The Human Condition of Toxicity

This is not a tale of our environment trashed and gone rogue on our poor souls. This is the story of just one woman – a woman who I both despise and pity, a woman who is obviously evil and hurting. So does the latter negate the former? Maybe, in theory, but not in practice. Our actions are our own, no matter what the extenuating circumstances – maybe not in the eyes of the law, but in the practice of the person and the outcomes they beget. For it is not some statute or former case that decides this sort of guilt, but the suffering of the innocent players. A well-paid lawyer can turn his eye to her actions, but no one in her cross-hairs can.

Okay, that’s a rather overblown beginning just to talk about a regular person in the regular world going about her life in a regular job among regular professionals. So what makes her so evil? That is the question – and that is why I am torn about her. I had the opportunity to work with this person for about a year. It began with warnings about her from those who knew her, but I saw none of the serial negativity they described. In fact, it appeared we were on an entirely different track. She seemed to like us and what we did, she even, and this is where I should have seen it coming, acted as if we were in cahoots as she quickly denigrated her colleagues conspiratorially almost immediately when we were alone. I was taken aback as it was entirely unprofessional, but I didn’t think much of it at the time. Mistake, that.

Needless to say, she turned. Her vitriol was soon pointed my way, and you could see that the cahoots was now among others and we were the denigrated and trashed. It’s mostly over, and I certainly don’t judge myself in her eyes, and I’m angry and even shocked that she gets away with what she does, but ultimately I pity her. She’s old. She’s alone. She’s bitter. I can imagine that this is her purpose – so much easier and more powerful to be small, malevolent and angry than to do the work required to make good, make friends and even love. She fills her emptiness with that contempt. She doesn’t deserve that life. Something outside her led her there. No one chooses to be that toxic because there’s never a happy ending. Only endings. And lots of them.

I can’t despise her. I can only feel bad for her. I’m a karma guy. I believe, despite my reality-soaked, scientific enlightenment bent, that somehow she’ll have to pay for these actions, but then again, maybe she already is. We reap what we sow, not in some distant imagined place of suffering, but right here and right now. Bless her.

The art of knowing you’re no artist

A good buddy of mine suggested painting lessons recently because essentially I suck at painting. I really do. I definitely suck from most people’s point of view – t’were it you saw my so-called paintings. That’s because I’ve no training at all. Nor do I with music or sculpture. All things I do a lot.

So there sort-of begins the conversation, right? I do these things without any formal training but only, and maybe selfishly, because I really, really dig doing them. I shape heads out of clay. I paint faces on whatever surface I want to – actual canvasses, basement floors, walls, beams, sheets of already printed-on paper. I grab my guitar, play chords poorly, and sing whatever the hell I’m thinking at that moment. And I have the gall to record it, douche bag that I am.

And now don’t be surprised, but none of it is winning any awards.

I know it might be pure laziness that I don’t take the time to learn how to paint an apple in the manner that the masters have. “You must paint an apple, before you can paint a tree,” I can imagine my zen-like artist teacher telling me. But I really don’t want to paint apples. I like painting silly, ever-evolving, cartoonish faces, all the time.

I bought my first 50 lb box of clay without anyone telling me even what the hell was in the box. Clay-like stuff, I figured, rightly. And since then I’ve shaped heads – lots of them. Should I have copied the great works to learn how to sculpt? Certainly, to learn how to sculpt like the masters, but I kind of just wanted to make heads and whatever heads came out of some hours of grabbing, slapping, rolling and shaping the clay, were exactly the heads I really, really wanted to make. That’s why I bought the clay.

It’s like that horrible cliché – it’s the journey and not the destination. But in this case it’s really true. The joy is in the process, the work, and the serendipitous outcome of non-talent meeting rigor. A passionate idea evoked through the foggy lens of a cipher – just some guy messing around with notes, or colors, or clay. It ain’t great, I promise you that. It may not even be art. But it’s me, really quite unfiltered by actual teaching or maybe even talent.

But it’s all good because I don’t want to be good. I just want to do it. I’ve no designs on being an artist, but I do like to make shit up.

Big History

This is really important – funny to say considering he’s talking essentially about everything – everything we can (or think we) know through all of history – Big Bang to now. Big History.

Mr. Christian both illuminates our tiny, tiny, tiny place in Big History; but also shows us how vitally important our place is in it – at least in regards to our own survival – that being the survival of the most complex, learned, and learning organisms we know to have existed. It’s not simply hubris to say we’re crazy amazing!

It reminds us that our obliteration would be both the saddest thing we could know, and ultimately, just an infinitesimally small blip in Big History. Humbling, to say the least.

Every kid should watch this every year, at least, as a reminder to just how simultaneously small, yet hugely important, a person they are in Big History.

I Know A Guy

I know a guy knows everything.
You know that guy? I know you do.
He lives right down the street from you.
No matter what you think you do,
he’ll tell you what you ought to do.

His wife, she knows he knows, it’s true:
“He says,” she says, “that red is blue.”
And certainly she’s certain, too,
That blue is blue and red is, too.

I know a guy’s done everything.
You know that guy? I know you do.
He’s done it all once more than you.
You say to him,
“I once fell from a jet airliner.
Thank god I had a carabiner,
For as I hit the atmosphere,
I passed a purple elephant ear,
Saw angels playing synthesizers,
And fans who cheered from balsa risers,
And landed on a 10-foot crow,
who brought me safely down below.”

“That’s nice,” he’ll bleat,
“but my crow was 22 feet.”

what do you hear?

“The faculty of embarrassment was located in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex by neurologists who made brain-damaged subjects sing along to “My Girl” and then listen to their own singing played back without musical accompaniment.”

From Harper’s Findings June 2011

Forget “brain-damaged”, most people are at first uncomfortable with their own voice when they hear it played back on another device – even embarrassed. Somehow the resonance of our voice in our heads often sounds quite different from how we sound to the rest of the world, and that sudden realization can be startling. Why is that? Is it just the surprise that we sound different? Personally, I was shocked at just how nasally I sounded playing back my voice on our little cassette recorder as a kid. I remember asking, “Is that how I sound?” And my sister giving me the bad news.

Makes me wonder, too, whether people hear other people’s voices differently from one another, possibly related to the size, shape and location of the ear and ear drum. Could it be that my daughter’s enjoyment of the singing of her pubescent Disney stars is related to just how differently her ear is to mine? Why is it that bagpipes make me want to tear my ears off while others find them beautiful?

I’ve often wondered if other people see colors differently as well. Is my blue your green? Why should they be the same exactly? To me it actually makes more sense that we all see them somewhat differently, if not completely. My brown is your gray. Without any prodding as far as I can tell, my daughter fell in love with pink as a color – as so many young girls do, but I’m certain (no, hopeful) that “my girl” will soon learn to love other colors as vividly. Something oddly creepy about an older woman purposely surrounding herself in too much pink.

To each his or her own, I suppose, and for good reason maybe.

learn after you leap

“Scientists concluded that … frogs learned to leap before they learned how to land,” which is obvious at one level, I suppose, but also inspiring at another. Not only for many of us who experience a certain amount of trepidation when up against that moment that separates the leapers from the losers, but for frogs, as well, who’ve been relegated to croaking, slow-moving blobs by much of popular culture.

It’s hard to learn how to land without leaping first, but having the fortitude to leap first is where the excitement begins. Suddenly, I wish I were more like a frog.