Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Costly Confessions

Once she admitted it, he became vengeful for the rest of her life. She was 87. He was 92. They’d been married 63 years. But shortly after they were married, 1942, while he was away at the war, and she had not heard from him in seven months, she presumed him dead. So did their family and friends. And she took comfort, eventually, in the arms of a friend of theirs. How many times? Well, does that signify? When he found out, he didn’t care. Once was too many. But for 62 years, he never knew about it, luckily. So, when he returned from the prison camp, he had enjoyed the presence of his wife, and she his, and they had had children, and adventures, and expeditions, living in a sense of love and fidelity. Until June, of five years ago. On moving (given his need for a house with no stairs,) an old shoebox spilled open from his fingers. He found the letters. And the birthday cards. They were wrapped in a purple ribbon. And they were dated 1942. And they proved that his wife, despite being married to him, so young, at the outset of the war, had been unfaithful. Way back then. How many times? It did not matter; once was enough.

Carly Simon sings, “Sometimes I wish, sometimes I wish, you never told me, some of those secrets of yours”.

Children soon learn to lie. Creativity, aggrandizement, yes. But often, a need for escape. Harsh parents make the consequences for truth not worth it. If truth were (always) received as a mark of honour, of courage, of integrity, then many of us would more readily admit to the errant passages of our times. But given an admission, derision, shame, judgment, and penalty have cowered most. We learned that others do not necessarily understand. Our teachers, our elders, our peers, do not necessarily have compassion. A single slip-up, like “the time you stole the chocolate bar when you were seven,” can have one branded by a parent as a thief, or liar, for the rest of one’s life. Tell me the truth now, which of us has never told a lie?

Adam Broadford, in ADMISSION, A Story Born of Africa, struggles for survival. He finds the need to obscure the truth, over and over. The cultural paradigms of his upbringing, given South Africa’s strictures against racial integration, homosexuality, and even secularism, disallows Adam to lead an invigorated life of exploration, integrity, and truth. Brutal consequences lie in wait if people know what was in his past. Harsh punishment, dreadful shame, and even imprisonment await him should his illicit liaison across the colour-bar be discovered. And dishonourable discharge, or worse, would befall him once his AWOL from an embittered, and desperately apartheid regime, was known. He had to escape!

But in the lies we tell ourselves, and others, do we ever escape? Is the insidious snake of truth always lurking, slithering up into our consciousness each time we know we are living with a lie?

“You cannot handle the truth,” declares the inimitable Jack Nicholson, in A Few Good Men. It is a line that resonates. It dances with the song, Takes Two to Tango, by Eartha Kit. One needs not only to be honest with oneself, but to handle honesty from others too. Forgiveness, let alone affirmation of the self, is differentiated from the wrong-doing of the deed. How else consciously to learn but through the making of mistakes? Do we have to leave “no stone unturned?”

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive,” wrote Walter Scott, (not Shakespeare,) in Marmion, in 1808. Evidently, love triangles have invaded lives ‘forever’. Our lack of something, and the need to have a desire fulfilled, has us breaking boundaries, despite the fear of consequence. In childhood, and in adulthood too. We betray others, or ourselves. It takes much maturation, and a distinct integrity, entirely to be ‘greater than human.’ Betrayal, in its various guises, (from the addictive mind to the occasional dalliance,) is about just how much one can get away with. Still, for the guilty octogenarian, as above, and her hard nonagenarian, might it not have been better for her to have thrown that old shoebox of memories.... away?

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Absolute Anger

There is nothing like it. At least, that’s how the usual advertisement goes. There’s nothing like marmite on toast. There’s nothing like the rain in Spain. There’s nothing better than…. Nothing like vanilla! No belief like…. And then, “How dare you touch my things? I’m absolutely furious!”

Absolutes dominate. They get launched in declarative phrases that are designed to swallow one whole. We are susceptible to their impetus, and are supposed to go shop, and to try on, and even to go to places we’ve never been before. After all, there’s nothing like a tequila sunrise. Nothing like morning coffee. Nothing like a hiding! Nothing like being shamed. Nothing like….

Yes, girding oneself against the grievous onslaught of those who would grab out of one’s purse becomes an exercise in discernment. (Huh? Ok. Watch how one spends one’s pennies!) It is not easy to determine that nothing is true. Well, absolutely true. Ok then, if concrete facts are irrefutably true, then what about the fact that nothing beats a fair election. Nothing? Midst the extremes, surely, is the happy hunting ground, whether in the grocery store, comparisons in any given fish pond, or even among the clouds of hope and possibility. Nothing like dreams! We want a slice of the pie, at least. The perseverance of hope persists. There’s nothing like it.

Absolutes tend to slide us toward the slippery slope of disillusionments, or elevate us toward the improbable. We’ve absolutely got to clean our house. Dust! Yet we’ve reached the moon, and mars. We’ve come out of caves. We’ve turned our stones into tools, our clay into ores, our minerals into mechanization, and our ethers into chemical additives. We’ve conquered the world. We’ve increased our population density, exponentially, (despite the absolute fact that history has given us plagues and pestilence and wars.) And we absolutely know what we know, and even know what we don’t know. Absolutely. Well, absolutely partially, then, ok?

“But what boils my blood,” a friend used to say, “is that nothing gets accomplished by the incumbent party. They sit on their backsides and make absolutely no sense at all. And every bit of our tax money is wasted. And all of their time is wasted. And not one of us benefits. It all is a bloody shame!” Boiled blood, indeed. Nothing like sharing one’s irritation. Nothing like being annoyed. Nothing like reacting. Nothing like feeling so much of life is a waste of time.

Thing is, in-between all of the crisis of life there are the ‘perfectly’ average mundane moments of washing dishes, making the bed, doing the laundry, and catching up with correspondence. Or are they meant to be mundane? If everything is indeed to be made interesting (rather than something making things interesting for us) then so much as a soap bubble, an ant, a misspelt word, a stray thought, or a resurfaced feeling can be of interest, absolutely! (Well, alright then, 'somewhat'.) And if we are to live in a state of grace and gratitude, or even an awareness of enlightenment (as a journey rather than a product) then we are absolutely to find a sense of completeness within the moments, breath for breath, without waiting for some exterior provocation to prick us into sensibility. We are entirely responsible for ourselves, ultimately. Response needs dictate to a reaction, and reaction needs inform a response. After all, there is nothing like unbridled passion, whether in pleasure, or in pain. And anger is indeed a product of personal pain, or why take on so?

Absolute anger and absolute pleasure, as polar opposites, are impermanent at best. Life is a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, or maybe even the tunnel of horrors? But there is life, or......? So we need be ok with the ride, exercising choice wherever we can, accepting the state of things otherwise, and having the proverbial knowledge to go the distance. Nothing like it, for each of us. Unique, to each of us. And yet the same, for all of us. Breath for breath.

Absolutely angry at something? Yes, but in actuality, just for a little while. So too, one notes, for pleasure. La petite mort. It all, comparatively, is just momentary, for each of us. Nothing like it!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Constrained By Chaos

Chaos abounds. It breaks apart time. We cannot expect to live forever. We cannot expect to have every hope and dream and wish fulfilled. There are too many variables. There is too much misalignment. If expectation be the triumph of hope over experience, then caught up in the course of experience, one learns to allow for sand castles to be taken too.

Friends find themselves waylaid by vicissitudes. The vagaries of chance and accident and the sadly unexpected beleaguers them. This one has been in the hospital for six weeks now. That one has just suffered atrial-fibrillation. This one has just fallen off a buckling ladder, broken both wrists and an elbow. That one, suffering from undissolved embolisms, paid a second visit to the emergency department. This one... And so it goes. Old age is not for sissies. Yet children also wail from behind closed doors. Chaos attacks any age, in any decade. Chaos can be cruel, inconsiderate, and enervating. It robs. It destroys. We can despair with its relentless erosion of our preferred possibilities. And at times it can test our resilience, repeatedly. Yet not all is bad.

Adam Broadford, relating his ADMISSION, a Story Born of Africa, finds much of his life a turbulent challenge. Chaos envelopes him. But central to his resilient disposition is the perpetual determination not to react, but to respond. That which is cruel and brutal and awful has him determine to be different. That which fragments and breaks apart has him determine to become yet more accommodating, inclusive, integrative. There is always a tomorrow, and each day brings him closer to a time when he will be free to make choices independent of others. Children do not have those choices. But beyond the enclosing walls of secrecy and shame that Adam must countenance, there can be a good influence, if someone, somewhere, sometime, gets to know it.

The great adventurers lost to us, remain lost. Take Sir Robert Broadford. He left Britain and ventured with a small party into the heart of Africa, in the early1800’s, even before David Livingston. Problem is, he was never heard from again. In an age when mounting an expedition to go in search of a lost soul was fiscally, logistically, and materially very different from today’s ease with planes, trains, and automobiles, not to mention telephones and internet, Sir Robert’s life became ‘lost’. What he learned, is gone. But how many people, en route, did he not affect?

Point is, the interior journeys we each make are not always visible to others. The chaos we endure, as the fragmentation of our own ideals gets shattered, can remain concealed unless we succeed (let alone choose,) to bruit our finding abroad. And even then, which of our words do not get misinterpreted, what intentions do not get misconstrued, and what adventures do not find satisfactory conclusion? Yet just by living, itself, we affect others. The net effect, bit for bit in the annals of history, horizontal step for step, hierarchical spiral for spiral, engenders mans’ very progress within the greater chaos that has inveigled us all. We can but plan, and allow the Gods their laugh. It is in our response (as opposed to reaction) that we show conscious evolution. It is in our individual cognizance that we each contribute toward the bell-curve, shuffling it along the mortal coil inherent not only to each of us, but to any Time Period defining a given lifetime.

Adam Broadford stepped out of the box into which he was born. He needed to. Not everyone feels so compelled. But given our burgeoning refugee numbers, and given the dissolution of our old historical traditions and values and practices, it is evident that we, as mankind, are speeding up, comparatively, toward a future that some think they can foresee, that others think might be bright, and yet others feel is more akin toward heading into an abyss. And you? How fare you?

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Dispelling Deep Dark Depression

‘They’ say depression can be more a matter of chemistry than it might be in the mind. How truly awful for those so afflicted. Is life really just a matter of ‘what you eat, you are’? We can attempt to think our way into a new threshold, but if the body will not follow, and the mind will not accept, then we can but rail, rail against the loss of the comfort-zone. Despite ‘choice,’ tradition and acculturation envelopes us. Throughout history we’ve bemoaned ‘change.’ Great swaths of time have proved severe, horrid, and entirely unacceptable. In the rear-view mirror it can all be seen as very dreadful, if not in the window upon the future outlook from within our present times too.

We are ‘victims’ of the times. Awful circumstances can envelope us, enfold us. Yet quite often, rewarding times can enrich us too. It’s at the ‘crossing of the threshold’ that we can determine our viewpoints. In the sense of paradigm shifts needing the dissolution, the degeneration, or the fragmentation of the old, before the new paradigm asserts itself, one may find the insecure anxiety of awaiting the certainty of the new, to be disarming, indeed. Like stepping from the jetty onto the rocking boat; like feeling blindly for the unseen rung below one’s foot; like hoping in the dark that one’s stretched-out fingers may click on the light-switch. What does the future foretell?

That’s what happens to Adam, the protagonist of ADMISSION, A Story Born of Africa. Twice, in the dark, he feels for the light switch, the same switch, in the generator-machine shed. The first time, when he is four, it ends in humor. The second time, when he is eleven, it ends in death. But for Adam the ongoing challenges of his life never culminate in depression; he is too determined to keep journeying toward a future that is of his own making. To choose! In his life, each obstacle is something, at the very least, to be outwaited, since he knows down deep that circumstances keep changing, as long as he looks for, or awaits, the time to make his choices.

Helpless, we may not always leap the chasms between what was, and what we foresee; and therein, in that very uncertainty, can lie our debilitating fear. If life were more assured, we may more easily go into the ‘good night’ of old age. Not all of it ought to need to be a raging-rage against the dying of the light. Not every future is dismal. Not every ‘progress’ is detrimental.

Thing is, depression itself can arise out of traumatic experiences. But not necessarily. Post trauma (as we know the syndrome,) is usually the result of some awful experience. But not all depression needs one’s own direct physical experience; our mental apprehension can be quite sufficient. The little girl, seeing and hearing her mummy get bitten by the bee, may register inordinate anxiety over bees the rest of her life. The boy, seeing and hearing his dad panic over the snake in their path, may never overcome such built-in fear. Indeed, some of our problem is that many fears are deeply subconscious. And then again, sometimes we know precisely why we fear, are anxious, or get depressed. Life has taught us ‘a sadness.’ We feel that we cannot change our external circumstances, let alone ourselves. We do, indeed, fear for the future!

Indignities can attend our aging and bone-aching cage. Hurt digs at our heartsore of personal losses. Anger rises at those who do not, will not, cannot alter the seemingly clear and imminent foreclosure on our earth. The dismal outlook for our children; the earth’s bulging and unchecked masses; the shrinking biodiversity; the soiled ocean; the gritty air; and the painfully inherent actuality that we no longer shall be able to protect and contribute and give succor to those we love, closely, much less the populace and the fauna and flora at large, all of it, is a future bleak and uncertain and horrid in the foreseeing. Mindfulness, chemistry, feelings, choices; where does one draw a line? ‘God give me the grace to change what I can, and to accept the things I cannot’?

Then again, if ‘choice’ be the elixir of life, then by breathing, now for now, and feeling grateful for each breath, we may find ourselves a passage of rite; a depression perhaps given light; right? 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Humbled By Humor

“Being able to laugh! That’s the golden secret to life. We take ourselves so seriously,” answered my friend. At 78, he has much wisdom to share. It may not be ‘new’, but it is tempered by the sheer endurance of his own longevity. Overcoming several physical ailments, and the irregularities and vagaries of the vicissitudes of an individual life, as he has, my friend’s words are not delivered lightly; they arise out of the wellspring of a life lived with keen observation.

One’s ability to encounter life’s history with humor is one thing, but to release it during duress is quite another. (Abashed, we do not like to undress.) In my novel (ADMISSION, a Story Born of Africa,) Adam Broadford is not one to guffaw, nor to chuckle. His humor is confined to a smirk, an intellectual enjoyment of predicament, an intentional play on words, and sometimes even, a deliberate obfuscation. The subtlety is in the mind. Although others may laugh at predicaments, Adam cannot easily give his humor reign. He is always analyzing. Word-play is his favored laugh. (A nosey and disliked teacher, named Mevrou Neusindruk, means Mrs. Nose-shove-in, ha!) Yet, as in Adam’s story, not all word tapestries are woven with the same thread. Although flecks of silvered humor in his writing may appear, here and there, it is a more resilient material, overall, that sews up the course of his progress. His is the sensibility of perpetually thinking about his thinking. If reaction is at the point of having a funny-bone, response is the approbation of events. The approval. We laugh at he who slips on the banana peel (especially if others laugh too). We grow concerned if, having once slipped ourselves, we’ve cracked our tail-bone.

Like using our hands, there are perhaps six deployments to humor. Most obviously, the lewd, crude, and vulgar may be represented by the thumb. Thickest of our digits; it often is the most useful. Second is the index finger, that which pokes fun at others. Third is the middle finger, that which is suggestive, explicit. Fourth is the implicit, the ring finger, circumscribed humor, not readily recognized, until evidently deployed; (my friend, reading this now, may chuckle at this recalling of his bizarre image of decapitating pigeons; another reader may well shudder.)  The fifth, the pinky, is humor that entails wisdom, insight, care, compassion. Rare. And the sixth? In the unique lines and craters of our palms, time worn and grooved into our individual psyches, lie the experiences of our personal lives; a smile; a wink; a yoke (ha!) Some things, indeed, are funny.

In order to get their laugh, comedians choose those things common to the crowd. A friend, more personally, may choose something esoteric; something we each know. An acquaintance may tell a joke: “You’re the ugliest buffaloes I ever did see,” said the cowboy, and rode on. The one buffalo turned to the others and said, “Was that a discouraging word?” … What? You don’t know the song: “Oh give me a home, where the buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play! Where seldom is heard, a discouraging word, and the clouds do not shame us, all day”? So...? Got you singing? (And yes, I do refer to Jungian shadows by way of using ‘clouds’, indeed! Ha!)

Thing is, as one smiles into the eyes of others with our laughter, we become connected, glued, made humble by the sharing, and transported beyond age, race, religion, and division. Or not. Some humor is sadistic. Some humor is too off colour. Some humor is far too dependent on identification with specifics of language, ideology, place. Some humor is esoteric, built up out of intellectual commonality. Some has its foundation in wit, witticisms, and word-play. But that which tickles our collective funny bone quite clearly needs be germane to all; commonality is the precursor to the longevity of a joke. We know that. How else to laugh at the sheriff saying that the cowboy is wanted for rustling! Why? Well, since he wears a paper hat, has a paper gun, and even shoots paper bullets! (Rustling! Ha! Get it?)  …..Oh! (ha! ha!)

In the laugh and the catching of another’s eyes we are humbled by humor. Age, and distinctions of attainment, pedigree, race, religion, and even sex can all disappear in the connection of jokes. It can. But it seldom does. After all, to let go of all inhibition, one needs to undress. Ugh!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Poisoned by The Past

Broken, we can never be whole. The cracks can show. Especially under duress. “Just who do you think you are?” can resonate down the decades. We can poison ourselves with our past. We can so easily be hamstrung, hobbled, hurt.

Overcoming childhood insufficiency can be the worst of it. Little girls are demeaned by boys, by parents, by others. Little boys too. Like atavistic swimmers, all hoping to reach the edge ‘first,’ there is little of compassion for (let alone consciousness of) others. It becomes a learned thing; we are taught not to step on ants. Gratitude to those who teach ‘love,’ gets profound.

It is thinking about our thinking that enlightens us. Victim, or victorious, that which was the past can debilitate, or temper our metal. And although we each are influenced by all those around us, ‘good,’ or ‘bad,’ (according to The Good Book, to steal from Tevye’s performance in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’), in the sum of it all, what one makes of one’s life, along the way, is actually up to oneself. Indeed, one needs think about one’s thinking.  

That’s the rub. We are so easily given to blaming others, or even relying on an ‘Other,’ that such qualities of ‘Self-Reliance,’ and ‘Self-Actualization,’ (let alone ‘Independence,’) are relinquished into the purvey of our acculturation. Thus it is that there can be a perpetual ringing of bell-curves in one’s sensibilities. At each juncture of one’s paradigm shifts (or not,) there is the sense of being an outlier, leaving an old perspective, until absorbed by the ‘kismet’ of others into yet more and more acceptance of what once appeared surreal.

In, ‘ADMISSION, a Story Born of Africa,’ Adam Bradford encounters extraordinary challenges. Given the physical and emotional abuse perpetuated by a family who do not understand his gifted nature; given the page-turning adventures among lethal snakes; a child-snatching crocodile; attacking baboons; a marauding leopard; his having to shoot his beloved pet donkey; and given the racially charged threats, subsequent murders, and the political capitulation of Northern Rhodesia into Zambia (1974); for Adam there is an ‘otherworldly’ quality to his life that (unless in some measure personally experienced by others,) can indeed appear surreal.

His reader, one trusts, can relate to the secrets he is forced to keep. His reader, one trusts, can relate to the necessity to surmount physical pain, emotional difficulty, and inordinate challenge.

But in relating his unusual story, Adam realizes that the sheer gauntlet of challenges can hardly be de-rigueur, for most. Thank goodness. It is his teenage years that become all the more remarkable. His illicit and interracial affair could prove lethal. His countenancing an abusive uncle results in extreme hardships. His gainsaying the church gets him whipped. His escape to a boarding school results in yet more secrets to keep, and when graduated, and a conscript in the South African Army, he needs take control of his future, let alone be a victim of the past.

We turn the page to a New Year. We celebrate the old, learn from the past, and venture into a relative unknown. Some of us are comparatively secure. We have loved ones near enough. We do not necessarily feel geographically displaced. We have positions in society, welfare sufficient to our means, and friends and family, and are relatively fortunate. (Yes, despite it all, there are those in dire distress, near and dear.) Yet we are not necessarily victims of our past, unless ‘pushed’. Oh, certain things can ‘set us off.’ Most usually, they are the things that result from our perceptions during our upbringing. And thinking about our thinking, indeed, can prove not only a necessary thing, an immediate thing, but an enduring thing. Accordingly, adjustments are, consciously, made. After all, each year may indeed be ‘new,’ but so is each moment.

Or do we declare ourselves, ‘always,’ poisoned by our past?