Where are the Dead?


70133400_2705871152780294_8504787002795753472_n

We recently enjoyed Halloween. Even here in Thailand, the days get noticeably shorter this time of year, and the temperature drops at night. That’s a good thing. Thus begins our high tourist season and the hotels, restaurants and massage shops finally become profitable again. For this they endured eight months of suspended animation.

I find myself remembering those who have crossed the veil before me. The older I get, the more of them there are for me to recall. They had distinct personalities and with little effort I can imagine having a conversation with any one of a number of them. So where are they now?

I find it more difficult to imagine that they no longer exist than to visualize them somewhere else, in another dimension, one at which I will arrive any day now. I can easily admit that the body dies, but not the spirit. It can’t simply vanish, can it?

For some reason, over the last two weeks more than six of my friends have suffered heart attacks and strokes. Vascular surgery and stents have given them a newly extended warranty, but that temporary fix will eventually lapse. Since death is certain and forestalling it a doomed enterprise, why not just surrender as soon as the grim reaper knocks?

It would be easier if all this weren’t so hypothetical.

No Cause for Panic


69621681_2635787169766322_8488265564983132160_n

 

When things fall apart, it will be very sudden. Everyone will be taken by surprise. ATM’s will stop working. Recreational travel will cease. Borders that were once open will close indefinitely.

No one will be in charge, so there will be no one to complain to. People who don’t know any more than you do will try to reassure you that matters are under control, but they’ll be lying.

You won’t be able to observe much directly. You’ll see barriers that say “Road Closed” but you won’t be able to see why the road is closed. The reason for the closure will remain hidden. Rumors will fly, but no one will know the real truth. Most of what is said will be mere speculation.

It will steadily get worse. Food and water shortages will get everyone’s attention at once. Electricity outages, sanitation lapses, business closures, all will contribute to a mounting sense of panic. The more there is to panic about, the more the people who pretend to be in charge will say “there is no cause for panic.”

 

71035910_2428616830760990_5385032903417659392_n

King Addict


70133400_2705871152780294_8504787002795753472_n

 

He was an addict through and through, addicted to nothing so much as addiction itself. Any activity that caused him to keep secrets, spend money, and kept him in a permanent state of dissatisfaction would do. He could become and remain addicted to anything at all.

Shame was his constant companion. Remorse hounded him throughout the day, but especially at night, when he would review his addictive behaviors and promise himself tomorrow would be different. Tomorrow he would cut back.

But tomorrow never came. At least the tomorrow that would be different from today never came.

All activities, not just addictive ones, left him feeling empty. As time went on, he felt more and more numb. Always there was the hope that some new thing would come along, something he could really get excited about. Then he could abandon all reason and dive right in, smothering himself in the process. But instead of such a new thing arriving, the old addictions held on, and the possibility for excitement waned.

Nothing he was doing was worth the cost, the secrecy, the effort. The only way out of addiction is to go cold turkey, and that as millions of addicts will attest, is no fun at all. So he remained loyal to his addiction to addiction. No matter how bad it got, he never gave up.

Not Ready to Apologize


IMG_9191

 

Many of the Agent Orange victims of our war effort in Laos and Vietnam are still alive. They are still hideously malformed, requiring constant care from family members. We have never apologized, much less sought to make things right. We have never offered to pay reparations of any kind.

When you search the Internet for Agent Orange Victims, you come up with posts about our soldiers who were injured dumping Agent Orange on Vietnamese and Laotian civilians, and the forests and farmland in which they lived. Many people ask for compensation to be paid to our soldiers, but nobody is suggesting we pay the people on whom we dumped this toxic chemical.

Nor has anyone suggested that the stockholders of Dow Chemical or Monsanto (now Bayer) ante up. That was a long time ago, and even though we were embroiled in an undeclared war, those unfortunate people were “the enemy.”

Speaking of undeclared wars, the conflict in Korea was also such an affair “a United Nations police action” enforced by the country who gave the world napalm. We dumped plenty of the sticky, jellied gasoline on North Korea, and night-time bombing runs by Curtis Le May’s newly formed Air Force burned millions of civilians to a crisp as they slept.

Neither the Korean or Vietnam Wars accomplished what they intended. After hostilities ceased, the borders remained as they were at the start. Millions dead, billions spent, and few lessons learned.

Could Be Worse


69508155_3003645069860499_6574284514179153920_n

 

How lucky can one man get? I ask myself this occasionally, when I’m not actively focused on what I lack. How much time do I have left? There’s no way to know that, so I might as well act as if time were running out and I’d better hurry.

These are the ways I drive myself crazy. These questions and compulsions come from inside me, not from outside. The world isn’t insane, I am.

If you hang around people who seem content, either they really are or they’re hiding their inner turmoil. Maybe serial killers seem to have the Buddha nature. At least we’re sure they have the ability to create a plan of action and follow-through. Those are qualities I sorely lack.

And then there is the issue of codependency. I’m always worried what other people think of me, how they feel at this moment, and those worries preclude any chance I could champion my own interests. Again, serial killers suffer from none of that. They don’t care what their victims think or feel.

But I am lucky not to have been born a serial killer, nor to have become one along the bumpy road of life. Yes, things could be worse, much worse. For this I am grateful.

IQ AND ME


IMG_7040

When I was twelve, I took an IQ test and scored a 75. The nun who administered it took me aside and sadly informed me that I was borderline retarded and should not attempt going to a college preparatory high school. She said I would be better off pursuing vocational training, like small engine or shoe repair.

Turned out she was right. A few years ago I took the MENSA test and passed, so I guess I got smarter in the interim. She was right about the vocational training suggestion, though. In the long run, I would have done better learning how to do something practical, and might have prospered if there had been an established need for my services.

Instead I tried to enter the world of college teaching and never secured a full-time position that would lead to tenure. I took social security early and live on a pension that would not permit me to live as anything but a charity case in America. Today, I live in Thailand, where my social security pension is enough to live without having to eat my lunches along with my homeless neighbors in church basements.

The reason I scored so low on the IQ test I took when I was twelve is because I was very angry. I had been repeatedly humiliated and stifled by schooling and it was all I could do not to leap out the window like young Jim Thorpe and run off into the woods. I could read better than any of the other students in my class, but reading facility wasn’t something the nuns measured. We were learning to diagram sentences, a grammar game I could never get the hang of because I saw no point in it.

To this day, I am very sensitive about the notion of IQ. Testing and schooling are not high on my lists of activities. From my time in academia, I never met a college professor I thought was especially intelligent. I met many people who knew how to follow rules, play the game, and kiss ass, but I met very few brilliant people.

THE FOLLY OF TEACHING LITERACY


IMG_7042

 

Can literacy be taught? I don’t think so. You have to enjoy reading and writing and the thinking that goes into it before you can be taught anything, and even then you’ll probably end up being self-taught because you’re already interested. Being taught rules won’t help. Rules just take all the fun out of it.

I’m good at learning foreign languages but have no interest in rules of grammar. I think I’m good at it because I don’t care about the rules of grammar. Correct usage will come from practice, but the first steps are to have fun communicating in this new lingo.

School and schooling are a way of killing any natural interest and resultant delight that comes from interacting with the world. Standardized testing is the ultimate distillation of schooling and all that it entails. If you don’t get off on taking tests, then you’re probably not going to do well in school, anyway. Might as well start a garage band or learn to work on your own vehicles.

Certifications are false promises delivered by educators and enforced by those empowered to police the marketplace. The missing ingredient that cannot be taught is “get up and go.”

If I really want to learn something, I’ll find someone who’s good at it and ask him the explain it enough to get me started. Then I’ll go it alone.