Monday, August 21, 2017

Eclipse

I like the part that, for a couple of hours at least, I got to be reminded that we are tiny little organisms in a great big solar system where celestial events happen in spite of any sort of human activity whatsoever.  And it was cool to be able to see the moon moving in front of the sun in real time.

All that was mitigated slightly by the hyping of the “Great American Eclipse” as if somehow the US of A is special just because a swath of the country fell into the “zone of totality.”  But, I guess if there’s money to be made, why the hell not?

The most visually interesting part of the event, for me, was the way we got little crescent shadows through the leaves and the curtains; tiny pinhole cameras abound.  Also, though it may have been my imagination, it did seem cooler when the peak of the event occurred.

The problem now that it’s over is what to do?  For a little while this morning, I got to pretend that it mattered what I did, even if that was just being an observer of an unusual event.  Now, I’m faced with the difficulty of making meaning in a meaningless universe again; too bad there isn’t a lunar eclipse to look forward to in half a month.

Also, what are we going to do with all these eclipse-viewing glasses?  I suppose I could hang onto them until 2024, when an eclipse next visits the US; perhaps they’ll be “vintage” by then and will command a premium price.  In all likelihood, however, they will go into the kitchen “junk drawer” where they will languish until I experience a fit of cleaning frenzy and toss them in the trash, probably around next summer. 

That sort of activity may not be as predictable as the transit of the moon across our star, but based on well-known cycles of activity, it’s a sure thing.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Memory

Often when I’m stoned, I have brilliant insights into the human condition that allow me to be more forgiving and compassionate towards my fellow human beings.  Unfortunately, those revelations are ephemeral and by the time I might get around to writing them down, they’re gone.  Consequently, I find myself just as clueless and misguided as I was before I got high and no more considerate towards mankind than I ever was.

So, fuck all of you SUV drivers, Trump supporters, and Baltimore Ravens fans. 

Ah, that’s better.

Just kidding! 

Actually, I love you all, and I don’t need drugs to remind me.  (What I need drugs for, as a matter of fact, is to lessen the pain of human existence and also to make bike riding easier and more fun; also, to encourage me to swim in the lake and to make reading fiction more enjoyable; oh, and because it keeps me from wandering around the house eating everything in sight and additionally, since it eases some of the nagging pain I feel in my knee and my neck.  And, of course, because weed smoking makes me cool.)

I recall the first time I ever got stoned; it was the day after Thanksgiving, 1972; I was in the third-floor poolroom of our house in Pittsburgh; Val Hornstein, whose older brother was an authentic hippie, as evidenced by his dog-eared copy of Be Here Now, had a joint of “Acapulco Gold” procured from said sibling.  We smoked it and walked around outside in a snowstorm that was so beautiful and quiet that it’s no wonder I’m still a pothead almost fifty years later.

One of the things I like about weed is that it makes the simple complex and the complex simple.  Big issues, like how to prevent nuclear war with a madman for President slide away, and you get to focus your attention on whether to wear sandals or Converse.

At least, that’s how I remember it.

Monday, August 7, 2017

To-Don't

I’d like to be a better procrastinator, but I never seem to get around to it.

The number one item on my “to-do” list is to make a “to-do” list.

You can’t really waste time if anything you might do is pointless; the key to being efficient is never having something to do.

I realize I am incredibly privileged to be in a position of such freedom; essentially, that position is prone, on the couch, napping.

I spend most of my time, riding bikes, smoking weed, and reading fiction.  The rest, I squander.

I’m starting this business where I will take money to be lazy in your name.  Busy professionals, don’t have time to smoke wees and go swimming in the lake?  No problem; I’ll do that for you; I’ll even upload a Selfie so you can see how much fun you’re having!

I start to feel a little guilty at being such a bum; but, thankfully, it’s too much effort to keep that up.

I’ll be busy enough, soon enough, so I may was well enjoy this while I can; but if I don’t enjoy it, that’s even better since it means I’ve even wasted the time I could have spent wasting my time.

When I’m dead, no one will complain that I’m not working hard enough.  So, see, I’m just preparing for the inevitable here.

I’ve read that our hunter-gatherer ancestors typically spent only a few hours a day in procuring food.  The rest of the time, they hung around chatting, did art, and played games of chance.  Fuck the “Paleo Diet;” I’m going for the full Paleo Lifestyle!

I’ve even given up shaving for the next few weeks; so much better to save five minutes on my morning ablutions when I have a mere 23 hours and 55 minutes to fill before tomorrow.

I think I’ll go the library now; or maybe I’ll just put that on my “to-do” list for another summer day.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Useless

The main thing in life, I guess, is to have a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning, so to speak.  You need to successfully achieve that absurd state of being, the one where you are able to live meaningfully in an essentially meaningless universe.

It probably doesn’t really matter what you do, just so long as you do something that seems like it matters.  And presumably, the best way to do that is to have it matter to someone else, so they can convince you that it actually does.

There are lots of ways to do this. 

You can aim high and work at a non-profit whose mission is to save the world.  You can find satisfaction in the middle with a decent job that pays well enough for you to have fun with family and friends.  You can probably even achieve the desired state by bottoming out as a drug addict just so long as you’re addicted enough to care sufficiently about the drugs you’re addicted to.

I myself have had some success in lowering my standards sufficiently so that whatever little bit I do convinces me that it’s enough.  The problem with this is that it’s hard to maintain the illusion for very long, especially since the bar inevitably falls lower and lower.  As soon as it’s sufficient for maintaining my self-esteem that I, say, do some yoga, clean the house, and read a book on a given day, I find that subsequently, it’s enough to just read a book.  And then, soon, it’s a magazine.  And then, the newspaper.  And before you know it, I try to be satisfied simply surfing cat videos on the web—and even for me, that’s not enough, which requires restarting the process all over again.

They say that the key to happiness in life is to commit to something larger than yourself; I tried devoting myself to LeBron James; sorry to say it didn’t work.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Painful

I am 59 years old and have had a daily Ashtanga yoga practice for more than 18 years. 

During this time, I have experienced all sorts of aches and pains and have tried to work through them, using those physical sensations as a means to examine my experience and response to it. 

I’ve also had to modify my practice due to various injuries, including sprained wrists, bruised ribs, skinned knees, and jammed fingers.  My “higher self” seeks to accept each injury as a “gift” that provides me the opportunity to become more aware of my body; of course, I struggle to balance this aspiration with the frustration that follows from not being able to do things that I can do when I’m healthy.

For the past several months, I’ve been dealing with a couple of nagging pains that are bedeviling me and forcing a re-evaluation of what the yoga practice is; I’m not ready to give it up, but I am wondering what my practice will look like in a year or ten if things don’t change.

The first is a chronic pain in my left (bad) knee coming into and out of the lotus (heel to navel) position.  Oddly enough, once I’m settled in the pose, it feels fine, but the transition, as I straighten my leg, has been hurting for months.  I’m starting to believe, therefore, that it’s in my head, not my knee.  I have to stop expecting to feel pain for it to go away.

The other is the result of a sprain I incurred while playing softball.  My right ankle remains swollen after almost two months and causes me misery when flexed in various binding poses like marichyasana B or D; it has also rendered janu shirshasana B, where you sit on you heel, impossible.  The slowness of my recovery is what’s bothering me most; I can live with the pain it’s temporary.

If this is my life now, though, that hurts.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ad Hominem

When I do philosophy with 5th and 6th graders (or, for that matter, college students), I like introducing them to informal fallacies, especially the ad hominem fallacy, which is the infamous rhetorical error of attacking the person rather than their argument. 

I illustrate the ad hominem fallacy with the following example:

Suppose I were to present the following argument:
“Since yesterday was Monday and tomorrow is Wednesday, therefore, we can conclude that today is Tuesday.”
An ad hominem response to that argument would be:
“Oh yeah?  Well, you suck!”

Once students have grasped the concept of the ad hominem, we can then point out in class when someone commits one. If someone calls someone else “stupid” for believing, for instance, that cats are superior pets to dogs, we can share one of those lovely “learning moments” and explore a more effective way to respond to the argument in favor of cats.  It doesn’t take 11 and 12 year-olds long to get into the habit of identifying the ad hominem fallacy and only slightly longer to develop argumentative strategies that avoid it.

By contrast, more than a year into the current U.S. Presidential campaign, pretty much all the candidates and most, if not all, of the political pundits routinely, if not exclusively, employ the ad hominem in reference to the candidate they don’t support.

Trump, for instance, calls Hillary a “liar,” “crooked,” and “the devil.”  She refers to him as “racist,” “incompetent,” and “flamboyant;” (and, while these may be true, they still take aim at him rather than his arguments (whatever they may be.)

It’s even more obvious when you consider both candidates’ supporters.  I would defy most Trump voters to articulate the justification for even one of Hillary’s policies (even articulating one of her policies would be a stretch); and the main reason Hillary voters reject Trump is because of his character, not the reasons for his positions (assuming he has any).

Conclusion: both sides suck!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Consumption

At this point in my life, there’s not much I really need: a few carafes of coffee in the morning; the undying affection of millions around the world; an investment portfolio that guarantees me financial security for another three decades or so; but other than that, I’ve got it made.

And yet, oddly, I still find myself coveting things I don’t have: a pair of pants made from recycled water bottles; a bicycle that converts from a solo to a tandem and features a hidden electric motor for climbing steep hills; a bottle of bourbon so rare and expensive that even Saudi Arabian sheiks only hoard it for themselves.  None of these, and others, are things that I need, by any stretch of the imagination; however, with even the smallest bit of reach in my own mind, I find myself dreaming of acquiring them.

I see what’s going on here, of course: I feel some basic lack of completeness in my psyche, and I’m trying to fill it with material goods.  The usual strategies of oversleeping, alcohol abuse, and 24-hour cable sports don’t do the trick, so I look elsewhere—notably all around the internet—to find them.

Were I a better person, I’d surely find what I’m seeking by gazing within; as it is, however, when I introspect deeply, I keep running across that high-tech vacuum cleaner that runs perfectly silently and works equally well on rugs and wood floors, as well.  If only I had that, perfect harmony and lasting bliss would be mine.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors got by with nothing more than a pointed stick and a piece of flint; we’re hard-wired, apparently, to be satisfied with much less than we have.  Philosophers like Spinoza remind us that it’s much easier to change our desires than change the world; we should want what we have rather than wanting what we don’t.

Sure thing; and I’d want what I have, if only I had more.