Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

From the Editor’s Perch…

October 18, 2013

Where we talk about anything that passes through my gol’ durned mind…

Sky8

Achieving Mediocrity

“When trouble arises, quickly roll up into the posture of a failure.”

 

            Mediocrity gets a bad rap.  Its word roots mean ‘halfway up a mountain’.  The word mediocre is used to denote moderate ability or value.  In other words, you’re right in the middle of the herd.

But what does this mean?  Well, halfway up the mountain is just above the tree line where all the grasses and flowers grow.  You’re successful enough to get fed.  There are lots of others around.  You’re safe, protected by numbers.  But you’re enough of a failure to enjoy the freedom of nursing an odd idea, preoccupation, or interest with relative impunity.  Why, no one of importance is following what you’re up to.

Prince Harry dresses up for fun in Nazi memorabilia, and he gets called on it big time.  However, mediocrities get away with this sort of misbehavior all the time.  Mediocrities come and go pretty much as they please.  It’s like having a universal passport.  If you are mediocre you have your work, and your vacation and your family and your car and boat – and your venal sins – you might even harbor a few mortal sins, plus a little free time.  You don’t have it all.  But having it all requires a lot of expensive upkeep and safe keeping.  You have a bit of everything, and no obligatory posturing.  A mediocre person can more or less just let themselves go.

Being mediocre is about as close to enjoying the perks of failure as the average prudent Joe can afford to be.  He’s neither pious, nor afflicted with chancres.  He’s neither a drunken sot, nor abstemious.  He’s neither a fool nor a genius.  If he has made any remarkable achievement at all, it might be in acquiring no small amount of common sense, humility, and tolerance for others, all the while enjoying him or herself, more or less… that is, pretty much so, and not expecting any more.  Self-supporting, procreative, relaxed and affable, the mediocrity has a lot of common, garden variety achievements to be proud of, plus a bit of time which he sometimes spends helping others, or raising kids.

If the mediocrity has any special ability, it is usually employed in a supporting role.  As they say in the halls of Congress, “There is no end to what you can accomplish here, if you don’t want to take credit for it.”  This is very true of life in general, all of which means and offers fertile soil for the mediocre and the unsuccessful.

The successful mediocrity takes advantage.  There’s hardly any other word for it.  The obviously successful are vulnerable.  There’s hardly anything more true that could be said about obviously successful people than that they need an enormous support staff… lots and lots of underlings.  These successful people need a lot of other people helping and assisting them with their work and all their trappings; helping them to get on with their lives.  The normal successful person is a virtual living cripple, honed to a razor’s edge to excel in a very narrow range of endeavor, like a supersonic jet.  They can’t be used to just taxi off to the store, or to hammer a nail, or much of anything else!

The obviously successful person is so cocooned in the frenetic network of whatever it is they are pursuing, that they rarely have the time or inclination to inquire or follow-up on wherever or whatever their underlings are doing.  It is enough that they do ‘it’, whenever ‘it’ is required.  So, whereas the successful person has to be mindful of many, many things, the mediocrity has to be mindful of only one, or at the most two.  This can be quite relaxing and the mediocrity can live a long life, while employed well enough to enjoy much of life.  And if, or when, trouble arises, they can quickly roll up into the posture of a failure, and pass as unnoticed as a “block, a stone, or some senseless thing”.

As Charles Bukowski, the poet, advised:  “Don’t try so hard.”

Photo by Carl Nelson

Advertisements

From the Editor’s Perch…

October 11, 2013

scan0062

A Brief Review

 

History is written by the winners, as they say, but it’s not because there is not lots of material about losers in the public and private archives, says Scott Sandage.  “The voices of and experiences of men who failed (and of their wives and families) echo from private letters, diaries, business records, bankruptcy cases, suicide notes, political mail, credit agency reports, charity requests, and memoirs.”

As anybody with eyeballs is apt to see, failure is the much more likely result of business enterprise than success.  And if we are to celebrate the fruits of a Darwinian process, such as successful enterprise is – then we ought, as a culture, to explore ways to reap fertility from failed enterprise.  Not just economically, but culturally; making use of losers as a cultural resource, a fertile bed from which our next generation of achievers arise.  Just look around.  We paddle through a Sargasso Sea of failures every day.   History is stuffed with the biographies of high achievers whose upbringings came from families of failed patriarchs.   There is good fertile soil here.  But what is done to respect it?

It’s no surprise that our society produces much more failure than success, and much more quiet desperation than joy.  Competition naturally produces many more losers than winners.  And yet, Sandage would point out, we structure our social interchange as if success were the only virtuous possibility.  And in doing so, create a lot of suffering.  (And also, by the way, limit a lot of social potential.)  An interesting example he points out is contractual law.   The act of signing a contract “is a promise to be successful”.   Otherwise obligations could not be met.  Of course, this is preposterous.  Most enterprises fail.

And then, culturally, when we see failure, we look for a “reason in the man”, a phrase Sandage notes often passed around in the 19th century.  But if you examine the victims of the 19th century financial panics, which Sandage does, the most common plea of the pending bankrupt was that, he could pay his debts if only his customers would pay him!  Business naturally placed even the most shrewd and enterprising businessman within a web of contracts which turning together greatly contribute to either his success or failure.  This is as true today.

There is an awful lot more to be said about Sandage’s book, but I’ll close this short review with these two of his comments:  “Nineteenth-century Americans swapped liberty for ambition, adopting the striver’s ethic as the best of all possible freedoms.”  “Soon a man would be nothing more nor less than his occupation.”

But readers!  Hope springs eternal.

My next post reviews an article from The New Yorker about how a new entrepreneurial culture in San Francisco tends “to regard success in terms of autonomy”.  “This braiding of tech-business growth with life-style values and aesthetics – and from there, the world of art- creeps many people out.”

More to come.

From the Editor’s Perch

March 2, 2013
"I can't go on.  I must go on."

“I can’t go on. I must go on.”

A Samuel Beckett Kind of Place

“The reality is embarrassing.  Being me just doesn’t seem to get me anywhere.” 

  – John, incarcerated sex offender

You needn’t be a sex offender to feel like this at times.  Tell a joke that doesn’t fly.  Make an observation which falls flat.  Voice a comment which brings down a storm of contempt, and it’s easy to feel like you’d best shuck your skin – like you’ve joined the wrong group, or are walking around in a dystopia with a sign saying, “Kick me!” stuck to your back.

But these are small quibbles next too looking into the mirror fifty or sixties years running and realizing that what you see was never in the running.  You’re authentic alright.  And what you see is just what you’ve got.  Where’s the medal?  Where are the rewards and approbation?  Where is the approving God, Who has accomplished just what He intended, through you?

I relish the essay which digs a hole that just grows darker and darker until there is no light whatsoever and no foreseeable exit, right down to bedrock: a Samuel Beckett kind place where you “can’t go on…” but you “must go on…”  I find these sorts of essays hilarious, enjoyable and above all, relaxing.  Because only people who don’t mind losers, who dwell on losers, who think losing is just fine, emblematic of the human condition, in fact! and just one of those things which most often happens  – are real.

Okay.  Throw up now.  Return to the top of essay, and repeat until you feel better.

Photo in the back of a Ballard Bar by Carl Nelson

From the Editor’s Perch

March 20, 2011

We’re All Crazy!!!

 
 

And Finding Friends Where We Can

 

“The first thing you need to know,” a prominent and widely respected psychiatrist I read, wrote, “is that we’re all nuts”.  I wish I could remember his name, but the statement was so outrageous that it has stuck in my mind several years after I read it.  That, and the fact that I liked the idea so much.  It takes a lot of the pressure off, when you think about it. 

And, it properly places all those ‘Realists’. 

You want something real, Mr. Hard-headed Realist?  Pick up a rock.  It will conform to all the laws of physics.  It will not disappear, nor morph into something new, or suddenly rise out of sight.  Nothing unexpected will happen.  And my guess is, like Reality, it doesn’t even know we’re here.  And like Reality – my second guess is – it doesn’t even know it’s here.  The only way in which it is not like Reality, it seems, is that lots of ‘Realists’ don’t worship it.  Which is puzzling, to be sure, because it’s a lot easier to find a rock – than to describe Reality.

It is fashionable currently to genuflect before the glories of the Scientific Mind and to scorn the ‘Idiocy of Religion’ and all their in-house crazies who currently are held to fan all the problems of our Shrinking World.  But how do we know what’s crazy?  What makes doing or thinking one thing more, or less, crazy than doing or thinking another?  Most of us take our cue from Christ, “By their fruits you will know them.”   We generally say someone is acting or thinking ‘crazy’ if they are doing or saying something which doesn’t provide a good outcome.  So, the Scientist retreats to his/her laboratory to perform all of these ‘crazy’ experiments… until the outcome of what he/she has discovered is found to be very beneficial.  Aha!  He/she was never crazy at all!  All along they were employing the Scientific Method.  But, likewise, the Religious Figure, retreats into the cloisters of his/her faith to perform all of these crazy rituals and to perpetuate the teaching of all of these preposterous ideas… until the outcome is to have spawned an enormously successful society; a society which by nearly all human measure far outstrips whatever had previously come before.  Aha!  So why does it not seem that they were not crazy after all but were employing the ‘Religious Method’.  Like I tell my Scientifically biased – and rather rude friends: “When the cult of the EverReady Bunny creates another Western Civilization – you can believe I will take it very seriously.”

You wonder why people join Cults?  You wonder why people lose their lives fighting over the most inane notions?  You wonder why people run off into the desert after some charismatic figure?  It’s very simple:  We’re all crazy!  That’s what separates us from the rocks!!!   If you’re wondering why the populace will follow crazy people, it’s because crazy is the energy we run on.  That’s my take.  And the more crazy energy you have, the more followers you may get.

This is certainly true of the stage.  When directing actors, one of the things a mediocre actor often doesn’t understand is that merely ‘becoming that character’ isn’t giving us a great deal.  “Congratulations,” I feel like saying, “you’ve become a rock.  You’re right up there on the same level as a piece of furniture on the set.  You will be just as interesting as the playwright has written you… but no more.” 

If you want to give a memorable performance as an actor, you have to infuse that character with life.  Life is not a rock.  Life is not a chair.  Life is not a described situation with dialogue.  Life is an inspired situation.  You have to bring to that character some of your own ‘craziness’.  That’s how we’ll know you’re human… and give you our estimate.

Photo and Opinion by Carl Nelson

 

From the Editor’s Perch

March 18, 2011
Ur Editor

“Over thirty years ago I worked for a local moving outfit where most of the endless days were spent loading or unloading vans at one of the many loading docks.  One of my fellow workers, Dale, was a huge Italian, who grew up in Hell’s Kitchen.  He would skip on his toes across the warehouse floor – like one of those dancing hippos in Disney’s Fantasia – flicking jabs, to amuse himself on slow days, while he went from here to there collecting bits of stray string or torn sections of cardboard in order to appear busy.  He was tall and powerfully built with olive-skin, oily black hair, large fleshy features, liver lips and an enormous beer belly – so enormous in fact, that in order to stay upright he had to lean backwards while skipping forward.  He was a former ‘deep-water sailor’ who harbored in Belltown and drank with his cronies at the Two Bells.  He was a binge drinker who now and then just wouldn’t show up for a while.

But when Dale was there, if he were in a talkative mood, he share with us the ‘adventures of the sea’: about sailors who’d strap bras to their back while out at sea to make a little extra money, and about visiting his retired pals who spent their days keeping track of the whores on First Avenue with red pins stuck in a large map of downtown Seattle – as if conducting military maneuvers.  Dale generally stayed above any argument that would break out from time to time in the coffee room.  But when he did voice an opinion, it was always the same one:  “The question is,” he would say with a chuckle as he lifted his meaty forefinger to make his point: “are you da Fucker, orderda da Fuckee?”  And I had to admit, Dale’s comment almost always hit upon the crux of whatever was bothering those guys.  His gnome-like silence notwithstanding, this ‘one-thought’ intelligence-of-his was downright uncanny, in fact.

One boring winter afternoon I asked Dale how his Christmas had gone.  He had been looking forward to spending the holiday with a woman and her young son in a cheap motel room along Aurora Avenue North.  I assumed she was probably a hooker who came with the room.  “Not so good,” he said.  “We got in an argument and I ended up throwing the tree and the turkey out the back door.”  In retrospect, the dark humor of it seemed to be its saving grace.  I had the feeling Dale was perplexed, and more profoundly depressed than he could admit. There was something in the nuance of a relationship which seemed to trip him up.  Nevertheless, he seemed to admire the dark humor of it – of those fragile Christmas tree ornaments hitting the asphalt with a pop!.  It was the kind of world he might have designed, himself.

Over the years, I’ve encountered numerous bright people who’ve tried to explain to me again and again the reality of the same situations Dale could have summarized with greater and more accurate ease, in a phrase.  I guess they repeat themselves again and again because they think I don’t get it; I can’t face it; I’m poorly read; I can’t understand it; I’m ignorant; I’m weak; I’m a waffler…    I miss Dale.  I think the reason we sort of liked each other was because we both grasp that their  ‘reality’ – just doesn’t work.  I could look at him and realize that he got the joke.

Photo by Scot Bastian

 

From the Editor’s Perch

July 25, 2010

“When the competition is over, the Kings and the Pawns all go back in the same box.”

                                          –  Italian proverb

          

 

SUCCESS

From what I’ve been able to glean from Wikipedia, each fertilized human embryo represents a huge Oklahoma-like Land Rush representing an average 30 million sperm participants.  And the fellow/woman you’re looking at here, sleeping under this thin grey coverlet, represents the winner of such an event.  So think about this: each person you encounter every day has been enormously successful.  And I mean on the level of a Bill Gates.   

So what about this poor fellow/woman?  Well, my first thought would be that indeed, “winning IS everything”.  But, by that I mean, success in one sphere does not necessarily transfer well to another.  (i.e. that’s all it was, and now it’s gone.) 

In fact, we’re all has-beens.  It will be the very rare person who can replicate the success they had by just being born.  So, I think we shouldn’t be alarmed so much by failure… By being broke?  Well, yes.  Maybe a bit – or even a lot!   But I think each of us should get up each day and walk with our shoulders back and our head up – in light of the immense success we already are… even if you’re a little hungry and sleeping under a bridge.

                                         – Carl Nelson

Photos by Carl Nelson


%d bloggers like this: