I grew up Catholic, baptized shortly after birth, educated in Catholic schools until I was eighteen, first by nuns, then by Jesuits. Our neighborhood revolved around the parish church and school. In St. Louis, people would judge your social class by your parish. “She’s from Our Lady of Lourdes.” Oh, that speaks volumes.
Now I live in Thailand, and here in Chiang Mai, Buddhist temples are even more omnipresent and important to the community than were Catholic churches when I was a boy. All directions are given regarding the nearest temple. Fundraising parties that last five full days abound. There’s literally a temple every half mile in all directions. The first morning sounds I hear through our perpetually open windows are the gentle gongs of monks walking down lanes, seeking alms.
There are school classrooms attached to many temples, but most education is done in public schools. Uniforms are compulsory here, up through University level. Thais love uniforms. Even employees of companies wear uniforms. Nurses wear nurse uniforms like we used to have in America before about 1960. Boy and girl scout uniforms abound.
Conformity is not frowned upon in Southeast Asia. There’s an Asian expression, “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down.” I chafed under the regulations that demanded I wear a uniform for the first eight years of schooling, but here I take comfort seeing students in uniforms.. It reminds me of home. I remember having the same feeling when I went to Ireland in 1971. I saw Dublin school girls waiting for a bus who were wearing the same color skirt and blouse the girls wore back at our Lady of Lourdes, in St. Louis.
We will pray for you, if that’s any consolation. You ask “is there any way to avoid death?” In the long run, I’m afraid not. We are all on that journey, like cattle in a chute. We hear the frantic mooing of those who are ahead of us on the one-way path to the slaughterhouse. There, a man who holds a large hammer stands poised to strike.
What, you have other plans? Sorry, they amount to no more than wishful thinking. This world is a small part of a much greater cosmos. Will you persist? I can’t promise anything. To tell the truth, I don’t know what awaits us. I only know we’re in the chute. You can moo and kick the walls all the like, but you will move forward. See, you just took another step!
photos are much better! Don’t have to process them in any way. Yippee. Cameras are better and cheaper than they’ve ever been.
I live in Northern Thailand, and even though I’ve lived here for seven years, I haven’t grown tired of the photographic possibilities. I don’t work and I ride around on my motorcycle, which gives me plenty of opportunity to see various vistas.
If you had told me a week ago that I would be flown to Bangkok for 3 days to play an American cotton farmer in a Chinese diaper commercial I wouldn’t have believed it. But indeed this is what has happened. The location for the three-day shoot is a rich man’s estate with hundreds of acres of lagoons and gardens with carefully landscaped Lombardi pines. It looks like Versailles transplanted to Thailand. I am hardly the most important person in this project, in fact I am almost inconsequential, but they saw something in me I guess they could not find among the expatriates living in Bangkok.
Or maybe I just had a lucky break and a good Agent. The woman who plays the mother of the cute baby who needs my diapers is an incredibly beautiful young woman. She is so beautiful in that Thai way that a billboard sized picture of her could stop traffic.
The man who owns this estate is probably long dead. There is a bust of him on the landing and a huge oil portrait of him on the second floor, with photos of him and the royal family, but no one in the crew seems to know who he is, or care. We’re just using his house as a location for a commercial shoot.
Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. You can be rich enough to own Versailles but your house will be used as a location for a diaper commercial and no one will know who you are.
There was a time when I was better looking and so was everybody with whom I hung around. I could stay up late abusing my body with alcohol, tobacco and drugs and still function the next day. I showed promise. People cut me slack based on that promise, and maybe because they felt I wasn’t evil, just stupid.
They were right, I wasn’t evil, just arrogant and self-centered. Blindly egotistical. All the while I simmered with a quiet rage that I hadn’t been given the reward I was due. Why were other people prospering while I wasn’t? Where were my just desserts?
Turns out I received just as much acclaim and support as I was due. If I wanted more, I should have worked harder. Simple, really.
I don’t even have any advice to give the young, because the world has changed so dramatically that I can’t imagine how any artist, musician or writer can fit in or get ahead in an era where all content is delivered instantly, for free.
Good luck, young people. Take care of your taut bodies and enjoy them while you can. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.
“Waking up to who you are involves letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.” – Alan Watts
By the time we leave adolescence, most of us have a pretty set idea of who we are. We know our talents, our weaknesses, our proclivities. Other people let us know where we shine and where we don’t.
The jobs we’re offered, the feedback we get at work, the attention we get from possible romantic partners, the status we achieve in our community…all these things give us a pretty set and firm idea of who we are. At least we think they do.
Who we really are and the possibilities we offer are often not yet expressed. Clark Gable was an impoverished lumberjack as a young man. He had all of his teeth removed by the age of twenty and was wearing an ill-fitting and often painful set of false teeth. He had big ears. If we could zip back in a time machine and ask him to describe himself at that age, I imagine the details he would offer would vary substantially from what he would say a decade later.
Elvis at sixteen and Elvis at eighteen would offer the same extremes. These kinds of changes and rapid advances in self-concept and esteem don’t only happen to the young. There are probably more examples of delayed recognition for persistent effort than there are meteoric rises to the top. People who rate themselves as successful often say that continued and constant effort was the key to their success.
I write a lot. Blogs, Kindle Books, things that I shoot out onto the worldwide web and then…nothing much happens. So I do it again. And again. Two or three people notice. Every month I sell two or three books. I’m actually losing money at it, because I’m using Amazon ads to boost sales. So far my book Retire Cheaply and Finally Relax has been seen 140,000 times, resulting in three sales. Hmm. I spent $35 to earn $9. Not much future in that.
But I will not give up. I will continue to promote these books and blogs because…what else am I gonna do? I’m retired, living on the other side of the world. Last time I checked, I was unemployable. In the years before my last attempt at holding a teaching job, I kept proving and reproving that fact.
I’m good at hanging out and doing what I want to do, which isn’t much. Today I accomplished shockingly little. I met with friends and swam a kilometer at my swimming pool. I took a nap. I wrote a couple of blog entries and painted a very small picture. I took a short walk. I spent far too much time scrolling through Facebook, posting funny pictures which I copied from other people’s posts.
No, I can’t do any less. If I had some inspiration to try something else, I might be able to do more, but first I’d have to have some guidance as to what that might be. You can’t just do more of the same things you’re already not succeeding at. Well, you can, but that would be obsession. Compulsion. Insanity.
Time Out for Naughty Posts
I tried to post two vintage 1920’s pictures of naked women on Facebook and was blocked from using that service for three days for violating their “Community Agreements.” A computer ratted me out, recognizing nipples. In my three day fast, I’ve been prohibited from sharing likes, posting new items, or sharing the posts of others. I feel like a citizens band radio addict who’s had his microphone impounded.
I wish I could say my time-out has fostered a mini-renaissance in writing and reading, but it hasn’t. I guess this proves that what’s left of my attention span is permanently fractured, reduced to fragile shards that cannot be swept up and reassembled. There’s nobody home anymore.
My menagerie of funny photos cries out from my desktop folder, demanding to be shared with the hypothetical thousands of “friends” I have. Since I post too much every day, no one has noticed my absence. This is what it will be like when I finally die. My Facebook feed won’t feel any different to most users, my blog subscribers will simply no longer receive emails about new posts, and it may take several years until anyone notices that I’m no longer at the helm. Pictures I’ve unearthed of silent era starlets and corny 1950’s ads will be discovered long after my ashes have been absorbed by the nearest palm tree here in sunny Thailand.
I just discovered an old American who also lives in Thailand who writes a blog. So do I. He’s an even better writer than me, his output is voluminous, and he illustrates it with many good photographs, just as I do. He’s nine years older than I am and has had a varied and interesting life, just like me. I tried to read his blog and became overwhelmed by the sheer mass of it. His entries are thousands of words long. He’s been writing this blog for twelve years! It’s as thick and dense as War and Peace!
No, even I who have so much in common with my blogster elder brother couldn’t scratch the surface of his retirement output. I’m afraid I too have become a tiresome old fart. I’m the garrulous grandpa you meet at a family barbecue or social event and eventually make an excuse to distance yourself from because he won’t stop talking.
Most blogs I try to read are written by young people, twenty and thirtysomethings who are usually drifting around the planet on their parents’ dime, writing about their travels. I can’t read their blogs, either. The points they make are obvious and sophomoric.
Young people also write a lot of “lifestyle” blogs where they opine about the rules of success or building good “relationships.” When I read that last word, I know it’s time to move on.
When I hear the word “relationship” I brace myself for “couples counseling,” and “intimacy.”
What have we become? Tiresome boors who can’t even enjoy the leisure and privilege we grew into, surrounded by billions of people who have to defecate outside and carry water and firewood back to their hovel.
We peck away at our laptops with great purpose and then divert ourselves by watching Netflix.