Saturday, November 30, 2013

Against The Grain?

Ugly presumption is awful. Behind every beauty, youth, innocence, charm, care, compassion, or generosity lies deceit? Are we really so inured to “original sin”? Do we automatically subscribe to the “selfish gene”? Must there be a soiled identity lurking behind the civil and the noble? Is there always an evil eye waiting behind the many masks we see? And just because there is so much in our 24/7 pop culture that perpetuates a sense of distrust, so many examples of honourable men gone wrong, lovely women turned horrid, do we needs become a society of mistrust and misanthropy? Or can we, Rogerian like, still wag with puppy-delight at each new soul we encounter? Can we see the beauty behind the mask?

I would the image above were painted the other way round. Surely there is beauty so profound in every being it just takes some delving sometimes to see it? Do we not like the lion, and the tiger, and the crocodile? No? Ah yes, crocodiles are not quite so photogenic as to appeal. But have you ever seen a mother croc with her babies aboard? The great “Intentionality” in life is the real divider behind what we understand as truly ugly, and what is just natural. How would you like to be the pretty little lady-bug being unwittingly masticated by a bovine? What a bad ox!

But each time we purposefully hurt and betray and harm we forget our essential beauty. And our pop culture, our televisions and newspapers and images and art and words and films and stories and fears create for us an ongoing sense of the monsters behind our perceptions of innocence. The post-apocalyptic world is presented as essentially self-serving, so invariably dystopian. Is the beast in us all?

Thoughts of Original Sin ought carefully to be examined. As a cardinal concept it is a fulcrum around which fear for the future continues to profit. We purchase our relics; we pay for our sins; we procure ourselves a spot in heaven. We are thereby leavened, purified, made again innocent. And all the while we live we perpetuate our sense of shame at being alive with this ugliness within. How dreadful. How very painful. “The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons.” How seemingly inescapable! And how very debilitating to feel, no matter what, that I wear only a mask. How very difficult it is then for one to see oneself as but a molecule of the whole that has form and identity given it by the very life in which one grows up, that one leads, that one conceives of as true and real and viable.

Yes, let’s take the masks off, and thereby reveal the loving and connected beings that we are; or does that really go against the grain? Hm???  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Complementary Cousins (Guest Response)

My cousin, Engela Mawson Ellis writes in response to my previous essay, Provoking Pictures:

I fully get and empathize with your confidence thieving, authenticity crushing childhood fear of making a mistake and the completely disproportionate punishment. 

It seems the flavour of many adults of the last generation in SA was anger and shame! In our family, most childhood 'incidents' were met with violent punishment. The "wet your pants" kind of fear was present on several occasions. I too have had to deal with my feelings around childhood lies but have thankfully realized that it was merely self-preservation! If you wanted to survive AND be the inquisitive, fun loving child you were meant to be - boy you had to learn to be very creative. Survival of the fittest? 

I am proud to report that my generation has struck much less fear in the hearts of children, but the children still lie, not out of fear of physical pain, but out of fear of disappointing and or any kind of discomfort around being caught being human.

I am prouder still to hear the approach of the current generation of young Parents when dealing with mistakes that would require owning up and possible punishment or consequences. They sympathize with the children about their mistake and will say something like this: "Aaah no, I'm so sorry that you messed up like that, now I will have to take away a privilege for a while whilst you learn that there are consequences" There is questioning: "Why do you think it is wrong to do ...?" There is understanding and awareness, not just force and indoctrination which our egos just reject anyway.

Like most things, fear also has a good side in some instances. It makes us aware, fully alert and present to consequences. We should trust our guts more when fear is felt there, see it as a possible warning and investigate it, not explain it away in our heads as many adults do or merely let it overpower us so that our fear has us in its clutches – and we do not have our fear in control. Possibly we should examine what is our relationship to fear? Do we feel it, question it and then take control of it, or do we just allow it to wash over us and freeze us?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Provoking Pictures

One is not always honourable. A single picture can provoke much in memory. And memories are not always good. Aside from the unfairness of advertising, the objectification and belittling of women, the crumple zones of impact upon a populace at large, there are the individual impacts we each perpetrate in the immaturity of our considerations as we evolve toward adulthood, and even then, as adults, we do not necessarily continue with clarity, with truth, with honesty, with ethics, with integrity. We are befuddled. And yes, I speak of more than crumpling a VW's fender. "Women are soft and gentle, but they hit things," is the advert's opener.

Much can be made of excuses. When a culture is predominantly brutal it teaches children to lie. It is easier to get away with things than to own up. Honesty is squelched in the face of fear or unfair reprisals, harsh consequences, and inordinate accountability. Especially in South Africa, where I grew up; one learned to keep secrets. Parents, church, school, peers, colleagues, the boarding school, the army, and even society maintained a sense of shaming way beyond the moment. To own up was to be punished, yes, but to be punished severely, caned, whipped, vilified, and traduced for the rest of one's life. (An uncle of mine who committed a childhood indiscretion was never allowed to forget it; every little cousin was reminded of how they did not want to be like Uncle X.) In boarding school one could get an unsavoury nick-name from being caught at something untoward, and in the army, the whole troop might pay for a foul-up by a single unfortunate. So one learned never to rat on anyone else, never to own up to the mistakes made, unless self-evident, and never to disclose vulnerability, softness, emotional honesty, or any of the misadventures of the exploring nature of youth. In Africa there remains many secrets in the sunsets of yesterdays. And there are indelicacies even here being perpetuated. Why, over here, Mr X or Ms Y will not ever be told what we really think of them, will they? Even now.

But, with reference to the picture of that VW Bug, seen above, I speak of the crumple zones in my youth. I have often felt guilty for the lies I told. And especially with that bug, I wonder that I was not hauled up for retribution, for accountability, for repayment, especially in the face of the fact that no one else could have damaged the car except me. But fear drove my response.

Mevrou F.J. Human was our Afrikaans language teacher. She was possibly 35, or even 40, which was old to me, and I was in my last year. I had just got my licence, and there was possibly only a month of school left. And on this day, for whatever reason, she acceded to my borrowing her car to go and see my mother in the hospital (which may have been my story.) I recall driving her VW to my friend's house, and then, Wally not being there, my turning the car around in his stone-walled driveway, and my hearing that unmistakeable scraping sound as the distant front fender buckled. But I returned the car and said nothing. I recall (now more than 40 years later) her asking me the next day or so if it was me who banged up her car. In my mind’s eye I can still feel my heart pounding, "Not me!" After all, I recall that her car was pretty old and the dent not that bad. Also, I had no money, no resources, no one I could rely on to bail me out financially, and I certainly was afraid she'd send me to the headmaster or some such authority. Fear does horrid things to ethical considerations. Fear fabricates. Fear cripples. Fear crumples integrity. Yet then again, perhaps I did `fess up?

That guilt of my instinctual inability to admit my culpability remains with me; resurrects. Even if I did tell the truth, I recall the fear so vividly that it colours my memory with shame, guilt, and my self-preservation. Then too, by our possible over-reactions to others' confession, do we as individuals or a society continue however inadvertently teaching children and others to lie? Fear is an awful master. And fear is not easily fixable. Yes?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Forever Friends?

Friends stay friends even if they do not reciprocate. At least, for me they do. It matters not that I have not heard from one or the other, let alone seen someone in months or years or decades. On sight of some old long lost friend there is a spark in my heart; this is someone I still care for! But the respective degrees of that care is highly relevant. To one I would give all my available money, to another none. One I would go rescue in some far flung country, another I would leave to their own devices. One I would not hesitate to invite into my house, another I prefer to meet at some impersonal venue. Seems for me that it is the degree of their reciprocity on which I am dependent; not an equivocal reciprocity, but an emotional one. There is a mercurial link that allows me to love another so deeply that my regard is unconditional, while many other friends are peripheral, temporary, and momentary, no matter how much I like them. And I have wrestled with guilt over my seeming fickleness. But there also has to be a boundary to how much of me I can share, for in my fields of operations I have met many thousands of 'friends' along the way.

Naturally, acquaintances and friends and colleagues and family and even strangers all are differentiated. Catching the eye of a stranger is sometimes to feel total accord. Real friends have a category that suggests intimacy beyond acquaintanceship. No student of mine can really be my friend until they are no longer under my supervisory care. Many a cast member in my career as a theatre director has befriended me, but, well, there is no longer a reason for them to contact me, I surmise. And so too for my colleagues in education. I do not reach out to all, nor they to me. Put to pasture as I am, I am an old horse who no longer pulls a cart, is not ridden, has no use, and cannot quite be made into glue. It is but my neighing across the fence that still may attract attention. Yet even so, there are precious few who acknowledge that I'm even here. But yes, it cuts both ways!

Yes, I know that reaching out to friends and writing to them and asking questions and involving them directly in your life is the way to keep the connection alive. I have such a friend in her 90's who writes me from an ocean away almost daily, and another my age, who writes almost daily too, whom I have known longer than any other friend, for we were boys together. And some of my friends write infrequently. And some write hardly at all. And I, like them, do the same. Our friendship is not questioned. Should occasion grant us time we will hug and share and be caring and be glad for each other's company. And then we'll move on. I shall go back to grazing in the valley of my aging. Some of them shall go on clambering the mountain tops. Such are degrees.

If you're reading this it is most likely because we 'still' know each other. And somewhere in our knowing there has been a degree of friendship shared. You and I and he and she are everything, I believe. We are ugly and beautiful and selfish and noble and everything all at once; it is the degrees of predominance in any one of us, however subtle, that differentiates. And evidently the more similar our tastes and interests the more ready we are to dance with each other, let alone graze side by side. When one likes people, loves the very soul in any human being, it is easy to be a friend; but to have reciprocity, ah, that is a magical thing. As Wyatt Earp said to Doc Holiday, "I like your cut." It has something more than the way a person dresses, than their physiognomy, their talent, or their education; it is something about their outlook on life that is commensurate with yours that most attracts one to another. In Holland's Theory, it simply is stated: birds of a feather!

I am an old horse. Yet my future is still before me. What I have yet to produce will bring me yet more acquaintances, more friends, and new people to love. And if you are still reading this it is not that you were once a friend, but that you still are. It is just that we may not much share much that is personal any more. But should I see you, the love for you will still pour from my eyes. You? 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

No Matter What?

Shall I speak of my specific sins? Will such a confession allow you to speak of yours? Shall I show you my shame? Will you reveal yours, see yours, find yours, go looking? At which point is all this stuff about me ever really important to you; or is it at our intersection of consciousness that we relate? And when we actually do meet, do the specifics matter? No matter what? Does it help you to know that I stole the money off the bedroom dresser when I was six? Should I know that you were entirely self-serving when you seduced your first prospect? When I betrayed, lied, cheated, stole, did you not even once do so too? And now that we are older than all that, what sins do we continue to commit? Are our mistakes ones of withholding truth, withholding intimacy, and withholding perception? Do we continue our shame, being at our extremes either more-than or less-than human? We want to be perfect, or we don't give a damn. Degrees of the shades of getting greyer vacillate in-between, but essentially we are driven by the need to protect our ego within the degrees of this debatable dichotomy: To strive, or just to be left to be.

My specific sins haunt me. I shudder at certain reflections, can taste the bitterness of my once upon a time foolishness, churn the old misdeed over, or even chuckle at my hubris, my silliness of maturational mistakes; but then I remind myself of the essence of forgiveness: without consciousness of forgiving others, how can I possibly forgive myself? I could not do better!

No matter who did what dastardly deed, some essential trip-switch of insight was not within reach sufficient to stop them, or me, or you, for that matter. We may see the switch, know how to operate it, be reaching for it even, but ego, immaturity, desire, want, or plain obstinacy then takes over, and we drive too fast, drink too much, take what is not ours, or say the thing that hurts. Such is humanity. Yet forgiveness does not condone, nor does it excuse; it understands.

Understanding does not necessarily bring about compassion; different words are indeed used for a different reason. Understanding can stay intellectual. Compassion, being more, is always aimed at being entirely inclusive. As such, accepting the self, and others, arises from the certain knowledge that we cannot in a given moment do other than we do, than we have done, and so forgiveness allows for that moment, knowing that there is more than that moment to be reached for too. Compassion does not condone; it sees that one is but part of a greater whole.

"Ah but thy reach should exceed thy grasp, or what's a heaven for?" said the poet. And indeed being more-than human would go along with that. Perfectionism has its downfalls, its pitfalls, its frustrations. So does not giving a damn. We each are wrought from the daily grist. We each are moulded by the hands of habit. And we each are here, purpose-driven or not. Acceptance would have us just that: accepting of everyone's process of being alive. Not all need to look things up.

My specific sins make up a long list. So many names, hurt. So many misdeeds, done. So many self-serving thoughts, spent. So many opportunities to do better, lost. But in the face of all that, I can bring to bear the good things of my life too. Is there a balance? Does one outweigh the other? Time and circumstance and intention marry in the purpose-driven-life; so too for the one who neither cares nor pays heed; awareness indeed differentiates. Where I crack, there is light.

If you've read this far then you've journeyed with me through this pedantry, this pontification, this  pretentiousness. And mayhap there be some seed sown of forgiveness of the self (if not of others) in the vastness of possibility, or not. I only know that some undeniable energy drives me on to cheep so into the wilderness, like a little bird calling out for sustenance, even though some snake may be alerted to its very presence. We make a noise, or we be silent. Either way, we breathe into life until we have no breath left to give. And we all 'sin', naturally, all along the way. And therein lies much matter, in-deed.