Saturday, September 26, 2015

Two by Two, Eh? (#2 of 3)

Two-dimensional thinking persists with dichotomies. He and She; us and they; we and them; this and that. Distinctions persist. It is as though one is in one’s own vehicle, attendant (despite varying degrees of distractions) to the rules of the road. We accept the traffic patterns of others, yet at times are easily able to call out another’s mistakes en-route. At worst, road rage; judging; vitriol; aggression; envy; and distrust can amplify our sense of ‘me’ and ‘another’. If only no one else bothered me! Idiots! Fools!

How does little Jack or Sean or Sally or Meisie not identify with an ‘I’ in the culture into which he or she is born? Lessons create an environment of ‘things’ distinct from the self; persons distinct from the self; people distinctly different the further afield one ventures. And like and dislike; ‘love’ and even ‘hate’ set naturally in. “I love it!” we’ll exclaim over a taste. We arm ourselves with lessons. And some of the tools we acquire along the way can become so habituated to us that we do not easily replace them with another. So the ‘I’ of ‘Me’ sees life from ‘my’ point of view, from my wants and preferences (which sometimes are not easily distinguished from my needs.)

Discussion about others leads to comparisons and slander. We and they. Our sense of some ‘one’ else, some ‘thing’ else becomes so pervasive that only some One-Person else satisfies; some One-Place else is deemed perfect. Naturally. We perpetuate the mythology of my one and only love, the very best car to have, the best place to vacation, the best product to buy. Somewhere nearby in the subconscious is an awareness of perpetual distinctions depending on where one is at; we easily allow for the best place to eat in Paris as opposed to London, or Calgary, or Pretoria. But the best place to live is.... And no one, no One could be better than...

Dichotomies are subtle; two red VW Beetles parked on the front lawn (when I was about five years old) were encircled by my Uncle David and his friend. “Mine has better.... whatever,” the one would declare. It clearly was a comparison, a contest, a pitting of one against the other. And so we grow up. Size-servings on plates of food are compared by almost everyone (if one watches for the ‘other’s’ glance). On TV in a make-up commercial (I think) two young women sit with their loaded shopping bags on a bench in a busy mall while another young woman, evidently gorgeous with her hair streaming in the wind and attired to blended perfection passes them by. They watch her, envy etched in their countenances, and the one turns to the other and out of the side of her mouth stage-whispers, “Thick ankles!” Ha! We have to compare!

Integration, by degrees, becomes more and more as one lets go of the ‘my’ in one’s ‘I’. We grow up with me and it; me and my parent; me and my family; me and my club, team, school, workplace, city; my preferred province, country, nation and even my world. Thinking about my responsibility to the universe (in terms of my own significance as a molecule within it) seems, well, paradoxically egotistic: Who do I think I am? Let me rather just be the best I can be wherever life may find me, wherever I may choose to be a participant in life. And it will do me well, and I shall do well by it. Life and I. ‘I’, and all the others.

So it goes. One hardly can give up being an ‘I’, a ‘Me’, and wanting, nay... even needing a ‘My’. So it goes. Martin Buber wrote ‘I and Thou’.  Erikson wrote ‘Identity and Crisis.’ I write of this and that. And ‘me’ must perforce be within each word, for who else will type my thoughts for me? But to be content with what just ‘is’? Nope! I have to be more-better or less-gooder by perpetual comparison, don’t I?

                                                                 "I prefer a Texan, any day!"

Friday, September 25, 2015

Things, Hm? (#1 of 3)

Uni-level thinking focuses chiefly on things. Like my record-album collection. Like my souvenirs. Like my new-ish car, my possibly new house, my collectible dishes, my curios, my mementos, and my personal knick-knacks.  One becomes consumed by the stuff. Difficult to get away from the significance of it all; difficult to diminish the feeling of ownership, connection, or attachment. Difficult not to want to explain, to share, even to show off. Difficult at times even to acquire!

“I wore my new striped bell-bottoms and my Carnaby Street double breasted blazer,” I once wrote with pride to my father, back in 1968. Surely he would think more of me for now owning and wearing such fashionable items. I was in my 17th year! And although John van Niekerk, my best friend in those cataclysmic years of youth (full of broken rules and wild adventures,) ... although John had given me his second-hand items, I was full of pride at their ownership. Me, wearing a .... Surely the girls would take notice! Surely...

“You can play three or four chords over and over as we walk the beach,” I told Peter, my brother, when I gave him that first of his second-hand guitars, back in the beginning of 1970. We were scheduled for a holiday and I was hoping he’d learn to play; with him beside me we’d impress the girls! Boy, would we ever impress!

And then it was my first car. And then it was...  Well, my things have had significance to me because...

We give ourselves reasons for our attachments. Two pebbles given in hand to me by a very special friend from our stop beside a turbulent tributary stream to the Colorado River are beside me in their glass case as I type. So too is a little marble pyramid (got by my Dad in 1963) above me on the shelf. So too for two little ivory carved elephants, as small together as is my pinky. Then there’s my precious blue wren from Australia, and... But what do you really care about my things? We weep crocodile tears for the loss of another’s sentimental stuff; it can mean little to ourselves. What is my glass bubble to you? What of my poster of Romeo and Juliet? What of..? What’s it to you?

One collects for some deep well to fill in the self. For some of us there is never enough. Some collect those little crystal things one sees of unicorns and bears and lions and tigers, oh my! Some collect movie posters, or movies themselves. Some collect beer bottles, or stamps. One friend I know (with lots of money) collects and restores old cars! And me?  Well, apart from my books (I love books!) there is my record-album collection. Did I mention it before? Well, let me show you...

Who has time sufficient for another? Who really cares about your own stuff? Who will go through my library, book by book, and hear why it is I treasure this one, or that one? Who will open up my iTunes file and look at all 4,400 plus of my albums? (Especially the album covers!) “That many?” Yes, with my brother-Andy’s visit last year he added about 1,000 Afrikaans albums. Yes, with friend David’s extensive record collection he gives me lots of music whenever he visits. And there’s.... But who really ‘cares’?

We speak of ‘things’ ad nauseum. We choose things based on how we might appear, how we might feel, and then too, because of their usefulness to us. Well, if usefulness is about the feeling one gets from a thing, then a lot of things do indeed mean a lot to a lot of people. Thing is, do they mean anything to you? And then again, is it necessary to talk, to tell, to write, and to focus so much energy on any one of them? Aren’t they, well, for you? Hm?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

All About Me!

It's all about me. Or might it be about you? After all, Carly Simon sings, “You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you; don't you?” Carly’s indelible 1973 album, ‘Secrets’, still resonates: “Sometimes I wish, oft times I wish, I never knew… Some of those secrets of yours!” Indeed, we see ourselves but through the pane of that which we both see; the second pane is that which I see in myself that you don't; then there's the third pane that you see in me (that I clearly don't see sufficiently); and all the while there’s that fourth pane too, the one into which neither of us sees. At least, those are the four panes amalgamating personhood, according to The Johari Window. And yes, much of the necessary clearing up of things are painful, indeed.

“You want the attention,” I was told, however kindly, after we'd left our gathering of loving friends. “You don't realize how much you make the moment all about you, at the expense of the other. It can be shaming. It actually detracts from you. And it's worth examining why you need so much focus.” Yes, immediately I thought of the renowned concert pianist reputed at any coughing in an audience to stop his performance and demand the offender leave, or worse, refuse to continue to play. Yes, I had to admit, when performing, I wanted all the attention on me not to be disturbed, disrupted, or fragmented. (Or did you think this story was about you?)

“And here comes our waitress, just as I'm telling my story,” I blurt at her unsuspecting and innocent entrance through the French Doors into the private room we had for our gathering, annexed from the noise. (I’m feeling interrupted; my exposition is now disjointed!) Kim, with whom we'd earlier established camaraderie, apologizes. “Sorry, just checking if anybody wants anything?” In the polite Canadian idiom each of us responds with, “I’m good, thanks.” Keith, youngest among us, then lightens things up, “We're all good!” And everyone laughs. Yet at Kim's exit I must admit that my subconscious wanted her to stay and hear me too. After all, my story was just about to introduce the inciting force. And the classic question posed by one of us was: “What in your life was a moment of great fear for you?”

I do not recall all the others’ answers. I'd kept quiet, and listened. But while listening, I confess, I’d mentally prepared my own response. After all, I've lived a long and fairly adventurous life, at times. So I divined an old incident from my boyhood. And when Jessie, the most senior among us, had finished her tale of negotiating a treacherous mountain pass in the dead of winter, and then deferred to me with, “What about you, Richard?”, I was ready.

Even when I was finished, and it was another's turn, my creative bent continued to churn and instead of listening with full intention I felt regret at not having come up with the image of my being as though within the belly of a whale, sunlight streaming down into the mouth of our sea cave, the black rock of its orifice-like teeth waiting to clamp down, the menace of the giant torpedo-like shark a real threat directly below. Yes, I had to swim over the dragon and… But now I’ve to listen to another’s story. And then I realized my vanity: I’d revealed myself the hero!

Thing is, I am too often involved in the parameters of my own being. I seldom memorize the details of another’s dialogue. With a ‘him’ or a ‘her’, as the poet e.e. cummings says, “Feeling is all.” Yes, it’s an intuitive connection that contains the accord of my reciprocity; the details of lives are but fodder for repetition, re-examination. Then again, isn't life about me? Or is it ‘all’ about you?