Tuesday, July 30, 2013

No Control

I have no control. I need a control. Not, I need control, but I need A control. That is, a ‘Control John.’ You know, another me that isn’t exposed to the same stimuli that I am so that I have a way to develop a ‘Baseline John.’  And to develop a baseline me I need a control me. ‘Control John‘ is the one that didn’t go to that party in high school or didn’t meet that girl in college. ‘Control John’ probably went to Penn State instead of Virginia Tech because Penn State would have corrected their admissions snafu before I accepted to Tech.

Occasionally ‘Control John’ and I would each fill out surveys on our attitudes about certain things. It would be interesting, for example, to know ‘Control John’s’ attitude towards guilt and responsibility since he was raised Mainline Protestant, not Catholic, and didn’t blow off that girl in college to go on that spontaneous road trip to Myrtle Beach. ‘Control John’ would have regularly attended his Linear Algebra class, and paid attention too, and gotten a ‘C’ not blown in off and gotten an ‘F.’ ‘Control John’ might have stuck with engineering longer.

With cloning technology advancing as it is, having another, biologically identical, ‘Control Self’ should be possible. Or maybe I could have a whole set of biologically identical ‘selfs’ randomly assigned different life decisions. I’d still have my ‘Control John’ but would also have other John’s randomly assigned to different decisions and events: John who got drunk at that party, John who didn’t. John who went on that trip, John who didn’t. John who didn’t ask her out, John who did. Then choosing the best outcome would become scientifically possible!

But I don’t have a control. It’s just the one, non-cloned, me figuring it out as I go. At least as far as I know.

But what if, maybe, I am the ‘Control John’ and Earth is a giant petri dish for some cosmic experiment being conducted on another planet? Or what if I’m one of the randomly assigned Johns. You know, the one that was assigned all these life events I've had?

Regardless, I’m curious what’s next in this experiment.

Monday, July 29, 2013

For Real This Time!

Today I’m going to clean my home office. I mean it this time. I really am. Really. I’m going to go through that stack of mail that is starting to lean to the right, pay what bills are there and recycle all the junk mail. I’m going to file all the old bills and receipts and I’m really going to go through the pile of kids art and assignments from the last school year, you know, that box of papers and assignments and art projects that I set aside almost a year ago and labeled “ kids stuff to be scanned and filed?” I’m going to go through that whole box, recycle what we don’t need and scan the rest to finally create that online archive of all their great work. I’m also going to go through the wooden box on my desk with the pens and clips and scraps of papers and coupons. I’m going to go through that box and get rid of everything I don’t need. Actually, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to get rid of the box too. I don’t think I even use anything in that box of stuff. I’m going to get rid of everything in that box, then get rid of the box so my desk is nice and clear. No more clutter.

And then I’m going to sort through that pile of books -- the one on the floor that the cats knocked over. I’m going to really go through all of them and donate those books I don’t need anymore. Then I’m going to take the remaining books, the ones I really plan to read but just haven’t gotten to yet. I’m going to sort through them and put them in the order of how I will read them, then place them on the bookshelf next to my desk. But first I will take the other books and pile of papers from work that are on that shelf and get rid of them. I’ll donate those books too and either file, scan, or recycle the work papers. And I swear I will not buy any more books until I go through that tipped over stack on the floor. Well I guess its more of a pile than a stack. Whatever. But no new books! That’s the point. And that includes no new books on my Kindle, and no new ‘used’ books from the Friends of the County Library used bookstore where I’ll donate my old books. And also I won’t grab anymore books off the book share shelf at our community pool.

For real!

I know, I know, I said this last week too and somehow my office is even worse than last week. And yes, yes, yes, I know I said I had this new system: My new system where everything that came into my office I would deal with right away. No more just putting it on top of a pile. Each item would go to either the recycling bin, the scan bin, or I would deal with it right then: pay the bill or whatever, then file the bill. And it worked too. Worked like a charm and my office was clean and neat and organized. But the following day I had other stuff to deal with and so the piles just started. It just happened!

But today is different. I’m really going to clean my office and develop a new system so this will never happen again.

I’m serious this time.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Epic Fail

I found myself watching with guilty pleasure a set of YouTube videos of the Epic Fail genre. Mindlessly laughing at the foolishness and idiocy as they played. Such pleasure. And with a superior nod I subconsciously told myself, “I am not one of them.”

The Germans, with their masterful art of word creation, call this Schadenfreude: Deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune. You can look it up here on Merriam Webster.

Of course the Germans would have a single word for experiencing pleasure from others pain, but “Epic Fail” knows now boundaries. For kicks I did a YouTube search of “Epic Fail” and there are over 1 million results (Google returns 46 Million videos!). Skateboard accidents, drunk college girls, news anchors, soccer players, compilations of all sorts. And according to this site, the median duration of the more popular YouTube videos is 2 minutes, 1 second. That’s over 2 million minutes of Epic Fail. I'm not even counting all the video time devoted to Less-Than-Epic Fail, and the Epic Fail compilations are much longer than 2 minutes.

I wonder if Andy Warhol factored Epic Fail time into his 15-minute allocation of fame?

Let me suggest that the Epic Fail genre is really an evolutionary progression from Jack Ass the Movie(s) and American’s Funniest Home Videos. Sure there are some tender and heart warming home videos, mostly involving babies and cats, but we certainly enjoy witnessing the real-life slapstick of cousin Eddie getting wacked in the nuts with a wiffle ball bat, or Aunt Freda’s drunk dance at the reception when she fell over the cake table.

What’s my point? No point really, other than it would be nice to find a word in a language that means “deriving pleasure from someone else’s success.” And it would be nice if the YouTube search of “Epic Success” returned more than 4290 results.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

George Zimmerman and the Tower of Babel

This morning I read this article in the Huffington Post.

Then I read the comments readers left behind.

I was appalled, am appalled, by the amount of anger and cynicism and racism throughout. We surely live in angry times. But are people really that hateful? And did they realize their hateful comments essentially confirmed the gist of the article?

I guess the answer is yes. Yes, we are that hateful. My thoughts of the black/white divide illuminated by the George Zimmerman trial quickly expanded to republican/democrat, gay/straight, pro-choice/pro-life, immigration/anti-immigration, Christian/non-Christian and all the other variants of religious distrust and hatred.

We all seem to be so angry at each other. And not just angry but we don’t even know how to have a conversation or debate. We just yell at each other. It’s like we aren’t even speaking the same language.

And then it occurred to me. I know this story:

“They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves . . . a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name. . .” The Lord said, “Behold, …  this is what they . . . do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth. . .

That’s an excerpt from Tower of Babel story (Genesis 11).  Now some may read Genesis as history, some may read it as a collection of myths, or some a combination of the two. I sometimes read the Genesis stories and find them strangely contemporary, if not prophetic.

At one level the Babel story is one of human hubris. A desire to build “a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name.” You just know when God finds out about this it will not end well. Which it doesn’t.

I don’t want to turn this into a Bible lesson. But I do wish to point out a part of the human condition this story, for me, illuminates: When we turn our attention inward and seek glory and fame we tend to loose sight of that which is important. And I’ll offer that what is important is human love and compassion. In the Old Testament days love and compassion was measured more as obedience to a jealous god. But fast-forward a couple thousand years and the story shifts to a forgiving god with love and compassion as what is essential to life. And fast forward to today and I say that still holds, regardless of whether you believe in a god or not.

Yet our implementation of modern society seems to have crowded out love and compassion and replaced it with fear. And from fear comes things like Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. And from fear comes anger like the anger I hear on talk radio or read in Huffington Post comments. And with that anger we push away love and compassion. It’s hard to have room for both.

And yet that desire for love and compassion remains with us, unfulfilled, like a dark hole in our soul (or psyche). It must be filled. So we turn to food, and consumer goods, maximizing profits, and Fox News (speaking one language) or MSNBC (speaking another). These are our new loves, perhaps even our new Golden Calves (that's a different Old Testament story).

So what to do? I say it takes more energy and courage to stand your ground for love and compassion than to let fear take over. And it takes even more courage to stand in the face of fear with love and compassion and risk the consequences to life and property. A law like Florida's Stand Your Ground has deep roots in soil fertile with fear. Cutting it down and ripping out its stump will take more time and energy, I fear, then any of us would hope. Yet, that is what must happen next. But if we only uproot the law and don’t replace that soil of fear, more will grow from it.

We have a long way still to go.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Blessed are the Telemarketers

“Hello, Mr. Polk?”
“Uh, there’s no one here by that name.”
“Oh, okay, is Mrs. Polk there? May I speak with her?”
“I’m sorry, she’s dead.”


One advantage of Amy not taking my last name is that telemarketers are tipped off, especially when asking for MISTER Polk. This has been true since we were married. And it gives me an easy way out now especially, since Amy died.

“There is no one here by that name.”

It’s the truth and suggests the caller called the wrong number and hopefully they’ll flag it as a wrong number in their database. Sometimes its enough to say ‘there is no one here by that name,’ but sometimes not, like this morning. Sometimes when asked for ‘Amy Polk’ or ‘Mrs. Polk,’ I give the same answer that 'no one by that name lives here,' but this morning I was not really in the mood for niceties so I gave my ‘she’s dead’ reply with a bit of a subtle, caustic, anger and hung up as I heard the poor sap on the other end try to apologize.

I wonder, sometimes, if a day has gone by when I haven’t thought of Amy. I don’t know the answer to that question but it feels like everyday I have. We have pictures in the house, and stuff just happens with the boys, which makes me think of her. Mostly now, it’s benign and not encumbered with sadness and grief. Sometimes it's a happy memory. But sometimes it is wrapped with sadness and grief, like today, and it catches me by surprise. After I hung up, I went into the bathroom and cried. Not long and not that hard, but tears came. It had been a while too. I can’t really remember the last time a “grief echo” occurred.  One month? Three months?

And then comes the minor guilt. It must suck to be a telemarketer. What a job. I’m sure if Jesus walked the earth today he’d show his love for the least of us by not only hanging out with the prostitutes and tax-collectors, but the telemarketers too. Or at least the repentant telemarketers (see Mathew 21, among others).

But still, it’s been over three years since Amy died. Can’t the marketing firms get their goddamned databases updated? They are good enough to know what I am thinking of buying, at least judging by facebook ads, but they don’t know my wife is dead?

And as the day has unfolded I've thought of her. Probably more than usual. Little things. Random things. And fond memories started to push at the anger and grief and sadness. Going for a run helped to. It usually does. And the more I thought about Amy the more I thought of my response to the sorry telemarketer. My response was curt and, admittedly, designed to hurt him a little. Take some of my pain and share it. But what good is that? And as I thought more about it I thought my answer was incomplete and didn't really answer his question: "is Mrs. Polk there?" After all, Amy is here. Truly. Her remains are in a box on a shelf in the living room next to a picture of her in her wedding dress.  Yes, some of her remains are in upstate New York and Ann Arbor and at the National Zoo, but she is here, in our home and in our hearts.

So while it was true what I said to the telemarketer this morning, I didn’t really answer his question, not precisely:

“Is Mrs. Polk there – may I speak with her?”
“Well, yes, she is here. Sort of. But she can’t come to the phone because she exists now in our hearts and memories. Can I take a message?”

I like that response better. And thank you, telemarketer, for the memories.