Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Art of Cessation

I was raised in the old school. In summary, it went like this:

Each day strive to learn something new. Do good work. Finish what you start. Keep at it and never give up. And no matter what the discouragement, strive to keep on with the keeping on.

Cessation? Wasn’t taught that. And when encouraged, it was encouraged in such an oblique way, who could possibly understand or apply it?

For instance, I was told I must stop stealing cookies from the cookie jar. But having no knowledge of how to do the cessation thing, the only method that worked was for Mother to put them on a higher shelf, lock them up, or physically chase me off with a paddle.

There was no heal. There was no cure. And there was no cessation of cookie-stealing as long as those cookies were within reach.

And of course, I was encouraged to cease biting my fingernails. But because I bit them owing to the guilt of stealing cookies, and I bit them even more because I had no methodology for the cessation of stealing cookies, what else could I do but continue to go on biting them?

These then were the desired cessations, but so few, so minor. Anomalies really. Because it went without saying that to cease anything when once committed too was a bloody shame.

So now where am I?

Can’t cease anything. Can’t stop drinking too much coffee. Can’t deny myself cholesterol rich foods. Can’t ease up on the salt. Can’t force myself away from the computer.

So now, whose fault is that? Certainly not mine. “Cessation” just never was a part of my education. Not in primary school, or elementary school, or even high school. We were still doing the same old thing about getting started and never giving up.

And so, I wonder if that is why it is so hard for so many to cease drinking, gambling, drugs, radical sports, fast driving, and all the other foolishness that entraps people in ways that are harmful to life, limb, and health. And poor souls, without an education in ‘cessation’, there is no way for them to cease doing what they are doing. Rather there is just the push of that other thing of striving, striving, striving to keep on with the keeping on.

‘Cessation’ of anything pretty much runs contraire to that fast-held-to principle of just ‘bloody getting on with it’. And so ‘cessation’ was missed and I think it is still being missed. But despite all that, I feel that somehow there must be a positive methodology for ‘cessation’.

If I only knew what it was, I’d have my cholesterol count back within reason by next Tuesday.

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Euphoric Dog-Jog

Old Dog was 17 years old. She was weak and palsied. And one leg was wizening up at a rate that was almost visible. She was stone deaf but had learned to respond to body language. We would beacon her with one hand or hold a palm out for her to stay and she understood all that very well. Her last couple of months she mostly slept. She ate little but seemed to not be in pain as she never whimpered or appeared restless.

Often in the last few weeks, I would have to lift her into an upright position and support her for a few steps before she was able to commence movement.

I felt the time had come so I said to Hub, “There is nothing for it, but to take her to the vet and have her put to sleep.”

Hub shook his head in disagreement and I could not understand as I knew we both wanted the same thing. For her end to be painless, and as humane as it could possibly be. So I just had to ask why he was not in agreement.

And that is when he told me the most surprising thing. Of all the magic ‘devices’ that make up a physical body – sight, touch, smell, emotions, etc., there is one too often overlooked. And it is the thing the brain does at the moment of death.

Hub was talking about the bright light, the warmth, the comfort, the peace, that comes at the very end. And although Hub (I think) holds no great faith in a paradise with harps and streets of gold, he is confident that at the moment of transition, our physiological bodies go into a transitioning mode that is as delightful as a sweet afternoon in the sun.

And his fear was, if Old Dog, was put down, shall I say, for lack of a better word, artificially, he feared that that loyal dog, so absolutely deserving of all good things, would miss the grand moment of euphoria, prior to that transition into --- nothingness, I guess.

I was amazed at this confession, but in pondering it I could not help but think that perhaps it was a notion with some worth. Many scientists are absolutely convinced that synapses in our brains do in fact deliver the magical euphoric visions that people with near-death experiences testify to.

But thankfully, if it be true, Old Dog was given that vision. She was given the bright light to guide her, the warmth and comfort of that light, and the peace it gives as well, because there she was one morning, asleep on the floor by the bed, and sometime during the night, she had followed the guide master sent to take her over to the other side.

We are sad because she has been with us daily for so long, life is not the same. But, at the same time, we are relieved that her exit was seamless for her.

And I am so much less sad, in believing what Hub told me, and thinking that her final dog-jog, was more than a well-lit, peaceful, warm, and comforting stroll. That it was, in fact, euphoric.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Piggy Puffs & Sardines

[Some days I have little to write, but still I write, because I feel I must.]

Hub and I are in the grocery store. And we are on the prowl for something fat-laden. Hub gives me points when I suggest Piggy-Puffs. Oh yes. That would be perfect.

Seems like a grand idea because with pork rinds being the fundamental ingredient, we are confident there is no way a cardboard-clone could be struck. But doesn’t it go without saying that the principal comptrollers of healthy diets seem to have obliterated them. None can be found.

Could it be that for the kindly care and protection of non-educated heathens like Hub and I that fail to understand the principles of healthy eating, someone, somewhere has completely annihilated piggy puffs? Appears so.

So now we continue our prowl hoping to unearth something exciting. And that’s when Hub spots a lovely display of canned sardines. Like an unexpected magical vision. Same can, same color, same look as canned sardines have had since the beginning of time. We haven’t eaten them for years but we both remember how we mushed them up on toast with thin crisp slices of raw onion, when we were young and so broke.

We take three cans home and later Hub makes sardines on toast and offers me some. I am not interested, but he goes ahead and begins eating with sentimental and joyous expectation his so-long-ago, but still cherished in mind and memory, sardines on toast.

Now Hub, even in a completely objective assessment is a handsome man. But suddenly, his countenance radically changes.

His eyebrows are furled, his forehead knotted, lips curled, eyes glazed and tearing, cheeks caved in, and his mouth is moving in a slow agonizing manner. And amidst all that, with the look of a Gargoyle, his adam’s apple is bobbing up and down in jerking spasms. And when I look at him, I am quite certain that even piggy puffs made out of briskly dipped and fried toilet paper could not have wrought such a change.

“My God,” I say, “What are you doing? Are you sick?”

“No,” he says, “but as much as I hate the cardboard fat-free snacks they make nowadays, this is so much worse.”

“Then why are you eating it?” I ask.

“Cause I don’t want to waste food,” is his simple, but direct answer.

I am amazed, as I so often am by that unique species they call ‘men’. Why in God’s name doesn’t he spit them out? Why doesn’t he trash them?

I feel an agony of my own stemming from empathy and the sight of his miserable condition. Makes me feel I should kiss it all better. But I cannot, amidst such ugliness, touch those Gargoyle lips, or risk inhalation of that Gargoyle breath. Yuk, oh Yuk!

Hub bravely fights on, and eventually manages to force down the contents of that can without a retching return. After which, he rushes to the bathroom where he vigorously rinses his mouth and brushes his teeth.

He hasn’t completely recovered his good looks, but he is looking better when he turns to me and says. “They used to pack those little fishies in olive oil and that was good. But they just can’t leave well enough alone. Now it’s soy oil. Not because it’s better, cause it bloody isn’t.

And you know what else, Roberta? There just has to be a better way to torment one’s self. But right now, I can’t think of what it might be.”

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Chalk Line Between Provocation & Amusement

I have no idea how academics see or explain the difference between provocative and amusing, because I am not one of them. But, believe me, there is a difference, a big, big difference; though this epiphany only just came to me through some recent reads.

First off, do you remember how in past rants, I so smugly insisted that the reason so many relationships fail is because, after the nuptials, too many women think that daily life will now be a flurry of fun. And their partner, for the next forty years, will continue to amuse them as adeptly as they did during the courtship interlude.

And, I have also insisted this is ridiculous. It won’t happen. Cause, the truth of the matter is that each person makes or breaks their own day by choosing to make or break it, and that this parasitic dependence on the other is neither fair, right, or just.

Now, if you can just keep that thought in mind, let me discuss, if you will, what I have been reading of late.

I have no new books to read, and with all my reading materials so sadly depleted, the only thing I could find that I hadn’t read before, was a Literature text published in October, 1930. And in reading it, I immediately felt unbounded sympathy for students of that day who were expected to develop a love and respect of literature by reading that crap.

It differed considerably from today’s Lit in that there were quite a few Biblical references. And yes, there were small excerpts from Shakespeare’s works. But beyond that it was bor-or-ing.

Dull. Big time. Though admittedly, I did applaud the worth of the frequent references to personal loyalty, honour, honesty, and respect for others.

Nevertheless, through all the dullness, I languished in a bitter state of mind until I came across an essay titled “A Piece of Chalk”. That perked up my hopes and my spirits.

Neat title. Does that not sound as if this could be a truly fascinating story? Perhaps about a common yet mystical notion, that is rock-solid one day and completely irrelevant the next?

But, oh no. Titles can be so deceiving. No magic or mystic stuff here. Only a long-winded geological essay about the history of chalk and its derivation from a deep-buried ravine in Valentia (?) — whereever that may be.

That was almost enough disappointment, but then the author carried on with the foolish assumption that anyone who read the story was as well acquainted with that particular strand in the earth’s strat, as they are acquainted with the reflection of their own face in a mirror. I ground my teeth with frustration.

I finished the book, nonetheless, to satisfy my mind that it really was crap and moved to another high school English text published in 1980. This book I read once before a very long time ago, and remember thinking how puzzling and incomplete the stories seemed to be. As if each of the contributing authors planned a grand and polished opening scenario and then, unable to bring the story to conclusion, just killed or maimed someone, to make the ending rise to a point of impact (climax), as stories are supposed to do. I was not amused.

This time, however, when I sat down to re-read the book, I did what I so often don’t do. I read the introduction.

And that is when I discovered something about the book and about myself. All my life, I have had the notion that a good story must first and foremost be amusing. But now I find out these stories were not written to amuse.

They were written to encourage students to quest for meaning and examine several possible interpretations. The stories were meant to be provocative, which is quite different from amusing. Amusing rants provide laughter and hilarity. Provocative rants, on the other hand, are meant to be stimulating. Perhaps, even confrontational.

And so, I continued reading, and found myself extracting the most amazing things from what I was reading, having erased the Chalk Line in my own mind that heavily marked my lifelong expectation that literary prose, in order to be worthwhile, must amuse!

And in taking this new enlightenment to heart, i.e. the understanding that all stories are not necessarily meant to amuse, I found remarkable the things that surface when one reads with an expectation of provocation.

And with that came another realization that it is amazing how delightful life can be when it is lived with a balance of provocation and amusement. Kind of like our appreciation for the beauty of sunshine, only because we have been in shadows. Yet each has a sweet value, shade for its coolness, and sunshine for its warmth.

But are we losing the value of provocation? I don’t watch a lot of movies but are any of the current ones put out there for provocation, or is the mandate forever and always, simply amusement. And is all that we read meant to be amusing, rather than provocative?

In fact, are we a society that wants no part of social engagements unless they are amusing (NOTE: Informative venues are not a part of this particular discussion). Do we consider conversations a waste of time if they are not amusing? Have we, for the most part, utterly forgotten the value of provocation? I certainly had never for one moment thought it could be a part of valued reading.

I would be amiss if I did not tell you the other thing I learned in all of this. I am fond of Hub and always have been. And up until now, I thought it was because he is so amusing. But now, only just now, I realize I appreciate in some oblique, yet endearing way, the provocative part of him as well.

But then, in retrospect, right from the get-go, after the nuptials, I didn’t expect provocation, while at the same time, I didn’t expect him to amuse me every day either. But this latest epiphany has revealed to me there is worth in provocation.

And so, on television, I watch news stories, investigative stories, crime stories, and comedy stories, and I only see one of two things — amuse, or violate. That’s all. Seems like ‘provocative writ’ some time ago quietly slipped away when no one was looking.