspects of parenting that my specific skill sets and personality are great at. There are others that I completely suck at. But that’s just me. What about my child? Wouldn’t it make sense that he would also have that same sort of complexities and individuality that I have? What if his personality learns in a different way than I naturally teach? What if his personality feels and expresses differently than I’m capable of emoting or comprehending?
Of course, two people can meet, be attracted to each other, fall in love, get married, sit on the same toilet, get pregnant and produce a child together without any idea of how to be parents. Both people could theoretically have the same personality quirks, strengths, weaknesses, etc., and possibly be completely incapable of supporting the other parent in any way. It could happen.
But, it is far more likely that each parent will have a different and separate set of skills and faults, each somewhat supporting the deficiencies of the other parent. Logic says that at least one parent will have some innate ability to jive with their child but that two will have at least some parental synergy and thus help the child benefit from what each parent has to offer.
Can any one individual parent be both a stern and strict enforcer of rules, standards, and family traditions and also provide an unstructured environment that provides for freedom of thought and creativity? Can one individual parent be so well-rounded as to share in their child’s perspectives and allow them to indulge themselves in a creative world without bounds but also exemplify the importance of politeness or respect of others/elders – with an intolerance of public unruliness? I’ve never known one person who can be all those things.
It’s far more reasonable to believe that one parent will always naturally fall into one role and the other parent will fall into the opposite or somewhat different role. Having two parents with two distinctly different personalities better ensures that children grow up with a broader perspective and wider range of skills, abilities, comprehensions and emotions.
I’ve characterized the following parent types into Little Rascal characters. Maybe you fall into one of these and maybe you don’t. I’m in no way attempting to describe all parent types, just enough to make my points.
Spanky parents are naturally playful and warm and love to see their children excited, playing in and experimenting with the world around them. Encouraging this playfulness and growth by always suggesting activities and lessons can really leverage the super powers that very young children have when it comes to the speed at which they can learn. These parental types will embrace and encourage their child’s productive interests as they arise, sweeping away dolls and dinosaurs when interests shift to the oceans, and eliminating the plastic fish when tastes change again, to the stars.
All that wonderfulness aside, this Spanky type of parent may be unlikely to have the heart to establish normal limitations themselves. They don’t always recognize the value of structure and predictability. Their entire façade is built on the premise of infinite and limitless possibility.
Do you remember the Adam Sandler movie Big Daddy where Sandler (Sonny Koufax) was a law school grad – too lazy to take the Bar exam but who adopted a boy to impress his girlfriend? My most prominent memories are the kid pissing in the living room corner and how Koufax never made the kid take a bath. The kid became the stinky kid at school because Sonny Koufax was a Spanky dad.
Froggy parents are more analytical. Parenting, like so many other person-to-person relationships can be quite difficult for analytical people as you can imagine. If you’re a person who’s heavily invested in rational thought, logic, and analyzing causes and effects, you can be woefully unprepared for dealing with a little person who hasn’t quite yet developed these same abilities. Froggy struggles with simple communication because he’s incapable of coddling or light/insignificant conversation.
Froggy may be the most rational person in the world but utterly fail in overt displays of physical affection or emotional sensitivity. He certainly has important skillsets that children need to be exposed to but on a personal level Froggy has an inability to convey those skills without the assistance of another parent who is much more emotionally available.
Froggy is otherwise a man of many talents. He has glasses so we know he’s smart and if given an opportunity, he genuinely wants to pass on his many talents to his offspring. It’s not for a lack of want, it’s a lack of self-awareness and instinct that keeps Froggy from being the parent he really wants to be.
Stymie has a mantra of “hard work, tradition, and respect”. In many ways, Stymie is the classic 50’s era father figure although Stymie could just as easily be a mother – it is a classic genderless name and perfect for a 21st century blog character. The problem with Stymie’s are that they are often standup, perfectionist type folks and they expect their children to continue the examples they’ve already set. It’s difficult for kids to live up to these exceptionally high expectations but of course the ones that do live up to it sort of prove that it’s a good parenting style, right? Maybe.
The sort of parental inflexibility that Stymie parents are known to have, if left to their own devices, can become quite a challenge for a kid who is growing into their more naturally rebellious adolescent years. The challenge is almost greater for Stymie, not the kid.
Stymie parents enjoy creating secure, structured, stable environments, and consider it an affront to have those considerations rejected which is what adolescents are famous for doing. Insubordination is not particularly well-tolerated by a Stymie and I sort of get that. It is a very difficult thing to raise a child these days and it never hurts to feel some appreciation for all the efforts you’re undertaking.
We all understand that accountable parenting is a responsibility, not an option, but (always a but) not everyone does, or wants to, or feels the need to, or is willing to do the right thing and it feels damn good to hear your child express some understanding and gratitude for those efforts.
Buckwheat is artistic and adventurous and fun-loving. Buckwheat loves hands-on activities and hobbies that further develop an artistic talent or boost a child’s social awareness. But, when it comes to things like saving for their child’s college education, our Buckwheat would turn straight to oatmeal without a partner whom is much better at taking care of those sort of things.
Buckwheat’s are, however, full of empathy and awareness: a bedrock of emotional support. Buckwheat’s will never bullheadedly tell a child what it ought to do, but instead, will help them to explore all options and encourage them to follow their hearts and instincts. Those are awesome qualities and any child would be fortunate to have a Buckwheat parent. Naturally lacking structure, focus, rules and stability, Buckwheat parents also fall short of perfection.
We all know Butch. He’d occasionally steal Darla away from Alfalfa with his obvious swagger but if Butch and Darla were to have children, I think Butch would do well to put a ring on Darla and keep her around. Parenting is difficult for Butch. Not a naturally sensitive guy, he struggles to identify the raw emotions and irrationality that are often the standard with young children, who have yet to develop the sort of self-control and logical thinking that someone like Butch takes for granted.
Butch has no interest in raising children or managing anything other than his work or his golf game. Butch parents are likely to allow their children to enjoy lots of freedom to essentially raise themselves, allowing them to form their own principles. Butch is rational, intelligent and is engaged once the children are older but there is hardly a clumsier example of a provider of emotional support for children and pre-teens than Butch.
Lots of little boys grow up trying to emulate their Butch dads. The control and confidence Butch naturally exudes can be a powerful magnet for a child to emulate and confidence is a great attribute. But a lack of emotional connection with daddy Butch can leave some children feeling like they don’t measure up.
Oh-Tay; Porky is the quintessential yes man. But all that ass-kissing has made Porky want better for his kids. Porky wants to teach his children how to be effective in business, impartial and logical. Porky believes that his kids should understand the difference in what is most effective versus what makes you feel good.
Porky is passionate about raising his kids with business skills and leadership ability but his approach leaves him emotionally inaccessible. He’s all about teaching strong values but he believes these values come from deep understanding, not blind trust. Discipline doesn’t necessarily come naturally for anyone but it’s a particularly challenging subject for Porky.
Porky’s standards are so high for himself and his kids that when confrontations do happen, Porky wants to frame the life lessons as archetypes of morality. If his kid rebels against it, it’s seen as a rebellion of morality because that’s how he framed it – thus Porky wants to dig in his heels and refuse to bend.
Porky is a complicated person. He can be a great parent but can smother his kids with ridiculous expectations and leave them searching for acceptance. I’m thinking George Von Trapp meets Maria. George (Porky), bullied by the Nazi’s feels emasculated. He wants better for his kids so he’s disciplined and direct. Maria swoops in with her nun outfit, teaches his kids to sing, and they live happily ever after.
If you’re an Alfalfa like me, you’re probably struggling to manage your own emotions in a healthy way, let alone trying to manage a childs’ emotions. I’m analytical for sure but not super analytical, such as a Froggy. I would definitely define myself as a true hybrid type – one quarter analytical, one quarter emotional, one quarter artistic and one quarter zombie (Spanky/Froggy/Buckwheat/Stymie/Butch/Porky).
I would say that my analytical side is usually what wins out. As a result, I tend to mostly avoid “unproductive” strictly emotional conversations, and instead take a solutions-based but slightly emotional approach to resolving most problems. Example: I never once spanked my child without first having an intellectual discussion over why it was necessary. Then, once the matter was resolved intellectually, I teared up and did the dreadful deed.
Words and ideas though, are my strongest assets – assessing a dilemma to find the underlying cause and developing a plan to solve the problem at its source. That said, I can at times be highly emotional. You just may not know it – that’s the zombie part of my personality.
A disconnect is found between what I’m able to feel and what I’m able to express. Although I think my emotional side is highly developed – there are no visual cues as to what I’m feeling. You’re laughing right now that I’m calling myself emotional, I know it.
Alfalfa’s like me try really hard to always do or say the right thing but our emotional logic doesn’t always translate. Think of children like tribes of indigenous peoples of undiscovered islands. They speak their own language and have their own unique culture – Heathens and savages if you will. Children won’t always cooperate and allow you to use all your best dance moves. Emotion and Logic, when combined, can sometimes make a profound difference.
What happens when you logic is ignored and you’re also an emotional person? Well, I can say that it is usually one of two scenarios: I either have a great conversation and things seem to work fine, or, the shit hits the fan and I use a barrage of unintelligible curse words strapped together with other curse words that I use as adjectives to connect a multitude of curse words. Then I play my Black Sabbath record backwards.
In an attempt to call upon my finely tuned emotional assets, I try to engage the emotional gears and the clutch suddenly won’t work. Frustration comes into play because it’s obvious that my brain is failing me. As long as there is no stress, my emotions seem to work just fine. But when Cortisol is released into my zombie veins, the emotions quit working and all that’s left is either logic or pathologic.
My typical style has never really been to just to tell my child what to do, but to instead to prompt him with logic to use his own mind so he arrives at some well thought out conclusion. I learned a long time ago that my child is far more independent than I, and that’s saying a lot. It makes no sense for me to tell him anything. He’s going to listen to what I’m saying and form his own opinions regardless of what I say. If that doesn’t work, I write a stupid blog and hope he reads it.
The Problem with Perfection
As you can now plainly see, there are a lot of parent personalities out there in the real world. Way more in fact than I could ever dream to know, much less understand. Some parenting styles seem more positive on the surface while other styles have a slightly uglier exterior. All that aside, when you really look beneath the thin façade of parenting styles, all knowledge and input has its place, and all systems – no matter how involved or logical, will eventually fail on their own weight if given enough time – because children mature and change and we typically do not change along with them.
Empathic and open-minded parents really are awesome for any child to have. But there’s a downside of the empathic and nurturing parents; our children eventually become adolescents. When children approach their teenage years, all this free-flowing emotion and attention can start to feel cloying and excessive to them. At a time when they are wanting more privacy and independence, you’re still smothering them with lipstick kisses and tickets to Disney On Ice.
This is a time when the most nurturing of parents are challenged the greatest I think. They have strong emotions and invest those emotions heavily in their children. As adolescent children begin to withdraw, parents sometimes have a difficult time even recognizing themselves. They’ve spent so much energy and focus on being a good parent, it leaves them wondering if all that energy even worked. Will my child have benefitted from all my affection and attention or will the kid I hate down the road have more influence on him than me?
I think life is often the best teacher. As a parent, I think I was fairly liberal, allowing my son to have his own adventures and make his own decisions, to further develop his critical thinking skills. This isn’t to say that I was necessarily lenient – rather, I expected him to use his freedom responsibly, and I theorized that the weight of this expectation alone was enough to lay out some understood ground rules.
When needed though, I was fully capable of communicating openly, sternly and honestly. I just preferred not to replicate the belt-whooping thing my dad made famous. Did my seemingly more rational approach work? I guess the answer depends of if you’re asking me if he felt the weight of my expectations and made good decisions OR if he/we learned something from the experience. I think he mostly didn’t always make great choices but I’m certain he benefitted from the experiences.
And, to be fair, there were times when all that freedom left me blindsided. Not that my parenting style was necessarily bad, it was just insufficient by itself. It took other people to point out behaviors and events that otherwise I may not have noticed. Most of the time, I would be in complete denial as to what was happening. My son had a pierced ear for weeks before I learned about it. Hint: If your child is wearing a stocking cap over his ears in the hot summer, there might be a clue inside the cap Colonel Mustard.
Sometimes, people/parents like me overthink things a bit. When you rationalize my parenting style with pure logic, it all makes sense. The problem is that there’s no logic to raising children. Each child is different and each parent’s ability to communicate is different. No book or blog can teach a person how to be a great parent. To be a great parent, you just have to want to be a great parent. Then later in life, when you get old like me, your children let you know whether you were or weren’t.
The most important thing I think I’ve learned from this exercise is just how limited we all are individually. We’re only good at a few things and we always suck at something. It only makes sense that our children are going to grow up so much well-rounded when they have two parents mentoring them daily. That doesn’t make it fool-proof, it just means that they will have a much more solid footing if they know, spend time with, and are parented by two people.
That said, four parents are better and six parents are even better than four. Typical families no longer make the effort to maintain close distances and bonds with extended members, grandparents and such. When I was a kid, we spend a tremendous amount of time with our grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles. There was this thing that families used to do annually called “family reunions”. I know it sounds odd today but people really did use to have fun spending time with dozens of extended family members eating from covered-dish dinner menus.
If you want your kids to witness the incarnation of culture, take them to a family reunion where there are 15 different versions of mac-n-cheese. Literally every family matriarch has her own recipe. Every single time you bite into a new mystery meat or crazy potato recipe, your first thought is either, “I love it”, or “Believe it or not, there’s someone in this building who is literally jonesing for this nasty ass stuff”.
I realize that it took me more than 3,500 words to tell this tale and I’m not so sure anyone learned anything, including me. But the gist of where I was going with this is that far too many people believe that children do just fine with one parent. And, maybe some do. But don’t you think that they’d do much better with two?
Spanky believed in his He-Man Woman Haters Club and was quite upset with Alfalfa when, after skipping the HMWHC meeting, he caught Alfalfa and Darla macking behind closed doors. But, Spanky would go on to find out that he was being a little short-sided on the subject of woman hating. We all mature in our thoughts eventually.
If you want kids and you want to do your best to provide them with all the tools they need to succeed in life, do your very best to find a partner that wants the same thing and whom will be a reliable, active and present member of your dream team. Sometimes things just won’t work out, divorce is a fact of life. But think twice before selfishly attempting parenthood alone when you have the option of doing it as a part of a team. No one can ever be a perfect parent alone.
Thank you Fate for all my foes. Am I being facetious? No, not really. I won’t lie though, I do wish everyone would like me. Am I all that different from others in that regard? I really don’t know the answer to that, I’m just assuming that the desire to be liked is consistent among all of us. I will say that it definitely hurts my feelings when I find out someone doesn’t like me, especially when it’s someone I respect or someone I’ve invested a lot of myself into. In retrospect, however, what could be more inspiring or motivating than an outright enemy or competitor? They keep us sharp don’t they?
People without foes cannot imagine the passions that burn within those of us who do – the fire being constantly kindled by people whose only real goal in life, it seems, is to subvert the goals of others. A wise older man told me once that “most people don’t care if you do well, they just don’t like it when you’re doing better than they’re doing.” If you count yourself as a hard worker, a creative type, detail oriented, a smart cookie, or maybe just lucky as hell, someone out there is going to hate you for whatever it is that sets you apart or elevates your status above their own.
Thankfully, the laws of selection have likely killed off a good bit of that asshole DNA over the life-span of humanity. Our “old school” ancestors weren’t as obliged to take as much lip as we are these days and swords aren’t as readily accepted as a part of daily dress as they once were. But despite all that early character-cleansing activity, there’s still some decently pathetic people out there continuing to fertilize prick-eggs. They just keep coming. Just because one may die, you’re never going to be out of the woodwork. If you are a do’er or a leader or a facilitator – there’s always another sniper out there ready to put you in his/her cross-hairs.
The jealousy gene is present inside all of us, especially me. If I meet someone who seems to have it all together, living the easy life, I’ll admit that I sometimes feel a bit of jealousy. For a fleeting moment, not really knowing the back story of that person, I unwittingly think that I want what he or she has. The key words here are “seems” and “think”. But not everything is always as it seems. Our jealousies are oftentimes out of sync with the person’s real life – perhaps they’re living a life that we wouldn’t want for ourselves at all – we just haven’t seen it naked.
Some people, though, have a jealousy gene which is Enormously Dominant. Let’s just call this condition E.D. for now. These people are genetically engineered to feel threatened by another’s outward successes. They are so consumed with jealousy that they actually believe that your successes (big or small), undermine their own self-confidence. Maybe they believe you will be favored or loved more than them. Perhaps they have a tinge of mental illness – your popularity or success emasculates their own self-perceptions. These folks are driven to try and derail you. It’s not personal, it’s their E.D...
We’re really never going to know the exact reasons why these insecure folks will sell their souls to undercut your efforts, or why they are drawn to careers in finance(?%&@); we just have to recognize them for the value that they bring to our lives. Haters don’t necessarily hate you, it’s far more likely that they actually hate themselves. You become a reflection of what’s missing in their own mirror and a painful reminder of their own inadequacies.
To sum it all up, backstabbers and haters are not going away. If you lose one, you will get another. Why not elevate their status in a way that brings about positivity instead of stress? First learn to recognize them, then learn to appreciate them for the challenges they help you overcome. Perception is reality, they say.
When I was a kid, I was hypnotized by those Shake’n Bake commercials. I remember hounding my mom to get us some. It was like watching a magic show to a kid. She never bought in to my demands, thank goodness, but I can’t imagine that I gave in very easily. I don’t know if I was convinced that you didn’t have to cook it or what. The commercials just make it all look so easy; you just put the ingredients in the bag, then the meat, shake it up and voila – fried pork chops.
It’s funny to me that the human brain is wired to assist things into mental completion. We complete each other’s sentences, we answer questions not fully asked, and we assume we know things we’ve been told, even when the things we’re told aren’t true at all. All one must do in order to get most of us to believe something is to provide a subtle hint as to a logical conclusion and allow our brains to make the connection. It’s like finishing a sentence when there’s no sentence – just superfluous information. That’s what television advertising is great at doing.
We’re in the middle of a local election here in Shelbyville, Tennessee and of course there’s lots of tension and drama concerning the prospect that a very popular Mayor could be usurped by a lesser known candidate. In fact, there are four people running for that job. Our current Mayor suffered a fall a few months back and damaged his knee. His rehabilitation has been slow but very steady. He’s back doing the job of Mayor and we’re blessed he didn’t suffer any permanent damage.
That perceived weakness, though, has opened the door for a few others to try their hand at getting that job. Being human, we sometimes seize opportunities to further our own interests at the expense of another person’s weakness. It is a very human thing to do. In so doing, our personal agendas can make so much more sense to people when you provide a logical rationale, a potential conspiracy, and a solution – especially when you allow the person you’re telling to make his or own conclusion as to real truth. The kicker is that the game rules were first established by the story teller.
It’s Shake’n Bake. I give you a bag with magic powder in it. The magic powder that will solve all your problems. I then give you a free piece of meat. We put the meat in the bag and I allow you to do the shaking up. When we’re done, a transformation has taken place. The raw meat now looks like a fried pork chop. The problem? You can’t eat it. It’s not what you thought it was.
Eugene Ray is an African American living in a small county of about 50,000 people. He represents one man of an approximate 10% demographic. Yet, he was elected and served as a county commissioner for twenty years and has been overwhelmingly elected, re-elected and supported by the good people of this county for three terms. In the previous election, he won every single voting precinct in Bedford County. He didn’t win the overwhelming confidence of the people of this county by conspiracy. He won our trust because he’s the best man I’ve ever known and likely the best man you’ve ever known too.
The biggest rumor going around is that Eugene wants to win the election then immediately step down and appoint me as his surrogate. This is completely false and is not even legal in this state. Whomever created this lie did so because they want to play into your natural suspiciousness to government. They want you to believe that you can no longer trust your government. They used my name because everyone knows that I am personally close to him and that I am a department head with whom he has trusted with several important projects. It makes sense right?
So, let’s just put this rumor into proper perspective so that you can know how crazy it would be. First, Tennessee Code Annotated tells us what the law is with respect to an elected official stepping down during a term. A perfect example can be found right here when our state Senator, Jim Tracy, stepped down from his office last year. When that happens, the Legislative Body of the County (County Commission) is the only entity who can appoint an interim Mayor. Not the Mayor himself.
If that would happen, the chance that myself or any other department head would step up to ask for the Commission to appointment them is nearly zero. I say nearly only because there might be someone who’s close to retirement age who might actually try, but I’m only 53 so that would not be me. The biggest reason it would not be me is because I would have to quit the security of a decent job for an opportunity to serve a few months interim then run in the next general election for an opportunity to win and finish out what’s left of that term.
I would have to quit my job and spend tons of money gambling for a small chance of keeping my new job. Why would I or anyone do something like that? No one in my or any similar position has prepared or raised money for an election campaign, we’ve not been campaigning or getting our name out or gotten to know the electorate, bought expensive signs, or in any way positioned ourselves to compete in any election. It would be completely absurd to think that any of us would do that and its dismissive of our integrity to automatically assume we’d even want to become politicians.
Mayor Eugene Ray is well-known to be a man of the highest integrity and of the utmost moral character. He is never going to challenge the rumor mill because he doesn’t believe in kicking turds around – giving credence to rumors that undermine the fabric of everything he’s proven himself to be – time and time again. Eugene doesn’t need a magic powder and a mixing bag to produce anything. He’s a man of action – not shake’n bake politics.
Eugene Ray has not only been transformative for our county government but also the people of Bedford County. People love Eugene Ray and I love Eugene Ray. That said, there are still people out there who have never supported him and never will.
What I do know is that he really wants to serve us once again. If we’re fortunate enough to have this amazing man be willing to serve us once more, we’d be fools to not take him up on the offer. I am asking you, if you live in Bedford County, to please come out to support and vote for Eugene Ray one more time. He has earned our loyalty and our trust without trick nor treat.
While other candidates can debate each other over who’s the most qualified among their group, and there are some that I really like as individuals, you and I already know that the highest rated among them could never come close to measuring up to our Eugene Ray – I honestly don’t know another man who could. That is not a fault to any of the other candidates, that’s just reality. Lets do this! Shake’n Bake!
I don’t know about you but I often catch myself drifting away from the present with random unrelated thoughts. Many times those random thoughts evolve into blogs like this one. Just as often though my brain might be interrupted by some random Led Zeppelin song lyrics or stupid childhood memories or grilled cheese sandwiches. I should probably donate my brain to science; I guess I should just leave it at that and save the explanation for later.
Having some hearing loss, I probably don’t always hear what I think I hear. I hope I’m not always held 100% responsible for some of the things I think I’ve heard throughout the day then later regurgitated with some slight differences. The combination of my incompetent little brain, malfunctioning ears, and fifty-plus year-old eyes means that you never know exactly what you’re going to get from me. The saddest thing of all is that half of these blogs could literally be reactions to problems that never existed.
I can’t, of course, possibly know how many other people drift away like I do but I have to assume that everyone does it or else I might feel like I’m embarrassing myself right now. It helps me to imagine that for the most part, there’s really only one thing that distinguishes my random thoughts from anyone else’s. That would of course be the arrogance with which I assume that some other person(s) might be entertained by my stories.
One thing I can’t seem to let go of lately is the feeling I get when I hear various people espousing their political views. Political divisiveness is not new, it’s just different, louder, meaner and far more inflammatory than it’s ever been. Today, it’s definitely en vogue to feel utter hatred for political candidates and it’s far more common than uncommon for the media to inundate and indoctrinate negativity and bias than ever before. The divide between Walter Cronkite and Sean Hannity or Dan Rather is like the Grand Canyon; they’re not even in the same industry.
Disclosure: I consider myself to be an extremist moderate. I’m dead in the middle socially but with a fiscally conservative slant. I’m one of those weirdo’s who think we should do everything we can afford for our elderly, invalids, and handicapped and provide a temporary, not permanent, leg-up for those of us who are having a hard time for any reason. I also believe we should be able to afford whatever it is we’re trying to do for people and if we reach a stage where we can’t, we should cut something else less important from an otherwise balanced budget. I do not believe in tremendous debt like the situation we’ve been in now for decades.
There’s an overwhelming feeling of obviousness to me that others don’t seem to share. If roughly half the citizens of the country support one party and subscribe to its core beliefs and roughly half the citizens of the country support the opposite party and subscribe to its core beliefs then logic should dictate three (3) very obvious things:
The majority of the members of each party are not as far away from each other as they think;
There are very smart people on both sides of each isle so you cannot rule out that each could potentially have good arguments in support for their beliefs; and,
There being a wide range of differing levels of intelligence, socio-economic, gender and regional demographics making up the members of each group, we must assume that there really is no specific right answer to all political ideology because examples of each have positively and negatively impacted each group’s members to the point of that groups members wanting to fight about it.
There are incredibly wealthy democrats and republicans. There are incredibly poor democrats and republicans. There are incredibly smart and dumb democrats and republicans. Each group’s members, despite what you hear on television, are essentially made up of the same types of people and both groups make up nearly identical halves of the registered voters in this country – the middle swinging from side to side depending upon the platform du jour.
Said differently, what happens to be the right thing today might not have been the right thing in the past nor the right thing in our future. Generally, most people actually find themselves situated somewhere just left or just right of this imaginary line of right and wrong. Regardless of that center majority, each party is pushed to try and convince its supporters to pick a side and to do their level best to scare the dickens out of those people to the point of polarizing everyone.
What about that Led Zeppelin song, “Good Times Bad Times”? Is it just me or is anyone else confused about the girl leaving him but then he says they will never part?
People pick sides because they fear the extremism represented on both isles – which is the very thing the opposition wants you to know about the other side. The world and America, in particular, is organic – not fixed. We are learning the effects of yesterday’s political decisions today and tomorrow our children will be learning about the choices our elected leaders are making today. It’s our children who are left behind to clean up our mistakes and it’s our children too who are left behind to ride whatever wake of success that trails behind us.
This country has rode enormous waves of prosperity and it has suffered the hopelessness of economic despair. When the country has suffered, we’ve risen to the challenge by creating safety nets. When the country has soared, we’ve invested in infrastructure and added chairs to the table. Along its way, this country has matured and altered the way it treats and represents its citizens. Maybe not everyone of course, but enough to steer the direction of the country nonetheless.
But, regardless of any of that, we should not be surprised to discover that people will always be left behind. No society is perfect and no society, however determined it is to be perfect, will ever be.
We cannot make policy on the fallacy that it will perfect that which cannot be perfected. There is a balancing act between economic prosperity and opportunity for entrepreneurial investment against the weight of humanity itself. If you concentrate on civics then you lose on economics. If you focus on economics, benevolence takes a second seat. It is the way of things.
There’s this Led Zeppelin song, “When the Levee Breaks”… I love the drum licks in that song. John Bonham was an awesome drummer! Oh, sorry. Let’s get back on track.
One problem is that ALL of us are horribly but perfectly made to be biased. It is a human survival mechanism. Our brains are simply built with greater sensitivity to unpleasant news than positive news. Our capacity to weigh negative input more heavily than positive input most likely evolved for a good reason – to keep us out of harm’s way. From the dawn of human history, our very survival depended on our skill at dodging danger.
The brain developed systems that would make it unavoidable for us not to notice danger and thus, respond accordingly. All well and good in the jungle but having a brain apparatus super-sensitive to negativity means that bad-news bias, at work in every sphere of our lives at all times, can alter our realities to the point of insanity.
If you want comedy, OK, how about bad-news biased comedy. You want news, no problem, here’s some bad-news bias for you. How about dinner conversations based upon biased bad-news learned from every source except the real one? One half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans left and the other half of the country pays attention to biased news that leans right. We’re tuned in to institutional bias rather than being tuned in to each other. If we’d just listen to each other, we’d find that we’re really not all that different.
Whatever is said or done by a person from either political party, the reporting agency will edit and peel away the things that doesn’t fit their agenda and emphasize the parts that do, sometimes completely out of context. Whatever gets your attention sells. For the media, that’s all they really care about. Real news can be boring – you can’t run a business trying to sell real news anymore.
As individuals we generally, but not always, will have two opinions about everything. The first opinion we have is the one that we never or rarely share with anyone. That opinion is how we truthfully feel about any given situation. The second opinion we will have is our public opinion which is carefully crafted not to offend and generally, but not always, exactly aligned with our given party. Then, of course, there are those with only one opinion. Just so we’re being straight up with each other, if you always only have one opinion on every issue then you’re probably too ignorant to vote. Just sayin’.
Oh well, I don’t want to put a bustle in your hedgerow but people really need to get a life these days. Whatever is happening in Washington D.C. whether there’s a democrat in office or a Republican, you’re not going to be allowed to know enough about any given subject in order to form a logical opinion anyway. The media is only going to report the part that sells the most copies and they’re going to seriously spin that small part of it in order to sell a few more.
The issue itself will be marred in red tape so that you could never understand why it happened that way and the facts will be muddied by the existence of classified elements which you cannot possibly be told. You’re going to be provided with a smidgen of details which are painted and embellished to the point where it no longer resembles the truth. Therefore, your opinion, no matter how eloquent your delivery, sounds completely stupid to the people who actually do know and possibly brilliant to those others, who like you/me, don’t.
“Dazed and confused for so long it’s not true…Lots of people talkin’, few of them know”. What is it with the melancholy chords anyway? Do you think Led Zeppelin members were doing drugs back in the day or were they like Nostradamus – like, foreseeing the future/present? Hmm.
In the end, none of us are really qualified to question what happens in the District of Columbia. We can have opinions as to whether liberalism or conservatism is a better or worse solution for any given set of circumstances but we’re never going to really know the whole truth about the other stuff. Yes, yes, there are always signs on the wall, but you know sometimes words have two meanings.
Legitimately, either direction can be the right direction depending upon the specific set of circumstances. Likewise, neither direction works as a system in and of itself. Too much a good thing is never a good thing. Push liberalism too far and you get communism; push the right wing agenda too far and you may pull a Nazi out of the bag. The powers are made to be balanced because they need to be balanced in order for our country to work as it was engineered to work. We’ve seen the atrocities committed by both polar extremes – so who wants to give up prosperity and freedom for either of those two bullshit alternatives?
There’s a lady who’s sure, all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying a stairway to heaven. I don’t know her personally but I can tell you that if she’d just focus on the area somewhere between the stratus’ of gold and pot metal, she might make a better investment. It is so easy to deceive. Smear on a little paint and spike it with a little lead and voila. Viewed from a distance the pot metal looks just like gold and it weighs the same too. That is the lure of political parties but it’s just a façade. It’s never exactly what you think.
There’s an enormous effort from both sides of the isle to convince you that their path is the true stairway to heaven. In my world there are lots of stairways and many correct paths. Gold too, is not just an element on a periodic table. It’s a condition, it’s a place, it’s a relationship, and it’s a state of mind. As Alaskan’s are fond of saying, “Gold is where you find it.”
If there’s one thing I could convey here that I hope will resonate with people is that we should try and respect, not necessarily agree, with people who don’t share our opinions. We’re losing our ability to show respect to others who may be different. Deference is no longer fashionable. I want you to respect my views/sexuality/race/identity/etc., but it’s completely unfashionable for me to respect you in return. This one-way street of acceptance will, if not cured, incubate a future filled with hate and intolerance all over again.
If you are allowed to hate me, I am within my rights to hate you back, right? Isn’t that the way of the world today? I would hope that we’ve moved beyond that particular stage of humanity, or is it inhumanity?
On one hand our society has done a great job of learning to embrace people who look or act different, but we’ve completely lost our ability to embrace people who think different. Today, we celebrate differences on television and in movies and even parades. Kids who feel different about their sexuality no longer feel as if they have to conform to anything. Different races and different ethnic backgrounds blend and assimilate back and forth to the point where the word “cultural appropriation” has actually become a subject in college.
In my younger days, culture was something that only old and frightened white people felt deserved protection. Now the majority of people who want to insulate and protect their culture are ethnic groups. The desire to homogenize is no longer as prevalent as it once was. Ethnic peoples used to pray for a day where they could just be called Americans, now they’d much prefer a richer more diversified cultural identity.
Ironically, they have become that way only because they now have the freedoms and the acceptance that allows them to concentrate on themselves for a change, and not a broader more inclusive goal as once was necessary. Coalescence is to the modern American joke what the Pollock was when I was twelve years old. Oh how the world, and I, have changed – for the good.
The irony is that the better things become, the more selfish we’re allowed to be, and the more faults we find in the world because the world is not suiting our individual goals anymore. Things may be great for my community, my state, my gender, my race, or my culture but its not so great for moi. So, I should start a go-fund-me page in order to change all this shit to accommodate my blossoming individuality.
Meanwhile at the coffee shop, I read that Republicans want to outlaw go-fund-me accounts. Should I write another blog about it or just keep my mouth shut and hope they don’t shut down the one I started to buy myself a fishing boat cancer policy? Why am I so cynical these days?
How are we so systematically being pushed away from each other? What around us is so deliberately tapping into our brains innate sensitivity to fear and danger? I think I know but maybe I don’t. Being that I am not the god of knowledge, I think it’s time for me to ramble on then allow you to figure that one out for yourself. Hmm, this reminds of another Led Zeppelin song.
Everyone benefits from an obsession with family history. Maybe too bold a statement…? I can only speak from my own experiences but if you will allow me to explain my reasoning I think you will agree.
Had I, like many others, not followed my genealogical paths backward, I could never have better understood the whole of who I am in the way that I do now. Knowing what I know about all of the astonishing things that had to occur and all of the remarkable people who were able to survive along the way – all contributing their own DNA along the way, it has helped me to realize just how unique we all are but also amazingly true is how similar we are.
Genealogical research has a way of reverse-engineering our souls. It breaks us down piece by piece, and reveals an honesty about our pasts which is sometimes flattering and newsworthy and just as often ugly or immoral. For some, it can reveal a surprising or hidden truth, blurred by time, exaggerations, or even lies. For the majority of us, what little information we do learn from our ancestors only represents a tiny fraction of the story of us.
I vividly remember my paternal grandfather, Papaw White, telling me that we were Scotch-Irish and that I was named after Capt. John White of early American colonist fame – Roanoke/Croatoan story. I never doubted the Scotch-Irish ancestry but somehow I never really bought the Capt. John Smith story. A couple things just didn’t add up; the Captain was English and, most importantly, after returning from England to discover that his colony was lost, he returned to England and never returned to American soil.
My grandmother, however, shared her family history with me which has turned out to be pretty accurate, albeit scant in detail. She told me her family immigrated to the United States from Germany. What I later discovered was that they immigrated from a tiny hamlet called Mitschdorf, Alsace which is actually in France. Situated on the Rhine River bordering France, Switzerland and Germany, Alsace has a complicated history as it sits just below the traditional French customs border of the Vosages Mountains although the French territories stopped at the Rhine River – just beyond the tiny town of Mitschdorf. The people who inhabited that region were principally of German descent.
The German language and customs of the inhabitants of these French outskirts continued for centuries through the 17th and 18th centuries – including the time when my Neese family immigrated to the United States. Thirty year old Hans Michael Nehs, infant son Michael and his twenty seven year old wife Dorothea along with 266 other Palatines arrived in the port of Philadelphia, PA on 21 September, 1731, sailing on the ship Britannia having sailed across the Atlantic from Rotterdam, Holland. Soon after immigration the Nehs family, either through ignorance of the language or by choice, Americanized the surname to Neese and/or Neece and other similar variations which have since scattered themselves to and fro across the entire country.
So, my grandmother was actually pretty close right? You could say that but only if her story began or stopped right there – but it doesnt. Michael’s father and mother Mathias and Maria had just been living in Rusovce, Bratislava, Slovakia prior to moving to the Alsace region of France.
Cognizant to most of us family tree-climbers is that just four generations up the tree gives me no less than sixteen great grandparents. Another generation beyond that gives me thirty-two grandparents – another gives me sixty-four… each grandparent having his or her own distinct ancestry, some of it quite fascinating. Unfortunately, some is also lost forever to time and insignificance. Perhaps we should expend more energy while we’re alive with the goal of not being so insignificant.
Most of us associate our general lineage and ancestry by our last names. The truth is that you have hundreds of last names, some you’ve never heard about. If I push my ancestry out just ten generations beyond myself, I can personally verify 128 different surnames. This does not include incidences where the same last name repeats from other ancestors marrying cousins which occurs nearly a dozen times in that same ten-generation time span. There are also familial lines where I can’t YET go back ten generations.
I have found a wealth of new names, belonging to me, I’d never even heard before. Some of the oddest names in my lineage: Cazeneuve, Coggeshall and Erchtebrech. The Beaufort, Ragland, Marcell and Simpson are surname lines that I’ve researched heavily while the Pfeiffer, Koch, Emot and Lisbet lines are among the many still lying in wait for me to catch an interest. The gist of everything I’m writing here is that we are all so much more than the sum of two parts, even if you’ve not been formally introduced to the other parts.
While I grew up thinking I was just an average white guy with Scotch-Irish/German ancestry on my paternal side and maternal Welsh/English ancestry, I’ve since learned that I hail from Scandinavia, Spain, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, France, Italy, Turkey, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Greece, the Middle East, Hungary, Slovakia, Israel, and Belarus. My ancestors were Vikings, Jews, Knights Templar, Spanish conquistadors, American colonists, Native Americans, Revolutionary War soldiers and early American statesmen. They were Frankish kings and Welsh nobles and they were poor farmers, merchants, tin smiths and shoe cobblers.
What my ancestors have most in common with your ancestors is that they were all survivors. They are the survivors of numerous plagues, copious wars, inquisitions, witch trials, battlefield forays, and voyages across unknown and uncharted waters. They survived attacks from neighboring warlords, tribes, and villages. They fought off zealous religious groups, parried political unrest, returned from great world wars, defeated the Nazis, found something to eat under communist regimes, lived through indentured servitude and found freedom after generations of slavery. Our ancestors avoided the horns of Jericho and the plagues of Egypt. Had they not, you and I would not be having this conversation.
All of us are extremely lucky to even be here. There were far more opportunities for us to have never been born at all than for us to have ascended from whatever heaven and hell our people endured. If you look far enough and broad enough backward, sideways, and crossways, you’ll find a bit of both.
Since I know that I’m a Gaul, a Latin, an Etruscan, a Greek, a Celtic, a Briton, a Silurian, a Native American, a Jew, an Arab, a Spaniard, a Frank and a Viking, I can safely assume that other people living among me who are firm in their belief that I’m either a deplorable, infidel, heathen, left-winger or right-winger might also themselves be a great many things they never knew about.
Despite our differing features, sizes and shades of skin, we’re very much a homogeneous community of very blessed people of common origin and descent. Not the kind of homogeneity like Hitler envisioned but in the way that if you look deep enough, what you find is me. Hitler didn’t have the ability to know that he himself was a Jew – we, however, do. If we all choose to use our extremist obsessions to peel back the layers of our own ancestry instead of the flaws and faults of others who disagree with us, perhaps we could all realize that we are all many different things…things which would not qualify us to be the judge of all others. Said differently, if I’m an infidel, we’re all infidels; because I am you.
From time to time, like pretty much everyone on the planet, I reminisce about my family, the experiences we shared growing up together and the evolution of our family’s story. Comparatively speaking, I’ve rarely written about them, mostly just a few honorable mentions to make my blog more family-friendly. There was, however, that one time that I blogged about my sister Cindy and how her move to California reminded me of the song Hotel California. Oh yeah, I wrote the blog about my sister Lisa and how I ate her box of Coco Puffs when she was pregnant with Lauren.
I’ve actually written quite a lot about my brother Mike. His downward spiraling journey into mental-illness resulted in an unfortunate decision to end his own life. Writing about Mike not only helped me to come to terms with his death, it also helped me to better understand the lives of so many other of our mentally vulnerable. Now that I think about it, I really should take the time to introduce everyone to the precocious older brother I grew up with before war, biology and the stresses of life happened to him. Soon maybe.
I’ve also written a blog about my wife Emily. A favorite of mine is a blog I wrote about my cousin David White after he suddenly passed from a heart attack a few years back. I think, over time and during rare moments of lucidity, I may attempt to honor my favorite things about everyone I care about. Not necessarily because I want to kiss anyone’s butt, but mainly because I think it’s important that my feelings about those around me are known and properly memorialized.
Quite a while ago, I decided that I would write and create my own birthday cards. Occasionally I’ve made quite elaborate ones. I don’t do it for everyone but I always make them for Emily and I’ve made a few for my son. My thoughts on the matter were that if I can do it, I should do it. I recognize that I’m not the most overtly expressive person on the planet, I don’t communicate my emotions all that well, but I do have the ability to write about them – so I do what I can do.
For whatever reason, my conservative exterior becomes nearly invisible when I’m writing. My belief is that the shorter attention span of today’s society is far too inadequate for people like me to properly convey a serious thought. I use far more words in my sentences than most people are prepared to hear because I abhor being misunderstood. Said differently, the way I speak bores some people. Getting cut off or ignored has, over time, led me to become less verbally communicative overall.
Writing allows me to say things the way I want to say them. I can write fully and expressively; I can write about things in ways that better explain my thought processes without being cut off in mid-sentence. My mother seems to love everything about my writings. She prints and saves every single blog I create. She even printed copies of the papers I wrote in college. Mom does this even though I seldom have ever mentioned her in any of my blogs. It makes me wonder if she’s been patiently expecting to read something about herself, waiting to finally be recognized.
I’m finally doing mom. I finally decided to brave the unknown and attempt to summarize the most complex personality on the planet in a few pathetic paragraphs. I will probably fail miserably but it’s all admiration, not admonition, which is inspiring me.
I feel a deep and unimaginable sorrow for people who were not blessed with a good mother. A mother who thinks everything you do is great. I could literally have been the most disgusting bastard ever delivered from human flesh and yet my mother would probably still think I’m wonderful. Ironically, if any other disgusting bastard came her way, my mother would not hesitate to call him or her a disgusting bastard – or maybe not.
I have the kind of mom who might hold her tongue if she thinks she might cause drama down the road. My siblings and I think she very likely could have solved a great deal of the problems we faced as young adults, through marriages and divorce, raising kids, etc., had she only shared her personal thoughts with us. But, our mom understood the potential perils of getting involved in our personal affairs. So, nothing; nada; silence.
I also have the kind of mom who might say exactly what’s on her mind. She weighs the consequences carefully on subjects that come up along the way and if she thinks it doesn’t matter, she fires with both barrels. Our mom can be quite the provocateur. One never really knows which mama you’re gonna get until surprised with an impromptu and sometimes indelicate remark.
Did I mention that I am the baby of the family? No, ok; I probably shouldn’t have left that part out of the story. My sisters are firmly convinced that I am my mother’s favorite child. She’s never officially confirmed it but since I turned out so well it might actually be true.
I’m joking of course but I certainly won’t mind admitting that the thought of it has probably encouraged me to try and make better decisions in my life than any other factor. If your mom is always watching, you never want to disappoint her; right? There’s definitely something to be said about the positive power of influence from something as simple as just being loved unconditionally.
Yes, I’ve made a few bad choices too, some I’d never admit, but I’ve decided at least for now to blame the really bad ones that everyone already knows about on my rebel-rousing Scottish ancestry. If I decide later to write about my dad, I might have to amend my thoughts slightly in order to pay my proper respects. Right now, let’s just focus on my regal Welsh ancestry.
I think that the reason I’ve been reluctant to blog about my mother is that she’s very much like me. She’s difficult to know. She’s a loving and nurturing enigma. My mom does not fit the paradigm of typical moms.
When I stop to make notes about the way I’m articulating this blog, it forces me to recognize that what I would normally be writing about is my relationship with my mom, not necessarily my mom. To actually write about Shirley Ragland, I’m forced to dig deep because nothing about my mom is obvious except of course her natural beauty.
But the older I get, the more similarities I find between the two of us. Part of that discovery comforts me and part of it scares me. My life literally began with waking up and loving my mother’s face. And in some ways, I feel that it’s been the same for her. But our relationship is more kinetic and intuitive than necessarily vocal. The resultant man I’ve grown to become is also intuitive and less vocal.
My wife has often told me that I’m unapproachable to most people. I’ve actually heard her telling people, “Chris is very hard of hearing so he didn’t know you were trying to talk to him.” What she was saying was true in that instance but a big part of the equation with me and why I might seem unapproachable to some people is that it’s not natural for me to reach out to people or attempt to make friends. I can when I want, but more often than not, I don’t.
I’m very lucky to have the great friends that I have. But I give all the credit to being married to a social butterfly. My wife pushes me to be more socially active and my life is far more socially fulfilling because of her influences.
Lately, I’ve noticed the similarities between me and my mom. When she has active friendships, she usually has very supportive and reciprocal relationships. But, she doesn’t have a great deal of friends and I’ve never really known her to be socially active except for rare occurrences when she was ballroom dancing or when her and her husband were traveling to and from cowboy action shooting events.
Why? I can only assume that, like me, she rarely finds the necessity to share herself with the world. My mind is perpetually illuminated with thoughts, such as the one’s I like to blog about, and knowing her to be a sharper cookie than myself, I can only venture to guess that she keeps herself entertained with an active mind.
Obviously, my natural communication skills lacking, I long to be different. I recognize that my wife and son and extended family want and need to really know me and I’m not all that good at expressing myself. After my son was born, I suddenly and overwhelmingly understood the concept of instantaneous love. The same forgiving and acceptance that my mother must feel for me. My blogging and writing provides me with a method of conveying those feelings without having to rely on the same type of intrinsic relationship that I share with my mother.
As a child, my mother was always in the picture. She was my protector and my emotional barometer. Part of being the baby of any family is that you’re always the perpetual victim. My siblings know well how I played that part. One story Lisa was telling about me when we were traveling in England was about a time when my brother Mike bloodied my nose while our parents were at work. I sat at the kitchen table, head forward so more blood would come out, and waited hours on my mom to come home from work so she could find me in my bloodied and gruesome condition.
But that was our relationship; my mom was my protector. I’m confident now that the dried blood probably gave my intentions away but she never undermined my condition. She knew I needed to be the center of her attention and she gave me that without any judgement. My mom doesn’t say a lot, the Ragland’s in general aren’t known for spilling their secrets. But, despite her complexity and inability to openly emote, she feels and loves and hurts more deeply than most anyone else I know – she just does it silently.
The biggest gift my mom ever gave to me is peace of mind. My mom has tremendous coping skills; something she had to learn growing up in a household filled with division. I think that a great deal of people move about in this world never realizing where they learned the skills they possess. Perhaps they think they just learned them on their own. I feel lucky because not only do I have the self-awareness to know where I got my sense of humor or my rationalization skills, I also have memories of my mother displaying specific examples of those influences – which has given me a context and texture of her character and of her superior intellect.
For most of her life, my mom was a working mother. A term that seems redundant in this day and age but accurate nonetheless. Knowing her, she’s probably reading this right now hoping that you’ve confused the two terms working mother and working girl. For clarity, she’s never been a prostitute as far as I know. My mom had four kids in five years, working most of that time. She took a few years off work after I was born but returned to work when I was five years old. She continued working until she was 70 years old.
The mother I know is intelligent beyond the norm, reliable and sensible. To say that my mom is just a strong woman undermines the depth of the words resilience, capability and adaptability. My mom is all those things and more. I honestly cannot find a word or group of words that could paint an accurate picture of her. Whatever I could say will be utterly inadequate.
In television terms, my mom is definitely more of a Mary Tyler Moore than a June Cleaver. Whatever she did, she excelled at; my mom kicked in doors, broke invisible barriers and hammered away at glass ceilings before those terms were ever associated with women in the work place.
It’s pitiful on my part but I’m finally starting to recognize that my mom is growing old. She’s 75 so it’s taken me a while. With her age and a few spinal surgeries, she’s had to get used to some diminished physical abilities which have hindered her ability to get out and take on those challenges and obstacles that I’m confident exist inside her mind.
I know my mom pretty well and I’m completely confident that her physical limitations have made her bored out of her ever-lovin’ mind. Retirement for some people is great but retirement for people like my mother is probably closer to hell than heaven. With her, it’s a simple case of carrying around an over-achieving blob of brain cells that are being held back by an uncooperative body. I guess that happens to us all eventually but I think it’s particularly difficult for her.
What strikes me hardest right now is that while writing this blog, I recognize that I won’t have her in my life forever. So while I’d love to encourage her to use all that intellectual energy to reach out and develop more meaningful relationships with grandkids and such – I recognize that despite all those deep emotions kept inside, converting those emotions to words aren’t the easiest things to do. I just feel selfish sometimes knowing that Cindy, Lisa and I are the only ones in the family who get to really know who my mother is.
While I have an opportunity, I want my mom to know that there’s a two-way street between a mother and a son when it comes to love; it need not be re-acquired; it need not be indulged; it need not be deserved, and it need not be spoken about. The love and respect I have for my mother is an unspoken and unbroken simple peace of mind, like a blessing from above, it is just there, and it always will be there.
The tools she gave me have not only kept me alive all these years but they’ve influenced people around me, moved projects forward, solved problems and developed ideas. I am who I am because of my incredibly special mother. I see the world the way I see it because of her. I love the things I love because of her.
I write the things I write about because my mother gave me a love for words and made it ok for me to think out loud. She allowed me to be me and supported me in every step and misstep. My mother is an awesome mom and I’m eternally grateful for the many blessings I’ve had and will continue to have because of my mother’s unconditional love and support.
ex·pec·ta·tion: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future; a belief that someone will or should achieve something.
A persons expectations can be the key to enjoyment or the riposte to disappointment. If you project your ideas too low then no one gets interested; if you tout too high, no one ever feels quite appeased. It could be said then that managing people’s expectations is one of the principle secrets to success.
You might surmise then that McDonalds has done a great job of it. They’ve demonstrated expertise at branding their burger chain as being the best deal in town, not necessarily the best burger. This despite the fact that their entire identity is built around hamburgers.
What does all this have to do with traveling to Bath, England you say? For starters, I’m writing to you about my personal observations of Bath; Bath through the eyes of Chris. I’m hoping to help you discover things about Bath that go well beyond the scope of what you might expect to find in Bath. So, while others may focus on its most obvious attributes such as the Roman Baths, I wanted to better illuminate Bath’s more obscure but interesting facts, history and architectural features.
The Roman baths are indeed amazingly well-preserved and definitely worthy of explanation; so, I will do my best to describe them for you in as descriptively visual terms as I’m capable. But, when I drove away from that uniquely singular place, my first thoughts were of how challenging it may be, given my limited writing skills, to convince vacationing travelers to look more deeply at Bath, to peel back the layers, and to venture outside the city center to discover its other gems.
A gem in and of itself is the scenic drive into Bath. Bath sits at the southern edge of the Cotswolds, a range of limestone hills and valleys designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The limestone quarried from there is particularly unique and has this creamy honey golden color. The stone is known world-wide as Bath Stone. Every house, cottage, mansion or castle in the vicinity is constructed from this beautifully rich and distinctive stone. While there, I learned that one of the zoning restrictions for all new construction inside the city of Bath requires builders to use this same stone on the façade to ensure that modern buildings pay homage to the city’s 18th century heritage.
Bath has long been an ancient borough with high status. First, with its close proximity to Stonehenge and its Neolithic/early Celtic Briton inhabitants. Afterwards, its Roman occupants constructed spa’s and baths around the first century AD where it became a well-known Roman vacation destination. After the fall of the Roman Empire it remained as a rare gem for the Kingdom of Mercia until the year 878 when it became a royal borough of Alfred the Great when it was ceded to the Kingdom of Wessex. If you’re a King Arthur fan, it is believed that Bath may have been the site of the Battle of Badon (c 500 AD) in which King Arthur is said to have defeated the Anglo-Saxons.
Despite the city name and its historical changing of landlords, Bath continued to be an important place. The Roman baths and impressive stone infrastructures continued to serve whomever claimed it. By the 18th century, Bath evolved into a posh village for Britain’s elite. Its hot mineral baths were advertised as having curative properties so people migrated from far away to find respite for whatever ailments they suffered. If you had any sort of illness from leprosy to acne, and also had money, you were definitely moving to Bath. It all sounds great until you find yourself in a hot bath tub with a leper. But despite my negative thinking, Bath is now one of the best preserved 18th century cities in the world; designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
In fact, the famous 18th century author/novelist Jane Austen lived in Bath for many years. You might have read a few of her famous novels such as Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility. If you read them deeply, you will find traces of Bath scattered throughout her writings. An example would be Bath’s Holburne Museum of Art – The impressive creamy gold Bath Stone façade mansion housing today’s museum. The manor and its grounds were a favorite walk for Jane Austen while she lived in Bath, she thus set part of her novel “Northanger Abbey” across from the Holburne Mansion.
Today, the impressive manor home houses the late Sir William Holburne’s collection of fine and decorative arts. Some of the artists represented inside will include Gainsborough, Guardi, Stubbs, Ramsay and Zoffany. The manor home has also been used for filming numerous movies such as Persuasion (1994), The Duchess (2008) staring Keira Knightley, Vanity Fair (2004) with Reese Witherspoon, as well as numerous other foreign films.
By far, one of the most impressive things I visited in Bath was the Royal Crescent. The Crescent is a 500-foot-long row of Georgian styled terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent. Designed by the famed architect John Wood-the Younger and built between 1767 and 1774, the Royal Crescent is among the finest examples of Georgian architecture to be found in the United Kingdom. It boasts over one hundred Ionic columns on its first floors with an entablature in a Palladian style above.
Architect John Wood-the Elder, father of the Crescent’s architect, had earlier designed the BathCircus in 1754 which is also regarded as a preeminent example of Georgian architecture. The name comes from the Latin word ‘circus’ which means a ring, oval or circle. The Circus is essentially an incredibly fancy roundabout divided into three segments of equal length with a lawn in the center and Georgian styled buildings at its perimeters. Each of the three building segments faces one of the three entrances to the roundabout, ensuring a classical façade is always presented straight ahead. After my left-handed, standard shift, two-day drive in Wales, I decided that I don’t particularly like roundabouts anymore, but this one is very special.
The senior Wood, as its architect, was convinced that Bath was historically the principle center of Druid activity in Britain so he studied nearby Stonehenge to ensure that his Circus design would pay homage to what most people believed to be an ancient Druid ceremonial ground (There are some different ideas about Stonehenge today). Three classical orders (Doric, Roman/Composite, and Corinthian) are used, one above the other, in the elegant curved facades. The frieze of the Doric entablature is decorated with altering triglyphs and pictorial emblems. One very interesting fact is that when viewed from the air, the Circus, along with Queens Square and the adjoining Gay Street, form a key shape, which is a masonic symbol found frequently in many of Wood’s other building designs.
My wife and I particularly enjoy visiting impressive cathedrals and abbey’s when traveling and Bath Abbey was one of those sites on my bucket list. Particularly because of its unique vaulted ceiling. Founded in the 7th century, reorganized in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries, Bath Abbey is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the West. It’s most unique feature, in my opinion, is its notable fan vaulting. We actually know that brothers Robert and William Vertue, architects and stone masons for King Henry VII, were the designers and builders of this particular fan vault. They not only built Bath Abbey’s fan vault, they also built the vaulted ceilings inside the Tower of London, King’s College Chapel in Cambridge and Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster.
Our hotel in Bath, the Hilton Bath City, was located just a block from the extraordinary Pulteney Bridge. This interesting bridge crossing the river Avon, is reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge we saw while traveling in Florence, Italy. I say this essentially because it is a bridge with shops built across its full span on both sides. The bridge was built in 1774 in the Palladian style by Robert Adam. My wife, my sister and I not only walked along the bridge visiting the shops but we also found a stone path and stairway that led us to the river’s edge so that we could snap a few glamor shots of the bridge from below.
Something I hadn’t mentioned before is that I had accidently forgotten my razor when packing for the trip. That led to the obvious annoyances to both Emily and I, but alas, my stroll to the Pulteney Bridge allowed me to discover a cool little barber shop along the way called New Saville Row. I made the proper arrangements with the gentleman who told me that although they were about to close, that I could return in 30 minutes and he’d give me a shave. Thirty minutes later I was comfortably laid back in an old style barber chair with a hot towel on my face about to embark on my very first professional straight razor shave. I had no idea what I’d been missing all these years. These guys were unbelievably courteous to stay open for me and it was an experience I won’t soon forget.
Jane Austen wrote, in her 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility, “I come here with no expectations, only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is and always will be yours.” Bath is certainly much more than it was when Jane Austen lived there. Although it is now a very modern city with both a professional Rugby team and Football club, two universities and nearly one hundred-thousand people, it is still very much still trapped in the wrinkled skin of its 18th century past. In my book, its a hard act to follow, even for a very cool and mostly intact two thousand year old Roman bath.
I can’t say for sure what my expectations actually were when I arrived in Bath but what I can say without any pause is that Bath exceeded, no a better word might be trounced, any notion of what I had first imagined it to be. The name is Bath and of course there are Roman baths there so I guess that was where my mind was initially. But Bath is far more than just its namesake. If you decide to be one of the three million annual visitors of Bath in the near future, and I hope you are, don’t just tour the baths and the abbey and leave. Bath is far more than that. If you stay long enough, you might even start pronouncing it Baath.
In my lifetime, I’ve been forced to painfully recognize a few of the hazards of living with this so called American overabundance of things. We don’t always recognize it because it’s our ‘normal’, but we’re a very fortunate bunch of people in the big scheme of things. We’re the biggest exporter of food in the world, exporting enormous quantities of corn and wheat and meat; “feeding the world” we like to say. We’re also over-stuffing our own pie-holes as well which is why we are also leading the world in obesity and diabetes. With the advent of social media and news-on-the-go, we’ve simultaneously become the leading consumers of information which has led to all sorts of unintended outcomes.
Most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what GooGoo’s are to the body. News can be very addictive and super easy to digest, like Chinese food, leaving us hungry for more in an hour. The media feeds us small tasty morsels of trivial matter, snippets, and tidbits that have little or nothing to do with our daily lives and which require absolutely no brain power to process at all. Unlike reading books and magazine articles which require thinking, we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes or political innuendo, which are like bright-colored candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to toxic news and information that we faced 20 years ago with regard to food. We are just now beginning to recognize the real toxicity of news.
News misleads, oftentimes intentionally but most often as a result of confirmation biases and group think. We watch the news stations that we know up-front will most likely present or frame their stories in ways that agree with our own views and opinions such that all of the information we consume does nothing but to confirm what we already believe. From the perspectives of someone whose job it is to deliver our news, they know their audiences and work hard to creatively frame their reporting in ways that are congruent with the expectations of their audiences. It’s entertainment, not news.
Actor Denzel Washington recently summed it up for us after the media ran a “fake news” story on him falsely claiming that he switched political support from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed. So what a responsibility you all have — to tell the truth.” Washington exclaimed to the rabid pack of reporters gathered on the red carpet. “In our society, now it’s just who’s first — who cares, get it out there. We don’t care who it hurts. We don’t care who we destroy. We don’t care if it’s true, just say it, sell it. Anything you practice you’ll get good at — including BS.”
We as a society are not rational enough to be exposed to this modern psychology-driven press. Most of us grew up with responsible news anchormen like Walter Cronkite who was touted as being the most trusted man on television. In my childhood, I learned that nightly television news was where I could get my daily doses of reality. But Walter is dead and so is unbiased news. Thus we are woefully unprepared from a psychological sense to qualitatively analyze and filter out the kinds of biases that are common in news reporting today. Today’s news is designed to get ratings, not to educate or inform.
Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real statistical probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you would be sadly mistaken. Bankers and economists – who have enormously powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have historically shown us that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.
News today is mostly irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you may have read or watched in the last 12 months, name one story that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of modern news is totally irrelevant to you aside from an Amber Alert. But most of us find it very difficult to recognize what is and isn’t relevant.
It’s much easier to recognize what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organizations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive cerebral advantage. Many of us totally fall for that as it appeals to our egos. Some actually get anxious when they’re cut off from the constant flow of news – unable to enjoy a dinner or social situation without constant manipulations of their iPhones. In reality, news consumption is a huge competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger life advantage you have.
News has absolutely zero real explanatory power. News items are mere bubbles of air popping on the undulating surface of a much deeper and complex world. Will accumulating tons of news-facts help you better understand our world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below shock-journalists’ radar but have a transformative effect like Rock and Roll, hippies or frozen food.
The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. If more news information leads one to higher economic success, we’d expect journalists to be at the top of the economic pyramid. That’s not generally the case except for the journalists who tease our imaginations with fantastic works of fiction like Harry Potter or Star Wars.
News can also be toxic to our bodies. It constantly triggers the human limbic system. Shocking stories spur the immense releases of cortisol. This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High cortisol levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision, desensitization and weight gain. Now you know; it’s amazingly unfair to be forced into watching sexy news anchors on television with perfect bodies who’s job it is to make us bald and fat by force-feeding us sugar-coated stress balls.
News also increases cognitive errors. News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias. In the words of Warren Buffett: “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” News exacerbates this flaw of humanity. We become prone to overconfidence, take stupid risks and misjudge opportunities.
It also exacerbates another cognitive error: the story bias. Our brains crave stories that make sense – even if they don’t correspond to reality. Today’s journalism proposes simplistic answers for complex situations. There’s no time to explain, it’s just easier to offer us viewers whatever explanations that both entertain us and fit the agenda.
News actually inhibits normal thinking. Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. News severely affects memory.
There are two types of memory, long-term and short-term memory. Our long-term memory’s capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is directly through a sort of narrow choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to fully understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through.
Because news disrupts our concentration, it weakens overall comprehension. Online news has an even worse impact. In a 2001 study, two scholars in Canada showed that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. News is an intentional interruption system. News works much like a drug. As stories develop, we want to know how they continue and end. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore.
Most news consumers – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books. After reading four or five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, and they become restless. It’s not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It’s because the physical structure of their brains has changed. This phenomenon is constantly proven every time I write a blog that is more than two pages long. Information is no longer a scarce commodity; attention is.
News kills creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas. I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. My own sister, an accomplished artist and creativity sensei, could care less about news. She inspires me to un-clutter my mind all the time. On the other hand, I know a bunch of boring and non-creative minds who consume news like meth-addicts.
Society needs journalism – but in a different way than we’re getting it. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. We need warnings of relevant danger and notices of pertinent information like obituaries and 10 mile-long yard sales. But important findings don’t have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.
News only shows the exception to the rule, never the rule itself. An example might be the Michael Brown/Ferguson, Missouri news story. How many people have been hurt, cops killed, stores looted, cars set on fire and collective property damage calculated as a result of a reputed criminal who robbed a store and died while trying to kill a police officer? The toxic ratings-oriented news of today exacerbates ones feelings of institutional racism and disillusionment with government because its profitable to report the news that way. It doesn’t “pay” these days to report facts.
A car drives across a bridge, and suddenly the bridge collapses. What does modern news media focus on? The car. What direction it was traveling. The driver. Where he came from. Where he was headed. How he survived his near-death experience, his many struggles to cope with his new physical limitations, and frustrated attempts to walk unsupported at his September wedding.
But that is all completely irrelevant. What is relevant? The structural stability of that dang bridge! That’s the underlying risk that has been lurking, and could lurk in other bridges, right? But the car is flashy, it’s dramatic, the injured person is entertaining and it’s news that’s cheap to produce. News leads us to walk around with the completely wrong risk-map in our heads.
No news is actually good news. Perhaps it’s time to hit the scales because you just gained 4 pounds reading this blog.