Thursday, November 27, 2014

Older Man Loves Teenage Girl

I am a middle-aged man. If I sinned with a teenage girl and if I felt I needed to tell two nice old ladies at church about it, then how could I confess? I can't just blurt it out, no, better to start by saying "Teenage girls like me..." No, I'm scared, I'd rather start with, "I like the dead end roads in Calgary.

"They are so exotic compared to where we parked as teens back home. For one thing, the signs are in French, cul de sac, and the street opens to a keyhole shape with neat little shallow curbs..."

No, best to start with "In high school I role modeled off of a buddy a grade older than I"... I used to go to Jack Lee's place every week. I remember once seeing the fireworks as he broke up with his girl: as a ladies man he was as unpolished as I back then.

Where he excelled, I thought, was in being friendly. Along our school's hallowed halls he'd go waving and smiling and giving a cheery word to so many students. It wasn't until next year that I read Peyton Place and began to grasp how so many of us were troubled teens, each with our own story.

My senior high school was real nice. Not nearly as bad as Buffy's Sunnydale High, or the one in Mean Girls, perhaps because both of our junior high feeder schools had a drop out rate of about 50%: now, those schools were bad. Still, we had a vague hierarchy and I was, at best, an average Joe. In my junior year I started being nice like Jack.

And one quiet afternoon, after the school had emptied out, I was going down the corridor and I noticed, standing at his locker on the other side of the hall, a nice modest senior who, in a U.S. school, would be called "popular." He was rich: teammates called him "the native" because of his Hawaiian suntan. He was handsome. He was captain of our school's biggest sports team. I am tempted to lie and say he was also president of our student council, but that would be gilding the lily. We had probably never conversed.

I remember that as I walked along that day he slowly turned at his locker. I walked, he turned...he was shyly waiting for his "hello!" And at that moment, as I said "Hi!," I understood: we all have our needs. And if I am too shy to reach out to an upperclassman then I am in the wrong. My mantra: "Because I am afraid to love, you are alone."

It's been a long time since I attended a high school pep rally. Today "rallying" for my city spirit is a private silent responsibility. Nowadays, as a middle-aged man, I park at a cul de sac to walk a grassy path over to the Tim Hortons for a coffee. At the end of the cul de sac lives a nameless teenage girl. I sometimes see her entering her door, or playing badminton on the road with her dad. I wish her well; I love my city. And one quiet evening on the path the girl said "Hello"...and I was mute. Why? Was I surprised and shy? Or surly and senile? I would like our teens to expect that in this world they will like people and be liked in return. That evening, when I failed to say "hello," I both failed the girl and I sinned. I forgot my mantra: "Because I am afraid to love, you are alone..."

To the two old ladies at church I will say, "I sinned and I'm sorry." All I can do is try to do better next time. If I establish good habits now, if I habitually look for the good and show warmth then someday I won't be old and grumpy. Instead, like my pals at church, I will be old and kind.

Sean Crawford

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Measuring So People Matter 

The best marketing minds understand, just as Barack Obama understands, that when people feel powerless, no illusion is so alluring as that we matter.
Catherine Blyth, Feb 19, 2009, 8:41 a.m., on blog, “as seen in the Spectator.”

Oh irony: clicking on Spectator (on her blog page) leads to a Spectator page which says two things: “Sorry—page not found” and “Check out the latest opinion on Coffee House and add your voice.” Well, the only voice I hear is someone telling me Britain has 60,000,000 people—that’s an awfully big coffee shop.

Hurray! Once again it’s been another 25 weeks, like finishing another project, because I have filled up another web administrator’s Page: Each Page is set for 25 topic lines, for 25 posts.

They say the last stage of any project in real life, or in Management 101, is summing up the lessons learned: Some folks would insist only the measurable lessons count. My big lesson for my Page isn’t measurable… But before I talk about my own learning, I would like to talk of other bloggers, and folks in the greater world, and what they measure.

Down in the blogging world
As I’ve noted before, the blogging gold rush fever is over, with many blogs now totaling up fewer page hits than they once totaled up in just comments alone. Back in the day, despite the mathematical odds, people craving high hit counts were rushing and frantic, skimming half-blind in their hopes of being noticed and loved and heard. Yes, folks will always have such human yearnings; I’m sure this mistake will repeat again when new technology comes along—we don’t learn from history.

What bloggers could have remembered is: The numbers! Even in a small town, in a little town hall meeting, most of us will sit quietly. In their yearning to matter, and their rush for great big hit counts, bloggers forgot this.

A trick I got from President Obama's mentor, community organizer Saul Alinsky, is to “act locally” while having a blurred vision of people around me working and voting for a better world: I know I matter to my little peer group, as other citizens count to their peer group. All of our efforts and all of our votes add up to our democracy. Alinsky’s trick requires a little abstract thinking, which may be a little unreasonable, but still, it’s less unreasonable than believing “people globally” are reading my blog.

Alinsky’s trick is better for me than thinking, “Hey, cleaning up litter in this little corner park won’t change the mess in the whole city so forget it—I quit!” Or thinking that if I can’t have my voice be heard, really heard, written in glowing letters on the stadium jumbotron, then I’ll get all huffy. As society gets more affluent, I still remember the metaphor of the spoiled kid with the only ball and bat on the block. If he didn’t get his own way he would get huffy and say, “I’ll just take my ball and bat and go home.” That won’t be me.

Up in the greater world
‘You manage what you measure’ goes a slogan. Careful with this one. A conscientious computer guy, web essayist Paul Graham, was working on making the best product he could, and then he got some shares in the stock. You can measure stock price. To his surprise, he found himself evaluating everything, and making his decisions, by how it would affect the stock, not by how it would help the product.

And of course, for another time and space, we all know how the counter-insurgency efforts in Vietnam avoided the main war by simply killing Vietcong, focusing on body counts and other measurable things, things that often impelled Vietnamese into communism, away from democracy. (Like in colonial New England where the English troops “won” a riot by protecting themselves with gunfire, but at the cost of a few dead colonists—causing a few hundred new recruits for the revolution)

Significantly, the troops in Nam on the ground, gazing through barbed wire, called Winning the Hearts and Minds “the other war.” Regrettably, I am not convinced that at the end of Vietnam we summed up and learned any lessons, not when occupied Iraq was run, yet again, by the armed forces and the embassy. Instead, rebuilding in Iraq should have been coordinated, and democracy taught, by the State Department. By relying once again on the warrior culture and the embassy, I think the U.S. goal of democracy-teaching, amidst nation-building, was utterly doomed in advance.

And of course the War on Drugs is repeating, point by point, the long sorry list of lessons not-learned in Nam, repeating the farce. Utterly doomed, then, to failure. Maybe the real farce is honest people against drugs saying, “What list?” Or even worse, “I thought the only thing we learned from Vietnam was not to get involved in any former French colony in Southeast Asia.” But hey, let’s not get too grim and humorless about our inability to learn from history. Let's laugh. After all, I’m sure Voltaire would react to our folly by laughing long and loud, as his eyes squeezed out tears...

… Only a few years ago, back in the day, bloggers tried to feel good from their nice measurable hit counts. The “summing up,” as discussed in panels at blogger conferences, was for learning how to “increase traffic.” But the best things in life, besides being free, are things that can’t be measured. Not like traffic. Better to simply reach for abstractions like fun and excellence, and let the traffic roam where it will.

Recently on my blog site
Measurable: Good news for my fans: page views are up. That’s likely to be a coincidence. Clicks to see “full profile” are really up. That’s unlikely to be a coincidence. I guess I should be happy. Best of all, I suppose, the blog fever has passed, and yet my hit counts haven’t fallen off. I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.

In the “about me” I say, “It’s OK to comment on my older posts.” And now someone is doing so, and I am answering, and that’s nice.

During this Page I have acquired a reader moved to comment; she likes human growth pieces: Call her my “stock price.” It becomes likely, then, I shall do more human potential essays, and that’s fine by me.

Not measurable: I’ve learned the Japanese, with their old civilization, have the concept “Way,” called do, as in Karate-do, “Way of the empty hand.” (Incidentally, Karate-do is a martial art, not a sport like boxing) They also have a Way of the tea ceremony, and other “Ways” too. I doubt that any wise old crone, not famous, not known beyond her peers, would tell you precisely why she practices the tea ceremony or tai chi, but she knows it’s meaningful. In my silicon world of silly screens my prose can be my practice, my Way, my tai chi—if, and only if, I focus. It wouldn’t be the same if I languidly typed with a limp wrist, escaping into writing as a distraction.

Leisure pursuits, measured or not, can feel as meaningful as “real work.” Hence a practical, work ethic fellow like business guru Peter Drucker could become an expert on Japanese art, and be published (co-author) on it; Sir Winston Churchill could become an expert painter, and be published on painting. I have seen one of his pieces hanging at Government House in Edmonton. Churchill’s prose, of course, is classic, well worth studying by students of composition—as I have.

It’s nothing magic, these two men and the crone are all mortal: Everyone can learn to focus on skills and interests just as they do. Me too. I can’t measure, and I can’t prove, the value of practicing a Way of life. I can only say I mean to keep writing and blogging, without statistics. That’s my lesson from these last 25 posts.    

Sean Crawford

A Note on Blogs  
As you can see from old blogs, immortal in cyberspace, blogs were also trying to have a sense of community through comments. Some current blogs have this, with comments from decent readers, not skimmers. 

Related essays
~One of my top ten posts by hit count, A Young Girl’s Guide to Wars and Drugs (comparing two war failures) was posted March 2013… Incidentally, while readers seldom click on “like,” a post two weeks past it, also in March, has two “likes,” Men’s Underwear and Symbolism.

~My last summing up for a 25-blog Page was posted as Acid Blog, Stupid University May 2014.

~ Under the label Iraq, I have three essays, the last includes the concept of reality checks.

Me, Growing Up
 On a personal note, for readers who get this far down the page, I guess I should grow up. Everybody else lost their innocence in Vietnam, and I should too, and stop innocently wanting the agony and casualties to mean any lessons are learned. There's no silver lining, their lives were just wasted.
I’m sorry, Mom.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Mourning and Remembrance

In the year of our lord 1914 the British Empire was imperiled. All over Africa the German and British colonies fought, while in London the King’s ministers reported with alarm: The Expeditionary force was in retreat. And they sent out the call: Save the King!

Across the ocean, across a harsh land, across the continental divide was a khaki coloured land of sagebrush and yellow grass and low trees. Here had settled the children of empire, nearly all with memories of England’s pastures green, now in a dryer land. It was a fertile land, if you had water. And water was far away. Far away but not beyond the ingenuity of the sons of the King. Great wooden flues were built for miles and miles with great Roman fortitude. Straight as the heart’s desire. And hearts dreamed that soon orchards would grow with a profusion of delicate white blossoms because of the wooden flues crossing the hills and valleys like a roman aqueduct.

But work on the flues was interrupted—. Setting dreams aside, the strong young husbands and fathers hit the rails across the vast land and sailed off to Britain and thence to France to flounder and gasp and walk with determination amongst the dreadful mud of Flanders. But not before telling their sweet wives and young children, “Take care, be strong, there’ll be a new day by and by.”

Only God knows how many letters crossed the ocean, undeliverable. Only God knows where many of the men are buried, men of a small town in British Columbia. Their wives had to move on, the town had to be abandoned, for so few ever returned. They had gone with such high hopes. “Fear God and honour the Queen, shoot straight and keep clean.” (Kipling) And now they are gone.

The old flues still stretch forth, grey as the landscape. At night the coyotes howl their lonesome sound… Mournful under the stars, in the presence of the great flues.

Sean Crawford
During my Freefall class
Alexandra Writers Centre
Calgary, AB
Remembering Mr. Thompson
The above piece remains timely, as this is figuratively the year of the veteran: The Legion reports a record number of Remembrance Day poppies picked up.

Today I'm hearing the song Cat's Cradle in my head, and I’m remembering my grade five teacher Mr. Thompson (I hope I spelled his name right) a man who would hit the roof if you drew a Nazi swastika on your desk. It was he who said (as I commented here  last week) regarding the poppy poem In Flanders Fields, “The torch is not a gun, it’s peace.”

Long retired, in my head he remains a vital young man with a British import car that fooled the mechanics: The engine was under the bonnet, not the trunk like that other import, the beetle. My elementary school had one class for each grade, and Mr. Thompson was the boy’s coach. (No girl’s teams in those days) I remember how, thinking of his students back home, he photographed his young wife on Hadrian’s wall. This was in the day when every classroom had a picture of the gracious young queen—of course we studied Roman Britain.

The Romans left a legacy, and Mr. Thompson left us a legacy: With much repetition and imaginative maps he explained the length and breadth of British Columbia. He told us the story of the abandoned town—I believe the town set a record for greatest proportion of men going off to serve. I think of Mr. Thompson when I travel on winding old B.C. highways in my imported Asian car.  

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Wired Future

I was wondering about people in the near future …with human knowledge electronically and steadily accumulating, would they, as heirs to the ages, be like well-rounded ancient Greeks appreciating the True and the Good? … I learned the answer when I time-traveled from my native 1980s into a coffee shop, in 2014 A.D.

There I found an October edition of a brainy Wired magazine.

Back home in the ’80’s I was occasionally reading Omni, the mainstream science magazine with the awful science fiction stories, (one per issue) a magazine I judged to have a tone of gleeful snobbishness. Not to my taste. But Wired, from what I can see, has a neutral tone: It’s all about the future being revealed now.

Aimed at computer lovers, the October issue featured an interview with Terry Gilliam. When I left the ’80’s, Gilliam was known to me for his subversive movie Brazil. I see that since then he’s made a terrific movie with Bruce Willis, that young Die Hard hero, and some guy named Brad Pitt, called Twelve Monkeys. I better see it—it sounds way too good for Hollywood. Gilliam, of course, is also known for his splendid work in Monty Python’s Traveling Circus—and in 2014 they are doing a reunion tour. And here’s where Gilliam is unhappy.

It seems the critics who praise Monty Python have no idea of Monty’s roots in, say, Buster Keaton (I’ve enjoyed Buster’s movies) Notes Gilliam, “…It’s like it’s all been forgotten. That’s the part of the modern world that I really despise. There’s no history—everything exists only in nanoseconds.”

Maybe being old gives Gilliam at last permission to openly sound grumpy, but surely his age is not why he is grumpy. Even as a peach fuzzed artist, surely, he was ferreting out classic truths. I would hope every young artist and young computer enthusiast discerns the truth of people using technology, and the how and the why of their using. This awareness would tend to make anyone grumpy.

It sounds like a man named Qohen is disenchanted, the man in a new movie that Gilliam is working on. In the Wired interview, on page 52 Gilliam notes, “Everybody lives for their selfies and their tweets—to actually exist, somebody has to be talking to you or listening to you.  Qohen just wants to be disconnected, wants to escape from the world that’s out there, full of people just filling the Internet with pictures of the food they’re eating.”

As I see it, with my sweeping judgment including brainy computer programmers, no one in 2014 tweets about the web, “Hey everybody, I’ve just found a classic oil painting, and an English literature story.” But no doubt they gleefully refer each other to photographs of cats wearing funny hats.

I have learned that in the future, the human song remains the same: Boring. Familiar. No jazz. As computer genius Stevey Yegge could say (I like his essays) ‘Many people don’t want to be “on the upward curve” of personal growth.’ He means they want to be living their lives, if you were to graph their progress, on a flat line… and, while they are at it, flat lining their brains, too.

Eh? Well of course I accept people as they are! Of course I know they are entitled to enjoy flat lining; we can’t all be silicon nerds who read Wired… But then again, nerds ain’t so special to me anymore, not when I’ve seen the consumerist advertising in Wired.

In my day, people would let themselves be suckered into buying a machine where you stand with a vibrating canvas belt around your middle—Vrrrrrrrr—that “caused” you to “lose” weight. In Wired I see an advertisement for an electric band you put around your head: “Give your brain a workout in as little as 3 minutes a day with our guided, no-sweat mental exercise. Your brain fitness journey starts at choosemuse.”

I wonder how many folks in this brave new wired-in world, in October, know that, as I discovered in a rumpled Oprah magazine, March the seventh was a day for “24 hours of tuning in to the world around you” promoted at I suppose the philosophy behind the day might be phrased as, “However much you plug in, plug less.”

… … So there I was, having time-traveled into a coffee shop. The first thing I noticed was a distinguished lady, her dyed grey hair superbly coiffed, wearing a futuristic mono blue jacked with horizontal tubes or something: maybe it had spacegoose feathers. I was looking at her back, thinking: Maybe here in the future age 80 is the new 60, while some older-than-me ladies have vanity and don’t settle into plain tired hair.

Next I noticed a man with leather jacket that was brown, not black, which matched his British cap that was black, not tweed. Note to self: Classic clothes remain down the decades. He was fiddling, typing, with a little cloth tent thingy, which I realized was a mini word processor. Small! And he slipped something into his inner jacket pocket, a little box faced with wonderful little colored thingys—I liked this future. That is, until I looked at a corner of the ceiling.

Now, I don’t mind seeing a television for watching wrestling hung in a noisy bar, but—in a secluded coffee shop? And why in the name of Huxley would the silly screen keep rapidly changing, as if to imply no one in the future had any attention span? I can see myself giving a lady a seat facing the windows, “so you can see nature” only to have her ask me to switch seats because the stupid screen is too distracting.

So much for the 21st century.

I can, after some sorrow, accept the facts: Human nature will always reflect the lowest common denominator...Yes, and I can still get to know those few whom Confucius would call “true persons,” folks like Terry Gilliam who put some effort into discerning, and living by, classic values.

Sean Crawford

In a little room in the Vancouver Art Gallery I was privileged to see a half hour movie, Le Jetee, with narration over still black and white frames, a show that inspired 12 Monkeys—wow. Speaking of art, despite the famous cast, I think 12 Monkeys is an art movie, one that readers of sf would like, not a mainstream sci-fi movie.

I trust readers with an attention-span to Web-search on their own. …As for me making links for losers, forget it—I’m too grumpy: to Hades with search engine optimization. (SEO) …