You are Here

galaxy

In the blackness of the expanse that exists just beyond the azure limits of our own world, all that is familiar ceases to exist.  All that we see and experience is gone.  Everything we take for granted and all by which we define ourselves in this world could not survive outside of the protection offered by the atmosphere of our home planet.   It is unique in the sense that ours is the only planet like it for thousands of light years and yet there exist, all around us,  forces powerful enough to destroy our home at any moment.  Perhaps it is just a matter of time.  It is a terrifying and humbling notion.

The numbers necessary to define and describe the limits, or lack thereof, of what lies just outside of our cosmic front door are nearly unimaginable to most and yet, to define and quantify our own limits, we employ numbers that are laughably small by comparison.  Our lifespans are, for the most part, measured in double digits.  Our IQ’s are measured in triple digits although, for roughly half of the earthly population, only two are required still. For most of us, our bank accounts are quantified with three, four or five digits.  For the more fortunate, six or seven digits are required and we all but worship those who need to employ eight or more.

We live lives that are governed and defined by ridiculously small numbers and we strive to push these insignificant figures as high as possible.   There are those among us that will dole out six or even seven figures for a car that can accelerate, at most, to the low triple digit range.  Cosmically speaking, that’s hilarious.  By doing this, we hope to prove what?  To whom?  Perhaps we only demonstrate how far we will go to showcase the limits of humanity’s imagination and capabilities.

These evaluative integers surround us from birth and rule how we live.  It starts with an Apgar score.  As soon as we are born, we are evaluated and assigned a number.  From there it moves on to GPA’s to then to SAT and ACT scores.  Eventually it moves on to FICO scores.  We become slaves to these numbers and they, in large part, determine what we can do and with whom we can do it.  These quantitative measures determine the quality of our lives.  How, exactly does this happen?  Is it forced upon us or are we complicit in allowing ourselves to be defined so narrowly?

We are taught, from an early age, to seek out and associate with those with equally high or higher, numbers than our own.  It really doesn’t matter which number we employ.  We have learned to associate higher numbers with the qualitative attributes of “goodness”  or “worthiness”.  Conversely, those with lower numbers, whichever ones they may be, are considered “less-than”.

For all of the “great” achievements of mankind, we have never taken the time to quantify those things which most determine how well we live.  How well or how much does a father love his family?  There is no number to score this.  Instead, we indirectly look to other numbers to do it for us.  We look to his income.  We look to the number of things he buys for his family.  We look at the value of the home he provides.  By those figures, we then extrapolate and assign a value of “good” or “not as good”.  We make these qualitative judgements based on quantitative information.  Are they correlated?  We seem to behave, and treat each other as though they are.  Even if they are, however, we already know that correlation does not prove causality.

I suppose that, in the end, we feel a need to define ourselves by our own constructs.  Time, age, wealth, weight and a seemingly endless list of others.  We do this to determine and predict success in this world.  We create these measures and assign a level of desirability or “goodness” to them and then project those onto everyone around us.  We don’t take the time or effort, however,  to score each other on what really matters in this world.  There are no scores for compassion, generosity, love, kindness.  Maybe we don’t care about those as much.  Maybe even the greatest of the human minds can’t fully comprehend these concepts which truly determine how well we live.

We come into this world penniless and naked.  We go out the same way.  We don’t remember those we have lost as having an 800 FICO.  No, when we lose someone we remember how well they loved and how much they were loved.  While they live, however, we use other measures.  I don’t know why we do this to each other.

The span between birth and death is made up of moments.  These moments are up to us to create, enjoy and yes, define.  As we wrangle with how, exactly, we can or need to do this, try to remember that You Are Here and the whole damned thing is in you mind.

 

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Curtain Call

marionette-photo

Who is it I should be tonight?

Who is it you wish to see tonight?

Should I be funny? A Scholar? A Liar or Sage?

Let me pull down a mask and I’ll stand on your stage

and show you what I can be

Should I promise tomorrow or only tonight

Perhaps you’ll be gone when I wake to the light

of a new day

to a new play

to someone else pulling my strings

Promising things

Or making me promise things not mine to give

I’d give you my life should I choose still to live

It moves so much faster than I’m able to pace

One moment of failure, a lifetime of disgrace

Digging still deeper

The darkness now covering

My weakness is growing

Scavengers hovering

What is there of value still worthy of taking?

All I cling to is gone

My heart is still breaking

Grasping at shadows, striking out at the air

My sanity slipping while all unaware

Of what I’m becoming or already become

I’m not sure anymore if all damage is done

How could there possibly be more to endure?

My life’s a disease but I can’t find the cure

But I’ll wake yet tomorrow, if I’m up to the task

I’ll look over my choices and pull down a mask

I’ll bury deep down disappointment and rage

I’ll put on a smile, step onto your stage

The curtain will open, you’ll worry no longer

My performance convinces you

I’m getting stronger

Storage Unit 902

Self Storage

Hot.  That’s the first word that came to mind.  It was only eight in the morning but the temperature was already hovering around eighty degrees.  The forecast was calling for 100 or better before the evening would have a chance to offer some relief.  I drove up to the keypad positioned just outside of the gate to the self-storage where the remains of my adult life slowly simmered behind a steel roll-up door.  With rigid accuracy, I punched in my access code and, as the gate began to slide open, I idled through it toward unit 902.

Random, passing thoughts ricocheted around inside my head as I eased my car through the aisles of lockers.  I began to think of how, in the mid-west, we long for days like these while we brave the bitter winter cold that grips this part of the country each year.  As the grayness of winter presses upon our spirit with its frigid indifference we relish the memories of the previous summer and its yellow-white optimism.  We remember summer as a time when all things are possible.  We think back to summer loves, family gatherings, seemingly endless childhood days that dissolve seamlessly into the glowing reddish backdrop of late sunsets dotted with fireflies.  As the biting winds of January and February howl across a lifeless landscape only to steal our breath, numb our hands and sting our faces we cling to the memories of previous summers and long for their return.  We long for them until they’re fully upon us with their oppressive heat and relentless sun and then our thoughts turn to the autumn to come and the crisp relief it will bring.

Perhaps it’s ingrained in our nature.  Maybe we are predisposed, as part of the human condition,  to never be satisfied with what surrounds us at any given moment.  Something better awaits us around every corner.  It is this discontent that drives us to achieve, however.  This constant dissonance between our head and heart pushes us to aspire to greater things in the pursuit of the ever-elusive “If only…”.  That line of thinking evaporated quickly as I stopped the car in front of unit 902 and my thoughts returned to why I was there to begin with.

Our divorce was final and our home of the past thirteen years was now a place for another family to fill with their own memories.  What remained of the contents of that home was now piled high behind the nondescript steel door I fumbled to unlock.  Fortunately, the lock cooperated fully with the key I managed to find and surrendered immediately.  I removed the lock, slid the latch and lifted the door.  What greeted me was a locker that was far emptier than what I had remembered.

She had just moved into her new place and had, as we had agreed she would do, carefully perused the locker and removed anything and everything she felt she could use to begin building her new life.  I wasn’t interested in keeping anything in the locker anyway.  I had no interest in furnishing my new life with remnants from a previous one.  I did not want to build new memories on top of the old.  I did not believe that would make a solid foundation for whatever lie ahead of me.  This was not a mission to reclaim what I once had but rather to take stock of what needed to be donated and that which could not be donated, disposed of.  The feeling that now gripped me was one of utter and complete loneliness.

I was alone in this locker and now charged with figuring out what to do with the leftovers of my life.  These things that no one saw value in at the moving sale we conducted just weeks before and that she had decided she didn’t have need of, or room for.  Suddenly I felt as though these remnants and I had much in common.  These things of little to no perceived value.  These things for which she would not, or could not make room.  With that, another thought took root.

As we move through this life, we are little more than collections of memories, feelings, intentions, aspirations and achievements.  Storage lockers unto ourselves, we accumulate these as we experience life.  Most of us, at one point or another, invite another collector into our experience where we open our individual lockers and allow a perusal, of sorts, by the other.  We begin to share and exchange what we have accumulated throughout life.  Much of the time, the exchange is even and both collectors are enriched having received something that they never would have otherwise had.  Occasionally, the exchange is one-sided.  One collector begins to remove the contents of another’s locker without replacing it with something from theirs.  Eventually, one is left half-full with contents of questionable value.  Sometimes what remains is nothing that is worthy of giving to another and we must find a way to dispose of these things before moving on.  The question then is one of: How?

I took a careful inventory of storage unit 902 and began to make my plans on how to deal with its contents.  As challenging as this was, it has proven easy compared to what remains locked away.

The Initiated

Business Meeting

I checked my inbox, as I usually do every morning, looking for the invitation.  It had to be there.  I had no concrete idea of what I was looking for or how the subject line might have read but I looked nonetheless.  Everyone else, it would seem, received this invitation.  Everyone else had been able to discern, from whatever the subject line read, that this was a “can’t miss” type of a thing.  I must have received it as as well.  Why wouldn’t I have been on the recipient list?  Why would I have been overlooked?  I redoubled my efforts and continued to scan my inbox.  Ultimately, I resigned myself to the the fact that it wasn’t there.  I must have missed it.  Perhaps I deleted it, along with a hundred other offers and solicitations, without recognizing the utter importance of this single message.

As I look around my life, as of late, I can’t help but to feel as though there is some crucial piece (or pieces) of information that I am missing.  Some special secret is being spread, person-to-person, or by special assembly, that is passing me by.  That is why I started looking for the email.  Maybe, periodically, meetings are convened where the secrets to happiness and contentment are revealed.  That must be how it happens.  Perhaps there’s an email circulating that contains, within it’s text, a time and place where the fortunate are directed to show up.  Undoubtedly, there’s a password or secret handshake that allows one to gain access to the meeting.  People wander into this meeting and exchange surprised looks at seeing familiar faces of friends and neighbors.  They mingle for a bit, find a seat, and then the magic happens.  A hush falls over the crowd as some elder statesman takes the stage and begins to succinctly disseminate the secrets of life.  I picture that the tenor and tone of this speech is that of  Michael Douglas as Gordon Gecko from the movie Wall Street during his infamous “Greed is Good” address.

The brilliance of this meeting is in its brevity.  The message isn’t long and drawn out.  What it consists of is simply a few missing, secret pieces of information that enable the listeners to piece their lives together.  What is revealed during this address serves to function like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that allows those lucky enough to hear it, the ability to complete his or her own picture and see life in its entirely.

I see these people everyday.  I can recognize those who have been lucky enough to have attended one of these secret meetings.  They have calm faces.  They have intact families and rewarding careers.  They have figured it out.  In many cases, unfortunately, this doesn’t make them better people.  They can be arrogant and stupid.  Most often they are just that.  They can take things for granted.  Many times, they move through the sea of life, completely unaware of what,or who, they leave in their wake.  They do, however, make it look easy.  In fact, oftentimes, they appear to be absolutely clueless as to how well they are doing or how they got to where they are.  They can make the worst decisions seemingly without consequence.  Their lives seem to, almost accidentally, turn out for the better.

On the other hand, I can also recognize those, like me, who have yet to receive their invitation.  Perhaps they accidentally deleted it.  Their furrowed brows tell of deep worry and convey a sense of puzzlement toward life.  They are bewildered as they react to the forces that shape their stories.  A single bad decision or misstep on their part have profound reverberations throughout their lives.  These people are no less intelligent or able-minded than the aforementioned.  In fact, in many cases, they are more so.  These people are extremely thoughtful and introspective. They work, tirelessly, for the betterment of themselves and those around them.  They just haven’t received their invitation.  There is something missing.  Like an intricate and complicated machine that is missing one small piece that would allow it to function as it was designed and intended to, these people still function, technically, but they accomplish nothing.  Their efforts are focused on fixing what’s broken instead of building something new.  They react to life instead of impacting it.  Their lives are a fury of misdirected, spent energy as they seem to move in circular patterns.

So maybe that’s it.  Could it be that simple?  Just like there are the “Have’s” and the “Have not’s” maybe there are those that are “In the know” as to how to make everything work.  If I were a conspiracy theorist I might take it a step further.  Perhaps, periodically, those in charge (George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Kanye West and a rotating attendance by any Kardashian, among other seemingly hapless success stories) get together and make out the invitation list for the next meeting.  The emails go out and a new class of the initiated sets out to conquer.  In the meantime, the rest of us wander though our days wondering what it’s all for.

I’m going to go check my inbox…again.

 

 

 

Everybody Talks About the Weather (but no one does anything about it)

raindrop ripples

Although the weather report had called for only a light cloud cover and no rain in the forecast, the clouds hung ominously low in the sky as I began my drive.  My primary objective for the day was to deliver my daughter’s computer charger to her.  She had left it behind the last time she stayed the weekend with me and she now needed it as her computer, her lifeline to the free world, had given her its last.  The temperature hovered somewhere in the upper sixties as I eased the car onto its first of the sixty miles I needed to close to complete my mission.  I made a cursory mental note of how the weather vacillated dramatically between the sweltering heat and humidity of yesterday to the almost fall-like experience with which we were provided today to serve as the backdrop for whatever lie ahead.  As I drove, raindrops began to lightly dot my windshield.  A few minutes passed and I was forced to turn on the wipers as the raindrops grew larger and more frequent.

“Idiot weathermen.”  I thought as I laughed at the 0% chance of precipitation that was predicted.  I suddenly felt anger towards the entire lot of them and their profession. Although not an original thought (albeit an unexpected and random one), I couldn’t help but to wonder, silently, as to how some people are able to earn a living by being wrong as often as they are right.  How can some people be wrong, so often, with complete impunity? Why isn’t this luxury afforded to us all?  There’s a saying that Economists and Weathermen are the only professions where you can can make a living by being wrong half of the time.  Nouriel Roubini, anyone?  Here’s a guy who became famous, as an economist, because he made ONE right prediction, eight years ago.  Granted, it was a big one, but since then, I believe he bats about .500.  I’m sure that his checks still clear, however and there is no shortage of CNBC pundits who clamor to add “Dr. Doom” to their panel of “experts” on the regular.

In my life, it would seem as of late, no one has missed  an opportunity to remind me of a time in my past when I was wrong.  No matter how long ago it may have been, I have been forced to re-live the consequences of these decisions over and again in my mind.   Forget all of the decisions I made that resulted in a wonderful life for sixteen or seventeen years of my married life.  Those don’t count, apparently.  Forget that these decisions were made with the best possible outcomes in mind.  That doesn’t count either.  Perhaps it is because the consequences of the decisions made have led to this point in my life.  Does this happen to everyone?  I couldn’t help but to wonder.  How is it possible for one to move beyond events in one’s life if his past is constantly being thrust back in his face?  I applied this line of thought to the aforementioned weatherman.

I tried to imagine what the demeanor and posture would be of a television weather personality who, immediately before taking to the airwaves, was reminded of all of the forecasts that were wrong.  Perhaps he could be shown images of all of the family picnics that were ruined.  Maybe he could review a comprehensive list or a video reminder of the vacation plans that were dashed, the fishing trips spoiled, the road trips that were undertaken because he sounded the “All Clear” which suddenly became perilous or, perhaps, even deadly simply because he made a mistake.  I imagined that (if this were to actually  happen, that is) the result would be a broken man, with sunken shoulders and a stooped neck slinking, almost apologetically, into camera view with no confidence in what he was about to say.  I imagined a man who was afraid to say anything because he was now keenly aware of the weight of his words and the possible consequences of being wrong.  He would try to muster some sort of conviction as he spoke of things to come but they would, undoubtedly, ring hollow.  He would be unable to make anyone believe him.  This would, most likely, be the posture and mindset of anyone who was forced to live, day in, and day out, with constant reminders of his mistakes or miscalculations.

But this doesn’t happen.  Does it?  If the weather forecast is wrong and we get rained on or, conversely, our grass goes brown due to the failure of the rain to materialize, we don’t blame the weatherman.  After all, he is simply making a prediction based on computer models that incorporate available data to formulate a probable outcome.  That’s what we all do, though.  We compile and sort through the volumes of data that we accumulate through living and try to make some sort of a prediction of what the results of any given action, or actions, may be.  Sometimes we’re wrong.  Mostly, though, we’re right, or right enough to fake the rest.

Sometimes the predictions are as easy as the possible outcomes of crossing the street against the light.  Sometimes the predictions are a bit more involved.  Many important decisions in life are made with limited data.  They have to be.  If one waited to have all of the data related to all possible outcomes of a decision, the decision would never get made. How many people take out a 30-year mortgage, for instance?  They do this even though they have no way of predicting what their financial situation will be in 30 years.  Perhaps their health takes a turn for the worse and their earning potential declines substantially. Maybe they lose their job or the industry in which they work changes dramatically and they no longer command the same income relative to their acquired skill-set.  The same holds true for a 60 month car loan, for that matter.

The fact is that we have to make many of life’s major decisions based on predictions that assume at least static, if not improving circumstances and that the possible negative outcomes of these decisions may be years in the distance, if at all.  This is where it gets tricky, I suppose.  What happens when we make several predictions like these concurrently?  What if the most unlikely confluence of circumstances arises and the negative consequences of all of these decisions begin to create a sort of negative feedback loop in our lives, each feeding on the other, until the noise of it is intolerable?

On July 1st of 1940, a bridge was opened in Pierce County, Washington.  This bridge served to span Puget Sound and connect the city of Tacoma with the Kitsap Peninsula.  This bridge was of the suspension type.  This means, simply put, that most of the structure was suspended over Puget Sound by heavy cables that supported the weight of the bridge between massive towers that bore the load imposed by those cables.  If there are any engineers reading this (I could make several recommendations on how your time could be better spent) you already know that this is no easy feat and requires extensive planning and even more mathematical expertise to calculate and reconcile innumerable forces that the bridge could have to withstand.

Four months after the bridge’s grand opening, however, the impossible happened (technically not impossible because it did, in fact happen).  High winds were able to initiate a vibration in the bridge structure that, due to the span length being what it was, developed into what physicists would call a Resonant Standing Wave.  The result is that the entire bridge structure, thousands of tons steel and concrete, began to undulate in the wind which eventually resulted in the collapse of the entire structure.  It wasn’t the weight of the traffic on the bridge that brought it down.  It was wind.  Wind that blew at exactly the right speed to initiate a vibration at just the right frequency in order for it to propagate across that particular span and create the wave that brought it down.  I’ll bet they didn’t see that one coming.  That goes to my point.  Bridges aren’t just thrown up, as my grandmother would have said, “all willy nilly like”.  They are carefully designed and heavily invested in.  They are designed to last for a hundred years and yet this happened.  Copy and paste the link.  I’m not making this up.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-zczJXSxnw

I suppose, through all of this, the fact remains that there is a certain element of risk to any decision or group thereof.  What is the alternative?  Can one not make any decisions and thus be safe from negative consequences?  Neil Pert (lyricist and drummer, extraordinaire, for rock’s power trio RUSH) would disagree because “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice” (Good luck with that ear worm.  You’re welcome).  No.  We have to continue to make decisions and try to predict the possible outcomes without having a complete data-set.  We have to make assumptions to fill in the gaps where we wish hard data could be.  Sometimes, as is the case with the Tacoma Narrows bridge in 1940, data is still not enough because hard facts can only help us navigate around the foreseeable outcomes.  How many outcomes are unforeseeable?  That, of course, is unknowable.

Still, we are all surrounded with rear-view mirror prognosticators who are more than happy to tell you what you should, or shouldn’t have done to prevent certain events from unfolding.  Even better are those who are unafraid to let you know that if only you would have asked them, they would have told you exactly what course of action should have been undertaken if only you would have been wise enough to seek their counsel.  What really brings it all home, though, are those who, based on the outcome of decisions you have made, decide that they are better off without you.  Losing the trust and faith that someone once placed in you is the worst part of it all.

Tomorrow, (as ridiculous as it may sound) I will listen to the weatherman again before I make some of the most basic decisions of the day (like what to wear, for instance).  I will watch that cheery, cherub-faced Fool pretend to tell the future and, what’s worse, I will believe him and plan my short-term existence around his words as it pertains to outdoor activities or my attire.  I know that there’s a chance he could be wrong.  I’ll listen anyway. The ramifications of those decisions won’t live beyond tomorrow.  That is the hope, anyway.