Euphoric Recall


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Euphoric Recall is the nostalgic version of Wishful Thinking. Only remembering the good parts is an understandable survival mechanism, but it doesn’t lend itself well to realistic decision making. It does a better job setting goals, but tends to minimize the difficulty in reaching them. It’s a great way to motivate a crowd, but a bad way to get through hard times, because the person who was once so enraptured now tends to fall prey to disillusion.

Who wants to grovel in world full of tedious reality checks when one could skip among the clouds? When Coleridge was having his opium dream about Kubla Kahn it took someone knocking on the door in order to convey a mundane message to spoil the whole fantastic vision. I’d rather be damned for being an enthusiast than praised for being a pragmatist.

The first explorers took to the seas with a minimum of technological support and a lot of wishful thinking. It’s hard to navigate when your map contains fanciful drawings of imaginary beasts and the text “here lie monsters.” They left port anyway, and even though half the crew often perished before the ship found its way home, everybody was in high spirits on the day they took off for parts unknown.

We are all doing this every day we’re alive, but we don’t realize it or admit it to ourselves, because it would be too upsetting.

I’m living in Thailand, a country with the highest motorcycle road fatality rate in the world, and yet the only vehicles I own are motorcycles. I like to think I’m well aware of the risk I take every time I leave home, but I’m not really, for habituation makes me drift into denial. “Sure, maybe it will happen someday, but not today,” I tell myself, or better yet, I simply don’t think about the possibility of dying at all.

I’m like Captain Cook heading toward Tahiti with a crew of drunks and enough provisions to last a few weeks.

In fact, no matter how much insurance we think we have to guide our actions, we’re all just flying blind. As Helen Keller said “The reason no one experiences security is because it doesn’t exist. Life is either an exciting adventure or it is nothing.” If a woman born deaf, dumb and blind can say that, I suppose I can, too.

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Mother’s Day Ruminations


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It’s Mother’s Day here in Thailand, the Queen’s birthday, August 11. We are in Lamphun, a small, old city about twenty miles south of Chiang Mai. It was once its own kingdom, and has a moat and a reconstructed brick wall, with four gates at the four cardinal directions. We’re staying in a very nice hotel for $15 a night. It’s right across from the hospital in case I die during the night.

When we’re in Lamphun we like to go to the open-air night market which runs along part of the moat, near a park full of old-looking terra-cotta statues and brick structures that look like something from Ankor Wat. There is also a surprisingly sexy bronze statue of an ancient Thai queen. Evening approaches. Starlings swarm in the trees. Colored lights illuminate statues of elephants. People burn incense and pray in front of the statue of the sexy Queen.

We buy our evening meal at the market. It occurs to me that we don’t frequent supermarkets. They have them, mostly for foreigners and rich people, but we don’t use them, nor do most people. Most people buy produce, meat, fish, and prepared foods at local markets, which are everywhere.

As we climbed on the scooter to return to our hotel there was a grandmother standing nearby, holding a baby in diapers, and they were both watching the starlings swarm as night fell. I’ve seen this scene many times, grandparents holding babies in the evening simply watching people pass by, and I realized, we don’t see this kind of thing in America anymore. People are all indoors. They are sitting in air conditioning or in heated, carpeted rooms, watching television. If they are out of the house, they’re in their car, or in a mall.

But in the developing countries where I’ve spent the last seven years, Nicaragua, Paraguay and now Thailand, people are out and about, everywhere. Another person is only inches away. Women are more visible than men, because women tend to run the market stalls and do most of the family shopping. Sure, in America we have weekly farmer’s markets in our most enlightened communities, but only during the summer months, and there’s a precious awkwardness to them, as if everyone were painfully self-conscious about carrying a reusable bag and buying fruits and vegetables that were not yet encased in plastic. These farmer’s market events are organized and promoted by someone on the city payroll. Your property taxes at work.

The average American supermarket offers processed foods that are often worth less than the packaging that contains them. Take frozen pizza. The brightly printed box and the plastic sleeve inside are probably more expensive to create than the food they contain. Multiply that by most items in supermarkets and you can see why the American cost of living is so much higher than places like this.

Unlike their American counterparts, the Lamphun grandmother and baby who stood and watched dusk fall probably won’t be taking psychiatric medications anytime soon. As Thai citizens they can go to a clinic or be admitted to a government hospital for one dollar a day. It’s not VIP treatment. Long lines, no air-conditioning, but they’re not terrified of what might happen to them if they don’t have medical insurance. If I returned to America I would be partially covered by Medicare, but the deductibles would cost far more than paying out-of-pocket for care at a private hospital. Drugs and doctor’s fees here are about a twentieth of what they cost in the States.

I just bought a year’s refill of my blood pressure medicine for six dollars. You don’t need a prescription to buy most drugs at a pharmacy. Although they weren’t expensive, after reading a bunch of negative stuff about statin drugs I decided to stop taking them and simply eat garlic instead. Last time I had my cholesterol checked it was normal.

If I’m lucky, I’ll die here, in about thirty years, when I’m ninety-eight. My cremation will be handled by the neighboring temple. A pile of wood and in thirty minutes I’ll be smoke and ash.

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It’s Mother’s Day here in Thailand, the Queen’s birthday, August 11. We are in Lamphun, a small, old city about twenty miles south of Chiang Mai. It was once its own kingdom, and has a moat and a reconstructed brick wall, with four gates at the four cardinal directions. We’re staying in a very nice hotel for $15 a night. It’s right across from the hospital in case I die during the night.

When we’re in Lamphun we like to go to the open-air night market which runs along part of the moat, near a park full of old-looking terra-cotta statues and brick structures that look like something from Ankor Wat. There is also a surprisingly sexy bronze statue of an ancient Thai queen. Evening approaches. Starlings swarm in the trees. Colored lights illuminate statues of elephants. People burn incense and pray in front of the statue of the sexy…

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Getting Better As Well As Older


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OK, so last month I celebrated my sixty-eight birthday. I admit, I never thought I’d last this long. I figured by now I’d be drooling in a nursing home or dead. Instead I’m swimming regularly and tooling around on a big motorcycle.

I feel younger and more vital than I did thirty years ago. Go figure. But I still have to do something with myself, and in order to feel like I’m not just a drain on society, sucking air, I have to get better at something. I have to apply myself.

When I was a kid, we lived in St. Louis, the home of Monsanto. Along with Dow Chemical they are reviled for their work in toxic chemistry. In New York, General Electric was once a major employer, but now they occupy a shell of their former glory. Their slogan was “Progress is our most important product.”

Kodak was once a powerhouse and today they barely exist.

Now thanks to their ham-fisted marketing of Roundup Ready GMO seeds, Monsanto has fallen into such bad repute that the brand name no longer exists. They’ve been swallowed by Bayer, a German company best known for aspirin.

No one can accuse me of having progress as my most important product.

So I’m doing two things: I’m learning baroque piano pieces and I’m learning Thai. That’s not much compared to working for a living, but it’s something. I”m not sitting in a recliner watching television. Even though the blogs and books I write are seen by only a few people and generate no income, I write anyway.

What’s the alternative? If I were to completely retire from the world I’ve known, I guess I could become a Buddhist monk. There are hundreds of temples all around me, and the biggest ones accept foreigners into meditation retreats. That might not be fun, but it would be different.

I’ve given up a lot already. I’ve stopped recreational shopping, I no longer apply for jobs I don’t want, and I’m comfortable hanging out at home for far longer periods than I was for most of my adult life. Heck, I can sometimes concentrate on an activity for a full hour!

No bells ring to mark the beginning or end of my activities, I take no cigarette breaks, at the end of the day I have no visible gain or result to account for my time. I piddle. That’s it. I’m a piddler.

 

retirecheaply

OK, so last month I celebrated my sixty-eight birthday. I admit, I never thought I’d last this long. I figured by now I’d be drooling a nursing home or dead. Instead I’m swimming regularly and tooling around on a big motorcycle.

I feel younger and more vital than I did thirty years ago. Go figure. But I still have to do something with myself, and in order to feel like I’m not just a drain on society, sucking air, I have to get better at something. I have to apply myself.

When I was a kid, we lived in St. Louis, the home of Monsanto. Along with Dow Chemical they are reviled for their work in toxic chemistry. In New York, General Electric was once a major employer, but now they occupy a shell of their former glory. Their slogan was “Progress is our most important product.”

Kodak was once…

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DOWN THE DRAIN


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What happens, happens. We can delude ourselves into thinking that we’re in control, but we’re not. Not even close. Things will work out the way they’re going to. We could assume, the way they’re supposed to, but that implies there’s somebody else in charge who knows what’s best.

Recent evidence suggests that’s probably not the case.

The catastrophic and sudden collapse of our government took everyone by surprise, even those who hastened its demise. Trump never expected to win, and when he did, it shocked everyone, even Trump. Well, that shock was nothing compared to the sudden realization that we had lost every bit of democracy and benevolent rule we once enjoyed. Thugs were now fully in charge, and they seemed to enjoy their thuggery.

It was like watching Clockwork Orange, only it was real, and instead of England, it was America. Now there were no longer simple hints of anti-intellectualism, but a full-blown assault on intelligence and reasoning. Truth was an outdated concept. There was only belief and submission to the state. What Mussolini had hinted at, Trump had accomplished.

People had to pretend to be stupid in order to escape being targeted. Suddenly we became a nation of good old boys, Stepford Wives, grinning hayseeds. Rumors of lynchings spread, but none were reported by Fox News. The official face of America, at least the one you could see on TV, looked like the Mormons were in charge. You simply couldn’t be too white.

Homosexuals, intellectuals, people of color, and immigrants all kept their heads down. Better to blend in than to attract attention. Maybe this was just a phase we were going through. Maybe this would soon blow over. Somebody pointed out that’s how the rich Jews felt when they didn’t abandon their homes in Poland, Belgium and France. When they didn’t get out while the going was good.

The startling fact was that no one was making this happen. This wasn’t a conspiracy, a plot by the Deep State, this was simply mob rule. The Madness of Crowds. When 330,000,000 people decide to swerve, it’s a change with momentum behind it. Maybe unstoppable momentum.

The fact that the friendly neighborhood policeman had been replaced by a hormone-hopped hulk dressed in camouflage and body armor hadn’t really caused alarm until now. Now there were unmarked buses with blacked out windows moving about, taking somebody somewhere. Rumors spread that the FEMA camps were filling.

Popular entertainment and broadcast journalism simply ignored the phenomena. Movies starring superheros continued to be made and distributed. Sometimes that’s all you could find at your local cinema. Nobody complained, at least not out loud. Studios and cinema owners were happy because audiences kept coming. Not just teenagers, even adults thronged to view empty spectacle.

The last symphony orchestras and dance companies folded quickly and quietly. Universities shut down programs that didn’t attract grant funding. Since most jobs had already been sent abroad, there wasn’t much for most young people to do. Almost half of the people under thirty were in drug treatment or prison.

And this was just the beginning.

It got worse.

It wasn’t just America that was in crisis. Europe was roiling with social unrest. Huge numbers of immigrants were no longer even the least bit welcome in their host countries, and yet they had nowhere to go. You can’t very well send someone back to Kenya or Nigeria who spent his life savings traveling across Niger and Libya to board a rubber raft to take his chances crossing the Mediterranean to get to Sicily and then up to France where he hoped to hop across the English channel and take his seat on a cardboard box next to the homeless in London. You can’t simply send them home. There are too many of them, and besides, they’d just return.

All of a sudden, any progress mankind seemed to have made or have been making disappeared. We were heading down, straight down, swirling down some sort of cosmic drain, and the process seemed to be accelerating. Some people offered solutions, but nothing stuck. Some people claimed to know who was at fault, but a strange lethargy took over, and no meaningful actions were taken.

Then the plague started. It moved with lightening speed, killing half the population of China in a week. India and Africa were next. No one was certain how many had died, because the scope and scale were unheard of. The first peaceful use of nuclear weapons was to incinerate huge mounds of bodies. Burial was unthinkable. Disposal at sea unacceptable.

With so many dead, the support structures of these countries collapsed as well, leading to waves of subsequent deaths to to famine and cholera. All borders were closed. Air travel ceased.

For some reason, only the United States and Western Europe seemed to have been spared, but then their turn came. Fatality rates of eighty percent. Much higher than Ebola.

By now the rich and powerful had long ago disappeared into hidden bunkers. Since they were hiding they weren’t communicating with anyone, so no one was sure they had survived.

Someone who still managed to reach an audience compared the collapse of civilization to a motor that had been allowed to fall into disrepair. At first it wobbled, groaned, screeched, and finally ground to a halt. No amount of kicking or prodding got it running again.

The collapse of the power grid, food distribution, water treatment, and transportation continued. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did.

Capitalism still functioned to provide for people who could pay for goods and services, even though the prices were sky high and selection severely limited.

By now, the only restaurants were owned a a conglomerate of Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Bayer, Pepsico, and Nestle. Their favorite locations were the food courts of shopping malls, where they could have ten or fifteen various outlets with different names and themes, but all basically serving the same food under different labels.

Most of it was pizza or bread of some kind holding a meat of dubious origin. The drinks were artificially sweetened and mildly radioactive. Each featured several large-screen televisions which also served as surveillance cameras.

Finally, Donald Trump surfaced. He or someone resembling him appeared on the only television channel still working, Fox and Friends. He blamed Obama and Hillary Clinton for what had happened, and claimed that if people had only trusted and respected him, we would by now have been enjoying the great future he had planned for us.

Then the picture went dark and food court patrons who had been watching continued to stare at the dark screen for a very long time because they had no where else to go.

Playing Hippie Fifty Years Later


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Yesterday I attended the Shambala Festival in Chiang Dao, Thailand. It’s a small city in northern Thailand that is dominated by a tall mountain that abruptly rises from the rice fields. It’s a lovely, dramatic setting for what is essentially a “Rainbow Gathering.” The participants were mostly young people, a mix of Thais, Europeans, Americans and Japanese. Anyone who wanted to walk around barefoot and smell of patchouli oil.

 

At age 67, I am the age of most of their grandparents. A chorus I’m a member of was performing at a small venue near the kitchen. We were by far the most professional and rehearsed of the small stage acts, but yet the audience sprawled in front of us was half-asleep. They were here for the long haul, days of hanging out. It was a bit unnerving to perform for such a laid-back crowd. On the other hand, I’m sure things liven up at night at the evening stage, now baking in the sun during the day but which would come alive after dark and would host amplified bands which would inspire hippie dancing. Shake your dreadlocks, baby.

 

There were many beautiful young people there but there is a new sort of odd, non-sexual thing happening now. No nudity. No coupling in public. Lots of hugging and flamboyant physical displays of yoga inspired gymnastics, but the obvious sexual attention-seeking is a thing of the past. They’ve moved beyond that.  As someone who was their age at about the time of Woodstock, I am pleased that there is still a demand and audience for this sort of thing, and glad to see that I am no longer the least bit tempted to partake of it. It never even occurred to me to sleep on the ground. I went into town and rented a hotel room, something you can do in Thailand with pocket change.

 

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Confabulation Confounds Me


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My mind swims with words and images. I’m half asleep. Everything seems like a movie I might have seen once a few years ago, but one can’t remember much about it except that certain incidents, characters and settings are familiar. The story itself eludes me.

This is either a shot across the bow by the evil forces of dementia or a warning sign that I’ve bitten off too little of what life has to offer and am merely deeply and seriously bored. Stuck. Just waiting for the end.

On my best days I can delude myself that I’m making progress, but on my worst I’m just bumbling along on auto-pilot. Repeating the same few activities out of habit is not the same as being fully engaged.

Of course, I know the solution is to volunteer my time for some good cause. Join Rotary. Visit orphans and comfort the downtrodden. Embrace some new challenge. Really dive into learning a difficult skill. 

I am tempted to delve deeply into Flapdoodle for its own sake. To become the Irwin Corey of meaningless discourse. To ramble to the point of exhaustion.

 

 

 

 

NOTHING STOPPING ME


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the author thinking about nothing

It occurs to me that living in Chiang Mai, Thailand hasn’t really hampered my ability to be creatively productive. If I’m not writing or performing to the best of my ability, I can’t blame it on location. If I were hiding in a furnished room in Los Angeles, hunched over my laptop and drinking coffee from a paper cup (not Starbucks, too expensive) chances are my phone wouldn’t be ringing with offers from publishers, studios, or agents.

At the age of sixty-seven, I probably wouldn’t be going to parties a lot, either. The nightclub crowd would be unaware of my existence. Maybe I could pass myself off as Harry Dean Stanton’s younger brother, or Tommy Lee Jones’ cousin. A-list geezers.