naïveté

He thought that he could change the world,
But wakes to just another day;
He thought he’d see his name in lights,
But all those crowds have turned away —
He thought he’d cast a shadow firm,
And have some stroke, a little sway;
But now he sees that all of it
Was foolishness and naïveté.

He thought he’d find his love by now,
But she’s been hesitant to show;
He thought he’d travel round the world,
But he has yet to start to go —
He thought so many things before,
But sees now, with a dawning dread,
Those naive hopes are dead and gone,
And he’s left with himself

Instead


Human evil never falls out of fashion, partially because it changes its clothes from time to time.

There is an alternative view: namely,that human beings have progressed morally over time. This is a belief for which I find very little evidence; nevertheless, it has adherents.

It is a very, very basic underlying belief: that the world either is, or isn’t, getting better. It’s not really an objective question, so people are free to see it how they will. However, many other beliefs that people espouse end up being one form or another of one or other of these basic beliefs. I have heard these two views described as the “utopian” view and the “tragic” view, the difference being the view as to whether humanity really progresses, morally, or not. I tend towards the latter category.

Having said all of that, what may be true of humanity in general is not the same as what is true of individuals. In fact, generalities are a kind of unreality: useful, but frequently misleading. We as individual people have a responsibility to try to get better.

But we think any of us always does that — including you and me — it is a type of naïveté.

Which is part of who we are.

But which can be tragic.

Finding A Home

The child smiles at me,
I smile at him —
His mother smiles, too,
And all is well

The other three-hundred thousand
Travelers behind me not noticing —

Her husband comes
A sister, too —
And the child finds his home amid
These very strange

Surroundings


Today’s post was supposed to be coming to you from the Arizona desert, but instead, I’m stuck at the Atlanta Airport.

For, oh, twelve hours longer than I was planning.

However, a long wait at an airport like this one is a little like spending a day at a mall. It could be worse. Much worse.

I typically am not much a “people-watcher”, at least as that is defined where I live. People-watchers are far more critical than I am, for one. “People-watchers” might find people who are dressed oddly…

… like I often am …

… and laugh at them. I’m more the type who looks at thousands of passers-by and thinks, “Wow. This many people find strength to get out of bed in the morning and brave life. Amazing.”

Flashback: (Me, age 18, reading a college catalog) “How come they have a Dramatic Arts Major, but not a Melodramatic Arts Major? I could ace that!”

Along with having non-sequitur flashbacks, I’m actually working while I’m here at the airport. I’m also listening to a TV show, texting my wife, and writing this blog post. I plan on eating a couple of meals later, taking a long walk around the many concourses, riding the train, and perhaps seeing if I can organize a flash mob to do a KC and the Sunshine Band medley.

Keep it comin’, love, indeed.


This is a picture of me from a couple of days ago.

I haven’t used a razor now since September 3rd. I am not, in doing this, making any kind of political statement or raising any money for charity. I have, however, saved money on razors and shaving cream.

So I can spend it at the Atlanta Airport.

Sketches – 54

An east / west conversation

Good morning, sweetheart! What time is it there?

Ummm… it’s… 4:15 am.

I’m shocked you weren’t up.

I am up… now

It’s a beautiful day here.
I’m supposed to tell you that
Everyone misses you

Everyone?

Yes.
Even people we’ve never met.
You going west has got us all geshvivled.

You are not geshvivled.
You are probably looking absolutely perfect,
As always

No, I’m a mess.
Okay, maybe I’m dressed a little

So what’s up?
Usually we talk at night when
One of us travels

I had some good news.
I got an offer on the 1940’s painting.

That’s good!
I mean… it’s good, right?

It wasn’t from a collector.
It’s from A MUSEUM

Really? Where?

Only a little place called
WASHINGTON, D.C.
It’s the Hirshhorn

NO WAY

Way.
Frankly, I’m too accomplished to talk to you anymore.

Will you still sleep with me?

Only when you get back.
I’m drawing a line before then.

Fair enough.
Seriously, though,
I feel bad I’m not there so
We can celebrate

I’m going to take my mom to lunch
To celebrate.
I can guarantee you,
I won’t feel all-that-accomplished
By the time the bill arrives

Surely she is proud of you

Maybe. I suspect we’ll spend lunch
Talking about my perfect sister.

Oh, well.
Artists are supposed to suffer

True


The fictional couple in the series “Sketches” started out as being vaguely similar to my wife and I, but wandered off to take on a life of their own. The Sketches are only nominally poetry, being in fact a series of dialogues. This is the only long-range continuing series I’ve ever done, being now up to more than 50 installments.

Since I write under a pseudonym, I decided “Owen Servant” could be the guy in these dialogues; “Janey [Servant]” became her name using the “that model looks like a Janey” method. I made her a painter because I wanted to use this same woman for all my photos and she did a photoshoot as a painter I’ve used. The Owen character is also an actuary, like the real me, and has a blog, like the fictional me.

Now I’m even confusing myself.

The Servants don’t have any children, let alone grandchildren, and they appear to be about the ages of our daughters (30 something).

I liked the idea of her being the more interesting character of the two; that’s not exactly fictional, as my real wife is far more interesting than I am. I’ve given her a couple items from my real-life wife’s biography, notably, having been a model at one time.

There is something magical about really good conversation. It’s improvisational, which is a high risk / high reward kind of thing. The risk is, when you improvise, stuff may just be boring. But everyone once in a while, the magic happens. We’ve all been in conversations like that, where laughter, and insight, and closeness, and even life-changing realizations take place.

But, hey, conversation. That’s what National Blog Post Month is all about, right?

But Never

I knew you well when we were kids;
We played down at the park —
And year on year, I’d hear you laugh
As day turned into dark —

I knew you as our hearts grew long,
Like evening shadows do —
But never did I speak of love,
Although I think

You knew


I was one of those boys who was constantly infatuated with one girl or another. The same was not true in reverse.

When I hit adolescence, the intensity of these crushes changed form, but the likelihood of them being reciprocated remained low. It’s not that it never happened, it was just… rare.

When it comes to matters of the heart, reciprocation is the only thing differentiating “very good” from “very bad”. For instance:

  • When you love forever someone who loves you, that’s loyalty, which is a very, very good thing. When you love forever someone who doesn’t return the feeling, that’s creeping, stalking or harassment, which are very, very bad things indeed.
  • When you send romantically- or sexually-tinged messages to someone who feels the same way about you, it’s exciting for both people, which can be a very, very good thing. When you send romantically- or sexually-tinged messages to someone who thinks you are gross and disgusting, it’s a singularly bad thing. Few things are worse.

Reciprocation was in short supply for me: I crushed away for years while no one crushed back. This was rather depressing at the time, but it turned into a gold mine now that I’m a poetry blogger.

Emotions are real, just about as real a thing as possible. And the fact that a person is young doesn’t make their feelings in some way less important. The fact that a person is old doesn’t, either.

It’s not our emotions that get us in trouble, it’s what we do with them. I never told Patricia at the park I thought she was perfect. But, at ages 9-10, I really felt it. I’m actually glad I never told her, because, I never ruined the feeling by giving her cause to scorn me.

And she would have.

Different Rules

It seems that often I fall short,
My merits, very few:
And I could be much better in
The things I daily do.

You keep a constant tally where
I’m way behind, it’s true:
But you have different rules for me
Than those you have

For you


We are born, I think, to a sense of justice. How good it is, is another thing altogether.

Children are keenly aware of deviations from what they perceive as “fairness”. This is usually framed as some sort of equality: they deserve equal shares of food, toys, time, whatever. It is possible, of course, that they learn this from their parents or other children: when I say “born to a sense of justice” rather than “born with a sense of justice” I am simply saying I don’t know how we get it, just that we end up with one.

Justice and equality are different words for a reason, however. There is a fair amount of overlap in the concepts, but they are not the same. Let me see if I can illustrate.

Relationships between people have a couple of major dimensions*: intimacy (more or less close) and status (who is more or less in charge). Parents and children can be very close (high on the intimacy scale) but very unequal in terms of status (the parent is in charge). This is not normally perceived as “unfair” even though the relationships are “unequal”, at least in terms of status.

In everyday life, the owner of a house or a business establishment has more “status” (i.e., direct power to influence choices) than others may, in that domain, and that is not normally perceived, in itself, an unjust thing.

Cutting past definitional matters, then, we get to the frequent problem with people’s sense of justice: namely, that while we tend to be keenly aware of unfair advantages others may have, we are blissfully unaware of any unfair advantages we ourselves may enjoy. So justice becomes a very unbalanced and one-sided sort of thing.

The most obvious examples of that sort of thing are what are called “double standards”, when people have a series of rules that they expect others to live by, while they themselves do not. People with double-standards can fairly be called hypocrites.

I have known people in my life who, in their own eyes, have never done anything wrong. They can argue, hour upon hour, for why they were justified in acting in ways they condemn in others. In other words, they don’t support double-standards, they just argue they aren’t really doing them.

I’m a mathematician in real life. The odds of a person always being right in all disputed matters are infinitesimal. So if you think you are always right, you are, among other things, really bad at math.

But, I suppose, differences in mathematical ability are just one among many ways that life, itself, is unfair.


* This idea of relationships is derived from the work of Professor Deborah Tannen.

A Passive Voice

“Mistakes were made,” I heard them say,
“The public was misled” —
I think it was them who had done those things,
But they never really

Said


I don’t care for fighting in relationships, so, where possible, I have no opinions. I’m fine with wherever we go for dinner, I’m fine with whatever my wife wants for furniture or decor. When I play games with my grandchildren, they can pick the games. I dislike conflict; for that reason, I avoid doing anything with large groups of people, since there are inevitably differences of opinion.

I was not originally conflict averse: I have come to be this way over time. As a child, teen, and twenty-something, I embraced conflict. I liked the challenge. I was part of the debate team in junior high and high school, which is nothing but arguing. I then carried those skills everywhere I went, arguing with people about sports, politics, religion, morality, and even music. I was quite a charmer.

When I started working at the company I work for now, things started to change. I have to deal with a considerable amount of conflict at work. I can do it. However, the amount I deal with professionally is enough for me: I don’t need more of it outside of work.

As such, I’ve become rather passive in many areas of my life, and that’s now many people know me. i don’t usually hear the word “passive”, I’m more likely to hear myself described as “easygoing”. I am not easygoing. Going anywhere is not easy for me if other people are involved. My passivity and willingness to go along are interpreted by people as something other than it actually is: conflict avoidance.

I enjoy spending time by myself now more than I ever have. It allows me to be active, making all of my own choices.

I read a book recently that gave me some pause. It was talking about male/female communication differences, and raised the point that conversational negotiation is part of the intimacy ritual for many women. Deciding on things together creates a sort of closeness.

Oh, no. Things I do to make the relationship better, like avoiding conflict, might actually be making it worse.

Sigh.

I know that conflict is inevitable among people, and that a certain amount, done the right way, is healthy. I also know that passivity, when it involves pretense, is not honest.

[whispers] You see, I really do care where we go for dinner… [/whispers]

Live In Wonder

We’re meant to live in wonder,
But hide, sometimes, in doubt:
The world is there for us to feel,
If not to figure out —

We face a new horizon
But briefly, through a frown,
Then miss the glories of the sky
Because we’re looking

Down


I grew up in Florida, and for about five years in my twenties, I lived on the beach.

As it happened, living there coincided with the worst time of my life, healthwise. That apartment out on the beach lay empty for the many months, off and on, that I was in and out of the hospital.

When I did get out of the hospital, I was avoiding sunlight for health reasons, so sunbathing out by the Gulf of Mexico was not an option. I got all of my enjoyment of the beach by going out there at night. People who saw me would conclude from my general pallor that I never went outside, but I did — just not during the day.

If you’ve never been to the ocean at night you are really missing something. Many of the great wonders of the world are only visible at night — the stars, the northern or southern lights — but often people don’t think of nighttime as a time for natural beauty, spending more of it in human-centric (or urban) pursuits.

When I was nine years old, I asked for a small tent for Christmas, which I got. I promptly set it up in our backyard in Florida, taking a sleeping bag and my father’s binoculars out with me to look at the moon and the stars. I think my mother was worried we would be too cold (my brother was out there with his tent and sleeping bag, as well) but I remember being beyond excited.

And I was beyond excited. Just to look at a clear night sky.

One of the dangers of aging is losing wonder, to get so wrapped up in the worries of the day that we miss the glories around us. We are meant to live in wonder, I think. It is still as accessible as it ever was.

We just have to remember.