Social Decorum And The Horse It Rode In On

Table manners bwThis random thought began as a journal note in 2014. 

Table manners.  Ah yes!  A tiny window view into the vast array of merit badge earning opportunities awaiting on the shoulder-sash of parenthood.

My youngest son is hyperactive…seriously!  I’ve been told that during his toddler years, when he was scheduled to attend mother’s day out the staff added an extra person just to handle him.  Ha, that’s my boy.  Nowadays he can often be seen orbiting the table while we enjoy family dinner, which at my choosing we share every night.  It appears he came into this world with a wicked case of the “can’t-be-stills!”  I could force him to sit…but why?  Will he turn out to be a better citizen if I make him do so?  Will he feel it’s okay to be him if I force him to “not be him?”  Will any of us digest our meal more healthfully, or feel the world has been made a better place if I declare martial law at the dinner table?  Probably not.  However, at times, while chewing my food, seated within the gyroscopic whirl of his dining room orbit I do hear distant murmurs of a disapproving throng.

“Can’t you control that kid?”

“That walking about is not proper dinner time behavior!”

“Have the decency to teach the boy some manners!”

As though having trouble staying seated while masticating will lead directly to the unraveling of the social fabric of our entire culture.

As a nod to Emily Post and her followers,  I have explained to my son that some people will expect the use of traditional, “proper” manners and that table-orbiting may not be considered acceptable in the homes of his friends.  He gets it.  He has managed to avoid becoming “that kid in the principal’s office” at school, etc.  When required, he’s capable of masterful-ish self-control.  Perhaps the best way to look at manners is in context.   Are our opinions about the matter based on childhood experience?  If so they are traditional, possibly passed down through multiple generations.  Yes, these specific rules of behavior have been taught, but are they still supremely relevant?  The doctrine of a flat Earth was too once widely taught.  Do these lessons still hold their weight in the face of scientific, or in this case cultural evolution?

With that view in mind, one has to decide the goal, and more importantly the ultimate impact of one’s parental decisions.  I find that after deconstructing most etiquette protocol and running it through the, “Does this rule truly make the world a better place” test, flexibility and acceptance usually win the day.  Because really, are we here to “control” children, or help them flourish?  I know which answer sits, or doesn’t sit (pardon the pun) best with me.  I’m not advocating mannerlessness.  I’ve taught my boys every social rule and regulation that I’ve ever learned.  They are aware of and able to adhere to social decorum protocol at will.  Afterall, knowing the rules is a perfect starting point on the road to doing the right thing, staying out of trouble, and for those of you who remember high school, avoiding embarrassment.

Long after we are gone, our children will unconsciously run their lives on the operating systems we’ve implanted in them.  Our decisions about how to handle their youthful “behavior issues” will have shaped more than those teaching “moments.”  That is why I let the kid orbit the table at dinner time.  And no, I don’t let him do laps at Thanksgiving with the extended family.  Even I have my limits.  There are times and places for rules to be followed, and at least in my universe, times and places for their bending.  Most adults unconsciously carry childhood memories of being brought to heel over issues of manners or rules.  How the lessons were “taught” matters, even decades later.  The cumulative effect of an upbringing may leave one with a deep-seated sense of self-acceptance, ambivalence or shame.  I know which perspective I’d like to see shaping the future of this world.  I bet you do too.

 

Do you have a similar experience to relate?  Please comment.  Life is bigger and better with shared experience!

Life Is Short-ish

sunrise

The blush of daylight at dawn

A cold shower

Long slow breaths, taken with purpose 

A moment to see that on most any spectrum things could be better or worse

Gratitude offered, because this small act is always within our power

The​ Living Room of an Old Person’s Home

Old persons living room V5

The living room of an old person’s home has a thing about it.  “Their thing,” to be precise.  Such a place usually has a particular feel, scent, dust/grime quotient, and a frozen in time quality, that is both haunting and intriguing.

The carpet, the furniture, and the wallpaper all have born witness to the arc of a life or lives that have gone from actively growing, reaching, and achieving to stillness, passivity, unwitting disengagement, and ultimately decay.  Once the occupants of this place were counted in the numbers of an up and coming vanguard generation.  The status quo creaked and groaned under the pressure of the change they demanded, finally acquiescing as a new world was forged by the sheer force of their will.  So it is with each generation.  Cliche warning: change is the only constant, until it’s not.

“Dad jokes,” ha!  The beginning of generational culture division is humorously summarized in those two simple words.  Dad jokes are the harbinger of connectivity obsolescence which makes them extra funny, or awkwardly morbid.  Take your pick.  

Getting older is a foregone conclusion, getting wiser is not.  Dad jokes are optional. An aging generation can opt for continuing education, the conscious act of learning about and remaining connected to the next generation, or not.  These options bear the seeds of individual cultural choice that if not planted wisely may well find their harvest in the living room of an old person’s home.  

I’m not saying that redecorating is the key to staying relevant.  Of course, such endeavors require the allocation of resources that may or may not be in short supply depending on personal circumstance.  Following trends and continually updating one’s position in this world is a slippery slope to be sure.  The justification for such efforts is inextricably tied to the end goal.  What can we expect a quest for relevance to yield?  

Social evolution is historically proven, factually undeniable.  To remain relevant one must acknowledge, embrace and act in accordance with the principles lifting that wave.  Here we are confronted with the specter of “Identity.”  The crescendo of identity formation is represented by the metaphorical “brand new living room” conceived and actualized at the pinnacle of a life where we make our victorious statement, whether we realize it or not.  “We’ve arrived,” and here’s the interior design masterpiece to prove it; insert modernist decor, steampunk accoutrements, colonial, mid-century or whatever statement seems fitting to illustrate the reaching of one’s personal triumph at the perceived summit of their material journey.  This perch is a victory that in its very achievement can, if we are not vigilant, become a living tomb.  An apex reached may by definition offer only descent as a next step.  That’s where choice, and particularly choosing to step outside the box becomes an engaging, challenging, potentially life-affirming if ego-threatening moment, and at best, a most welcome alternative to programmed obsolescence. 

I’m not suggesting that we don the sailor outfit our mother’s had us wear for our four-year-old portrait, or the nightmare ruffled pastel leisure suit style tuxedo we wore to the prom a thousand years ago.  I am however suggesting that resting on accomplishments of any kind leads to the possibility of disconnection from the inevitable; from tomorrow, the day after, and so on.  Retaining accrued wisdom while remaining open to fresh, if potentially identity challenging perspectives means we still get to be ourselves, but in liquid rather than solid form, metaphorically speaking.

Being relevant is not an inalienable human right.  Being relevant is a quest that requires constant attention, adjustment, acceptance of that we do not yet fully understand, and most importantly the willingness to allow for the possibility that identity is ephemeral.  In the game of relevance, personal commitment to evolution is the only winning strategy.  Identity, if not fluid, becomes the anchor that prevents us from riding the wave of social metamorphosis.  The real kicker is that our identity issues have the superpower of invisibility as it relates to our ability to honestly see ourselves as others see us.  Ugh!

If I find myself in the weeks leading up to my death stripping wallpaper, tearing up carpet, and fondling paint samples, it will be no more than a physical manifestation of my desire to understand the current consciousness of my children’s or my children’s children’s world.  My last valiant effort to understand and assimilate the language, challenges, and opportunities that are continuously spawning in perpetuity outside the soul prison walls of the living room of an old person’s home.

#metaphor

Last Day On Earth

earth

Last Day On Earth

What would I do if I learned that today was my last day on earth?  Hmmm, if we asked a random group of people that question we’ed get a spectrum of answers.  Would the spectrum be narrow, the answers similar, or would they be divergent, deeply personal and unlikely to overlap?  Some might say; “I’d want to be with my family.” Others might choose to find a pound of cocaine and dance naked in a rainstorm of hookers.  Might some go skydiving?  Or Google the one love that got away and purchase a plane ticket, or find a church and pray until their tongue cramped?  Perhaps some would hide in bed, crying away their last hours.

I imagine the answers might share some commonalities if the interviewees found themselves in a similar place on the arcs of their lives.  If not, the answers could be strewn all over the mental universe.  I, for example, am a parent, and so would hope that some part of that ‘last day’ could be spent with the children whom I love and cherish more than anything in this world.  What if that weren’t possible.  What if I learned at 6am that my life would end at midnight and both of my sons were nowhere to be found?  Maybe they’d be hiking some distant mountain range, or off on a hitchhiking adventure across Canada…whatever.  The point here being, the desired spend of my last few hours would not be attainable.  Were that the case I would have to find another way to make the most of my last hours as an earthling.   I could spend my last day lamenting this misfortune, or?  What would you do?

Perhaps there’s a better question to ask.  Maybe we’ed be better served by taking a less conventional approach, asking a different question than “What would I do if it was my last day on earth?”  The query, “what I’d do” is powerful, yet impractical.  If I’m asking to learn anything other than how I’d choose to use a minuscule number of hours that, statistically speaking, I’m unlikely to be presented with, it has little value.  This is because the probability of finding ourselves in such a situation is infinitesimally low.

Having a plan is excellent.  Carrying jumper cables in the trunk for example, or hiding a key to the front door under a rock in the yard are precautions likely to at some point take center stage under the “usefulness spotlight.”  These are premeditated solutions to scenarios we are likely to face.  I was not a Boy Scout, but I have borrowed, and benefitted from the Boy Scout motto, “Be prepared.”

It dawned on me today while out mountain biking in the color-rich Autumn woods, that I’d be better served if I knew the answer not to “What would I do if this was my last day on earth,”  But HOW I would do it!  How would I approach it…living my last day?  What attitude would I take?  The “how“ can be controlled, focused, owned.  The “what” cannot.  Perhaps you’ve already been down this philosophical road.  For me, it’s a new perspective.  I hadn’t spent time comparing the value of the endless passing days of my long-ass life to the single day that I knew would be my last.  “How” would I approach it?  Suddenly I felt in complete control of my last day on earth!  That, I could choose without the need for permission or the hope of right timing.

In my case pondering this ‘How’ made the lingering color of the late Autumn woods brighter to my eye.  The definition of things sharpened.  If I knew this was my last look at the majesty of life, I would look closer, deeper.  This perspective caused my energy to swell dramatically.  I took the jumps higher, the hills faster.  The strength, love, the gratitude within me grew noticeably, all because of a thought.  I dare say I had a bit of a Grinch-like moment of realization, and everything in the world was better, more meaningful and more of a gift than it had been in the moments before.

The expression “live every day as though it were you last” therefore may be commonly misconstrued, or at least in my case misapplied.  It tends to call up the ‘What’ when in fact it’s the ‘How to accept/approach it’ that may be the true gift hidden in that cat-poster quote.  On any day leading up to my last the answer to the question “How” I would choose to live my last day on earth is a gift, a revelation, a tool that can be used to make every day more than it otherwise might have been.  So Namaste friends, Nama-f’ing-ste.

Have thoughts on the subject?  Please comment.  Life is bigger and better with shared experience!

Free Fall

Free Fall JH 2

“What do you mean ‘bad’?” I asked.

“I think it’s self-explanatory.” He said.

“Nice bedside manner doc!”

He reached into his lab coat and produced a flask and two plastic shot glasses, “Cheers!”

“Ha, we’re celebrating my terminal diagnosis?” I said with a hastily shaken tone cocktail of irony, indignation and false bravery.

“We all have a terminal diagnosis, my friend.  I love you, and this shot is to celebrate your life.  The life behind you, that left before you, and most importantly this moment, when we here together face the inevitable; the heartache, the confusion, the freedom, and the truth, that we all try so desperately to ignore.”

I found myself smiling in spite of the dour news, “I love you, man.”

Doctor James had been my college roommate freshman year, and my best friend for the last thirty years of my now seemingly bookended life.  Together we had surfed the waves off the Santa Barbara coast, chased the same woman at parties and fought over the outcome, ridden a motorcycle through the courtyard of a dormitory with frantic RAs chasing us.  This was the man who knew me better than anyone on the planet.  He had supported me every step of the way.  He knew when to say “I’m sorry,” and he knew how to forgive.  He was the perfect person the usher me onto the crowded tarmac for those awaiting passage to the hereafter.

“So by ‘no’ you mean there’s no cure?” I asked.

He looked me in the eye, raised his plastic shot glass to offer a toast, I obliged with a shaky reciprocal gesture.

“There is only one cure for life, and as mortals, we will all one day be cured.  May you rock the fuck out of the days, months, or years left to you.  May you know that I love you like a brother with all my heart and will ride this last wave with you wherever it may take us.”  He held his glass and my gaze.

Damn him; the fucking bitch made me tear up.  I killed the shot and immediately put my cup out for a second.

“How long?” I asked.

“I don’t fucking know…six months, six years, it’s so fucking random.  Let’s see, no sugar diets, kale, and on the uh-oh side, hidden guilt, self-hatred, or an emerging heretofore unseen badass extreme will to live.  I could tell you some number, but then that number enters your reality and who the fuck am I to shape your perspective on something like this?  I’m just a doctor.”  James laughed as he filled our little plastic shot cups.

“Let’s go to the mountains and hike.” He said.  “I’ll clear my schedule; we’ll go to my place in the Sierras, spend a couple of days and let this percolate.”

“Are you coming on to me?”  My super thin, false bravado wavering.

“Ha, fuck you, I’ll bring coffee, be ready by 8 am.”  Doctor J. hissed with a shit-eating grin.

“Thanks?”  I had to laugh.  Hiking would be good!

#fiction

Have thoughts on the subject?  Please comment.  Life is bigger and better with shared experience!

Butterfly Girl

PAPILIO MACHAON

The wooden window frame creaks gently at the caress of the breeze.  Dew drops tremble on the laden blades of grass running from the mailbox to the front steps.  Sunglow shines at the edge of the world, kissing the brickwork of the sleepy cottage, built long ago for someone’s profit, filled this day mostly with love.  In the kitchen, the faintest click signals the release of water, soon to be steam, then to become the rich black elixir that she loves with just a dash of cream.

As always the alarm is set but unneeded.  Her long lashes flutter open to the glow of this new day.  Most mornings her first thoughts are steeped in gratitude…for all of it.  For her life, her child, her present moment, and still with some difficulty she embraces and acknowledges her gratitude for the past.  Every day has lead to this moment, the aroma of coffee, the faint light filling the skylights, the peace that once seemed a phantom now seems a life.

“Mom”

“Yes, my darling one.”

“Can I have some coffee?”  Her son Jonah asks.

“Certainly, but no sugar please.”

“Nevermind.”

“Joey, have you noticed what an amazing gift this morning is?”

“Yes mom, I said my gratitudes,” his words wander naturally down this well-worn path.

“Excellent! I love you!”

“Love you too.”

Three paintings hang on the wall, across the room from her king size bed.  The painting on the left is of an intricately patterned caterpillar making its way across a birch branch in what looks to be late Summer.  The next is of a delicate chrysalis suspended from a similar branch in the Fall.  The painting on the right is of a magnificent butterfly taking wing in the Spring.  So it goes that not every day has been this day, full of comfort, and love.  But today, a few before, and many after will be very much like this one.

Discomfort, I’ve heard tell, is the price of admission to a meaningful life.  Knowing the Butterfly Girl’s story, I believe that to be true.

#fiction

Have thoughts on the subject?  Please comment.  Life is bigger and better with shared experience!

Black Bird

Black Bird Peggy Michik 2

It’s weird how we all take flight at the same time.  Pecking away at the lawn one minute, in a barren tree the next.  Sometimes I wonder if we are all bound to a single consciousness.  If we all came from one bird, and so share some genetic connection that lets us anticipate each other’s thoughts.  That would be cool.  Where would the first bird have come from? An egg?  That doesn’t make much sense.  Oh well, I’m just a bird with a bird brain, but I think I’m at least an average, if not above average blackbird, and that’s cool.

I like the migration ritual.  It always happens around the same time. We fly over all the places that won’t be warm enough, stop on a high wire overlooking buildings, or a road, then move on.  It seems like the wires are getting easier to find every year.  More wires, fewer trees.  I guess that’s what the humans call progress.  I call it weird.  How many wires, roads or building does one species need, right?  Oh well, I’m just a bird looking for berries and seeds.  Sometimes as a protest to all the pavement I eat a bunch of berries and then set my flight path so that I can poop on cars.  It’s my little way of saying “hello, we live here too.”  It’s especially fun to hit the ones that are moving, windshield hits are my favorite.

Anyway, enough about progress.  The trip has gotten easier over the last few years.  Not sure why, but we don’t have to fly as far to find warmth.  The most interesting thing about the trip is seeing all the new stuff that humans build each year.  Sometimes, after flying for a long time we all suddenly decide to visit a tree or field that we liked a lot on our last trip.  No one chirps about it, we all just go.  Last year after a long stretch of flying I found myself extra hungry and tired.  I was dreaming of a big field beside a red barn that we’d stopped at last year.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one because the whole flock was aiming for it like one colossal multi-part being.  Anyway, when we got there, it was a parking lot, and shopping mall, bummer.

We collectively thought “Well shit!” then perched on power lines overlooking that grassless space.  People were coming and going with armloads of stuff, shopping carts, sunglass, the works.   I guess they make more humans every year.  That must be why they keep building stuff.  There are fewer of us this year than last.  Not a big difference but it does feel weird.  Like the collective consciousness of bird-dom is being downsized.  I guess that’s sad, but it means more food for me if we find a nice spot.

Speaking of nice spots.  I wonder if sometime in years to come will be warm enough to just stay home for the winter.

Have thoughts on the subject?  Please comment.  Life is bigger and better with shared experience!