An Ill-Conceived Amusement Park

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He decided to call it Squidland. It was to be an aquatic park featuring octopuses, but they could think of no name with the multi-syllabic octopus that tripped off the tongue. The logical choice would be to copy the title of the Beatles song, but the possessive of Octopus was the problem.

Fish are not sexy. Aquariums cannot compete with zoos. Squidland was especially poorly situated, on an outer ring road of Auburn Park, a small city that had failed to meet earlier growth projections. The city fathers had pressured the local banks to fund a business park which had never attracted any businesses. A Dollar Store was the only tenant.

Squidland was behind the business park, a long, thin ten-acre parcel that ran along a creek. The only people who worked there full-time were a groundskeeper and a couple of interns from the Auburn Park community college.

The owner had developed a fascination with octopuses when he was a graduate student in biology. He claimed to have had a one-month conversation with an octopus and insisted they are smarter than us. He also believed that they came from another planet, where they had evolved over a period of millions of years. Freeze dried octopus eggs had floated our way, part of the millions of tons of cosmic dust that rains down on our planet annually.

At present Squidland has no octopuses, just squids. Fifty or so, floating in an almost clean Plexiglas tank. Some of them were dyed different colors in an attempt to make the exhibit more colorful.

Squidland’s founder, J.J. Palmer, suffers from dementia. Most of the time he seems lucid, but when you listen closely to what he’s saying, you realize that he’s faking it. He doesn’t have a clue what he’s trying to say. The words come out all right, but they don’t add up to anything. Fortunately, he still remembers how to simulate the rhythms of normal conversation, so he doesn’t talk too long. He ends his statements by downwardly inflecting his voice, implying that he’s gotten his idea across. Except there was no idea to begin with.

He visits the site every day, often sitting in the main foyer and chuckling softly to himself. The only other sound is the bubbling of the aerator in the squid tank. One of the younger interns tried playing music on a Bluetooth speaker, but J.J. asked her to turn it off. It interrupted his train of thought. She squirmed and finally quit. The noise in her own head was driving her crazy.

Eventually, the time came when Mr. Palmer was no longer able to care for himself. They put him in a home with a lot of other demented old people, and he forgot about Squidland. Once the bills stopped being paid, the employees and interns stopped showing up. The power was eventually turned off, which meant the air bubbler stopped working. And that’s when something strange occurred.

The squid climbed out of the tank and wriggled and flopped their way across the floor. They slid under the front door and out onto the parking lot and into the grass. Fortunately, it was raining.

They stopped when they made it to the base of a tree, and there they combined with worms, snakes, frogs, various fungi, and assorted insects, to produce a large hybrid creature, which quickly evolved in size and intelligence.

Since Squidland was no longer being maintained, it became a refuge for the homeless. A dozen men retired there every evening, and some of them became embraced by the new life form and altered. While generally retaining their former outward appearance, they became subjects of the larger life form, and were released to apply for positions in city government. Several joined the city council, and after a year or so, one became mayor.

It was the mayor himself who purchased an octopus and brought it to live in the tank at Squidland, now renamed the “Auburn Park Aquatic Center.” Soon, neighboring communities purchased their own octopuses, and within a few years, there were dozens of these creatures who appeared to be simply inhabitants of museums and aquatic centers, but who were actually running the whole show.

Once the octopuses gained political power, things went more smoothly than they had in years. Within a decade, the state was running a sizable budget surplus, there were aquatic parks in every community, as well as fifty-meter swimming pools, and almost every child was on a swim team. J.J. Palmer never learned of his success, but that didn’t matter, because he died a happy, if demented, man.

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Portraits in a Selfie Age

Most people don’t enjoy having their picture taken. Or at least that used to be the case. Now, at least among Asians, there’s a mania about it. At least where I live, the women take twenty pictures of themselves a day, always making the same expression. They also photograph their food as its served in a restaurant, before they dig in.

 

I take a lot of pictures of myself because no one else will show up to let me photograph them. I’m interested in lighting, photo-editing, and the technical aspects of photography. I also enjoy having a good portrait I can send off if the need arises.

 

OK, so I’m not as photogenic as I was thirty or forty years ago. Who is?

 

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Jung Meets Polanski

 

That which is too difficult to consciously process is stored in the unconscious mind. It does not disappear. As Carl Jung said, “Whatever does not emerge as consciousness returns as destiny.”

Nobody wants to be Mr. Potter. We’d all like to think of ourselves as George Bailey. Even misers don’t think they’re the problem; they conclude that free spending other people have money problems. We all would like to experience a generous spirit, a feeling of belonging, the assurance that our contentment does not depend on the actions of others but on our own true nature expressing itself in any and all circumstances.

If we’re not feeling that way now, we conclude it’s because others are holding us back. Circumstances dictate, but once they change, we’ll be able to relax and enjoy the present moment. We’ll choose to go out past the city lights and gaze at the stars. We’ll have the patience to develop a hobby. We’ll finally excel at things that delight us because we’ll no longer be driven by anxiety. We’ll have all the time in the world.

In our best moments, we realize that we’re choosing not to enjoy this contentment. Prodded by unreasonable fears, goaded by illogical desires, we toss and turn in this waking dream. “If only he/she/they would…then I could be happy.” “As soon as (insert somewhat plausible condition here) happens, then I’ll relax and stop fighting things.” Except the happy day never arrives. There’s always another unreasonable fear, another illogical desire.

This is how the unconscious mind manifests in our daily lives. It’s like a malevolent movie director (Polanski?) who makes brilliant but troubling films. We’re fascinated by the stories even though they make us feel troubled. We identify the characters and the tormet they endure, but maybe we’re relieved to find that we’re not that bad yet. Small consolation for a big problem.

Digital Fog

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Many people smirk when they tell you “I don’t do social media.” They are above it. One imagines they spend hours in blissful contemplation over a good book, or perhaps engaging in what we used to quaintly describe as “writing” but is now known as “content creation.”

Maybe they glance up from their book occasionally, go online and look around. If they don’t like what they see they hunker down and try to tune out the monotonous drone of discourse that is not so much arguing over concepts as it is preaching to the choir. It’s not debate, it’s a pep rally. If you dare to say something on social media which irritates your fan base, you will soon hear plenty back at you. There is ample pressure to conform.

I’m learning some Handel keyboard pieces that he wrote when he was about nineteen. He and Bach were contemporaries and from almost the same part of what is now Germany. It’s hard to imagine one spot on earth turning out more pure musical genius than those two possessed.

I imagine there was a lot of pressure to conform back then when they were young and just making their way, but somehow I don’t think they let it get them down. They were alive with musical ideas, bursting with creativity, and they didn’t need focus groups and research studies that counted “likes” in order to forge ahead. They must have been as delighted by their creative output as we are today.

So we don’t need massive societal support to successfully be ourselves. We don’t even need dialogue. Bach once walked several days to hear a famous organist play. There were no recordings, no radio, no iTunes. None of that is necessary to reach great artistic heights.

If this whole Internet comes crashing down, the world will not be a worse place for it. It will simply be different. Songs will be written and performed, stories read and recited, dramas enacted, all without digital help. The blind English poet laureate John Milton used to compose his verses during the day and when his daughter came to cook him dinner at night, he would narrate to her his output for the day and she would write it down. Even late in life his mind was that sharp.

The digital fog that pretends to be so much will reveal the true nature of things after it’s been burned away.

Purposeful Forgetting

 

Phong Nha Park

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When you’re an American expat and you want to move freely in the world, you have to deliberately not remember a lot in order to experience a sense of ease and comfort. Freedom from guilt means purposeful forgetting. You can’t very well vacation in a country that we bombed repeatedly for years because we disapproved of their self-governance.

The problem for Americans is that caveat rules out most of the developing world. Central America, South America, Indochina, the Middle East, Southern Europe…all have felt the lash of our enormous and deadly whip. If you’ve got enough in the bank you could confine your wandering to Switzerland or Scandanavia without having to flip into denial mode.

True, we didn’t bomb Argentina and Chile, we just sent Kissinger there to tell them they could take care of their Communist problem without worrying about interference from us. OK, in our role as Global Robocop we didn’t kill as many foreign people as Stalin or Mao did of their own, but that doesn’t exactly render us white as snow. We trained the assassins from Guatemala, Honduras, Salvador and we gave money directly to the Contras in Nicaragua.

In a few weeks I will be venturing to Dong Hoi,Vietnam. We’ll be taking advantage of a super cheap fare from our home in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The city of Dong Hoi is new, because we completely destroyed the old city in 1971. Back then we left the shell of one building and a palm tree standing. Dong Hoi had the misfortune to be the first city of any size north of the DMZ, and planes taking off from Danang airport found it convenient to drop their load there.

If my prior visit to Dong Hoi will serve as any indication, I expect to be treated cordially by the people I meet. The family members who run the hotel I booked were very nice to me last time. I rented a motorcycle from them and drove to Phong Na park, a lush forest preserve that hosts some of the most attractive limestone caves in the world. Fifty years ago there wasn’t much there to bomb, but we did drop tons of Agent Orange on the vast canopy of trees, because we called it the “Ho Chi Minh Trail,” and saw their vegetation as an affront to our security.

There is also a lot of unexploded ordinance there, so I won’t do a whole lot of hiking off the trails. The United Nations has done their best to help Laos and Vietnam clean up the cluster bomb mess we made, but they haven’t made much progress yet. We may have to pitch in.

In my search for a place to live out my golden years I’ve traveled to many former hot spots in Central and South America.

When I was in Argentina they were making efforts to remember and honor the victims of the military killing orgy that went on after Kissinger promised them a free hand. In Chile, our puppet Pinochet had his troops bomb the Presidential Palace while Salvador Allende, former President of the University of Chile and the first democratically elected Communist ruler of any country was inside.

The first time I visited Hanoi, I was staying in a hotel in an old part of the city and reading a book on the history of our war with that country. It turns out that Kissinger and Nixon hatched a plan to make the Vietnamese think Nixon was insane, and thus drive them to hurry to the negotiating table and sign a truce. On Christmas day we bombed Hanoi. Unlike our efforts at the end of World War II in Japan and Germany, and our police action in North Korea, we had reverted to the genteel notion of obeying the Geneva Conventions and not directly targeting civilians. Before the Chrtistmas Bombing (Operation Linebacker) most of our bombing in Vietnam was restricted to military targets. In Laos, because there were few military targets, we bombed anything that moved and kept that up for ten years. But anyway, on Christmas day, 1972 a bomb dropped from a B-52 pierced the roof of the hospital next door to the hotel in which I was now staying and exploded in the operating room killing everyone. I put down the book and stared at the wall that separated my hotel from the hospital. Why had the desk clerk smiled at me when I checked in? Why wasn’t there an angry mob outside demanding my head?

As the ugliness of global economic disparity continues to grow, there will be more refugees. Countries like Nigeria send thousands of young men north to Libya, where they climb into rafts and hope to make it to Greece or Sicily. Some of them do, and then they find their way to Calais, where nobody is glad to see them. They don’t know what else to do. The bottom billion people on this planet are sliding backwards. Their countries are not just falling behind, they’re falling apart.

Of course, it’s only matter of time before we bring them democracy, one bomb at a time.

 

 

the author reading this essay:  http://chirb.it/Mkxhp3

 

 

Here And Now Is Where It’s At

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The voices in my head cry “If you’re this old, how come you’re not rich yet? And even if you’re not presently hurting for money, how come you’re not happy?”

 

The present moment and the profundity it contains is sufficient for my happiness. I can’t experience the present moment if I’m judging or analyzing. There may be a time for that later, but right now I merely want to notice what’s happening here, right now. I want to dig the bliss of the present moment.

 

Nothing is required of me but stillness and appreciation. Not even a new thought is necessary. If I want to take action, I don’t need to brainstorm and come up with an action plan. Right actions will follow naturally if I can sit with comfortable and contented absorption.

 

Not every idea I have is worth acting on. Thoughts that come with urgency are often the least reliable. All I need to do is focus on doing the next obviously right thing, and forego the temptation to rush into action.

 

Sometimes the hardest and wisest thing to do is nothing at all.

 

Action could be about the thing I had been thinking about or something else entirely. Whenever I feel anxious, my attention doesn’t just wander, it leaps light years. I might not be able to remember which idea seemed so important ten seconds ago, but I can remember the girl sitting across from me in third grade over sixty years ago. Margie. She often wore a green sweater. 

 

It doesn’t matter in the long run which path I take as long as I am not acting from addiction or compulsion. As a free agent enjoying free will, I’m capable of surprising both myself and others.

Be Yourself Because There’s Really No Alternative

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If you’re not at least attempting to please yourself, whom do you intend to please? You probably won’t be very good at pretending to accomplish another person’s will for you. You will do better dropping the pretense and simply intending to please yourself.

If you’re trying to be what other people want you to be, then who will be you?

People who are truly themselves ring true and are often a delight to watch and be around. Jimmy Cagney was an actor as well as a real character. Even when pretending to be somebody else he was enjoying himself. We only know of his acting in movies where he pretended to inhabit character parts written and directed by others, but he brought so much of himself along for the ride that he retained ownership of the performance. In doing so, he inspired and pleased others. From all accounts, he lived a long and happy life.

Is it possible to drop the facade and find your true self later in life? Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish Shakespeare, found himself chained to a wall in debtors prison in Madrid when he came up with the idea for Don Quixote. He became a successful writer in his sixties, and the Man of La Mancha made a lot of people a lot of money. Unfortunately, since copyright was a novel concept at the time, he didn’t become super rich, but at least he was comfortable by the time he died at the age of sixty-eight.

So late bloomers can take hope. Some people seem to have little choice in the matter. Elvis was such a weird creature that he had no hope of being anyone other than Elvis. He had no way to hedge his bet. His choice was either to be the King of Rock and Roll or be a garage mechanic.

How can you know when you’re being your true self and doing what you’re uniquely equipped to do? You enjoy it. It’s not drudgery. Anything else is a sell-out, for you and the world in general. No matter how much of a chameleon you think you are, you’ll be far more effective as yourself. You’ll have more fun and the people around you will enjoy your presence and activity.

 

here’s an audio clip of me reading this essay 2:40  http://chirb.it/cqvAAM