Archive for August, 2016

Getting Older, the Veneer Wears Thin for a Curmudgeon

August 27, 2016

Old Person2

Just as our bodies fail us, so do our minds and our personalities.  Our charm gets frayed, or takes a few hours off, or leaves us altogether.  Or the glitz which made the more determined aspects of our personalities less pointed and uncomfortable has fallen away, like paint from a splintery bench.  We’re isolated.  The difficulties of minor tasks get exhausting.  Small mishaps make us irritable.  Dropping things gets to be a chronic condition.  Our patience has worn thin, along with our skin and hair, finances and near everything else.  And what used to be a simple matter of bending over and picking the thing back up is now something more like snagging the prize with one of those toy scoops.  But the energy expenditure is enormous.  The small envelope you dropped weighs but several ounces, but getting yourself down and up can be a matter of lifting several hundred pounds.  Each new day, an hour or two in, and you begin to mutter that you are “too old for this!”

The younger bunch blaze ahead heedless.  The wisdom which has taken you so much time and effort to assemble is well…  “outdated”, as if you were a floppy disc.  Having to explain things to someone who is not interested would seem to be a fool’s errand. “Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.”  Young people will agree with this statement and repeat it – to the elderly.  The ironies of life just pile up, as you age.  It should be fodder for the evening news:  “Three irony pile-up on the Interstate this afternoon.”

And along with the humiliation of age comes the paranoia.  It isn’t uncommon for older people to turn on their caregivers, or accuse the helpful relative of stealing, when in truth it’s the elderlys’ faulty memory.  It’s not uncommon for a particularly willful and irascible spirit to expunge dutiful children, who have cared for them for years, from of their wills only to be infatuated by strangers, the ingratiating carpetbagger, a sympathetic acquaintance, neighbor, or give everything to some sketchy charity or balmy vision, or perhaps even some fellow they met in a bar.

Or the relations, friends and caregivers (even that ‘fellow in the bar’) might be taking advantage, being abusive or even stealing.   It’s not paranoia if it’s really happening!  The elderly can easily end resenting everybody and everything who had anything to do with them before they died.  Or they can die, befuddled, bruised, or kicked out into the snowy cold, but still loving and revering the villains who took them for a cleaning.  If your memory were just better, you could keep it all straight or sort it out.

What’s especially fun is arguing with your mate about what ‘actually happened’, when neither of you accurately remembers.  It can swallow the few remaining years.

Dying isn’t easy.  It’s a catastrophe.  There is no fix.  It’s the final loss of all control.  It’s the universe making a pie of you.  You’re gonna be something’s dinner, even if you’re of the progressive sort and are buried in burlap with mulch and an apple seed.  It’s humiliating.  And getting old is the humiliation express.  Next stop the hospital.  It’s life’s effort to completely wear you out, discharge that last bit of energy, spend the last ray of hope, nullify all desire, and prevent coherent thought and speech.  Your body will be in the hi-anxiety of total disarray with all systems failing, while your audience is scouring your slurred words and facial demeanor for those life lessons of wisdom, patience and universal love.  That priceless gift which only a life well lived can give.

Well, it may have to come from somewhere beyond the grave, or perhaps in some sleeping visitation.  Or maybe someone will just have to make this shit up!  Because getting old is like an avalanche and very hard to tip toe through with charm.  We are drowning people clutching for a life ring.  “Getting old is not for sissies,” Art Linkletter once said.

The good news is that, from my experience with loved ones and friends, most go out as the same person they lived from day to day.   If your wife doesn’t like your tie, she’ll probably still want to change it for the funeral.  If you were kind of mum in life, you’ll most likely die silently or with a whisper.  Or, if the emotionally volatile sort, expect lots of flower and tears – especially if big money is involved.  You’re choosing your last words and the ‘death spin’ now as you read this – and don’t even know it.  Ha, ha!

Okay.  Enough said.  Thanks for your time.  I realize that I can be a little grouchy.  (It’s the cancer… very painful.)  Just thank your lucky stars that I didn’t start talking about my last talk with the doctors!  It’s good of you to stop by.  Be seeing you.  Could you close that door firmly on your way out?  It has a tendency to swing back open.

(If you enjoyed this essay, you might enjoy these other offerings at http://www.magicbeanbooks.co   )

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American Home Life

August 17, 2016

Home life

A Modest Lack of Proposal

 

It’s harder to imagine Hillary Clinton not running for President than her candidacy.  She pretty much outlines the nature of a ruthless political animal in the current political age, where one’s accomplishments for office are that you have held a previous office – or a relationship to that office, and your ‘vision’ is whatever triangulates for a plurality of the Electoral College.

But in trying to imagine Donald Trump as an actual candidate for President, it’s hard to quell the fear of having landed in a parallel universe.  The idea of ‘the Donald’s’ candidacy is preposterous, and the performance outlandish.  But the result is success.  Where has this creature come from?

 

I would propose that ‘the Donald’ has been living here among us the whole time.  He or she comes home from work every day.  He or she sleeps in the same bed and we share the same bathrooms.  And when possible, we eat at the same tables and discuss the same budget.

For his supporters, I would propose that ‘the Donald’ represents the owner, the boss, the division manager, who has defined how success looks and acts.  For ‘the Donald’s’ detractors – who would claim the Blue States and who pride themselves upon their moral conscience, their educational degrees, their better salaries and their higher intelligence, status and overall enlightenment  – I would propose that ‘the Donald’ is representative of the crude atavistic impulses – their ‘second natures’ which have propelled them there.  That is, that Donald also represents for them the owner, the boss, the division manager, and the hoary roots of the upwardly mobile – which they deny to see in the mirror each day.

 

Ideally, the reason we head off to work each day is to earn a living and to realize our abilities in a way that contributes to our society and our own development.  This is a good start.  But when one does get to work, one find that modern products are quite complex.  A lot of tasks need doing to create these products, get them to market and sell them.  Our ideal person doesn’t necessarily command their ideal job.  And their ideal portfolio/resume doesn’t necessarily land them this ideal job.  What lands them this job is what I would call their “job charisma”.

Charisma has been at least partly defined by sociologists as the judgment by others of the number of people who would bend to your opinion or bow to your lead.  Whoever is in a position to place our candidate is looking for that person who can lead a project to success, whether it be a simple, one person task, or a complex, highly technical collaboration of unusual minds.  In other words, what entices an employer to grant you the job opportunity you would like is their judgment of your leadership ability in this particular area.

For this reason, (and I suppose many others), being the leader is a very sought after position.  Corporations, the military and Ivy League schools all scour the landscape for the newest crop of leaders with which to fill their ranks.  A body of leaders would seem to be most effective and lead the organization to greater success.  In turn, the candidates all try to present themselves as leaders.  Leaders get to do what they want.

 

What does leadership, and in some sense popularity, entail?  Leaders generally share the same personal qualities of us all.  We can empathize and be charmed by them.  They can be generous, humorous, good natured, and warm.  But the character of a leader is defined by their priorities.  A leader might be all those things as you or I, and perhaps be even better endowed with any of these qualities than you or I, including charity and selflessness.  But what defines their (and our) character are priorities.

For example, many sales firms subject their job candidates to a personality inventory.  They are looking for candidates who like people, who enjoy understanding people, and who like bonding with people.  This would mark their category of say, ‘relatedness’.  Another category would be an assessment of the candidates’ desire for achievement.  Are they extremely competitive?  A good sales person would be that person whose ‘Achievement’ priority is higher than their ‘Relational’ priority.  This makes the difference between the employee who loves to chat with clients, and the employee who enjoys the time spent but also is always looking for that way to ‘close the deal’, to retail the relationship.  It’s the difference between making a lot of friends and making a lot of sales.

 

When he or she heads out of the home to their employment, their success in the outer world will depend in a large part on their ability to project leadership.  But in its barest essentials, leadership can appear grotesque – even monstrous.  No one in a sales firm would want for the common public to witness their in-house activities or be a fly on the wall of their in-house culture.  The bosses are extremely aggressive.  They are extremely competitive.  They do not countenance insubordination.  They make extreme demands.  They do not admit to being wrong in any significant sense.  And at the furthest end of the spectrum, they define what is true and what is false.  What is true is what they say is true.  What is false is what they say is false.  These two things can do a switcheroo at any time.  The question most pressed upon every employee is whether they “embrace the company vision” and whether they are “personally invested”.  Anything short of this is treasonous.

To survive and thrive in these environments, the culture must become second nature.   You must react, just like in competitive athletics, without thinking of these basic tenets:  You always put on the pleasant face.  You never surrender your standing.  If someone professes to know something you do not, and you cannot top them, then you ignore them or change the narrative.  You do not wander into areas where you might be vulnerable, or which are populated by the vulnerable – for example, in the business world it would be the ‘arts’ or poetry.  You aggressively limit the conversation to your strong areas.  You aggressively control the narrative, while loyally parroting the narrative of your superior.  You must worship the hierarchy.  Those above you, you listen to.  Those below, you patronize.  Your equals, you compete with.  If the boss says something which immediately contradicts what they’d said before – it doesn’t matter.  The best you can ask for is ‘clarification’.  But don’t ask more than once.  Otherwise they might not think that it is because the thought behind it is too difficult or requires remedial explanation.  If you ask more than once, they’ll either flirt with the idea of you being either insubordinate or a dullard.

Donald Trump is the public embodiment in probably its most pure form to date of all these strategies.

 

A problem arises when these employees return home.  What has become second nature is not left at the office.  If a mate suggests a failure, they either ignore it, or demean the origin.  They don’t admit to contradictions.  They assume leadership in all areas.   If it isn’t granted, they stand in the midst of the activity until it grinds to a halt without their direction.   They ask, delegate and command without a thought.  It has become their way of conversing.  They do the deciding.  They establish whatever conversation they will listen to.  They drive the narrative towards the result they want.  They retail affection.  They accept generosity as their due, and try to tweak it for a little more.  Eventually, the goal of our employee’s second nature is to make everyone of the household an employee of their personal brand, a helper towards their achievement.  It easily happens that the second nature strategy of outside occupations becomes a family tradition and a root nature of the family in a way that travels down generations.

This whole scenario can become toxic to the family and even lethal to its members.  Once a mate or family member decides to “be all they can be”, it becomes a race to see who can love each other the least, (all the while claiming the opposite).  As Donald Trump himself remarked about his older brother Freddy, an airline pilot with a fun-loving nature, who died as an alcoholic at the age of 43.  “For me, it worked very well,” Mr. Trump is quoted as saying in the New York Times.   “For Fred, it wasn’t something that was going to work.” … ‘The Donald’ ended by saying, ““He’s like the opposite of me.”

To see all of Carl Nelson’s published work, (plus that of others), visit: http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html

Book Report

August 11, 2016

Noodle as Editor

I’ve finished five books of late, and I’m patting myself on the back.  So many periodicals arrive daily that I found I wasn’t finishing the books I’d purchased.  So I have made the effort and here is my report.

A Man Called Ove” by Fredrik Backman:  This is an English translation of a current Swedish bestseller.  It’s a marvel of sweet and sour.  Ove is the sour.  His works are the sweet.  Very dark humor is pitched perfectly for some hilarious moments.  A woman friend recommended this and it got snatched away by my wife midway through my own reading.  I finally pulled hard enough to get it back, and it was worth the effort.

The book is pumped with warmth, infused like steam heat, perhaps because we are in cold Sweden.  It is not sentimental.  Every feeling is earned honestly.  But the book seems of a type with some other current bestsellers which are cooked with a lot of cream.  Rather than thin soup, we are fed a rich bisque.  Not something you would want to have every day, but which can mark off a fine experience.

I wonder at the irony of a story coming from such a PC culture, of a hero who is so anti-PC, swimming in a bisque of such creamy texture.  The feeling function is highly prized in this one.

https://www.amazon.com/Man-Called-Ove-Novel/dp/1476738025/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470935877&sr=1-1&keywords=a+man+called+ove+by+fredrik+backman

“Ralph Marlowe” by James Ball Naylor:  I was driving through the rural town of Malta, Ohio to the town of McConnelsville, Ohio just across the Muskingham River, to attend a concert by Marty Haggard (Merle’s son).  I noticed a small historical marker.  It marked the town of Malta as the home of the writer James Ball Naylor, who wrote this bestseller circa 1900.  The story takes place downriver in the town of Stockton and concerns a young man on the lam from a bad experience who takes up with the irascible town physician, first as the pharmacist and then as his partner physician.  There’s a lot of stock characters, (though they are ‘taken from life’), whose rustic tales leave one wanting.  But the narrative has drive and the lead character, as the whole menagerie admits, is a natural leader.  He’s a pretty stiff fellow though, a hair-splitting moralist – but by the books end, I closed it on good terms.

https://www.amazon.com/Ralph-Marlowe-Tribute-James-Naylor/dp/0983234272/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470935997&sr=1-1-fkmr0&keywords=Ralph+Marlowe+by+James+Ball+Naylor

“Excellent Women” by  Barbara Pym:  Her name keeps popping up here and there in my reading, so I decided I had to sample something.  This is a very low key but well written ‘comic’ treatment of the life of an unmarried clergyman’s daughter in immediate post WWII Britain.  The comedy is language prompted and reserved, and the intelligence behind it quite pronounced.  And the through line of the put-upon selfless personality is classic.  No good deed or good person goes unpunished.  If you enjoy hearing the ironic thoughts of a person ignored, even as her companions speak to her, this is your book.

https://www.amazon.com/Excellent-Women-Publisher-Penguin-Classics/dp/B004OYD1QI/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470936071&sr=1-2&keywords=excellent+women+by+barbara+pym

“The Mullah’s Storm” by Thomas W. Young:  Okay.  I kept sneaking back to this one when some of the non-fiction I’m plowing away on got too dry.  A plane goes down in Afghanistan with a high value prisoner aboard.  The second in command is left alive along with a female translator to get this Mullah to a safe place.  The Taliban though have other plans.  So has their prisoner.  It’s a hard marching narrative whose author knows those hills and defiles apparently.  The quiet relationship between the narrator and the female translator is the defining interest apart from survival.

https://www.amazon.com/Mullahs-Storm-Parson-Gold-Novel-ebook/dp/0399156925/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470936114&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Mullah%27s+Storm+by+Thomas+Young

“Hillbilly Elegy” by J. D. Vance:  After having moved to Appalachia from Seattle, I’ve been doing my due diligence.  This book is right up there, but it doesn’t need my good review.  It’s already made a lot of noise.  The culture he describes pretty much is as I’ve witnessed, save his background being a little further up the scale, over the top and down the other side.

Some local traits, which have particularly ground on me, look to be a culturally wide phenomena from what Vance relates.  Kinship ties trump everything, especially common sense.  And the child rearing is ‘free range’.  Vance relates the tale of one of his uncles when a child was asked to leave a store because he was unchaperoned and playing with the toys inside.  The grandfather and grandmother walked into the store, destroyed toys, trashed the shelves, and threatened the store employee with grievous harm – all because the man had disciplined their son to protect his wares.

This is further up the scale, but spot on in style from what I’ve witnessed.  And if you consider that a person’s closest family member is themselves – you might understand how stubborn and refractory to correction people around here can be.  It’s an ethos which travels across class lines.  You’re fur’ em or agin’ em first.  Later on, if pressed, they might consider an outside perspective – if only to argue against it and to suggest some previously unvocalized injury.  You couple this with gossip and intermingled family trees which span a multitude of generations – and you’ve got fertile grounds for simmering feuds and bad feeling all around.  It certainly doesn’t help fix things!

I’ve been working pretty hard at never meeting any of my son’s friends’ parents.  My son is pretty savvy at social navigating.  I’m not.  But I’m pretty big, 6’8”, and do best when I just keep my mouth shut.  One day my son said while leaving Home Depot, “Dad.  I think that they are afraid of you.”

I nodded.  We were off on the right foot.

https://www.amazon.com/Hillbilly-Elegy-Memoir-Family-Culture/dp/0062300547/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470936165&sr=1-1&keywords=hillbilly+elegy+by+j+d+vance

“The Girl on the Train” by Paula Hawkins:  Okay.  I’m only in five pages.  But my wife swears by it, says it‘s a great read.  And I’m hooked so far…

https://www.amazon.com/Girl-Train-Novel-Paula-Hawkins/dp/1594634025/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470936199&sr=1-1&keywords=the+girl+on+the+train+by+paula+hawkins

Meet you at the back cover.

For more ideas, visit:  http://www.magicbeanbooks.co/home.html


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