Archive for February, 2012

Bridge repair

February 28, 2012

Here’s a story that came to me as I was walking this morning along the bike path.

There’s a bridge across a river, important for the flow of raw materials and the goods made from them, from one side of the river to the other, from one community to another, and then back again.  There’s a series of storms, and the center of the bridge collapses.  The people living on either side of the bridge realize they have to work together to repair the bridge.  To do this they establish new links with each other, including by phone and by mail, maybe even by email and Skype.  They realize in the course of planning and executing the bridge repair that they can also share how they have developed their own contribution to the resource exchange that use to characterize their relationship, and that’s especially how the people on one side of the river view the upshot of their collaboration.  But for the people on the other side, it’s more about how they re-established any connection at all, and a collaborative one at that, and how they figured out an overland route to use in the interim.

Unfinished business

February 27, 2012

I don’t pretend to understand Facebook.  My son helped me establish a rudimentary presence there so I could accept the NYTimes offer to post comments on their website “without moderation.”  (It’s somewhat unclear to me what that actually means.)  I finally felt moved to do even that (establish a rudimentary presence) when I fell for some spam comments here — that experience gave me more understanding of why the NYTimes requires some sort of third-party verification.

But now that I am on Facebook, I have a small sense of how it can be used.  It strikes me as an interesting mechanism for resolving unfinished business.  People can offer amends, and that feels like receiving a gift.  Or people can reveal nothing has changed, and that’s helpful, too, because the same old, same old can look different, and that provides release, too.

I suspect that that’s not really what it’s for, though.  But what I’m wondering, since I don’t really find it my métier, whether I am not particularly likely to find other people like myself through Facebook, since for them, too, it wouldn’t be their métier, either.

I’ve thought about this phenomenon before, in the context of support groups.  Support groups consist of the people with the targeted issue who are able to get to a support group, it is a self-selected population.  My impression is that this is being addressed now through things like on-line meetings and email groups and other forms of networking, but again, it puts together people who use those media comfortably and have characteristics correlated with that.

As someone who seems to have brokered a resolution between people who were so similar to each other in certain respects that they couldn’t reconcile as a dyad (they needed an intermediary), I can see some limitations of like attracting only like.  As an “intermediary,” though, it’s not that I long to belong to more of a network of intermediaries than I already do; it’s more that I feel a need to find the equivalent of a context for people who have completed that kind of work and are looking for a “second career” that suits the strengths and weakness of someone who adapted themselves, and was impacted by, the spiritual work of finding resolution for two people who each insisted that they were the needy victim and “owed” by the other.  I sometimes feel like the equivalent of one of those racing dogs who needs a new context after their racing days are over.  Not every new context will work.  But I’m pretty open to anything that does.


Jupiter and Earth

February 26, 2012

I was thinking about the planet Jupiter, especially the hypothesis that it’s a failed second star in a binary star system.  And I was thinking about how with all our electric lights, I imagine our planet Earth now appears somewhat lit up.  So I’m thinking that maybe that light show could be thought of as Earth’s memorial to Jupiter.

I was actually going to try to write that idea up as a poem, because I think it would “go down” better as a piece of art than as a sort of peculiar prosaic idea, but I’m not feeling poetic or energetic enough to try to express it in the language of art.


February 26, 2012

Last week, when I wrote a post about finding an orange on the way home after having exclaimed that I need oranges, not just apples (a metaphor for needing things within in a relationship that I wasn’t getting), I was aware that plenty of people would label that as coincidence, as a random event that I happened to notice for my own reasons.

I am wondering, though, how other people might explain my experience today with my toast.

I was toasting a small piece of sweet Greek bread from the end of a loaf, and I was aware when I put it up that it might burn if I left it in for too long.  But I went ahead and started reading something on the computer across the room, with my back and side towards the toaster oven.  However many clicks and screens later, it suddenly occurred to me to check the toast, and I abruptly left what I was reading and walked over to the counter, and when I opened the door (it was still in the midst of the toasting cycle), I discovered the toast was just at the point I like.

I don’t know what the mechanism is for that.  And it doesn’t, I admit, always happen this way: Friday morning, I think it was, I burned my breakfast while I was watching Jesse’s play “Cry Out” on YouTube.  Then I was too engrossed to hear, I suppose.  Maybe that’s what the combination of these toasting events illustrates, how detachment allows a person to listen.


February 24, 2012

I’ve spent most of the day doing bureaucratic paperwork involving things like health insurance, college financial aid, and other financial matters, and I started thinking about how I react within those kinds of interactions.

I suspect I take more time trying to understand and square away details than some people do, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the customer service representatives find my “thoroughness” tedious.  It occurred to me today to think about whether I’ve always been this way, and I think the answer is that I don’t think I have.

I suspect I harbor somewhere not terribly deep in my mind how unexpectedly difficult seemingly straightforward bureaucratic situations became in the past, how plenty of claims that a small problem was merely a small problem proved not to be accurate, and people’s education, finances, health, freedom, lives, etc. were jeopardized and lost in ways that seemed as if the situations didn’t need to produce.

What interests me here is how the “costs” of those transactions have gotten shifted onto future transactions, as I try not to repeat those situations, even if it’s only the “surprise” part that I seek to control.  I’ve thought about this before in a slightly different way, and have come to think that the most helpful resolution for me is not to react so deeply to the stuff and trust I’ll be guided through it all — big potatoes, small potatoes, God and the universe can make mashed potatoes out of it all, which is to say, I will be helped through it regardless.

But when I’m not paying attention to downshifting into focusing on my faith and detachment, my fear infiltrates current interactions, and in the cases I’m talking about, I spend more time ironing out details that would probably take care of themselves as the transactions unfolded without so much time and energy paid to them in advance.  But I’ve become kind of hypervigilant.

Not all that interesting but I’m thinking it may be a generalizeable phenomenon, that some of the extremism in current American politics, for instance, might be traceable to people’s hypervigilance from how they have felt unpleasantly surprised from things like houses under water, pensions gone, 9/11, jobs gone — expectations of peace and stability and prosperity shattered.

So, when I get frustrated with hearing from other parts of the political spectrum how unhelpful it is for these people to endorse and insist on policies that objectively-speaking won’t produce the desired or predicted results, I think, what if we deescalated people’s fears?  Would they still go for the policies they gravitate towards now?  Would they still be attracted to the rhetoric and emotional delivery of the politicians they flock to?  Would they still act as if they need to believe in over-simplifications?

My sense is that we have shifted the costs of interacting cavalierly with people onto future transactions, and that all of us pay some of those costs.  To get back to where I started in this post, if I hadn’t gone through what I went through to in previous insurance situations, for example, would I be cross-examining administrators in new situations to make sure we’re all on the same page?  I doubt it, and I’m not sure we collectively benefit from the costs on the system when I do.

I guess my general point is that we all pay for not treating other people well.


February 23, 2012

I was listening recently to a live performance posted on YouTube of Joan Baez singing the song “Jesse” (which the post says is by Janis Ian).  I was listening to it over and over, in part to figure out whether it is about someone who has left and could actually come back, or about someone who has died.  I had been listening to Natalie Merchant’s “Beloved Wife,” the version on YouTube set to a clip from “About Schmidt” before clicking over to the “Jesse” performance, so that was part of where my thinking was coming from.

So, I got a real kick out of the fact that no, my dead husband was not coming back, but an old (very briefly dated) friend name Jesse popped up in my inbox to say hello and want to be facebook friends.

The universe is not unkind, just sometimes a little surprising with how I get an answer to a request I wasn’t aware of having made, and the answer comes back not as I would have thought, as if the universe answered the question I should have asked.  Because hearing from Jesse was more literal a response than I would have expected, had I been expecting one at all, and while we briefly dated and I am happy to be friends with him now, hearing from this person in this way it isn’t what I thought the yearning in my heart was about.  But maybe it’s the case that I don’t know actually what I need, what will help resolve my current emotional state.

Given that Jesse’s father and mine actually knew each other in college, but Jesse (and his sister Naomi) and I met at summer camp without knowing that, I tend to interpret this as indicating that it’s more important for me to clean up some old karma than to resolve directly my feelings of loss over my husband’s death in this situation.  I’m not altogether sure how the two are related, but they seem intermingled at this point, whether or not that is appropriate.  Maybe my grief has turned up an unexpected benefit, a resolution of old karma that would have been difficult to obtain without it.


Controlling libertarians

February 22, 2012

I give David Brooks credit for trying to make sense of people who want very little government involvement in things like business and finance but are comfortable with government involvement in things like contraception and bearing children without being married.  It came up in his Conversation with Gail Collins today, and I still can’t link (still waiting to hear back from WordPress), but here’s the address:

The passage I guess I would focus on is,

As to your larger point, I do think it’s consistent to be economically libertarian and socially paternalistic. In fact I’d argue dynamic capitalism requires a stringent and coherent social order to help guard against its savageries — tight families to educate children, anti-materialist values to police rampant consumerism, a spiritual public square to mitigate the corrosive culture of greedy self-interest.

Free market beliefs and socially conservative beliefs require each other, so long as those socially conservative beliefs are traditional, not theological. I’m for traditional values, with government playing a small role to support them. I get worried when some politician begins trying to legislate his faith’s version of Natural Law.

That’s David Brooks talking.

My first reaction is that what Brooks is really saying is that he finds it internally consistent in himself to be both economically libertarian and socially paternalistic.  I’d guess from his columns telling other people what to do that he’s okay with, well, telling other what to do.  What I have never seen is whether he later takes responsibility for the damage when things don’t go according to his script for the other people involved.  Paternalism as I’ve seen it tends to be big on the prescriptive dictates and light on the accountability end of things, usually with some sort of declination of responsibility, whether on the basis of cluelessness or principle.

But it’s certainly less interesting to see what Brooks said as just a reflection of his own stuff.  If I look at his argument as an idea, my first question is, how did we get from paternalism to traditional values?  Paternalism is about foisting, libertarianism is about not [foisting].   The inconsistency within the Republican position of backing off on environmental regulation while trying to regulate people’s consensual adult sexual activity and medical handling of issues involving sex is the foisting part, not the values part.  Even if traditional values complement a very free market, how can we justify forcing regulation on one while being against forcing regulation on the other?  If we can be inconsistent on the acceptability of force, then it must be on the grounds of the rightness of the substance of each position: that free business practices are good and so are traditional values, so we use whatever means we need to, however inconsistent with each other, to assure our society of both.

This, to me, is like saying to a student, please choose your own courses but wear this uniform to class — you can do it, even justify it, but it’s predicated on a separate assumption that you’re right about the uniforms and the cost/benefit of letting kids choose their courses.  It’s not consistent in terms of process or in terms of a larger policy of whether students should learn to make their own choices and become more independent — it’s picking and choosing issues according to something else.

In the libertarian economics / traditional values context, it’s a preexisting belief that free markets lead to good things and unfree social choice leads to good things, it’s not about the rights of the people in either context or a consistent process for sorting out what leads to good things and what doesn’t.

Sometimes I think it’s about a view of self-control, whether someone like David Brooks trusts people to exercise it.  In a sense, Brooks is saying no, he doesn’t, but he’s relegating its coercion to the social sector in the hopes it will also control the market sector.  He could make a different decision and say, no, I don’t trust people to exercise self-control in both places and therefore will regulate both directly.  Why he chooses to regulate one directly and one indirectly is something he hasn’t maybe addressed.  I harbor a suspicion that he feels more comfortable delegating his own decision-making in areas requiring self-control, on the one hand, to sets of rules in social relations, while, on the other hand, he trusts himself more in business situations.  But I think he hides behind that delegation (in the former situation) to avoid coming to grips with the possibility that choosing an option within the social rules does not mean self-control has been sufficiently exercised — if I need to save my allowance to buy my mother a present, what difference does it make that I have used the money for something also socially acceptable, when I instead buy my friend a present?

Probably what it comes down to is that I have a different pattern of thinking, that, when mapped over David Brooks’s pattern, is incongruent — that is, he probably makes sense to himself, as much as I think I make sense.  But I enjoy trying to understand what he’s seeing, or thinks he’s seeing, in some kind of hope on my part that he’s actually seeing something very helpful that I just can’t see.

Kayaking metaphor

February 22, 2012

I was listening to Roger Rosenblatt talk about and read from his book about kayaking in the wake of his daughter’s death.  There is a post about it on the PBS NewsHour’s website, but I can’t link to it (see my previous post about having frozen my linking button, or something — still waiting to hear back from WordPress support):

I liked a comment by someone else on the post, who talked about how the heart and mind seem to get reconnected under such circumstances, and I started thinking about how maybe the heart floods the mind, grieving is the process during which the waters recede, to the extent they do, and maybe the kayaking reflects how we learn to navigate them.  I also expressed the idea that maybe we learn to swim in them.  Just now I got to thinking that if we become sufficiently porous, maybe the waters and we merge.

And then I got to thinking about my difficulties, sometimes, being comfortable in this world, and I started thinking about how hard it is to get out of the water and back into the boat sometimes for me.  I think my challenge is to learn to toggle back and forth between the two.  I think I used to think that the just learning to “swim” or “merge” was sufficient, or the goal, but now I’m thinking I have to learn (or, relearn) to get back into that boat, too.


February 21, 2012

I saw a clip of Rick Santorum declaring his take on the appropriate relationship between people and the earth.  It was something implying that people and people’s needs are primary, an assumption that the needs of the earth somehow will take care of themselves buried beneath it.

There is no necessity for the earth to exist as she does, but if she doesn’t, neither will we.  Like our human mothers, she is not impervious to her dependents’ treatment of her, she is not made of teflon and she does not contain infinite reserves or the capability to continue a dynamic process of recycling of materials and energy if there is a net outflow out of the system completely.

In the context of the universe, it doesn’t matter, we and the earth can die out, and the energy released can be used elsewhere.

The earth is ambivalent about us, I think, and I think she had a better, more symbiotic relationship with other of her creatures (like the dinosaurs).  I think the friction between ourselves and the earth has to do with our genesis, and the role of elements foreign to her that were involved.  I think there was, maybe still is, a way to resolve that ambivalence in a positive way for both earth and people.

Rick Santorum may feel a great surge of dismay when he hears positions on social issues that are at odds with his belief system, I don’t know.  But I feel a huge surge of dismay when I hear what he says, because I know where behavior based on his assumptions leads.

Apples and oranges

February 20, 2012

I was talking to my friend Irene yesterday in a cafe in Porter Square.  I started going on about how someone in my life seems to be giving me apples, and beautiful, wonderful apples at that, when I need oranges, too.  “I need oranges, too,” I think I said, and with some vehemence.

I ended up walking home (long story, long walk, very pleasant, included lunch).  About a block shy of my house, I found an orange.  I brought it home, and it ended up in the lap of the Buddha on my pear tree stump, to be cleaned up by our resident raccoons.