Could Be Worse


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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


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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


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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.

The Futility of Addiction


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Released from the obligation to work, many retired people find themselves to be unsuspected addicts. With plenty of time on their hands, they are free to finally ruin their lives through addiction. Alcohol, drugs, shopping, gambling, sex…almost any activity can be ruinous if taken to an extreme.

Addicts usually spend a great amount of time rationalizing their addiction before daring to confront it. It’s not that bad yet…You’d do this too if…I only do this because she doesn’t…I’m just letting off steam…besides, what else is there to do in this stupid place?

Addicts often wishfully conclude that if only they take their addictive behavior to an extreme, they’ll somehow “break through to the other side” and prove to themselves that this way lies folly. They’ll tire of the game. They’ll have finally had enough. By “maxxing out,” they’ll find freedom from the compulsion.

You can never get enough of what you don’t need.

An addict is like a man digging a hole so deep he can’t climb out of it, but he’s convinced himself that if he digs faster or harder or more efficiently, he’ll finally find a way up and out. He can’t face the fact that he won’t be able to take any action to climb out of the hole until he first stops digging.

To use another metaphor: if you’re walking down the wrong path, walking faster won’t get you where you want to go. Imagining your goal around the next corner won’t help. You’ll simply have to realize that you’ve taken the wrong path, stop, turn around and painful as it may be, retrace your steps until you get back to the place where you made a wrong turn. You’ll have to chalk up all the time and energy you spent going the wrong way as loss. There is no other way around it.

Ah, yes!


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There’s nothing wrong with me that a brain operation couldn’t cure. Well, that and a methamphetamine injection. Actually, I always preferred Dexedrine, but it’s hard to get a hold of nowadays, so I’ll take whatever pharmaceutical stimulant I can get, but I don’t want home-made drugs. A man of my stature and status deserves only the best.

True, there was a time when I would ingest anything offered without questioning its provenance. Pieces of blotter paper with cartoon characters crudely inked, pills in various colors that somebody thought might be something-or-other but nobody was really sure. Down the hatch it went.

Sure, I had some rough times back then. It’s a wonder I survived, much less am not today warehoused in a decrepit mental health facility out on the prairie. I saw the best minds of my generation end up talking to little men who weren’t there. Many a callow youth became transformed into a hollow-eyed skinny person with peculiar muscular tics.

I admit that I have aged, but in most cases I am yet recognizable as the somewhat attractive person I was forty years ago. Less hair, more wrinkles. My once resonant speaking voice is now on the raspy side. I can often be found standing in a doorway looking lost and confused, having forgotten my purpose in moving about. I have learned to cope by feigning the professor’s “ah yes!” moment, and then moving decisively as if I had suddenly recalled my original intention, when in fact, nothing even resembling that has occurred.

Everything is Change


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The school I teach at just moved a few shops down the row of two and three-story shops that make up most of the commercial development in Thailand. This is the first day and people are still moving boxes of books and furniture. The air-conditioner doesn’t seem to blow cold air. Maybe there’s no refrigerant gas. But most importantly, there’s no wi-fi!

How can one live in this day and age without the Internet? Hope they get it fixed before Saturday, when my eight year old Thai boy shows up. He’s as much of an Internet addict as anyone. I reward him for paying attention to my vocabulary lessons by letting him watch a few minutes of Godzilla vs. Mothra on YouTube. Now I’ll have a stick but no carrot.

I dislike change. Even though one of my biggest fears is being bored, I only want change on my terms. Other people have the annoying propensity to ignore my preferences. Maybe by the time I’m really old, say in my eighties, I’ll have found someplace to live completely bereft of Progress in any form. On the other hand, by then maybe the world will be in such turmoil that horrific change will be chronic and routine.

Call Me Wheezer


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Call me Wheezer. I’m the asthmatic kid who couldn’t be counted on to do much more than react, slumped in the corner, watching with bemused interest. Or call me Lumpy, Wally’s overweight friend, the one without Wally’s good looks or Eddie Haskell’s sharp wit. I am Jeff’s Porky, and Sergent Joe Friday’s partner who kept changing every few years due to contractual disputes, ill health, or general lack of personality. I am Durward Kirby to Garry Moore. In all possible ways, I am Regis Philbin.