What it’s Like to Live in a Thirty Second Universe

clock eyeLast month my father’s life ended inside his Thirty Second Universe. At the age of 96 Dad’s dementia had reduced his short-term recall to half a minute. Within that time, a thought, a conversation, any decision was anchored in the world we lived in too. But beyond his memory edge where present events and exchanges of ideas evaporated into a gray abyss, his reality stopped and rebooted again for the next thirty seconds of his ever looping Here and Now. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

We take memory for granted until it leaves us. Without recollection of past events and conclusions, we can’t build upon what has gone before. We can’t expand the matrix. This is what a Thirty Second Universe is all about: relearning every experience as if it were new for the first time.

How would it be if we all lived there? Nothing beyond what already exists would get invented. Nothing would improve, unless Nature did it, because Nature never forgets. The same problems would have to be solved over and over again. Collections of information would be useless, because once read, that too would be forgotten and needed to be reviewed once more.

My father loved novels and in his later years he continued to read them, but only from moment to moment. As he turned to page 204 he had already forgotten page 203, and 202, and everything before that. He had no sense of continued story, only the present as he rediscovered each character with only a sliver of personalities confined to those five or six paragraphs his eyes were scanning. He couldn’t accumulate information and build on it. And hence, constructing a logical order of reasoning was beyond his reach, unless it happened within his Thirty Second Universe.

Can you imagine what it’s like to be leashed inside thirty seconds and realize it? My dad did and he coped somehow, with a great deal of help from Mom, our family and friends. We filled in the gaps because Dad had mentally deteriorated. It wasn’t his decision.

Would anyone intentionally limit their thinking to thirty seconds of memory? No. But we all lock ourselves within similar limits anyway, sometime debilitating. Many times debilitating.

*****

Unless we’re mentally impaired, you and I have a choice about what we remember and learn. That’s FREEDOM, plain and simple. It’s our human right to think the way we want and know more and expand. Why would anyone choose to give up that freedom? We do though, by selectively narrowing our exposure to cultures different than ours, to new inventions, to contrasting ideas and to the insight that matures out of that. Why would anyone refuse to get bigger and better?

Why?

I ask Why, because in some respect, we all refuse to get bigger and better. We all draw limits as to how much new information we want to accept and how much of it we choose to remember. And we also decide in what way to remember it. Were those new ideas good for us or bad for us? Was that discussion comforting or threatening? Was the change reassuring or frightening?

These are opinions about survival and we ponder them everyday. Shall we stick to the tired and true or take a chance with a new route…or restaurant, or job challenge, or software upgrade? Can we trust current information or should we rely on the established gospel? Do we stick to the fundamentals, those words which should never be questioned or revised? Or do we question and revise?

Which policy works best?

Answering this question rarely resolves the debate because rarely is what-works-best taken into consideration. What motivates our actions and resistance is how we FEEL about things and how secure we are with change and differences. If change and difference is uncomfortable we’ll revert to clearly defined borders and rules about right and wrong, good and evil, Us and Them. We’ll rally around fundamental truths, or what we all agree are God-given, fundamental truths. Without needing to revise and expand, there’s no reason to seek more truth or other truths. Simply read the Good Book, the one our religion is using, finish it and start over.

Repeat, repeat, repeat.

And why not? Ethics and morality are intrinsic human values. It was all understood and written down many years ago in all the world’s religions. Sin is sin no matter when it’s committed, then or now. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to doing the right thing and knowing what God wants.

Or do we?

When the scriptures of the oldest religions were written, a conventional marriage was one of multiple wives, slavery was the norm and stoning a woman for adultery was encouraged. And don’t forget making war on the infidels. That never changed.

So who decides what’s right and wrong anymore? Is there really a one-size-fits-all moral code? Can the story of Humankind and God be relegated to one teaching?

No. Our world is not the same anywhere, anytime, or in agreement. Everything keeps changing and reinventing itself, despite our relentless struggle to lock in fundamental, forever-and-ever truths. There’s no natural Thirty Second Universe to read and reread.

*****

Ultimately, everyone’s main purpose is the same: to survive in order to achieve our secondary purpose – doing what we want to do. We come into this world with a predisposition for survival. Somehow we all know what we want, even if it takes a lot of time figuring that out. Of course we need help figuring it out and we get it with food and shelter (if we’re fortunate) and with much advice about how to think. Some of us accept that advice and carry on the traditions. Some of us reject the Old Ways to search for new paths. Who conforms and who doesn’t is determined by our intrinsic personalities, by our unique way of perceiving the world. Have you wondered why you think the way you do? I have. I was born this way.

What way were YOU born? Have you tried expanding your boundaries? Or have you set limits? If so, why? And if you’re comfortable relying on a structured set of beliefs from a single source of philosophy, do you feel disadvantaged when competing with someone who has more or different information than you do?

You don’t? You’re secure in your faith and it helps you get through the day? Okay, I respect that. But please, respect my beliefs when they’re different than yours. Live and let live, as long as no one is harmed along the way. That’s me. But it’s not a perfect world and lots of people get harmed along the way. Beyond that, the definition of “harm” is in constant debate, which only divides us even more. So we watch the news that validates are predisposed opinions or we watch and listen to none of it. It feels safer inside a stable Thirty Second Universe.

 *****clock faces

Last month I watched Dad die in seven days. Those were my seven days. For Dad, it was a single cycle of reoccurring thirty seconds. And within those seconds, my father consistently asked me, “What’s happening to me? Why am I so sick? Will I get better?”

Sometimes I told him what I thought he wanted to hear. Sometimes I told him the truth. It didn’t matter what I said. He kept forgetting the reality of his very short future. Watching Dad grasp for life when I knew it would soon end was incredible painful for me. I felt I was betraying him by suggesting false hope. Now I know I did no harm. Dad eventually figured it out and remembered his conclusion, and whether he believed in Heaven or not, that didn’t matter either. If Heaven exists, he’s there. If it doesn’t, he’s not around to miss it.

Maybe that’s Life’s lesson: It doesn’t matter what we know or what we think we know. It doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong. What matters, is that this Universe IS what it IS and it all changes from moment to moment whether we agree to that or not. We’re born, we live, we die.

Repeat, repeat, repeat. How many times do we have to be reminded we’re all eventually shutting down? Everything else is just stuff to do to fill in the time.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2014/07/what-its-like-to-live-in-a-thirty-second-universe/

Can You Love Your Dad When You Don’t?

IMGP0684I’ve been away from this blog for months. I ran out of stuff I wanted to write about. Then it happened. Now I’m writing.

*****

From about the time I looked like my long haired avatar, I didn’t like my dad anymore. Lots of people did, though, and he had many guy friends. I couldn’t figure out why. I figured they didn’t really know him as I did, the way he was when the charm machine was turned off and the control he demanded was routinely established through subtle put-downs, teasing or simply losing interest in a conversation that wasn’t about him.

He wasn’t a bad dad, really. But his lack of deep interest in me while I was growing up left a hurting hole in my heart. You see I didn’t know at the time that my dad was very much like most of the dads of his time: Men who were expected to bring home the bacon while their wives took care of the kids at home. As long as there was food on the table and the mortgage or rent was paid, those WWII vets had done their job and their mission-accomplished reward came in the packages of tinkering fun time alone or letting loose with their buddies on a golf course or in a bar or on fishing trips. Father/Son stuff didn’t bloom until the Baby Boomers like me had more time on our hands, thanks to the parental sacrifices for our higher education and the 60′s and 70′s job opportunities in an expanding economy.

So now, having finally figured out how the American Father/Provider roles and goals changed from one generation to the next, I thought I knew my dad. I did and I didn’t. Then again, I thought I knew myself. I did and I didn’t. What changed? Three weeks ago I walked through the fire holding my father’s hands to his last open door. And here’s what I came to realize:

The core of who we really are isn’t revealed until our lives shrink from an imagined Forever, to the reality of passing years and finally to our last days and minutes. Somewhere between the fantasy of forever and the reality of old age, we all learn to shield our fragile feelings with the construction of a character we pretend to be. We also learn to compete for survival doing whatever it takes to win the day, or protect our integrity, our homes, our children and families…or end a petty argument with “I’m right and you’re not.”

It’s important to be right, to be the best, to be winners so that we can feel good about ourselves, even if it sometimes means hurting others, especially the ones we love. Most of the time we don’t feel good about ourselves anyway, even with our wins, real or not. So we try harder to convince the world that we’re valuable and worthy and nice and deserving to be wanted. With many people, this propensity to love and be loved makes that world a better place. But figuring out how to do that, learning what works and what doesn’t, takes many years of mistakes and failures. That’s called growing up.

At the age of sixty-six I’m still growing up and this month Dad helped me to do that. He broke me apart and put me back together with a deeper grasp of what we’re all about. And he did that by trusting me to help him to die when I didn’t want to do it. He showed me, by example, how a righteous warrior departs with dignity – a dignity that came from his core and not from the molded character I thought was my real dad.

I’m about to give you some quotes coming from the man my father actually was. His life was shrinking and he knew it. The persona and social tools chosen long ago weren’t working anymore. Some of you reading this know that Dad had been diminished by dementia. Still, as his strength waned, as his final years, months and days wore him down, he continued to fight for one more “Trust me! I’m right about this,” and “I can do it myself,” until he no longer could. And then, subconsciously, Dad asked for a time-out. In those precious time-out’s, when he gave himself permission to be vulnerable, all that remained of my father was clarity and truth. And that’s what he expressed to me in his last week of human existence.

What IS clarity and truth? In Dad’s case it was the essence of love, and a man who gratefully accepted the kindness of family and strangers. When single days became cherished again, I heard my father say, “Life isn’t worth living if you can’t remember any of it.”

That’s what he said to me eight months ago. “Does that make you feel sad?” I asked, wondering if he could keep this conversation going.

“No, not really,” he muttered.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because,” he said, “if I think about it again, I’ll forget that too.”

I sat on the couch next to him, dumbfounded. How profound.

“You live with what you have, Irv,” he continued. And then the conversation ended. Dad’s brain had already erased what we were talking about. The door was shut again, time resumed and Dad donned his armor to return to the world of needing to be the man-in-charge.

 *****

I had scheduled a short get-away to visit my aging parents months ago. Ten days before my scheduled departure, I got a call from Mom telling me about Dad’s rapid and sudden physical decline. By the time I stepped into my parent’s home, the same house we moved into when I was fourteen, a permanent but sublime time-out was already in place and Dad’s forgetting fixed me inside his repeated loop of, “What’s happening to me?” The correct answer was, “You’re dying Dad,” but I didn’t have the courage to tell him. I didn’t trust that he could handle the truth. I was so wrong. As his final days stretched into what seemed like weeks, Dad revealed who he really was, and how strong he was, and how fearless. It took a while, but eventually he prodded me to trust his stamina and answer his last question, “Do I have cancer?”

Did I tell him? No, not then. I had more growing up to do. So for a while he stopped questioning. I think he knew anyway.

I want this fact to be known to all who read this story: Through the process of losing more and more control, of everything, including getting to the bathroom on his own, Dad never asked me for anything at all. Nor did I ever hear a word of regret about his condition. I never saw him cry about it or feel sorry for himself. What he did say was, “I’m getting worse and worse,” and finally, “I’m in really bad shape,” on his last morning when he could no longer move more than a few inches anywhere.

And so the time came when I needed to tell the truth. And here’s how it went down. The day before he passed he said to me, “My body doesn’t know what it wants to do anymore. This is crazy, isn’t it?”

“It’s sad.” That’s all I could say. So he looked at me, right into my soul and said, “I’m dying, aren’t I?”

I nodded and began to weep.

He then shook his finger as if to say, “Let’s not get melodramatic about this.” And then he said, with words this time, “There’s nothing we can do about it. Let’s try to make it comfortable.”

“You’re so brave,” I sighed.

And he said, “People get stronger through adversity.”

Again I nodded. “Dad, I think it’s all gonna be okay. I really believe it.”

“That’s nice to know,” he said. “In the meantime, can you help me up so I can take a shit?”

 *****

That was my real dad talking, the man I hadn’t known before. But there was more of him to discover, the deep feelings he had for me, the stuff I took for granted because all fathers are supposed to love their sons, no matter how casual the relationship turns out to be. Now I was lifting him off the bed to walk ten feet, or just four, and as we embraced, he said to me, “I love you, Irv. Thank you, thank you…”

For the first time in my life I understood what he meant and it tore me to shreds. I was holding my father/child who was thanking me for anything I could do for him. Roles had reversed. I had to accept the responsibility. Without having reared children of my own, I had never been challenged in that way. But my Dad was offering me that experience now. Not demanding it, you understand. Not even asking for it. He was simply allowing me to do whatever I could handle and he accepted whatever I could give.

Incredibly impressive…

Still, I miss his greatest fear, even when he screamed it out to my mother from the bedroom, almost everyday. “Doris, I’m gonna take a shower. Don’t use up all the hot water!”

*****

I love you Dad, and I hope you’re not resting at all. I hope you’re charming other souls around you and cracking jokes like you always did. I hope you’re laughing. I always loved to hear you laugh. I still do. You were so good at it.

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2014/07/can-you-love-your-dad-when-you-dont/

It was Great While It Lasted

Goodbye

Yep. This blog was great while it lasted. But it’s time to close the store. It might open again at some time in the future. Maybe. But I don’t think anytime soon. For those of you who’ve been reading my thoughts over the past two years, I want you to know I wholly appreciated your interest, many shares and occasional comments. You made me happy.

Ultimately though, I’ve said what I needed to say and have started repeating subjects and themes. To be totally open, the posts have become homework and I don’t think that’s good for you or me. My writing and your reading my blog no longer feels like it’s a good use of our time. Perhaps you came to that conclusion a while back. If you did, it’s understandable. I’m with you on that.

So I’m saying, “Goodbye.” I’m not leaving the planet nor my writing. I’m just adjusting my focus again like I do about almost everything. Change keeps my life refreshed. I have to keep exploring new stuff to avoid the “B” word – boredom. You know that about me if you’ve been reading my blogs for any length of time. I believe expansion is necessary for evolution, personal and in nature. That’s why I have to stop the column. I’m finding that widening the content isn’t working that well, at least not in this format. So I think you understand, when a creative project has matured it’s time to wrap it up and start something new.

As I close this door, I send my best wishes to you and for all your pursuits and challenges. Don’t settle for anything less than you can possibly be and don’t give up. If you can step back after reading my blog and agree with me, that going the distance pays off, then I’ve done my job encouraging you with your job. Have fun with it and don’t be scared. If you’re fulfilled and happy because you’re not letting yourself down, because you’re always moving closer to your goals, because you put yourself in charge, I promise you more good things will come your way. That’ how it works: like attracts like – happiness attracts more happiness. DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s all good.

For anyone who wishes to keep in touch, you can reach me via Irving.Podolsky@Earthlink.net. If you write I’ll answer.

Irv

 

Originally posted on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/10/it-was-great-while-it-lasted/

Why I like Breasts

2nd graders in hall

Actually I don’t know why I like breasts. I just do. Always have, even before I realized I did.

My first realization that breasts were my friends flashed in my little boy brain at the age of seven. My elementary school had two lunch times and as one class marched out of the cafeteria down the hall, another class waited in line against the opposite wall. One day the principal’s secretary, Mrs. Lamb, stepped into the front office doorway and stood next to me as my second grade class waited to be let in to the lunchroom.

I liked Mrs. Lamb. She was always happy and waved to us kids when she saw us. So being so close to her skirt, I looked up to catch a smile. Couldn’t see it. Her face was blocked by a budging double canopy over my head.

That very moment I realized some mommies had bigger chests than other mommies. (When you’re a seven year-old boy, all ladies are mommies.) I also realized, Wow! Those really big mounds, they’re like…really big! And super mommy-ish. Then I though, Does my own mommy have mounds? I have to look when I get home.

I looked. They were much smaller that Mrs. Lamb’s and not particularly interesting. Apparently, at birth, I had been pre-programmed for Big Boob Mania and was set for life. Breasts were on my radar.

*****

funicelloMy next reminder that girl’s chests had a place in my life came with my crush on Mousketeer Annette Funicello. I loved Annette! So much so, I wrote for her picture and taped that autographed 8×10 glossy on the wall above my bed so she’d look down at me before I drifted into dreamland. I think I was nine and Annette was probably thirteen. Of all the Mousketeers girls, Annette had more chest curves than Doreen, Karen, Darlene and Sharon. I didn’t love Annette because she had budding breasts. Still, I was glad she had them, although the thought of touching her never crossed my mind. Tactile contact would have to wait until I was thirteen.

*****

My first girlfriend was Sandy S.. Sandy was a shy, plain-Jane science-smart girl with egg-shaped thick glasses. And no, Sandy was not popular. I wasn’t either. I was shorter than average (until I caught up), nearsighted with homely glasses too, a stupid brush cut hair style and definitely outside the group.

Sandy and I were perfect for each other. Nobody ever suspected, not for one second, that after school, in Sandy’s bedroom (her Mom & Dad worked), we played Show Me – Feel Me. I remember that first time. This Nice Jewish Boy talked Sandy S. her into taking off her blouse, then her skirt, then her panties. Even then I had a way with calming words, like a doctor. My mother wanted me to become a doctor.

Anyway, we came together that way because Sandy really liked me and I liked her. We trusted each other. Although we had no concept about what comes after the exploring part, we still did lots of touching and talking and I knew she wouldn’t blab about it. The whole thing was about getting naked which we knew was naughty and that made our secret meetings exciting and very special, the closest thing to loyalty thirteen year-olds can grasp.

Between ClassesSandy was a thin girl. Puberty hadn’t hit her yet and she was very sensitive about her looks. She didn’t need a bra and she wanted one, explaining to me that all the other girls were starting to get their breasts and she wasn’t. She asked me if that was all right, that she didn’t have soft things for me to feel and I said it was fine, that it didn’t matter to me.

It did matter to me, a little bit. I was programmed to love big breasts but I never, ever told Sandy that. I’m glad I didn’t. We “broke up” two months later. Lack-of-breasts had nothing to do with it. I stopped going home with Sandy because my early adolescent ego didn’t want Sandy talking, and maybe liking, another boy. And in class I saw her talking to another boy. She likes him more, I thought. So I punished my first girlfriend by ignoring her after that.

Sandy cried. And yeah, I felt really bad that I hurt Sandy but she hurt me too by maybe liking another boy more than me. That meant I wasn’t so important to her anymore although she said I was. Still, I wanted Sandy to feel like I felt – less important, and she did. So I got my revenge and regret it to this day.

Sandy, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry.

Okay, at thirteen my immature psychology and behavior was understandable. I grew out of it. It’s unfortunate though, so many adults have not.

*****

I was bottle-fed as an infant. And my mom was very conscious about covering herself up once I was old enough to remember things. So breasts were always hidden treasures, a reward on a date. As I said, I don’t know why larger breasts pull my attention more than smaller ones, but I’m not alone in the Guy Club about that preference, which is not good news. Preferred body shapes put pressure on women to deliver what men desire. Although these aesthetics are cultural and change, it shouldn’t be that way.

But there’s good news about that too. Not all men like big breasts. I know one dude who doesn’t, but he’s Swedish and in Sweden, women generally are smaller breasted. So if you’re a gal living in Stockholm, maybe you’re exempt from big boob demands. I hope so. And I also hope men are exempt from having to grow big penises, big muscles and big bank accounts.

Who am I kidding.

*****

 measuring-womans-bust

As much as I love breasts and the whole experience of getting close to them, after a while, they’re just sort of there, like elbows and knees. As with anything that’s new, it’s great as long as it’s new and then it’s not new and something else that’s newer takes its place.

My wife’s breasts are not on that list. Nor is my wife. She stays new all the time by changing her interests, pursuits and goals. Lately she’s been immersed in political social media, writing emails to politicians, the President and leaving comments in online newspapers. She’s a kick! Next year she’ll reinvent herself again and that makes her all the more interesting.

So ladies, I’m about to say something you already know, ‘cause I’m the Reminder Guy. When it comes to your breasts, sure, men are attracted to them (as well as a number of other women), but not for long. Then it’s just YOU, not your body. YOU are object of love, as long as you love yourself.

Sure, sex for sex’s sake is great. And for me, hopping onto bouncing boobs is great too. But I understand that attaching too much importance to a physical frame has dismal consequences. Bodies wear out and no longer work as they did at prime – for sexual gratification, and as an object of desire.

But this is not bad news. Really. Because you’ve got something that never wears out – a playful demeanor, a caring heart and the trust to try new things. That kind of spirit NEVER grows old. It stays beautiful and attracts all kinds of wonderful people. And those who don’t see your intrinsic allure, well, you don’t want them anyway.

Okay… Just for the record, a healthy body is nice too. So maybe we should take care of it as best we can. Not just for looks, but for a longer life, and longer love.

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/10/why-i-like-breasts/

Somebody is Lying

crossed fingers behind back

I listen, I watch, I hear stuff, I read, I read some more and then even more about what’s good and bad for the American People, as if the entire United States was one big happy family of exactly the same thing. Left-right battle lines are clearly drawn and screamers on both sides throw facts at each other to prove they’re right…about everything.

When each side’s set of facts contradict each other, six year-old logic tells us somebody is lying. And of course we know who that is. The Bad Guys are lying!

But who are the Bad Guys? Who’s really telling the truth? What IS the truth? Where do we find it if we doubt what we’re told, even by the Good Guys?

Let’s face it, folks, we don’t want to take a lot of time hunting for the truth. Most of us are not scientists. Uncovering secrets is not our game. For you and me with a job and family, the truth should be a given, something we can rely on to get past screwing up.

But the world is not a perfect place. Everybody lies. Yes, even you. “Honey, I’ll be there in a minute.” When are we ever there in a minute?

As I said, by six we pretty much figured out we can’t trust anyone over seven, at least not all the time. And that’s a bad thing, because lately more and more lies are going down that severely affect us and unless we know what’s true and what’s false, we’ll end up royally screwed with everything else.

So where and how do we find the truth? It’s a psychological thing, actually. Once we DECIDE to seek truth, we have to DECIDE who’s telling the truth; who we can trust and who we can’t. Choosing not to DECIDE is still a decision. It happens when we don’t even trust our own deciding! seek truth

Yep. Deciding to believe lies, which is trusting a liar, happens all the time. Lots of smart people get robbed. We know that. So we don’t trust much of anything anymore and we don’t like it that way. We want to at least trust SOMETHING! SOMEBODY! Somewhere!

How and where do we find that something to trust?

Okay, here’s where we start. First, we have to assume that all human life reduces to seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. And the only way to get the good stuff, is by knowing what’s really going on so we can avoid the bad stuff, which means we’re forced to make time for investigation.

That means no cheating. We have to find TRUE truth. We just can’t accept things because we WISH they were true. And if things scare us, we should not look at them AS IF they were true. It’s all gotta be the objective real thing. Because if we’re dealing with shit that’s only in our mind, that leads us into decisions that don’t play out well, which only gets us more angry and scared, which leads to wanting more PROOF and FACTS about protections we hope will let us sleep at night.

So in desperation, we believe what we want to hear and seek to hear what we want to believe, because agreement with our wishes is comforting, even when it’s not true. But alas, forcing validation does not a-safe-world-make. Nor do we feel any safer.

So what’s the answer?

I told you. We need true truth! And that demands an open mind. We have to admit that “facts” can be lies and many times are. And so we have to fact-check the facts, and then we have to fact-check the fact-checkers, because everything we read or see on a screen somewhere is second, third or forth hand information. It’s all somebody else’s facts, which may or may not be true.

Conclusion: We have to question EVERYTHING. We have to keep in mind somebody is always lying somewhere!

That brings us back to needing the real facts, which have to be proven by other facts which agree with those first facts. And then we need even more facts to back up our backup facts. We’ll never have too much cowbell and we’ll never have too many facts feeding a premise. The more we compare and contract various news sources, the more detailed our picture gets of the real world.

Again, that takes time and commitment. Damn!

*****

If hunting for truth sounds like scientific method, it is. Researchers start with a speculation about how and why something works and then they look for tangible ways of proving it. If they can’t find enough hard evidence to absolutely prove something IS what it is, they call it a THEORY.

If they DO find enough proof that can be replicated over time, and the majority agrees it IS what it is, they call it a LAW.

Almost everything in politics is a theory. Nothing stays the same long enough to anchor an intrinsic universal truth. And eventually every law is broken.

So if there’s no ultimate truth and everything changes all the time, how can the world feel safe for you and me?

As I keep saying, if we know what’s really going on, when we can finally trust something or someone, when we know that a promise will be kept (or try to be kept because it’s not a lie), when our group agrees on certain facts, only then will we will feel safer and BE safer.

And where is that safety place? This you know. It starts with our families. Safety comes from truth among family, friends and your shrink.

But for this security to work, no one can break the trust. Not even once. Lying is not an option. Ever. No love grows in a nest of distrust. This you know too.

politician w gun & flagAnd you also know that people lie so much they lie about their lying, insisting they only want to help us. You know where I’m headed. It’s getting really, really hard to trust our elected officials – the people making decisions on our behalf, or so they say.

Are any of them telling the truth? If so, how will we know?

*****

Here’s how you’ll find out if your representative is lying. But you have to DECIDE to find out.

When it comes to your state and national elected officials, you should check their voting record, what they’re really for and against. Read the bills and their new laws. It’s all public record. Read your congress man or woman’s website. Call their local offices and talk to their staffers. Ask about their positions on certain issues. Attend their town hall meetings and ask direct questions. Watch them as they answer and then check their words against their voting actions. And if you don’t have time for all that, find websites that compile that information for you, but you’ll have to fact-check that stuff too.

There’s a big fight going on about ObamaCare. Perhaps you’ve heard the rumors. Want to know what the Affordable Care Act is REALLY all about? Here’s a link to the actual document – all 906 pages. It’s direct, unbiased information, people! Be the first on your block who’s truly informed!

What? You don’t have time to read 906 pages of national law? I do, but I’m not reading it either. So yeah, I know I can find truth and I have to work for it. I know it takes time. Instead, I’m trusting the people who put it together, which was a bipartisan committee.

And if it turns out to be a lousy plan, I’ll blame the Bad Guys, whoever they turn out to be. It’s so hard to DECIDE.

 

Originally published at Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/10/somebody-is-lying/

Don’t Think, Acquire Now

'Sale' sign in shop window

I’ve always considered myself beyond mind control, commonly called Mass Marketing. Advertisers are essentially psychologists putting behavior science to work. To stay ahead of them, I’ve checked out psychology research myself. I know the tricks and the way the distractions are used. But still, I got had at benevolent Trader Joe’s, and that meant a confession to my wife.

For those of you who don’t know what Trader Joe’s is, I’ll explain.

In 1967 Joe Coulombe started a chain of wine and cheese stores in Los Angeles. The products were great and they were inexpensive. The product line grew, the chain grew and so did its integrity. You can trust the store. I trust the store. So this evening when I went shopping for food, I found my wife’s favorite flowers on sale for only $3.99 a bunch! And there were just two of those bouquets left!

That’s when the psychology clicked in: VALUE + SCARCITY = ACQUIRE NOW!

Did I acquire? Why wouldn’t I? I’ll get to that.wine store

*****

My wife and I think in different ways. I see things as they are (generally). My dear wife sees things as she wishes they would be (a perceptional mechanism I’ve always thought was an opening for marketing manipulation and/or inadequate judgment.)

Now to be fair, most people hope our world would be a better version of itself and also hope it turns out that way. Those people are called optimists.

Then there are those who see the planet as a cluster of dysfunction and presume it will stay that way unless major changes happen, in a good way. Those people I call realists, and as I said, I’m one of them.

Scientists need to be realists. Teachers and antique dealers should be optimists. My wife is an antique dealer and brings home FUBR junk. Because it IS thrift store junk (what she calls “distressed”) nobody else wants it and my wife gets it cheap. I don’t care how cheap she gets anything, my comments still come out like…

“Honey, this is way past salvage. Too many parts are missing. And look at that long scrape!”

And she says, “Wait ‘til you see what I do with it.” And then she turns it into something else, what designers call “repurposing” and she sells that Salvation Army five dollar baby cradle on the internet as a refinished liquor bar for three hundred smackers.

But then there are times the thing really is damaged beyond repair and she can’t sell it. With all her positive wanting-it-to-be a certain way or turn out a certain way, the realist (that’s me) had a better handle on reality. That leather writing box was FUBR. It would have cost more to fix it than it was worth.

At the end of the day, which approach to life works best – hoping it will get better and acting as if it already is, or seeing the situation the way it is now and making decisions accordingly? Most wealthy innovators belong to group one. They also make plenty of mistakes.

*****

Glass_half_full

So what are you? An optimist or a realist (sometimes called a pessimist)? This is important to understand because your core beliefs, that the world is either benevolent or threatening, shapes all your assumptions and decisions. And those assumptions affect your writing and the characters you create.

If you’re an optimist, can you accurately describe a pessimist in your writing? Yes you can, if you know people like that and use them as models. And the same goes for pessimists writing about optimists.

But here’s the thing, in real life, we may not be objective enough to understand other points-of-view and to appreciate the logic, whether we agree with it or not. Most people do not think past their emotional core beliefs, nor are they aware of how their accumulated assumptions affect everything they do and believe. It’s subconscious processing.

As writers of fiction, we don’t have the luxury to solely think inside our personally decorated box. If we are not aware of our intrinsic prejudice, we will shape our characters with one basic personality without examining conflicting ideas. That’s not good for writing. That’s not good in living either, because we ARE in fact, steadily being influenced and shaped in ways that benefit people hidden behind pulled curtains.

*****

As I said before, I think I relate to things pretty much the way they are. When food shopping, I look at the containers and weight while disregarding the New and Improved hype. Saving money doesn’t always translate into getting more for less. Many times we get less for less. And being the realist/pessimist that I am, I know that capitalism (what the market will bear) is not always in our best interest. Consequently, I steer clear of…

PERCEIVED VALUE + SCARCITY = BUY NOW!

Sometimes I get fooled though. I get distracted by that merchandizing practice of mixing great stuff with mediocre stuff and putting it on sale together. That happened tonight at Trader Joe’s and it cost me eight bucks. A few years back that same ploy cost the world trillions more. Maybe you know the story.

The big banks mixed secure AAA rated mortgages with subprime, teaser-rate, soon-to-default debt. Then they sold those investments to anyone eager enough to trust the sellers. Lots of people didn’t trust the sellers so they bought insurance on those mortgage-backed securities from the same banks that bundled the real estate investments.

The “insurance” products the investors purchased were called credit default swaps and the reason they were called swaps instead of insurance, is because those policies weren’t regulated by any outside agency, as in, the Security and Exchange Commission. market_crash

Those bogus triple “A” rated mortgage-backed securities (approved by companies that were paid to rate them that high), those investments totaling trillions, went belly up when American home owners could no longer pay their increased balloon mortgage payments.

No problem, so thought the investors (investors like Greece, Spain, Italy and a thousand pension funds). We bought insurance on our investments, those credit default swaps, and they’re guaranteed to protect the money we paid for those income generating products.

Well, there was a problem. The swaps were bogus too. There was no money to cover the insurance obligations so all those investors started suing the banks which would have taken them all down had not the US Treasury (you and me) bailed those banks out and paid off the investors. We did that to save the world economy. Unfortunately most of us did not get saved along with it.

*****

wilted rose

Having watched the Great Recession unfold in this way, I figured I pretty much understood how the idea of a Great deal, get it while it lasts! can cloud human judgment, especially in Target or Walmart. So it never occurred to me that Trader Joe’s (who doesn’t trust Trader Joe?) would mix old wilted flowers with fresh new ones.

Then I got home and unwrapped the love blossoms. Damn! Most of them were FUBR and my wife would be home in an hour. I still needed to eat, tidy up, take out the garbage and vacuum the kitchen. Mr. Joe would have taken the bloomage back had I made the trip. I didn’t. Instead I scarfed down a tuna sandwich and wrote this story to deter you from buying something simply because it’s on sale and there’s not much left of it. If you do, you just might unwrap it and find it to be totally FUBR. And trusting that things will always work out doesn’t always make it so.

Maybe my wife will read this. Sorry about the flowers!

(You can now search “FUBR”)

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/10/dont-think-acquire-now/

Confucius say: It Ain’t Funny

confucius with nameThis week I’m giving you somebody else’s brain burps. Whoever that someone is, he or she or them is really smart. Their wit came to my wife yesterday in a forwarded email filled with Confucius Say jokes. Generally I hate forwarded jokes but these tickled my mind, and then I thought, Got nothin’ else to write about. I’ll write about Confucius, and like, what makes a joke funny.

Now I’ve got a few ideas about that and I bet you do too. So first, let’s look at those ten emailed Confucius gags and we’ll take it from there.

*****

Confucius say:

It’s okay to let a fool kiss you,

but don’t let a kiss fool you.

 

Confucius say:

A kiss is just shopping upstairs

for downstairs merchandise.

 

Confucius say:

It is better to lose a lover

than love a loser.

 

Confucius say:

Man with a broken condom

is called a Daddy.

 

Confucius say:

Man who mix Viagra and Ex-Lax,

doesn’t know if he’s coming or going.

 

Confucius say:

A drunken man’s words

are a sober man’s thoughts.

 

Confucius say:

Marriage is like a bank account.

You put it in, you take it out,

and you lose interest.

 

Confucius say:

Viagra is like Disneyland –

a one hour wait for a 2-minute ride.

 

Confucius say:

It is much better to want the mate you do not have

than to have the mate you do not want.

 

Confucius say:

A joke is like sex.

Neither is any good if you don’t get it.

*****

I hope you haven’t heard these quips before. I hope you laughed. And if you didn’t, well…I didn’t write them. And I’ve never read a joke manual either. But I bet, and I’m pretty sure about this, that when a joke works, when it strikes us as droll and amusing, it’s because the writer surprised us.

But that’s not enough, is it?

When a joke really works, the twist of a concept is intelligent and layered with multiple implications. We can’t be smarter than the joke. It has to be rich with messages and universal enough to speak to many cultures, so I’ve been told.

I’ve also been told a witty joke reflects the irony of truth.

It’s hard teaching people how to write about irony and double entendre when they don’t think that way. If none of these jokes I showed you seemed funny to you, consider yourself part of the strictly literal world and take up chess.

But I don’t give up easily. So we’re gonna take a look at more internet jokes, the ones that DON’T work, and figure out why that’s so. If you think they’re funny, I won’t hold it against you.

*****

monkeys

Confucius say:

Girl who slides down bannister,

makes monkey shine.

 

What? Whatever these words are trying to tell us, the association of “monkey” with anything is way too much of a reach. Is this about sexual anatomy? Or does this mean that sliding down a banister is female masturbation and accordingly, that particular woman would want more monkey shine sex? Who knows? Whoever combined these convoluted ideas assumed the rest of the planet thinks like he does. Yeah, I said “he.” No woman would write this shit.

There are thousands of jokes about both sexes written by both sexes. And if you analyze them, you’ll find that the provocative jokes, the really funny ones, describe relationship issues rather than snubbing all men or women.

Ruthless Us & Them comedy is funny to those who feel threatened by the implications of the joke. A laugh about a scolding statement comes from a mental moment where we say, I-wish-it-were-so. And sometimes people laugh as they think, I wish I had said that.

Put-down jokes are angry, fearful, and elitist. My heart goes out to the Poles and anyone who’s ever changed a light bulb.

 

Confucius say:

He who sleep on bed of nails,

is indeed a holy man.

Another flat joke. Why? Because it’s simply a word play with “holy.” This concept doesn’t convey a deeper meaning about you and me, so we don’t care about it. That’s right, we’re all thinking about ourselves.

Well…maybe not moms…and dads…  I’m not a mom or a dad. Where did everybody go?

 

Confucius say:

He who refuses to listen,

is lying.

So NOT funny. And it’s not funny because it doesn’t imply anything more that what it says. What DOES it say, anyway? This one probably comes from the monkey shine guy.

 

Confucius say:

Man who dates dynamite lady,

gets big bang out of her.

This joke is lame, sexist, in bad taste and predictable. Then again, it’s true. I married a dynamite lady.

 

Confucius say:

When a man steals your wife,

there is no better revenge than to let him keep her.

Good advice but I find this tacky for a number of reasons.

Again, it’s sexist, implying that the husband had no responsibility for his wife’s affair, that she was totally to blame, disloyal, and not worth saving. Why? Because she’ll cheat again with her new lover, which is probably the case.

But why is this story written about a wife and not her husband? Guys cheat too. Why all these mean jokes about the other sex, ‘cause husbands get booted too. Why can’t we all be nice? ‘Cause really, there are lots of funny things to observe about gender behaviors where nobody’s the bad guy.

 

Podolsky say: Observe and be funny. Don’t judge the sludge!

 

happy_marriage

Confucius say:

A relationship is the opportunity

to do something you hate with someone you love.

This one particularly ticks me off. It’s negative, ambiguous, obvious and stale; as opposed to my favorite:

 

Marriage is like a bank account.

You put it in, you take it out,

and you lose interest.

There’s so much going on with these words.

 

Marriage is like a bank account.

Okay, this means that a committed relationship is a tangible investment and safety net. Yea! Can happen! But we all know marriages and bank accounts are fluid and take dives. So in the back of our minds we’ve added uncertainty to the joke and are ready for the next progression of logic.

You put it in, you take it out,

Great. We’re talking SEX here. But alas, we also know that money going in an out of an account too frequently could lead to a bad loss. We make a mental note to check the stock market and proceed to the punch line.

and you lose interest.

Ha! Ha! We get  it. With enough sex, it eventually gets old! And the economic analogy is also true: Depositing and withdrawing our money before it can grow into a larger sum yields less interest. And if we think about marriage in this way, we realize that bonding for sex alone without nurturing the relationship and letting it expand will generates a hollow, unfulfilled union. We will lose interest in our spouse or partner. And the reverse is true.

All this wisdom packed into just eighteen words. And when we laugh about the thoughts, we’re saying to the jokester, “You got me. I didn’t see this coming. So clever!”

*****

So here’s another wisdom for the road, and it applies to telling bad jokes.  Stand up & audience

 

Confucius say:

The wise speak when they have something to say, 


the fools speak when they have to say something.

 

Originally published on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/10/confucius-say-it-aint-funny/

I Don’t Remember Marrying Him

leafblower guy

I don’t remember marrying him. And now, fifteen years after entering into that union, my wife and I want a divorce. Not from each other. From our mow and blow man, Salvador. He came with the house we bought, along with his father.

When we moved into our severely challenged house in 1986, our lady neighbor from across the street insisted that we hire her gardener, Santiago, because as she put it, he’s a loving, caring man. And indeed he was. So much so, we sponsored his citizenship a few months later.

Years went by as we watched our shrub specialist age and his kids grow up. Santiago remarried and decided to move back to Mexico. (Yes, they actually do that.) Before he left, he re-sodded our back lawn and replaced his services with that of his son, Salvador.

Salvador is not like father. Salvador doesn’t like his work or even plants. Salvador does the least possible raking to get by. We’ve been dealing with Salvador’s attitude since 1998.

Every three years my wife and I talk to Salvador about his disinterest in our property. And every three years he listens, nods and says he’ll do what we ask him to do, which he does, for two weeks and then it’s back to less caring.

So a month ago I made a decision – Salvador must go. Okay, he needs dental work, he just got married and had a baby. But is that reason enough to accept lazy work and a worse attitude?

My wife felt terrible about letting him go which left that chore for me. So I prepared myself for an uncomfortable confrontation scheduled for last Wednesday, our weekly thirty minutes with Salvador’s leaf blower.

I rehearsed. I would tell Salvador the truth, that he didn’t care enough, that he was taking advantage of kind people, that he took us for granted and that we had given him too many lectures without seeing improvements. This firing would be a necessary lesson for Salvador, and hopefully he would learn from it and grow up. Yep. I would have to be his tough-love dad. And I would do that because the holy trinity of truth, honesty and responsibility is something we all have to uphold, even when it comes to Salvador.

*****

leavesLast Wednesday snuck up way too quickly. I heard Salvador’s hedge clipper buzz and went out to do the deed. But somewhere between my front steps and Salvador’s sweaty face, I decided to slightly modify this moment of truth.

“Salvador,” I said. “We’ve decided we’re going to make some changes as to how you work for us.”

“Okay,” he said.

“We’re going to need you to put more attention into our lawns, like blowing away the leaves out of the pots as well as off the ground.”

“Okay.”

“When you see something has died, tell us and we’ll let you know what to do about it.”

“Okay.”

“That camellia over there and those ferns, they dried out months ago, take them out.”

“This one?”

“Yes, that one and others you find.”

“Okay.”

“The hedge in front, keep it level. It drops six inched under the tree. We’ve talked about that.”

“Okay.”

“And when it comes to pruning, ask us what’s needed and what’s not. We have too many dead branches now.”

“Okay.”

“All those rotting leaves under the bushes that we don’t see, (I’m pointing) all that needs to be cleared as well.”

“Okay.”

“Now I know this will take more time, so we’ll see how this goes and if all looks good, we’re going to give you a raise.”

“Okay.”

That’s how my kick-ass, life-lesson lecture came off. And I left him to carry out my adjusted needs, the same needs I’ve had for fifteen years.

Forty-five minutes later Salvador left our property and I went out to inspect his work. The two dead plants that I specifically pointed to were removed. The other dead ferns were not. The flowers and shrubs along the driveway were cleared of debris very nicely, but the areas under the bushes were not. The leaves in the flower pots had been taken away, but the patio table and chairs still needed attention. The far side of the house wasn’t entirely cleared either, but then again, that wasn’t on my list.

And so I went back into my house to think about what happened. And here’s my conclusion.

check_list

I don’t think Salvador thought, Well shit, I’ll do what I need to do based on what they’re paying me. The leaves under the bushes can wait. And I don’t think Salvador thought, Wow, with that long list, I guess they expect a lot more of what I haven’t been giving them.

I don’t think Salvador thought that. I don’t think Salvador thinks much about anything. And I don’t think he can remember more than five items on anyone’s list.

I used to think Salvador was lazy. Now I’m beginning to think he’s maxed out, whatever that means. I don’t want to call the man stupid, but I believe it’s fair to say he doesn’t process information the way I do, or maybe you do.

But is that a reason to fire him?

If he didn’t show up or come close to our requests, that might be justification for letting him go. But somehow, he always manages to do just enough for a passing grade on his report card. And as much as I respect excellence and hard work, I can’t quite get myself to punish those who don’t meet my bar…when it comes to mowing my lawn.

When it comes to delivering service in the film business, as a manager I demand much more dedication and skill. But that’s not for me. It’s for my clients and the studio I work for. I can’t afford to give my department head or my customers anything less than their expectations.

And so sure, I have fired people and people have fired me. It’s never pleasant.

So I’m hoping that this coming Wednesday, Salvador will finish clearing the dead leaves as I asked him to. If he doesn’t, again I will have to consider using aggressive force to correct the problem. We’ll see what happens. My decisions change from day to day based on his actions and everything else.

*****

Now I get it. (Well I always did.) I understand why President Obama has changed course a few times in his approach to saving lives in Syria. He had to. Other players threw their cards on the table taking the game in a whole different direction. I’d hate to have a president who doesn’t respond to dynamic shifts and other people’s needs; like yours and mine, along with Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel; all of Europe, the Caucasus, the entire Middle East and Asia. Okay, Africa too.

I’m glad I’m not the President. I’m glad all I have to take on is my gardener’s leaf blowing. The Middle East, that’s somebody’s concern. Right?

 

UPDATE: This week Salvador finished what he left from the week before. Yes, I asked him about it but he came through for us. OKAY, he needs more supervision but he’s not lazy and he wants us to be happy. That’s all that counts. Salvador STAYS.

 

Originally posted on Curiosityquills.com.

 

 

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/09/i-dont-remember-marrying-him/

How Much Should You Care?

fists

I’ve been following the tragedies in Syria, as well as the entire Middle East and I can’t decide what’s the right thing to do anymore. Intervention? No intervention? The Syrian civil war is so complicated with so many players, there is no way to predict how our country’s response, or lack of it, will reshuffle the deck. It’s not clear who the good guys are, who the bad guys are, what will help, what will hinder, what will bring peace and what will heighten the killing.

But this post is not about politics. This post asks: (as I’ve written about before) Should we even CARE about politics? And more specifically now, should we care about the Syrians? They live way over there. We live here. Sure it’s sad that people are grotesquely dying, but it’s their war, not ours. Right?

RIGHT?

What? It’s not that simple, you say? Why isn’t that simple?

I’ll explain why it’s not simple for me. But first I’ll relate a recent conversation.

*****

Last January my wife and I bought a new car with a trial offer of satellite radio and yes, we decided to keep the service. The promo discounts ended and it was time to renew the account but I didn’t want to spend $200 a year for those occasional drives when I listen to my wife’s car radio. So I called “Listener Care” and Jeff clicked on at the other end.

call-centerI explained to Jeff my goal, to lower the annual costs, and in seven sentences Jeff had me convinced he was my friend. He would build us a package of stations that would reflect our tastes, which is everything, and he would do it with a discount. Okay. That’s what they do, these “Listener Care” people – they care…or they make you think they care. So I agreed to the $165 price in my generally chatty way. I like to keep these kinds of negotiations non-confrontational. I crack jokes and keep it personal.

Jeff was laughing and said to me, “You know, I think I can save you some more money,” and then he applied his company’s offer-this-only-if-you-have-to additional reductions, lowering my annual fee down to $140.26.

Well I was very happy about that, having finished our pleasant eight-minute conversation. So as I usually do, just before hanging up, I asked Jeff where I was calling. It’s best when your care-giver lives close by, like Beverly Hills. “I’ll give you another discount if you can guess,” he said.

Okay. Game on. This means he’s probably not in the US. He said I was right about that. I said, “English isn’t your first language and you don’t live in a country where it is.”

“That’s correct too,” he said.

“You’re a university student and you’re doing this job for extra money.”

“Right again.”

“Were you educated in the US?”

“No but I would love to visit it.”

I was stumped. He had a trace of an accent but I couldn’t recognize it. His diction was perfect. He understood American humor. He got it when I said, “I don’t want to be spammed so no, I won’t give you my email address.” There was never a hint of pressure and he reminded me of myself when I too was in college and spent a week selling discount life insurance policies over the phone.

“Okay, where am I calling?”

He said, “Cairo, Egypt.”

“Oh my God!” I said. “Are you safe?”

“So far. But it’s not a good idea to be out after dark.”

“Oh, Jeff… Your name’s not Jeff, is it?”

“No.” He laughed again. “You wouldn’t be able to pronounce it.”

I figured, but I just had to tell him, “I’ve been following your country’s ordeal ever since the start of the Arab Spring. So many of us in the country watch the horrors you’re going through. And now with what’s going on in Syria, and so many people like you dying, we just don’t know what to do!”

Rabbi with horn

“Thank you for caring,” he said. And then he told me his name, which I could barely articulate, and I told him I was Jewish and yet felt close to him. And I wished him well, and told him I hoped his country could work its way out of military rule and that his future had opportunities waiting for him.

He thanked me again and said, “I too am glad we had this conversation. L’Shanah Tovah.” And then we hung up.

“L’Shanah Tovah” is Hebrew for “Have a good year.” Our conversation happened on the second day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah when all the Jews say “L’Shanah Tovah” to all the other Jews. It’s an unsaid prayer for a better future, for a world in peace.

Jeff in Cairo is why I care about what’s happening to people I don’t know. But it took me years to get to the place where I can feel this way. I’m no longer struggling and have the luxury to expand my concerns beyond my own immediate needs.

*****

Last century, two weeks out of college, I took a look at what lay before me and tried to figure out how I was going to survive the next fifty years. I had to make my world manageable, something I could control, or at least influence. The threat of Vietnam was erased with my high lottery number which got me out of the draft. That just left paying the rent, having enough to eat, some cash for gas and getting the next job. Even that wasn’t manageable. I struggled. I struggled and I searched for solutions for staying alive, as in, figuring out what’s true and what isn’t, what and who I can trust, and something about economics. I’m still trying to figure all that out.

Drawing a line in the sand.  An old metaphor.

We all have boundaries that delineate what we need to care about and what we don’t. When putting bread on the table is our main concern, a Middle East civil war is our least concern, unless we live there. If we’re average Americans, we are blessed by a huge buffer between foreign violence and our personal space, until the next terrorist attack in our fifty states. If we’re bankers, managers of major corporations, politicians, diplomats, importers-exporters, or part of a family that lives in different countries, we have a greater need to know what’s going on at the edges of our expanded borders. Where our boundary ends is determined by how much influence we have over “others” inside it, and conversely, how many of the “Others” want to influence us. Everyone needs to make their world manageable.

The Influence Mavens are the high rollers responsible for sea changes. You and me, we’re concerned about threats to our family. The big question is: what do we consider our family? Is it our home? Our neighborhood? Our city? Our county? Our state? Our country? Our ethnic community? Our religious community? Our world?

  • Where does our caring and responsibility stop when it comes to our family?
  • What is our family and what is not?
  • At what point does Us become Them?
  • And is that a boundary which stays fixed or is it flexible?

All of us face these questions everyday and make decisions about how much of the world’s business we want to take on. Most of the time we choose to limit our focus, based on insufficient information. Then we find out we really ARE affected by issues we thought were benign, like the US trade deficit and China’s cheap labor.

Honestly, none of us can know enough to really KNOW what’s going on. I still keep trying, though. And as I come to understand that there are millions of Jeff’s all over the world, I have to come to terms with my past avoidance of the atrocities in Kosovo and Rwanda, Cambodia, the Kurdish province of Iraq, Bangladesh, Burundi, Argentina, Ethiopia, Tibet, Somalia, North Korea and all the other places of historic and current genocides.

Now I care. All those people in all those places are, and were, people like Jeff and me. We’re all family.

 

Originally posted on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/09/how-much-should-you-care/

Confessions of a Dyslexic Writer

boy-not-reading

Growing up, I didn’t like to read. I had problems learning words, reciting words, couldn’t spell them or add a five number column without making mistakes. Can you believe it? I didn’t know I was dyslectic until five years ago when I started writing my novels. With words and words and more words it finally dawned on me I was reversing letters five to eight times per page. Sometimes I would reverse even words the words themselves. And proof reading? Forget it. I couldn’t recognize the errors unless the format changed, which is how I manage to correct most, but not all, of my typos.

But dyslexia was just part of my reading resistance. Fiction bored me, especially the classics…along with text books…which left comics and I didn’t like those either. I just wasn’t interested in mastering literature or The Adventures of Dick and Jane. Dr. Seuss was okay, but not one of his books used more than two hundred words so I have no idea how I learned to read at all or pass an English lit test.

Well, yes I do. Fear of failure forced me to compensate for my lack of motivation. I stumbled through the required reading in high school, answered the quiz questions and immediately forgot it all. That was a choice.

You see, I can’t shake the belief that I have X number of brain cells for memory storage and so I delete info to make room for shit worth remembering.

So yeah, in college I was required to read even more books I thought were irrelevant and I dumped those memories too. That was the plan. I graduated USC with maybe 75% of brain storage capacity still left. Yea! Now I’d remember lots of movies! Maybe…

But something funny happened on the way to the theater.

JourneyToIxtlanWith the college reading assignments finally lifted, I started embracing information that I actually wanted to know. It wasn’t fiction though, unless it was mystical stuff like the Carlos Castaneda series about a Yaqui shaman. The stories were supposed to be real. I didn’t believe they were but I soooooo much wanted them to be, and so I drank in all those magical words. Anyway, anything and everything about the mysteries of life was on my TBR list and I couldn’t stop opening books about those topics. I wanted to know life’s secrets and I wanted that info ASAP. This is how I came to be a reader.

*****

Having graduated with a film degree, I decided to write screenplays about all the amazing things I had learned in books. It then occurred to me, I really didn’t know how to write anything. Okay, letters to friends, but story structure? What was that?

 

Humm… Guess I better bone up on that stuff, I thought, which required more reading. But unlike my boring literature classes, I now had a reason for wanting to know why and how narratives pull us in. So I read some how-to-write books and I learned about acts and character arcs. Since screenplays have little description, I didn’t need to know how to gracefully detail it, but I got by. I figured dialogue was easy – just make people say what they’re thinking, like explanations in science books, but half as eloquent.

And that’s how I started writing drama, by writing it badly. And although those first scripts were not atrocious, they didn’t sell. Nor did the following five scripts, and they were pretty good, so my agents told me. Later, one screenplay got optioned and another moved into the packaging phase. But still, no production formed out of either one.

px of scriptGetting any script produced is truly a Hollywood miracle. Unless you have connections to a top executive who can say, “I’ll green light it,” (maybe ten lords have that power) you will have to be approved by many levels of gatekeepers who are afraid to recommend a script their boss might hate.

If you happen to be one of those gatekeeper story analysts and you fight for a script, and it bombs in release, no way will your boss take the heat for that. You and the director will. However, if the movie is a hit, your boss gets a promotion and so do you. But expect your manager to take all the credit while you covertly try to get it back.

Okay – pop quiz: At every rung of the studio ladder, what is your primary job? Answer: To stay employed! And to do that, you’ll need to dodge the flops and get associated with the wins. If people think you’re responsible for a big hit or two you’ll eventually move up the ranks to a production head, where there’s no place to hide when your choices fail. Three money-losers and you’re out. You will then move off the lot with a “development deal” tied to the studio that just fired you. If you still have access to funding, your calls and emails will be returned…until your next box office disaster when your needed call-backs abruptly come to an end.

Now I don’t want to paint solely negative pictures or come off like a whining, wanna-be-famous novelist (which I am, but without the whining part). So I’ll assure you, there ARE win-lose-win scenarios. Here’s an example.

*****

You write a brilliant script or novel, you somehow get it to a B-list producer who recognizes your talent and the value of your non-genre story. Nine more producers attach to your project with hopes of cobbling together enough cash to get your movie made and snatch a distribution deal at a film festival. The movie gets critical acclaim but only limited exposure because Harvey Weinstein already allocated his project pick-up allowance before he saw your picture. So your labor of love opens in four cities with limited advertising. All eight people who saw Hollywoodyour film loved it, but it was only eight sets of eyes. You’re hoping for an Academy nomination which could kick-start your film again. You don’t win it but you and your producer (the only one left who still believes in you) start over with another one of your scripts. It’s a little easier this time, your second movie gets made with slightly more fanfare and this notoriety leads to your third project, which strikes gold at the box office.

Conclusion: You didn’t give up and eventually your third script hit the big time. This scenario applies to novelists as well. Some get lucky right out of the gate. Most make it through sheer persistence, this writer included.

*****

The reason why so many authors and filmmakers continue to beat on closed doors is because getting them to open is surely possible. Big scores happen all the time, despite dyslexia. And beyond that, there are private successes along the way that make the journey worth the struggle, especially if you enjoy the writing.

But this you know. I’m your friendly reminder-guy.

Patience, persistence and perfecting your craft really does pay off. Things change all the time, like…guess what? I’m reading more fiction now.

How about you? How are you changing? What new opportunities are you creating by staying in the game, word after word after word?

 

Originally posted on Curiosityquills.com.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.irvingsjourney.com/2013/09/confessions-of-a-dyslexic-writer/

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