Thursday, December 29, 2016

Perceptions Are Relative

It is so strange to look back at my old life, relative to today.

I agree with Einstein: Perceptions are relative. Albert said the people in a rocket at light-speed feel time is passing normally, while to us they age very slowly. We feel as if the floor of our electric commuter train is still, until we look out the window at “passing fields.” In the train station, if we are looking out our window, then is it our train that’s moving, or merely the train on the next track?

At university, innocent students from the nice suburbs are probably unaware of how people from orphanages and Indian reservations perceive a different, more challenging society. There’s a good reason why my old alma mater has a Red Lodge resource center. (For both aboriginals and nonaboriginals)

Einstein, once he uncoupled perception from reality, developed a lot of amazing theories. My theory about my own life, looking back, is that people could perceive I was carrying around a lot of problems… but then again, maybe I fooled them. Maybe. I guess it would depend on where and when. As a young man, I found my way to a shared house, passed the kitchen interview, and moved in. I don’t know exactly what my housemates thought about me. Actually I do know the most important thing: They liked me.

They wouldn’t judge me on how well I functioned in other places, such as meeting the various demands on campus. But under the easier demands of home, well, they could perceive my essence: They would know if I was a good guy to live with. And I was. I liked them, too.

Our home comprised of a middle-aged guy who was sexually liberated, a fundamentalist guy around thirty named Luke, who “was a nice man,” as Anne put it, and three younger folks. A backyard, a second bathroom downstairs, and a white picket fence out front. The landlord was absentee, the parents far away. It just didn’t get any better. What I didn’t perceive very well was the amount of friction between the older guy and Luke. What I didn’t perceive, when every day there was such a joy to me, was how the home was merely bland-normal-OK to others. You see, I had grown up on an emotional ice burg.

It would be another decade and a half before I could truly perceive how I had grown up with the A-word. Abuse.

One day Luke told me his story. Luke had been attending university, when abruptly he just stopped. Stopped going. He would fool his roommate by leaving at the same time every morning and then going to the park and the library. This went on for six months, back in the days when matchbooks advertised training to be computer “keypunch operators,” for punch cards.

Not many people back then could program computers, but Luke could. One day he turned a corner, got a computer job, and his life went on. Later Luke got a degree, and “got saved” (got religion) while at university. During the two years I lived with him he left his job, started up his own successful company, got married, and he and the wife took my bedroom, while I took Ann’s room, and Anne moved over to the next room. But that’s another story.

When Luke told me of dropping out of school, I just shook my head. “Wow,” I said, “my older brothers would never bounce back after six months of failure. They’d just throw in the towel.” (I was still putting my family into perspective) Luke referred to a fellow housemate, Matthew, who was attending the local community college, “Some people think he’s still attending university!” He too had just quit going one day. As I had recently, which is why Luke was speaking to me that day.

Luke asked me, “Could you withdraw from all your classes except one, and manage to pass it?” No, for I had waited too long to “self-disclose” to him that I had secretly dropped school. What are the odds that three out of five people in a shared house had suffered a failure of nerve? Last I heard, Matthew had graduated, was working and happily married. Things can work out.

“Our greatest enemy is despair.” This I believe. I like this quote from a translated French novel by Romain Gary, published under various English titles as A European Education and Forest of Anger and Nothing Important Ever Dies. It was an important book to me, just for that quote, written by Gary about partisans, while “on operations” as the world was convulsing. Gary survived the world war, incidentally, and became ambassador to the U.S.

In her last book, the North American visionary Jane Jacobs, best known for her practical book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, wrote, in Dark Ages Ahead, that for our society bachelor degrees, regardless of major, were a cheap way for the Human Resources Department (personnel) to screen candidates. That makes a lot of sense. Relative to the everyday world, universities place a lot more demands on students.

I remember science fiction author Larry Niven observing that, on a planet without traffic cops, if a driver can whizz along above the road engineer’s posted speed, he will do so, and next day go still faster, and the next day faster still. He will only stop going ever faster on the day he frightens himself, or crashes. Of course we generally perceive our society as being almost normal, relative to our ideal. But is it? I wonder: Perhaps our modern society, ignoring any posted signs for sane speeds, has become ever more complex, rushed and demanding, right to the crashing point.

Maybe we are each the Red Queen, everyone running as fast as we can, while the fields around us stay still. Needless to say, “I’m proud to be a member of society,” but still, I must admit, our society is awfully hard: Sometimes our brothers falter, stumble and fall between the cracks.

After I faltered, I suppose I could have easily worked on a factory assembly line: Below my potential, to be sure, yet living happily ever after. As it happened, years later, here in Alberta, I got a university career degree, by bravely attending school full time while working, (No student loans, hurray!) and now I have a white-collar job. It can be hard to know your potential, to realistically manage your expectations. Surely the trick is to find resources: Every year students drop out rather than see their campus counselor, or self-disclose to a friend like Luke. Sometimes, all we need is support for something trivial.

In the best seller The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck, an army psychologist at a U.S. base in Okinawa, was counseling a wife of a sergeant. She insisted her whole family was going to have to move back to the States, disrupting the sergeant’s career. As Scott peeled back her excuses and fears, the final true obstacle appeared: The family would have to move thousands of miles because the wife didn’t think she could learn, in Okinawa, to drive a car with a manual transmission, as was the standard for cars in Asia. I forget what happened next, but I presume Scott supported her to learn to drive a standard shift.

As it happened, I learned to drive a manual by taking off my left shoe so I could feel the gears grabbing through the clutch pedal. Most new drivers never have to do that, but that’s how I managed. I have remained sensitive to gears, of course, and sensitive to the fact that a task could be a molehill, relative to some people, and yet be a mountain to others. A little support can go a long ways for facing Okinawa.

As a young man, I briefly lifted free weights. With a spotter. For that final bench press, at the end of my strength, my buddy would grin, and use just a couple of his fingers to make the difference as to whether I got my proper full extension or not. That’s all I needed. Too bad support was something I could so seldom find from my society, (or from my family) not without some determined searching. …You know, there was a time when I couldn’t even afford gasoline and car registration, let alone buy a car.

As I write this I have a sister far away over the continental divide. She has been baffled by a trivial tiny molehill … a big scary mountain. Her stuck state of affairs has been going on for months. (Truth is stranger than fiction: her problem is too bizarre and private to disclose here)

Given this, I’m just going to have to get into that car I bought for saving the planet: My blue hybrid Prius, with its tractor motor and electric engine. I will take time off work, and go drive along winding mountain roads, recharging my battery, which runs the length of my back seat, by braking on the downhills… going to support my sister. Not to save her, just to offer a couple fingers of support, relative to how she’s doing.

It’s all relative.

Sean Crawford
On mountain central time
As December becomes January 2017


~In case you want to drive a car overseas, I see there are some delightful posts on the world wide web an how to do so. My Prius, of course, is an automatic, as are all electric cars. My last car was also an automatic because they offered me the showroom model, with doodads, for cheaper than a bare bones manual with air-conditioning—so of course I accepted.

~Needless to say, the names have been changed, except Anne’s. I remember happily standing beside her at the sink doing dishes every night. I have read that as housing prices rise in Vancouver and Toronto that some people there will afford city living by sharing a place.

~Too bad the homeless guys you see begging on the street value their freedom over cooperating to wash dishes. Or maybe they value their begging. Too bad, for otherwise they too could share in a nice white picket fence.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Me Trying Opposite Day

My parents yelled. I wonder if Arab-born priests (mullahs or imams) here in Canada yell at people to scare them into not thinking? If an Arab mullah preached hatred here, then I wonder: Would a protest-murmur go through a Canadian crowd? Would some elders go see him afterwards to say, “Here in Canada we believe Islam means peace”? If the hatred was against people of Jewish heritage then would an idealistic university student briskly stand up to confront him and say, “Hey, don’t you know there was a holocaust?” My answer is: No, they wouldn’t, not if the Mullah scares them.

Hello Dear Reader,
Got opposite?

Try an “opposite day” if you want both mirth and gloom.

The classic example comes from a mirthful episode of that “show about nothing,” Seinfeld. Seinfeld’s friend George is always “striking out” with women. George, of course, is the guy who would say he was leaving a ski lift tag on his coat all week so women would know he was a skier. One day, he cheerfully announces to his friends that he has a new plan: He is going to try doing “everything opposite.” …So there he is, in the bar, when the lady on the next barstool asks about him to talk about himself. Instead of trying to be impressive, George does the opposite, saying: “I’m unemployed, and I live with my parents.” The lady gets a big attractive smile: “How interesting!” Fade to black. Mirth.

Here is gloom: What if, just for the day, I tried to live the opposite of my parents? To do so I would have to scrutinize them, judge them. How gloomy. Of course I believe in “honor your parents,” (Exodus 20:12) but I also, beyond honor, wish to understand them. My wish to understand wouldn’t arise if I had been raised in a strict household to be a carbon copy of them, a clone, an identical photograph. The issue couldn’t arise if I was in victim mode, saying, “They make me always… Why can’t they let me believe in…”?

Time to look at the bigger citizen picture…At this point, speaking of comparing, I can imagine my poor U.S. cousins, as their War on Terror hovers like a dark drone over all their affairs, grimacing, comparing themselves to Arabs, and to Arabs believing in victim mode (“Islam is under attack by everyone non-Muslim, worldwide”) and then comparing their American parenting styles to the Arabs raising their Arab children to be young copies without any mystery.

I understand, cousins. After all, I was living in Canada during the Cold War against the reds. We were always comparing our democratic selves to the Soviets: You should have seen us getting terribly worked up over a Canada-Russia hockey series—not like the Olympics at all.

I wonder if Arab mullahs yell, and then I wonder if the parents of Mullahs yell…End of looking at the bigger picture.

In my personal life, sometimes, if I abruptly leave a girlfriend or a job, I may have to re-arrange, reframe, and face the facts: Realizing that reality… had been different all along… than what I had thought. Sometimes, when my parents act weird yet again, I may have to finally realize, “Holy cow! These guys haven’t got a clue!” But of course, my brain can’t go there if I am still under their roof, or living right next door. Freedom to think requires distance. (What’s that saying from Mark Twain? “Tell me where a man takes his grain to be milled, and I will tell you his opinions.”) Luckily for me, I have a slightly saner-than-I-am sibling who can give me a common sense perspective on our parents.

Don’t get me wrong, I have lots of common sense in the real world: For example, I drive my car safely, calmly and courteously—but when it comes to being around my parents, then, metaphorically, all of sudden stress fogs my eyes like I’m a student driver, and my car goes off the road.

Which reminds me: The last time I drove my dad anywhere, I think that — or maybe I only daydreamed of what I could do—I think I warned him before we left: He was not to get angry at me in advance, before I had even made a mistake; not to angrily give me directions as we went—just as if I was super-close to making a horribly stupid mistake—but instead to point out the turns calmly and courteously. I regret I never did ask him why he would act like that, and now I can’t. I finally decided, years after leaving home, that I would not longer give him and a certain older brother “diplomatic immunity” when they hurt my feelings. Too bad my father died before I could carry out my plan.

(I suppose Muslims normally give their Mullahs immunity and permission to hurt their feelings, especially in Iran, where young mullahs on the street may act with impunity like hellish young red guards during China's Cultural Revolution)

Come to think of it, earlier this year I was driving a van in the dark, rolling past a stop sign onto a highway when a man said gently, “You must be a brave man, going right through that stop sign.” Before I could answer, another guy said, “There was a state trooper with a flashlight waving him through.” Why are friends so gentle, but relatives so rough? Not me. I act the same no matter whom I am with, no matter how weak or defenseless they are. But around my relatives? I drive into the ditch. Or I used to. Not any more, I hope.

As for my parents: They surely lacked coping skills. As for me, having such skills, I can do the opposite of them every day… Except when I procrastinate.

What else? Well, my parents didn’t go take in any performances of stage or screen. Maybe to save money for beer. I don’t know why, maybe they thought real life was too serious for them to go and see any fantasy shows. Were they like serious farmers with no frivolous interests? (What’s that saying? “The devil finds work for idle hands.”) They didn’t watch escapist television stories either. Dad watched hockey. Mother was OK with that, but she criticized him for watching his only two shows, Judge Judy and Doctor Phil. And that was all for TV. When my mother read a book, rarely, usually murder mysteries or romances, it was never something she would talk about, or share opinions about.

As for me today, my TV is just a box, it’s not for anything broadcast: no rabbit ears, no big roof antenna and no cable. Scattered around my place I have an oversized collection of “unread books,” mainly nonfiction. Surely it’s time to do the opposite of my parents—and indullllge in reeeading! Oohhh. After all, Stephen King says for a writer to read is OK; reading is good, in fact it’s mandatory: It’s just common sense.

Yes, surely it’s time for me to grab the remote control and feel more permission for playing movies and TV shows on my box, even when I have left certain things undone. Like my house clutter.

By now, dear reader, maybe you are staring off into space to think about “doing opposite” yourself. I’ll leave you to your thoughts, while I go over to my easy chair, to indulge in nice mirthful books and shows.

Sean Crawford


~If giving my parents diplomatic immunity meant I couldn’t ask them direct questions, then OK, I could at least have said, “I notice that you…” and waited to hear any response. That chance is gone now.

~I’m amused that, although having a personal topic, I could still bring citizenship into my blog. I can imagine an Arab-American feminist reading this and whispering, “The personal is the political.”

~Don’t worry, this post won’t hurt my parent’s feelings: They are too busy up in heaven. Worry instead about one of my readers suddenly seeing what her reality had been.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Trivial Fear

I had a choice to make today...

My choice was: “to get going or not,” on photocopying my big manuscript of poetry. At least, that’s what I think was going on. (Besides other minor things)

Today, after noon, I finally stood in the Staples Business Depot copy service area, going from counter to machine to machine, feeling like Stephen Leacock trying to open a bank account—OK, not that bad, but as I observed myself I could say, “Yes, I am not in a comfortable place.” But at the same time, even if I was soft-voiced and hesitant, I never stopped moving forward. And when the second machine gave imperfect copies, I had the lady redo it, over behind her counter, at a good machine.

But in the morning? I can only say that I frittered. My body wasn’t stiff and slow with fear, because I know what that’s like. Instead, I kept finding stupid little frittering things to do: My computer, my calorie intake, a web surf, my hydration, a silly long bath instead of a shower.

In contrast, if I had known I would be hesitant, then I would have dipped into my bag of tricks, such as, just like on a work day, getting up and leaving without looking back, after first going through my morning routine, "1,2,3 and finished." But it was a day off, and I hadn’t set any time to leave the house, except in the vague “can’t leave until rush hour is over” sort of way. I could have just made a decision the night before to get up at my usual time.

If I didn’t decide so, it was because I wouldn’t believe such a little thing, mere photocopying, would throw me off my stride. I guess my manuscript actually meant a lot to me. And I guess I’m not as brave as I would like to think. Blast… Dagnabit!

But like I say, it was trivial, and I did accomplish my mission, and no sense of any great blow to my ego. More like “another lesson learned” as I humbly walk through my days on earth.

Sean Crawford

Footnote: Yes, I did lots of other errands today too, that I won’t bore you with.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Kubrick and Work or Fear

Strange. I was walking down the sidewalk past dead leaves when I realized… I despise Stanley Kubrick. Not because of anything in his outside life—he didn’t, say, act like European director Roman Polansky and have a sexual relationship with a Lolita. No, the highly respected British director, famed for such movies as Lolita and 2001: A Space Odyssey had a blameless life (I presume) beyond his movie business.

Within “the business” Kubrick was well respected for his technical skills. He said any good movie was worth seeing twice. His works are excellent, studied at film school. In fact, when I took a night class with film majors at S.A.I.T. (Southern Alberta School of Technology) although we seldom had time to watch a movie during class from beginning to end, we took the time for Kubrick’s film noir, The Killers.

 I’m like Kubrick: I craft my blog essays to be worth a second read. My essays go here, on my blog. As for my harsh judgment of Kubrick, my path to explaining him must go through explaining my blog.

As you know, every blog site has a profile: On mine, under “interests,” I have put “meetings.” An unusual choice of hobby, to be sure: Am I am fascinated, then, with learning the intricacies of Parliamentary Procedure in Kubrick’s London, or Robert’s Rules of Order here in North America? No, not especially.

What truly fascinates me is how a group working on a problem, just like an individual, is in the grip of two powerful opposing forces. These vectors, like two force arrows in physics, are always present for every working group, whether on the moon in 2001 or on earth in the 1950’s. Opposing a group’s desire to work is their desire to escape the task—not from laziness, but from something which even big executives don’t like to admit: fear.

Business suits in Hollywood, with their mega budgets, seem especially prone to fear: Folks say Joss Whedon’s starship Firefly would still be flying if only timid Hollywood committees, out of fear, hadn’t made extremely misleading TV previews, scrapped Whedon’s two-hour pilot and shuffled his intended story order. “What a crock!” wrote film critic Roger Ebert.

The suits at Fox studios probably wouldn’t admit to their fear. They probably told themselves they were merely being cautious and businesslike, even as they overruled a winner with a proven track record for TV series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Joss went on to set a summer movie box office record for writing and directing Marvel’s The Avengers, but I wager he’ll never work for Fox again.

I'm  fascinated by how, in our work meetings, if we aren’t conscious of our fears then we won’t be conscious of how we have so many ways to escape working on our task, such as (groan) compulsively making lists on a board. Sometimes we are conscious, as when legislators say “let’s postpone the work, for now, while others do some further study.” More often, a working committee gets derailed by, for example, things said on impulse, or by sudden jokes. It’s as if the group “allows” such things as part of their need to escape the task. 

Only during my dad’s lifetime were experts discovering that groups are comparable to families from a social work textbook, with their unconscious roles and dynamic currents. I learned this in my college career program. While all of us tried to be critical, one person in our group, our teacher explained to us, would be filling the role of “group central critic.” We easily agreed it was Charmaine Trofel.

Then the teacher asked us, “Who is the “group central comedian?”” All these arms pointed in my direction! I felt warmly surprised: All the time I had been looking out for the class, I hadn’t thought anybody had noticed. Our teacher impressed upon us: The thing to be avoided is being the “group central clown” who merely helps the group to escape from dealing with the task before them.

A good example of being the group comedian, not clown, comes from the meeting when the first American revolutionaries were screwing up their courage to sign a piece of paper to rally their fellow colonists to rebel. Would they become known as founding fathers or as dirty traitors? The positive force arrow would have been, “a band of brothers doing the right thing.” The opposing force was fear that if the rebellion failed then the penalty for treason was “to be hung from the neck until dead, dead, dead.” Naturally they hesitated. Then old Benjamin Franklin joked, “We must hang together, or we will all hang separately.” Everyone laughed, relaxed, and gathered around to sign their names to the Declaration of Independence.

My innocent childhood, long after democracy was conceived on our continent, was not without fear. I remember an animated television public health announcement: A cartoon man stood in a business suit while a cartoon doctor explained he could see only a mushroom cloud, (one showing in each eye) hear only an atomic blast (steam from his ears)… We got on with our lives, of course, but as we did so, as we were all pushed down dread, guilt and despair, we knew there was a task we were escaping—even if we saw no point in admitting it, no, not even to ourselves.

But, but, but—there must be a solution! Mustn’t there? I mean, aren’t we a people of can-do spirit? And so we had writers of short stories trying desperately to brainstorm a solution: Not the solution, of course, only a desperate effort to keep us firmly on the track of firmly trying to think. The TV equivalent might be the Star Trek episode A Taste of Armageddon, where the good people avoided atomic oblivion by walking into disintegration chambers. Remember? A crazy idea, yes, but our new time of clicking Geiger counters had made us all a tad crazy. The important thing was not to give up. I remember a summer rock concert in Victoria where everyone drove away with car radios cranked up playing Armageddon by Prism. (The very long FM version) If the older generation had given up and quit, then maybe we young people could still find a solution. Needless to say, we had as much chance of connecting to a solution as a blindfolded man punching in the dark—But we had to try!

Actually, the older generation did have something to offer. As a university student newspaper reporter in the 1980’s I interviewed a strange new breed of Conscientious Objectors, none of them students. They reasoned that since the next war would be over so swiftly, there wouldn’t be time to object by refusing to fight, so they had to object to atom bombs now. Their solution, believing not in arms but in nuclear disarmament, was to withhold the proportion of their income tax that would go to what we used to call the Department of War, now called the Department of National Defense. I don’t know what ever became of them…

One idea we failed to implement was for the federal government to take one dollar, or even one penny, for every hundred dollars it spent on munitions, or even just one penny for every thousand dollars, and then spend it on researching peace. The results might have helped us, not just back then but even today, as the Wall has tumbled in a rubble of peace rocks and yet, despite our big conventional armies, small brush wars are flaring. Did any political scientist know the outbreak of peace would cause wars?

Today everybody knows that Islam here in North America means peace. But according to the newspapers, Islam also means hatred. We all know hatred can lead a believer to shoot up an Orlando gay nightclub. Can hatred lead an entire nation to sabotage peace? I don’t know. Do we have an aggression gene that, willy-nilly, forces us to periodically be aggressive? I don’t know. If we couldn’t afford to set aside pennies to find out, then why not? From capitalist greed? Or from fear of what we might discover? I just don’t know.

An artist, Sting, sang: “What can I do to save my boy, from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy? ... What might save us, me and you, is if the Russians love their children too.” Easy to say, “Ban the Bomb.” In the real world, probably the most non-artistic solution, an imperfectly practical one, would have been gradual mutual disarmament, but we all knew saving our planet from nuclear winter wouldn’t be easy.

Back during my favorite decade, the 1950’s, it was especially important for every man to face the central fact of the Bomb, rather than “just turn his head, pretending he just doesn’t see” (Bob Dylan) Peace would take a national effort, while maybe a strong president might help to lead the way. Easier, though, for us all to just escape into giving up. This while every passing year meant the safeguards might fail against starting an atomic war, either by an individual or by accident.

Human nature is hard to beat. In classic folklore, such as King Arthur, “a war starting by accident” scene was where two sides have been lined up for battle, holding still, at last getting ready to depart in peace, with no deaths today —but then one lone soldier pulls out his flashing sword to kill a scorpion…

Some Hollywood moviemakers decided to do their part to avoid Judgment Day, by making a movie called Failsafe. (From the book by the same guys who wrote The Ugly American) Their movie was not scored: Partly, I guess, to be realistic, and partly to help viewers feel without music to screen their feelings. Although color movies had become normal, the makers artistically chose to film in black and white. Most artistic of all, and most risky, they subverted the Hollywood audience expectation that big mainstream movies must have happy endings. Henry Fonda played a strong president who, instead of saying atomic bombs were a central fact, as immovable as mountains, stood tall to say something like, “Men put them there, and men can take them down.”.

But there was a problem among the movie-going public, a big, big problem:

Stanley Kubrick became aware that his movie, a clownish one subtitled How I learned to stop worrying and love the Bomb, would ready for distribution late within the same year as Failsafe. I have read that Kubrick insisted the studios release his movie first. In January. Why? Why must Doctor Strangelove be first? How in the name of sanity could Kubrick not know the public would jump like lemmings at their chance to escape? Surely after laughing hard at Doctor Strangelove no one would want to sober up and be reminded of the long, slow, anxious, concerted effort required to begin becoming engaged in mutual disarmament. No one. This would have been foreseen by any film artist interested in human nature. (Also, I despise how Kubrick drastically lowered the box office take for Failsafe)

As I see it, for the “group” known as the “body politic,” Kubrick was no Benjamin Franklin. Not helping us face our work, but only helping us to escape it. Not comedian but clown. It was no thanks to Kubrick that, in the end, we did manage to avoid a nuclear winter—only by a miracle! Only because the worker’s paradise went broke. It wasn’t inevitable. Disarmament? Today the North Koreans are desperately poor while still holding on to their communism, and their Bombs—but at least their Bombs don’t have an intercontinental capacity. Not yet. Mainland China, too, remains steadfastly communist. With Bombs, and with a manned space program.

If we avoided war, without atomic disarmament, then maybe we had more luck than we deserved.

As for Kubrick, I despise the man.

Sean Crawford
Near a disarmed empty army base
Winter, 2016

~One of my favorite “mothers for peace” was Sarah Connor. I wrote about her in Sarah, Terminators and Feminists, archived July 2011.

~As for human failure being the same today as in King Arthur’s time, I remember a novel, condensed by Reader’s Digest, where a NATO submarine captain tries to launch the Bomb. Another story of men under submarine pressure was the novel and movie The Bedford Incident.

~Although I deleted reference to how, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, we lived with a death warrant hanging over us, with air raid sirens, during testing, sounding like banshees, here is a clip—be warned, it’s so sad—where Buffy, having just one second ago “heard her banshee wail,” is shocked and crying, unable to be noble, in front of the two most important men in her life. (Posted by a fan onto Youtube)

…Here’s the link to the black and white music video Russians by Sting. He was a writer as well as a singer; he wrote the music himself except for the heavy Russian notes.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Gentle People of Gracious Privacy

Hello gentle reader,
Got graciousness?

To be a lady or a gentleman surely includes being gracious. And being gracious includes “Don’t pry, don’t spy.”

In the days of slow tropical ceiling fans, back during colonial days in India, up in the cooler hill stations, the British ladies were serious about propriety. The wives would send invitations to any formal event on a card. To be prim and proper, the lettering would be expensively engraved, not merely printed.  The ladies were gently made fun of by Colonel Robert Masters in his memoir Bugles and a Tiger. Masters said the ladies would run their thumbnail over the card to determine if it was engraved. The humor, of course, comes from seeing “elegant ladies” stooping to pry.

It was an “officer and gentleman,” Robert A. Heinlein, in his science fiction (sf) novels, who role modeled consideration for privacy. Writing in the first person, with a regular person like you or I as the viewpoint character, he might show a lady politely moving out of earshot as you telephoned, or a man being embarrassed at noticing the return address on an envelope he was distributing to you. It was British sf writer William F. Temple who showed you being handed a stack of your private journals, recovered by Peter, who blushes as he hands them to you. You don’t worry that Peter might have read them, because you know he attended a fine boarding school: Peter is a gentleman.

In my own life, when I lived an a nice shared house, a fellow took a phone call one day from one of our roommates, and then passed the handset to me, looking puzzled at why Anne would be calling someone she sees every day. Turns out she had left her journal by a chair, and would I please put it away? She trusted me not to read it. Anne knew I was a gentleman.

To “never spy” is a matter of self-respect, civility, and more: practical self-interest. Back in Europe we said, “People who listen at keyholes seldom hear good news.” The American version of the proverb might refer to windows or eaves troughs, but the principle is the same. In the real world we change our speech, our attitude and even our very actions, according to where we are .The parlor is not the kitchen, which is not behind the barn. The locker room at the church side-annex is not the Young Men’s Christian Association, which is not a college locker room. In other words: What people say behind your back is not what they say to your face.

When it comes to compliments, I might say, “Wendy, I told the ladies at church you are pretty.” But I would never say, “Wendy, I told my teammates I wouldn’t kick you out of bed for eating crackers.”

I’m still amused, years later, at a knot of five or ten young soldiers who always hung around together. They liked to think they were better than all the other guys on the base. What amused me, as an older soldier, was knowing that each of those men also thought he was superior to all his friends, too—and not one of them had a clue that each of his friends were thinking the same thing! It was a British gentleman and Nobel prize winner, Bertrand Russell, who noted that if we all suddenly had mental telepathy then we would all lose our friends… but soon we’d become friends again, as who wants to be lonely?

Remember the Watergate tapes? I never felt lonely and degraded when I was surprised by undisciplined swear words, on tape, being used by responsible people in expensive suits and ties in the White House. I never felt degraded by a private secretly intercepted phone conversation where someone was ranting and raving as if Europe were still under the Third Reich. No. Because I respect the wisdom of the old proverb. Because what someone says in private behind my back is none of my business. As an upright old judge would say, “It’s inadmissible evidence. Disregard it.”

Needless to say, I’m sure many folks would not disregard private talk abruptly made public. I’m equally sure many men and women have no desire to see themselves as ladies and gentlemen. Such a pity.

Today I know a frail lady in a power wheelchair. Wears soft pink. Smiles gently. Very nice, kind and thoughtful. What truly defines her as a lady, in my eyes, is how all the handi-bus drivers in their rough working gloves feel like gentlemen beside her. Around her, I see men in our community change their speech, attitude and even their very actions.

I think, gentle reader, being gracious creates a better world.

Sean Crawford

The books referred to are:
By Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers. Both works won the Hugo award, both are still in print.
By Temple, The Automated Goliath. No longer in print, but a childhood favorite. I have large swatches memorized.
By Russell, The Conquest of Happiness. Still in print since 1930, often found in the philosophy section. Like the other books, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read it.

~As for how wholesome, clean cut, well-meaning fellow Americans can get into illegal wiretapping and killing Karen Silkwood, see my essay Reflections on Surveillance, archived October 2013… Or, still playing in the local cheap theatre, see the Oliver Stone major motion picture, Snowden.

~I just realized something: the exciting downtown Seymour Street recruiting office of my youth is no longer there, hasn’t been for years.

~I moved away from home after eleventh grade. Like Buffy Anne Summers, and so many other kids, I went to the big city. To protect their privacy, many young people would change their names or take romantic street names. Buffy changed her name to Anne. If you would try an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to introduce you to the series, one that doesn’t give away the plot and details of any episode arcs, (the way certain fan-favorite episodes do) then Anne is the episode to see.

One of the kids role models off of Buffy’s strength in helping others, and then she later turns up, with a new totemic name, helping street kids on Angel.