Friday, February 10, 2017

The Impressionables


We exit the womb as unmolded clay, and then life stretches and squeezes us into the shapes we become. Genetic predisposition aside, monks, gangsters, and physicists are created, not conceived, through an existential apprenticeship of exposure, inspiration, and practice.

It works out all right when your role model is Dr. Phil. Less so when it's Dr. Mengele.

Following in devious footsteps...

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Friday, January 6, 2017

Food Chain Maneuvers



A treetop bird drops captured worms into the mouths of chicks while a hungry cat paces below waiting for any them to fall.

Nearby, ravenous bulldozers devour earth for a shopping center to soon replace the tree.

In that future parking lot, a carjacker stalks and strikes unsuspecting customers because the system jacked him.

A Pac-man planet, each of us predator and prey...

As time―the ultimate apex hunter―consumes us all.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Getaway



February, 2004. Hong Kong. I was hiking Lantau Island when the trail unexpectedly brought me to a beach. No other people, not a footprint. No boats on the water nor any other manmade structures in sight. The Pacific like a still, breezeless lake under the overcast sky. A scene of sublime inactivity.

Seeing now that this was my destination, I took off my backpack, used a rock to dig a butt-sized hollow in the sand, planted mine in there, and reclined against the pack. For an hour I didn't move: just my eyes panning the ocean, reading the horizon like the most important poem ever written...

There was only one return bus to the city and not much time, so I sat up, brushed off, and continued along eons sooner than I wanted. I've gone back many times in my imagination, though, that boundless refuge where no distance is too far, our passport is always valid, and touchdown is just a thought away. During the hard times especially, our mind's eye sees us through. When the windows of the world let in the harsh light―workplace aguish, imploded love, a fatal diagnosis―we can pull down our eyelid shades and take respite in whatever setting we conjure. For me, it's that incidental shore at Lo Kei Wan. For you?

We can't ignore reality either. The longer you spend inside, the more force the outside world amasses against you. Bills pile. Disappointment turns to depression. The tumor doubles in size. You've got to take care of life before it takes care of you.  

In doing so, you enable the next beautiful moment to retreat to when ugliness returns.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Gorbio Cats




Felines are notoriously aloof and elusive souls, which is one reason I adore them so, and why I take great pride in my cat-whispering abilities. When I'm somewhere they're likely to be, my first order of business is to make contact―the Holy Grail being to romance them into getting scooped up and letting me press those warm underneath pad parts of their feet ageeinst mah face! I switch into my most charming reassuring catspeak, and they know that I know: they come chirping and blinking in approval, weaving vigorous figure eights through my legs with almost involuntary affection. (I have the opposite effect on dogs.)

Still I wondered if my game would be enough to impress the strays of old Gorbio, a medieval seaside town in the mountains of the French Riviera where I visited one summer. Across the Atlantic, wandering that twelfth-century village near the clouds, part of me was expecting 'different' cats. Would these old-world French felines be extra snooty? Into cheese and smoking? Or unapproachable feral vagrants ready with flesh-shredding violence should I dare to put the moves on?!

The first encounter along my tour―a grey-and-white tabby who, not only let me hold her, but then bouncily pursued me into a rustic church―allayed any doubt. Deeper into the damp overcast alleyways, a blind orange one with cloudy blue eyes remained remarkably calm as my approaching voice progressed into petting; in the absence of mutual sight, our essences connected.

I gather this primal spiritual communication would be the same with cats in Italy, Australia, Afghanistan...

As with the people around this vast rock.

 Not so foreign after all.

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Evil in the Attic


Some constructs are universally creepy, others innocuous. A couch is never unsettling. Though you may toss and turn on a lumpy one crashing at an after party, no one's losing any sleep over campfire tales of a possessed sofa. But a creaky rocking chair? An antique doll? An old full-length mirror stored in a basement corner? The doll in the rocker facing the mirror? No way I'm hanging out in that room.

Diabolical typecasting in horror movies surely influences such reactions. A shower was just a place to scrub your armpits before Alfred Hitchcock killed a chick in there. These films also reflect our preexisting associations. There's a reason why the victim in The Exorcist is a little girl versus a middle-aged cabby, why the invincible demon car in Stephen King's Christine isn't a Volkswagen Rabbit, and why The Amityville Horror would be far less scary as a haunted yurt.

Some boogeymen lose their edge through overexposure. Zombies are just fun at this point, appearing in videogames, comedy, even romantic roles. We've seen so many five-year-old pirates on Halloween that, by the time we fully processed the threat of a real one, we'd already be kidnapped, duct taped, and halfway to hades in a human-trafficking barrel.

What will be the next iconic scare? Maybe something happens to make electric hand dryers chilling (but probably not). Perhaps it'll be stink bugs, abandoned malls, or hoarders. A condemned mall, infested with stink bugs and overrun by the feral colony of the world's craziest cat lady!

In any case, the perceived threat will be a harmless illusion compared to the pitfalls of everyday living. Blood pressure spikes at the thought of a rabid clown or terrorist sleeper cell, but a person is more likely to get junk-food diabetes, become an overprescribed-opioid addict, or die of a meaningless, grinding job than to be alien abducted.

No emotion so misplaced as fear.

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Thursday, August 11, 2016

Today's Special (Live)




Sunday, July 10, 2016

Nobody Special



Fame is a national preoccupation. We chase after recognition like it's the last train out of Camden. Playing the game isn't enough―you've got to dunk on ESPN. Getting elected to office requires raising at least as much image as money or ideas.  Even inanimate objects get famous: when Hostess stopped making Twinkies, the public reacted as if we'd lost a legend.

As pack animals, it's natural to want some form of social embrace, an identity within the group.  Clearly, I strive to be noticed or you wouldn't be reading this; joining act and audience is emotionally nourishing and completes the creative cycle.

Ego is a potent element, though, and becomes quickly poisonous like as much chlorine. Self-confidence might drive a ballplayer to the majors, but the team loses when he comes to value homeruns and sponsorships over the pennant.  Some of our representatives enter public service with service at heart, only to have years of self-branding so thoroughly convince them of their own campaign slogans that they lose track of their policies' greater impact. 

A measure of humility must balance self-worth, or else competition exceeds cooperation, and  the ship sinks as everyone fights to be captain.

That said, as a high school teacher, I want my students to be proud and determined, to innovate, to lead.  Of course.  At the same time they should be aware that, however brightly their individual interest burns, it's a pixel in a larger screen that affects everyone's picture, and there are times when the integrity of a task is more important than taking credit for the result. Furthermore, if attention is what they're after, posting shirtless selfies or skateboarding off a clock tower is a counterproductive way to get it.

Periodically, we need a break from ourselves as much as the greater good needs respite from our ambition.  It's an act of liberation, really, to relinquish title and be no one in particular.

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