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 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.

WINNERS KEEP ON WINNING


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Losers rarely climb out of the hole they find themselves in. Often this is because they haven’t finished digging. The longer we stay stuck, the harder it is to see what’s holding us back. The more we keep winning, the harder it is to understand why we’re enjoying such good luck.

In most cases, there are forces at work which we undervalue. Looks, race, hair color, eye color, straight teeth, pleasant speaking voice, good personality, all matter more than high intelligence or moral character. Look at our politicians for examples.

Definite turn-offs. A hint of desperation. The glimmer of mental illness around the eyes. Bad nerves, jitters, bouncing leg under the table. Forced enthusiasm.

Going to a prestige school matters more than what you learned there. Who you know matters more than anything. You meet people at a prestige school who will go on to be very successful. You can reconnect with them after graduation and let them know you’re “available.” But by all means, don’t act desperate.

When I was a child my father was out of work for a long time, and during that period I happened to watch a televised version of the drama “Death of a Salesman.” The excellent Lee J. Cobb played Willie Loman. It was, as was intended, heartbreaking, but held special resonance for me. The scene where goes to one of his son’s friends and begs for a job almost made me swoon with nausea.

Better to not risk too much too late in life. What seems adventurous and fun-loving in a twenty-year old seems reckless and foolish for a forty-year old. For a sixty-year old, the scope of acceptable behavior narrows dramatically. By seventy, people begin to suspect dementia.

Is The Fat Lady Singing?


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There are days when everything is simply too much. You don’t feel well enough to tackle a new project and the outstanding tasks seem onerous. It would be nice simply to take a day-long nap, but you know that won’t pan out either, because if you sleep all day you’ll toss and turn all night.

Today is one of those days. My headache is mild enough for me to forget to take an aspirin when I pass my the medicine cabinet, and the act of retracing my steps feels prohibitive. I have no appetite. I sip water.

Could this be it? Am I dying? Dengue? Brain tumor? There are no cures for these so there’s no point in bothering to get a proper diagnosis.

I could read but then I’d have to sit upright and pay attention.

After two days of this I go to a hospital clinic. A blood test confirms I don’t have dengue. They give me a shot to relieve my muscle pain.  The whole thing costs twice as much as I thought it would. It’s still about what a deductible would have been if I’d been in the states and insured. It was worth it to know that I don’t have anything seriously wrong with me.

When I feel better, I’ll get back to playing the piano, writing, cruising around on my motorcycle and taking pictures. Those are my only jobs nowadays.

 

 

 

Who Do I Have to Blow to Get a Cup of Coffee Around Here?


Our plan for today was simple. We would find an air-conditioned train down the coast, ride for a few hours and then rest at an interesting small city. But all the trains were full because it’s the day after the coronation of the new king. So we bought the only ticket we could, on a third-class train that was full to the breaking point. People were standing in the aisles. It was very hot and humid. We rode for two hours and then when we stopped at a fair-sized town, we bailed. Our tickets had only cost a dollar for the two of us.

I really needed a cup of coffee. They hadn’t had a coffee shop at the new Bangkok train station, which is under construction and due to be completed in a couple of years if they’re lucky. Well, there was one but it was closed. Thai coffee shops are often closed early in the morning. They think of coffee as something you drink later in the day, when you take a break from shopping. This city we got off in, Nakornpatom has only one coffee shop, butt it too was closed. There are ample opportunities to drink instant coffee, but I would rather drink sewage than that swill.

I don’t know if it’s the heat or the caffeine withdrawal but I’m not feeling well. We got a cheap hotel room next to the train station and I slept for two hours. I went outside to find a cup of coffee and walked for half an hour in incredible heat. Finally, I found a coffee cart with a real espresso machine.

In everywhere but here, there are too many coffee shops. Ten years ago, when I first arrived in Thailand, there were almost none. The coffee changed my mood. I began to look on the bright side. There is an amazing temple right downtown, that looks like something out of the set for the movie The Wizard of Oz, and a lot of 1960’s futuristic architecture that promises to make for interesting photography once the sun gets much lower in the sky.

A REVERIE


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TOO RETIRED FOR COMFORT

mostly talking about what it’s like to be me

He found it hard to stick with any one thing. More than a short attention span, he manifested a terror of committing to a singleness of purpose. His life was a pastiche of unfinished projects, halfhearted dabbling, unfocused whimsy.

He was born that way. Often he would tell a friend who realized the depth of his affliction “It isn’t my fault. I was born this way.” Had he tried medication? No, sadly there was no cure for what ailed him. If there were, maybe he could have amounted to something, but since there wasn’t, he would have to be content with who he was, a person who left behind a trail of half-finished business.

One day he resolved to come up with a solution. He would devise a task so simple that follow-through would be effortless. He would simply count his breath as he went about his day. If he lost count, he would start over again, but he would always be counting. It would give him a sense of purpose and a plan he could stick with.

He found that counting grounded him. Counting your breath is so effortless that it doesn’t stop you from doing something else at the same time. You can’t easily talk and count your breath, but you can keep count on your fingers while you’re talking and then add that sum to the grand total once you’ve stopped talking.

Once he had improved his abilities to concentrate, he found that he could come up with new ideas that were popping up from some strange place inside him. A font of creativity with no known source, but it must come from a synthesis of what he was taking in. Things he’d read, movies he’d seen, conversations he’d had, all entered his psyche and then exited later as something different, improved, or at least mutated.

Now he needed more than just the ability to pay attention. He needed to find something worthy of that attention, something to pay attention to over a long enough time period to matter. He could learn a foreign language, master a musical instrument, take up oil painting…there are lots of activities that take years to achieve any sort of competency. He needed to choose.

There but for the grace of God go I


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This evening I was getting a foot massage on the promenade that runs along the beach here in Prachuap Khiri Khan, a small city in the South of Thailand. I was amicably chatting with the ladies who intermittently called out to prospective customers who walked or cycled by. Then a Caucasian man who looked to be my age cycled up and stopped directly across the street. I expected them to call out to him but they didn’t. I noted that he was probably exactly my age. They said “he’s a bad drunk. He has no friends and no girlfriend and he’s always alone. Nobody wants him around.”

I kept watching him, and from this distance couldn’t tell if he was inebriated. He certainly wasn’t being overtly obnoxious. But he was alone, smoking cigarette after cigarette and looking like he was just about to come to a decision about something. He sat there for the duration of my massage, and when I left he was still there, staring at the middle of the road, as dusk gathered around us.

It was one of those “there but for the grace of God go I,” moments.