Friday, October 7, 2016
It seems as though that all too frequently I’m getting abrupt reminders of the aging process. I speak of my own, of course. Sometimes these reminders are subtle but other times they come at me like a brutal slap in the face. Something happened yesterday that, to most folks, would not seem like a big thing at all. But, to me, it was that brutal slap I just mentioned.
It was a comfortably warm day—sun shining, winds calm. I got in the car to run a simple errand. My destination took me out on a scenic and winding farm-to-market highway for a few miles and the drive was pleasant—so pleasant that I began to daydream, both hands draped over the top of the steering wheel. I was suddenly yanked back to the moment by a feeling of closeness. I looked in the rear-view mirror and noticed a car tailgating me dangerously close. Following that vehicle were a number of others, looking much like a slithering snake. I was the head. A quick check of the speedometer told me everything I need to know as to the reason. The speed limit was sixty-five. I was going forty. It was a simple fix. I sped up to the speed limit and the cars began to loosen behind me. That should have been the end of it. Right?
Well, it wasn’t.
The episode brought to mind a time many years ago that I was riding along with my aging father on our way to town from the farm we lived on. He, too, had his arms draped over the steering wheel, seemingly oblivious. He smoked a pipe and had it clenched between his teeth, puffing methodically, having no concerns whatsoever . . . apparently. We were in a highway construction zone where no passing was allowed. The old rattle-trap of a pickup we were in rolled along at about thirty miles per hour. I turned to see a long string of cars behind us. Well, I figured that he just hadn’t noticed how slow he was driving. So, I offered a gentle reminder, “Dad, you might want to speed up a little. It seems we’re holding up traffic.”
In a way that only another farmer would understand, Dad stopped puffing on that pipe and turned his head slowly to face me. I couldn’t determine if he wanted to slap me or offer fatherly advice. In that moment, I could see it going either way.
He turned back to again look down the highway and resumed puffing on his pipe. I said nothing more. After a few seconds, “If they wanted to get there sooner, they should have left earlier,” he said in an uncanny calm manner. He didn’t vary his speed at all.
I remember becoming quietly angry at his total lack of highway etiquette and stewed over it the rest of that day.
Now, in my case, I did accelerate once I noticed how slowly I was going but I thought, as I finished my short drive, that all those people following me should have left earlier if they wanted to get there sooner. That thought gave me an age-reminding shiver.
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Tuesday, March 22, 2016
Something interesting happened the other day. It concerns a dynamic that has been consistent over a forty-six-year marriage that, for the first time, I saw from a different angle, or, through fresh eyes, if you will. It started as a simple question from my wife in the kitchen. She asked, “Does your clock show the day and date?”
My first thought was: What does she mean by ‘my clock?’ I glanced around the kitchen at the wall oven clock, the coffeemaker clock, and the clock behind me on the wall. So, I asked what I thought was a reasonable follow-up question, “Do you mean my wristwatch?”
“Your clock,” she replied in raised voice tinged with frustration, as if repeating the same words louder would somehow magically add clarity to the question. I began to smile and nod at her, and then I asked as gently as I could, “I just need you to define ‘my clock’. Would you do that for me, and maybe I can answer your question?”
My smile may have been closely akin to a George W. Bush smirk, so I’ll accept blame here when I tell you that she rolled her eyes, tossed her hands into the air and became louder still. “Your clock! Your clock! For God’s sake how many times do I have to say it?”
A boisterous laugh came out of me so fast that I couldn’t stop it. Of course, that aggravated her even more and she whirled around and marched away, which gave me time to think. The only other clocks in the house that I could think of were the wall clock above the television in the living room and the alarm clock next to the bed. Neither showed day nor date. I let the question go unanswered because I didn’t know which clock she was referring to. Maybe I’d forgotten one and, clearly, asking again would probably lead to a divorce.
I thought about her question and wondered why she didn’t simply offer a location for the clock she was asking about. It would have been simple, quick and not at all memorable. That led me to analyze previous contentious conversations when I would press her for more details, just so I could develop an understanding of whatever it was she happened to be talking about. Some of those conversations were important but most were as inane as the exchange I’ve described here. I usually just give up after a couple of shots at getting additional details, nod stupidly and go back to what I was doing.
And then I remembered how often she’ll toss out tidbits of information about one of those conversations days or even weeks later. Of course I’ll deny awareness of it because it usually leaves my mind in a matter of seconds afterward. Her responses are always fairly consistent. They go something like these: “We just talked about that last week,” or “I told you about it yesterday,” or “You never listen to anything I say, do you?”
It occurred to me like a lightning bolt, that she is reserving spin potential for later conversations or arguments, or plausible deniability, because she can later take anything she says and spin it if necessary to win a later argument because she will never button down a statement or question with irrefutable facts. Pretty smart, I’d say. She should have been a politician.
I need to ask her someday if that conversational style is intentional or just a happy accident. But, that’s an argument for another day.
Saturday, March 5, 2016
Attention deficit disorder is a common, and commonly discussed, problem these days. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t know what it is, at least peripherally so. It, like phobias, sort of has become the punch line of many jokes. And, it’s certainly nothing I have ever deeply considered and, as it applies to me, never—until recently.
Allow me to relate a quick story that began this thought process. My wife and I were having breakfast with a dear friend and she was telling us everything that had been going on in her life since our last conversation. And, let me say this right now, I was indeed interested. Heck, she was simply responding to my question, so why wouldn’t I be interested? But, as I listened, here’s what happened inside my head: She said something that triggered a thought. I don’t remember what it was. What it related to, I can’t remember that either. I just know the thought was like the cue ball hitting the eight ball and smacking my attention directly into some other universe. It triggered a splay of alternate ways something might play out with various outcomes. When my attention returned to what she was saying, there was about a thirty second gap in what she was telling me. Of course, I embarrassed myself when I asked a question that did not at all pertain to what she had just said.
At first, I blamed it on being a novelist—dreaming up story concepts, plot and sub-plot arcs, characterizations, and all that sort of stuff. It does take a fair amount of concentration, often to the exclusion of things going on around me. But, over the next several days after that breakfast episode, I became aware of all the times in my life that this has happened and continues to happen, up to several times each day. Many of the episodes end with me being mortified by my rude, but inadvertent, loss of attention. I now know this is the reason I became the class clown all the way through elementary, middle, and high school. When the teacher asked a question about what she had just talked about, I had to laugh off not knowing what was going on somehow. Acting goofy was the preferred diversionary tactic. Needless to say, I was in the Principal's office a lot.
I have to admit, though, there is a bit of comfort coming to terms with it. I’ve always had it. I just never thought to give it a name—attention deficit disorder.
But that sounds too clinical. I prefer to call it daydreaming. And, now that my work and my world are wrapped up in writing the best novels I possibly can, the episodes are becoming more frequent and longer lasting.
So, I will take this opportunity to go ahead and apologize to all my friends and family. If you find yourself in a conversation with me and see my eyes glaze over, just know it’s not that I think you’re boring. You just happened to say something that I seized on and, without trying, my thoughts shot off in a different direction. No matter what it is, it will likely wind up written into a story. Now, that’s pretty cool. Don’t you think?
Sunday, February 14, 2016
Just as there is a specific number of years placed on an item before it is referred to as an antique, is there, or should there be, a specific period of time pass before we use the word history? Or, is anything past this current moment fair game?
As of late, I’ve had a well-worn quote circling my thoughts: “Those who cannot remember or do not study history are doomed to repeat it.” I don’t think it’s a mystery why it’s currently floating without tether in my head. Every major election year we hear it or think about it in some fashion.
And then, this past week a really good Ray Bradbury quote began circulating on Facebook that I’ve since printed and taped to my office wall. It goes: “The problem in our country isn’t with books being banned, but with people no longer reading. You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
Those two quotes began doing a harmonious dance between my ears. But, my thoughts are going far beyond politics to our present state of cultural change and how rapidly it’s doing so. It has become a way of life that moves so quickly for many that taking time to read a book simply does not happen often and even that number seems to be shrinking. I’m not sure many folks under forty (let’s say) even read newspapers any longer, online or in hand. Even affording the time to read articles takes too long.
It seems we are electronically spoon-fed everything we know and come to develop opinions in sound bites, snippets, and cherry-picked Bible verses. Unfortunately, those totally inadequate pieces of information, which are sometimes no more than slogans, become not simply opinions but hard facts to many.
We only need to look at the tech savvy generation to realize that most everyone has access to what is happening globally and know it instantly but, just as quickly, set information aside and move on to the next tantalizing tidbit of information after mere minutes, maybe seconds, later. So, flooding the consciousness with dibs and dabs of information that history, to them, becomes fifteen minutes ago. I’m really beginning to believe that we, all of us, are taking this living-in-the-moment thing too far. Taking time for reflection (a bit farther back than fifteen minutes) is more than simply healthy for a way of life, but vitally necessary to its survival.
It would behoove us all greatly to know and understand all the major cultures that preceded this current one. We should want, and definitely need, to know how empires, kingdoms, and entire civilizations rose and fell—more importantly, why? And, please believe me, I’m not pointing an accusatory finger at anyone more than at myself. It’s a shared responsibility.
If we cannot know, as intimately as possible, the origins and demise of Sumer, Egypt, Rome, Aztecs, Olmecs, Incas—where they came from, what they believed, how they lived, and why they went away—we are destined to travel the same path. And from what I’m seeing, thanks to the speed of global communication and technology, we are on that path at an accelerated speed. Do you really want power hungry people and ideologues—politicians and religious leaders—dictate what you believe? I thought not. Me neither.
Friday, January 29, 2016
It’s spoken of and written about all the time: As we get older, the less we care what other people think about how we look, what we say, or anything that would have driven us into a frenzy of self-loathing in our younger years. So, to all you people out there over sixty I want to pose a question aimed directly at you: How’s your patience holding up?
I spent over two decades in television sales and during those years it would be difficult to put a number on the months, even years, lost while waiting in lobbies and reception areas for clients to see me. I never put a calculator to it, but it would not surprise me in the slightest to discover that I had spent four forty-hour weeks a year sitting on my behind waiting for someone to do something so I could get on with my day. Or, in my personal life, waiting in doctor’s and dentist’s offices, or just waiting in the car for my wife, whose promised five minute trip into a store turned into an hour. Needless to say that by necessity I learned to be extremely patient and endured those years without a whimper. Well… there might have been a few whimpers. The point is, these are just examples. The list alone with no narrative could go on for several pages, I’m sure.
Ever-increasing impatience now defines me. And, I really don’t give a tinker’s damn if people think of me as curmudgeonly. Here’s the thing, and the reason I’m writing this blog at this time, I’ve always responded to someone’s direct request for help, and quite often immediately. I would not have been asked for assistance if they didn’t need it at that moment, or so I wish to believe. Here’s where the crotchety kicks in; when someone asks for help and I leap up and walk or drive to them ready to offer assistance but they decide I should wait patiently while they take care of something else first. Sorry, but I’m not going to wait patiently, or at all.
Several times in the past week this has happened. The way I have chosen to handle these situations is to simply say, “Okay,” and walk away without explaining why and not be there when they finally get around to actually needing the help. Let’s call it my version of a teachable moment about when to request the help. If they’re dumbfounded; good.
As we age, what would be the incentive to wait for anybody or anything? I know that to say “life is too short” is cliché, but it does fit quite nicely here. The clock spins faster as we age, or so it seems, and whatever our remaining goals are have to spin equally as fast to fit them into this lifetime. So, I hope you will excuse me when I refuse to wait until you get around to it… whatever ‘it’ happens to be.
Friday, January 15, 2016
Yesterday, as I scrolled the Facebook timeline, I ran across a post by a dear old friend. It was a share from somewhere else. You know the type; a bit of text that is philosophical, advisory or, perhaps, just plain old clever word play. This particular post said something like (paraphrasing), If you can’t carry on a conversation without using profanity, you’re not much of a conversationalist—or I don’t want to hear it—or talk to someone else… something along those lines, followed by a, can I get an amen or a share. Well, I did read it but scrolled on to other things. Later, I thought about it and when I did, I remembered the “7 Dirty Words” bit that the late great comedian, George Carlin, performed a number of years ago. So, I logged onto YouTube and listened to it again. It’s just as funny and thought provoking now as it was the first time I saw it many years ago. Although Carlin played his performances for laughs, the man was a master at putting things the world takes for granted into perspective.
I’ve been a novelist since 1998, full time since 2002. In the early years I was schooled many times by editors, agents, and publishers much smarter than I am about word choice—over usage, wrong usage, or the evils of adverbs. I also learned that using obscure words requiring the reader to pull out a dictionary is a fast way to break a readers flow and yank them right out of the plot, distractions a novelist certainly does not want to saddle their fans with. Other heinous distractions are typos, grammatical errors and, sometimes, the use of profanity. And now we’re back to dirty words.
The subject of profanity has always fascinated me. When I was a child, growing up on a cotton farm on the South Plains of Texas, I spent much time among farmers hanging out at a cotton gin office near my boyhood home. It was the de facto place to socialize, usually around a domino table. The language I was fed a steady diet of were all of George Carlin’s 7 dirty words, plus quite a few more, broken up by mumbles and grunts. So my tolerance for profanity is very high. I have to reel my own tongue back in occasionally. Salty language comes far too naturally to me. That said, I do attempt to be respectful of folks attitudes against its use and not spout obscenities willy-nilly in any crowd, like some I know.
Now for the good stuff—the questions: What makes a word, any word, profane? For every bad word, there are a number of others that mean the same thing. Why aren’t those profane? At what point in our history were certain words labeled as dirty, and by whom? Did popes, ministers, preachers, and politicians all get together one day around a conference table and agree on an ooh-ick factor for certain words? Or, maybe, it wasn’t words defining certain acts, but the acts themselves. That makes some sense to me. Maybe people were embarrassed by talk of sex, fecal matter, bodily functions, etc. Therefore, various descriptors were not to be spoken of. If so, it simply goes in a circle and we’re back to the question: Why? What makes any of these things taboo to talk about, using any language form?
Fascinating subject, I believe. And not without hard opinions, I’m sure… just not from me.