Time for Some Beauty

The masthead photo, as you might have noticed, comes from my friend Don Sleeter. He sent me a few pictures, knowing how much I love pictures of the City, especially taken from places I rarely get to (like on the water, or on Treasure Island).

My single favorite view of the City is from the top of Dolores Park, because you get to see the City near in its entire and you’re still within it. Neat trick or existential singularity or just one of life’s many, many happinesses.

As I said, there were other photos he’d sent and there’s one that I would have liked to use but for the odd dimensions required by the MT4 template I’m using. If I ever get facile enough with CSS, I’ll scrap their template entirely and do it all myself. I have a pretty serious NIH syndrome when it comes to certain things, though, oddly, it never gets in the way of my software development work.

Here’s the photo. Click it for the full-sized (i.e., ginormous) image:

San Francisco, the Rainbow City <br/>

Don commented that he pumped up the color a bit in it, which is exactly how San Francisco feels to me, even when a dreary sky blocks a happy sun.

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The Qualified Apology

I grew up in a world without lies.

That is a lie, of course, but the truth in a lie is found in context or in timing or in point of view. Or in my case, to scope.

I may or may not have my facts correct, and as much as it sometimes abhors me, the Past and Past Persons are canonized if you’re on good terms with your own personal history.

That I may have my facts wrong has no bearing on the truth in my own statement “I grew up in a world without lies.” This kind of thing triggers eye-rolling, begs paradox and certainly invites Absolutists—who by the way live with Paradoxes both esoteric and profound—to take Divine Exception to my “obvious” moral relativism. If any of these reactions are yours, best (better?) stop reading here.

Without moderation there can be no extremes. Without lies, no truths. Without mortality, no time. And don’t forget that old chestnut, without Evil, no Good.

It’s easy to swap relative points of view when you’re on a train. Am I moving rapidly past the tunnel wall or is the tunnel wall flying past me?

The point to this talk of truth and the truth to the point I make is that success, idyl, protection and even comfort are just as limiting as failure, duress, menace and pain.

Know only safety and you’ve no skills in defending yourself. Succeed in a given academic and/or career path and you’ve aborted alternative lifepaths. Be only safe and end up without adventure or experience.

Have I convinced you that everything comes in pairs, specifically pairs of notions that live in tension with one another? Couple that with the idea of an exclusively cause-and-effect universe and you’ve got a sort of graph-paper surface on which to live a rational and “normal” life, so it would seem.

But what does truth speak to candor? What does silence lend a lie? In the finitude of my existence, there is no ‘all or nothing’.

Rhetorical nonsense all, but without nonsense, how can there be sense? Hunt through the rhetoric and hope to find dialectic? Paralipsis? A rot13 joke about a monkey with a gun?

Some part of your brain will be scouting for a something in all of this that shapes it to your own understanding. “Reading between the lines”, at the very least.

A lie is not necessarily an untruth, it can merely be a statement contrary to fact. Surely something in you—something very near to that scouting-for-meaning-something, probably—can appreciate the difference, even if your final judgment is equivalence.

Having lived in a world without lies, at first with family in so wonderful an environment that no one should deserve such a thing, then in a world where I chose for myself to exist amidst others who favored, if not truth, at least authenticity. That is how I continued to choose over and over.

My very good friend Mike and I had an extended “such is my life” kind of discussion because we can. Because we’ve known each other for fifteen years. Because we are of similar temperaments. Because we’re from very different upbringings yet our separate conclusions are the same. Well, quite similar.

It is a tragic fact of living that an atmosphere of truth might be burned away by a single lie. Even by a lack of candor. Semantics are important, otherwise they wouldn’t exist. Candor and silence, truth and lie, we try to reconcile conflicts and syncretize the rest. But if we have not experienced deceit we have no defense against it; if our environment lacked in good will, we have no ability to understand its emotional mathematics if we are lucky enough to be situated in its midst.

We resort to intellectualizing it (or ‘winging it’ or ‘shooting from the hip’) because we have no suitable skills, or we rebel against it in a fit of aggressive diffidence to dodge or disrupt or distract.

The lie, the truth, the candor, the reticence, the silence. Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to experience. You can’t think-it-through mistrust and you can’t solve for kindness to a stranger.

Sure, one lie may end an era of trustworthiness, but candor, I’ve found, can be a strong countermeasure, e.g., I have wronged you and so I apologize, volunteer a genuine posture of vulnerability and hope that you can see with your instinct and experience what your intellect has no sensibilities for. This is what I was taught was the true act of apology: the audacity to request forgiveness. The trick is that the wronged must decide to believe and accept.

And how does the earnestly penitent effectively show vulnerability? When I have wronged another and have apologized, I am concerned with making the other feel better, not myself. I admit to my wrongs, directly and without qualification. I make no demands, I make no pleas. I offer restitution, leaving the details to the transgressed. I accept that though I am earnest, the other person may not see it or believe it. I am ready to accept failure and do, if that’s the way it plays out.

Most importantly, I offer no explanations unless asked. My reasons for having wronged have no place in an apology. The situation, the circumstance, the reasons and explanations of my offense have no place and are of no matter, unless they matter to the one to whom I am apologizing.

In accepting someone else’s apology, like everyone else my posture is at first en garde. After all, it’s up to the transgressor to do the work. I look for the same things from him or her that I offer when I apologize.

And just as one lie can collapse an environment of trust and good will, so in an apology can the smallest hint of self-absolution completely invalidate an apology offered to me. Some call this “waiting for the ‘but’”. You know what I’m talking about. In fact, I’m sure you can think of multiple times you’ve listened to an apology, an offer, a deal—even a sales pitch!—and waited for the other shoe to drop.

An apology stops being an apology at the first sign of self-interest.

This is the bottom line, the closest I may ever come to a belief in absolutes.

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Enmity

“Enmity”. That’s the word I’ve been looking for.

At first I was thinking of something vague like “wariness” or mundane like “dislike” or overwrought like “fear”. But no, “enmity” wins out. And it has the magical distinction of having shown up as a word of the day the day after I settled upon it.

When you’re growing up, you learn simple facts by which no explanations are attended. They Just Are. More than old wives tales (because they’re objectively demonstrable) but less than conclusions (because no one bothers to explain “why?”), such simple axioms have carried the day in our personal histories more than we care to even think about.

I’m sure you can think of a few, but consider examples such as

  • Approaching thunderstorms carry a heralding scent
  • “Autumn is in the air”
  • Adult cats avoid kittens
  • Adult dogs avoid puppies

But did you ever ask your parents or other adults——or even yourself—why those things are what they are? Probably you did ask others and got a “because”, or you asked yourself and were simply stumped or you pulled out the World-Book-Encyclopædia-Britannica and arrived at something close to—or at least close-enough-to—intellectual satisfaction.

Intellectual anything is near and dear to my heart—though less near than usual in these last fourteen months and therefore more dear in these last fourteen months—but as I get older and older (and isn’t 43 so much older and so much younger than you thought it was/would be when you were half that age?), the intellectualization of a thing becomes more and more an artifice, a synthetic supposition of the reality it attempts to approximate.

Death is an interesting one. Illness—especially one’s own—also interesting. Interesting because the distance between the idea of a thing and the actual thing is so much more vast than you ever, ever expected. By distance I most certainly do not mean incorrectness. Death is an ending and a shape to which the living must conform in order to continue on their own existences. Illness is much the same class of thing only varying in degree. Intellectualizations aren’t necessarily incorrect, they’re simply left wanting. And ironically, the better the match, intellectually to phenomenologically, the more poignant the distance: Being so right in one’s intellectual expectations and left so unbelievably wanting when the analogous reality occurs.

“When you’re dead, you’re dead.” That’s a James Lapine line from a Stephen Sondheim musical, if you can believe it. Unsung, aptly, and lacking bitterness, aptly, but in the book nonetheless.

We carry around with us our own sensibilities…

<br/> <br/>

…and those sensibilities—my own sensibilities inform me—may account for so much more of our actions and reactions than any of us is willing to own up to.

This is not a bad thing. Sensibilities are, from a certain intellectual (yes, I know) perspective, learning that happens beneath, beside, astride, because-of, before, after, in-spite-of the bookish, garden-variety learning.

The adult cat senses the caprice of the kitten. The adult dog finds puppy-play unpredictable and moot. Cats and dogs may not play together, but they avoid together.

Humans avoid together, too. Or at least they should. When they can.

But human society mixes more, isolates less even as each of us feels more and more isolated. Instincts are devalued against intellect, positioned as competitors instead of symbionts. The results are skewed, sometimes to the point of catastrophe.

Maturity marches no longer in lock-step with age, but the instinctual expectation of such remains: we assume.

Assumptions are fragile and fall away silently. Consilience becomes archaic. We lose discernment, which is just another way of saying we regress: the kitten does not, cannot discern between play and attack. The puppy has no sense of boundaries.

The adult human is adult sometimes only in form and not function. The human child may lack a sophistication which imbues a wisdom his or her adult self is destined to lack.

These things begin at different times and progress/regress at different paces, often within the same individual. Fractionation leads to fractiousness and the road to hell is formed by the footfalls of such creatures.

There is no Hell, of course, except the one of Lore and Allegory, of Hyperbole and Admonition, but the imagery is of practical use.

People live with paradox because they must: survivors. Sometimes people live amidst paradox, willfully taking advantage of gray-space in a world increasingly unwilling to see things as anything but black or white: manipulators. Sometimes people resort to clever to spin up attractive paradoxes to their own advantage: monsters.

And some people are so damaged that they lose their way: the petulant.

This last group are the ones ultimately responsible for others having invented aphorisms like “no good deed goes unpunished” and “nice guys finish last”. Untruths, to be sure, unless the petulant are involved.

Petulance creates insult out of generosity, invents lies out of truth, twists candor into accusation and always, always lives the life of emotional vampire, the ultimate acquisitor.

There are many in our culture who turn terms of therapy into some a self-serving swamp of personal jingoism. These are the same people who weaponize grief and sorrow and generosity and good-intentions even when any of those things in their original good-will forms benefit themselves!

Now, I have been accused of many things: I’m too blunt, or too decorous. Too direct or too passive. Too generous or too stingily demanding. Too kind or too cruel. Too forgiving or too unrelenting. I have been accused of not being able to “just let it go”, whatever “it” was, and there is no opposite to that.

I have accused myself of misguided Fool Me Thrices (and beyond). You know the “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”? It’s the Thrice case that leaves me confused, impotent, addled.

And like certain cultures whose counting mechanisms never evolved past “One. Two. Three. Many. Many. Many…”, such is my own openness to the world of “survivors”, “manipulators”, “monsters” and “the petulant”.

I am ever surprised when a gift results in thievery. Ever surprised when kindness is returned with abuse, forgiveness with with retribution.

Right now I am confounded by a smiling knife slipped with exacting precision between ribs in my back; I am also disturbed by the fact that the knife itself is only a minor part of the pain. No, filthy and base, it’s all down to matter of money and an ugly judgment based thereupon.

I was accused—and likely rightly so—of enabling bad behavior in another by covering his expenses. I accept this, refusing to question it because I am out of my depth in such matters. My accuser, however, is also out of his depth and did directly benefit financially from my “enabling”.

There is no wiggle room here; my guilt in enabling is clear and unqualified. Let that fact stand.

But I ask myself why I am furious at the accusation when I know it to be true. That my good intentions brought harm to another should—and does—bring guilt, not fury. That my good intentions brought benefit to my accuser? Well, that was part of my original impetus in covering expenses as the two people were financially interdependent! I was not helping just one person, but several, and was helping to keep an entire situation from fragmenting into a thousand sharp and ugly pieces.

So if the enabling-money was the problem in all of this, as the accuser pointed out, there’s a simple answer to reversing the damage: reverse the cashflow. This was not a suggestion to my accuser, it was a demand. Return the money that had caused the problem. Ungift the gift that had helped you out and had reduced your stress and had allowed your own life to proceed without significant disruption.

If the money was needed, as the situation more than implies, you’d expect his answer to be “I can’t” or “I don’t have the money to give you”. His actual answer? “It was your choice in giving the money and it’s not my responsibility to return it to you.”

Adult cats keep distance from the pin-pricks of kitten-claws and kitten-teeth. Adult dogs avoid the unpredictability of pups.

My fury? There’s no answer, there’s only the wisdom of cats and of dogs.

Of grown-ups.

Unaccustomed As I Am

Today was a day when I awoke to an early alarm and got myself on my way to BART and then to the East Bay. It felt like a morning-commute kind of morning, but intents and purposes were at odds with the Typicals and the Normals.

“You are only you and that’s a very brave thing to show the world.” — “Saint Chola” by K. Kvashay-Boyle

Who am I today? Who is it to be shown to that small portion of the world this morning, the one that matters? That’s a Dear Diary page yet to be written here in the back seat of a BART car, a seat that upon leaving the City will have me facing the City. Yes, that quirk of mine still exerts itself.

There are iPod ads all over the Powell Street Station, Apple’s magical genius cut from aluminum and electronica, glass and magic, and Apple is not who I am today—though I’m wearing one of their caps.

Ads for saving Darfur are all around Montgomery Street Station, but who I am right now doesn’t exist outside the EaseInEaseOut shape of the segment of BART tracks from here to my There.

Embarcadero Station has snarky sneaky-peek ads, incongruous and prescient. The aptness is ridiculous and haunting.

We’re under the waters of the Bay now, carving two more traffic lanes between the City ad Oakland. It’s always loud and my ears always pop. It’s a tossup on which feels better: quiet pressure or open cacophony. More portents.

<br/> The Trip Back

Enlightenment. A new window opens. That’s not exactly right, for the window was always there, but the view was never deemed worthy of more than cursory glances: We already knew what’s out there.

But we didn’t. Any given New World comes from nowhere but the Old World, just seen with better eyes, heard with better ears and pondered with extreme care and absent conceit. And didn’t we all know that all along?

Heaven is a city much like San Francisco, wherever your own version of San Francisco situates itself on a map and no matter what it’s called.

Wisdom is a gift that comes in odd shaped boxes and, absent foil and paper and bows, we often mistake it for something we already think we know.

My Television Overnight

Never trust the cold-blooded with matters of the heart; never expect children to be valorous. Reptiles thrive among the humans, as do bait-fish. And children, lacking the physical completeness required to intuit their way through nuance or lacking the emotional maturity to look beyond “but why?” and “more?” are mostly abused by Republicans as political fodder.

Ironically, it occurs to me that the cold-blooded are nothing more than the ones who churlishly answer the children’s questions with “because I can” and “not enough”. And this makes me sad. I’d have said “embittered”, but days like today don’t offer the luxury of gesticulated histrionics.

I was in the Mission today trying to get home.

Trying.

After a flash-backed event the night before. After sleep never really came down. After hasty morning preparations and a fast walk to BART. After a transbay BART ride followed by a shuttle ride followed by another walk, followed by accomplishing a necessity so complicated and upsetting and relieving and distressing and important and modal that I lost track of time and space and a conscious awareness of the round trip home. Found the shuttle stop. Got to BART. Got to 24th & Mission Street. Google Maps says it’s 7/10 of a mile to my home. I’m dizzy. Legs not working right. Stumbling. Stopping. Looking for a cab. No cab. Walk further. Stopping. No cab. More walking. Cross Cesar Chavez Street. Stopping. No cab.

Cross Mission Street. Walk past the dead shell of Cafe Commons. Like my immediate state of mind (I’m lucky I remember even that). Finally a cab and I get in. Tell cabbie I’m not well and I just need a ride up the hill. Up the hill. Can’t be more than 90 seconds to my place. A $4.00 charge. I hand him a twenty and two $1 bills and ask for a $10 back. I asked if I got that right and he said nothing. Oh well. I tripped out of the cab and fumbled with the car door and then the back gate and then the iron gate and got in the house.

Having not spoken more than a dozen words all day, I have no voice when I answer the grousing cat.

Water. That’d be good. I gulp a large glass and the coldstreak runs down me and spreads through me and pricks those uncomfortable parts that illuminate harsh realities: the house is empty and I am alone.

I dozed off leaning sideways, feet in shoes, shoes on floor, tears in eyes.

I righted myself at some point later and phoned my folks. They’re always there for me; they always know what to say and what not to say and this is a special blessing on a day where my own voice is a reptile and an impudent child.

I am awake. I am alone. I am disagreed.

The Society of Solitude

You don’t find out what really hurts until the hurt does its thing and is past. Even in those aftertimes, the After-ness lasts and lasts, coloring each step, each breath, each thought. Hurt is that dark hound in the dark night in the dark times. The wolf may have his hour, but Hurt—Hurt trundles along, rickety wheel-turn after rickety wheel-turn through day and night, through sleep and awake times, never permitting deep sleep nor full consciousness, for that matter.

Hurt is the path it leaves behind. Hurt is everywhere nothing is. Hurt is a shadow cast from no principal. Impossible, yet undeniable.

As far as forces of nature go, Hurt Cheats.

Hurt is a dirty drug, one of those substances that brings no leisure nor entertainment value. Hurt finds Hurt and goes synergetic. Hurt piles on because it flares higher, burns brighter when arranged like charcoals in a barbecue pit.

A human becomes a a stencil cut-out and Hurt sprays around it. Such Silhouettes peel themselves off the walls and off the floors. They slog along, dripping paint like breadcrumbs drawing still others along to where the real party happens: Empty shells lacking depth playacting at being real and vital, taking blind stabs at genuineness and intimacy, all self-congratulatory for Living Full Lives.

Except that the pretty colored spin-art splattering the walls is neither art nor beauty, just orgiastic false-coruscation.

But the Hurt agree it’s evidence of the sublime, pretty colors to brighten a day and stave off the Hurting for even just a brief interval—respite where you can get it.

Fear.

Fear is a fertile soil for germinating Hurt. Fear of Loneliness. Of Hurt. Of Solitude. Of Self. Of Awareness. Of Awakeness. Of Choice. Of Free Will. Of Risk. Of Being Wrong. Of Being Right. Of being Alive. Too Alive. Not Alive Enough. Of Being.

The Hurt scatter, climbing into their own shadows in wait for the next lodestone to appear, on which they clamor and claw, hoping for more than the sad Silhouette but too timid to just reach out for it for fear of—yeah, you got it—getting Hurt.

Sure it’s a bitch living with Fear. Living with Hurt. Living in Fear that we’ll each have to one day accept ourselves as Self-Mendicating bits of flotsam, there but for the grace of no one but our own self and our own accomplishments, our own accumulations of wisdom and ignoble acquisitiveness.

And we do it all Alone. And we do it in spite of and because of Fear. And Hurt.

Or we don’t and we die Alone. In Fear. Hurting.