December 2010

Be It Resolved

But were it that easy. To change. This is the time of year of resolutions. All the grocery store check-our aisles sport self-help magazines touting their sure-fire formulas with headlines promising: “Keeping Those Resolutions! This Year Will Be Different!” For $5.95, noted American psychologist, Ima Yoking lays out her five sure-fire success steps to keeping your New Year’s Resolutions! Don’t delay! Be a stronger man! Be a happier woman! Start today!

And, just perhaps you will . . . buy the magazine. A little over a decade ago, on my 50th birthday, I decided to get into shape. And I determined that chin-ups were just the ticket for achieving a balanced body. As a matter-of-fact, chin-ups are a recommended exercise and to that end I constructed a super-duper chinning bar in my backyard.

It was a project and BOY, do I love projects!

I went to Home Depot (aside: I’m more of a Home Depot kind of a guy than a Lowe’s. Ever notice that folks shopping at Lowe’s actually look like they put themselves together. You know, comb their hair, wear a shirt that truly matches, say, their shorts. Not so much at Home Depot and that’s just fine by me). I buy 12-foot sections of 1-1/2 inch threaded galvanized pipe, bags of concrete and enough pressure-treated wood to build a fine platform for standing on in-between sets of chin-ups. I’m feeling so fit already. I am!

I get out my post-hole diggers, dig two 36-inch deep holes, insert tube forms and set the pipe in concrete. I then construct a ma-hootchie of a platform. It’s a work of art. I loved looking at it. I did.

There it stood in all its glory, an extraordinary backyard chinning bar, par excellent. Any football team would have been proud to have lined-up to use it. I had thoughtfully considered its placement in the yard and carefully constructed it under a towering oak for shade. And I could look at it. Lovingly, adoringly. From my back porch.

I love the illusion of order. Seriously. Human beings like to feel they are in control of life. We do. We look at nature, at our lives and we go to great ends to instill order in both. Don’t deny it. We break the day into hours, our lives into years to achieve mastery over time. Our physical environment is no different. Reflect on (what I consider the lame) business model of California Closets if you think me off base. Order! “Ve must haf order!”

“Alas poor Yorrick! I knew him.” No, no, it was alas poor chinning bar, I barely knew you. I cannot remember when the bloom fell off the rose, maybe when I hit 25 chin-ups and my right shoulder started aching. And there it stood, such a solid reminder of good intentions, a monument to once firm resolution. Oh, what folly we pathetic humans!

What’s that inexcusable bromide? Lemons? Make lemonade.

Back to Home Depot for hanging flowerpot brackets and for years I had the finest orchid stand in the neighborhood. Hands-down! And built? Was that baby well built!

My advice: Be it resolved . . . to forgive, nay embrace the folly in yourself.

Happy New Year to my faithful reader.

We’re All of a Piece.

I’m of two minds on many issues. Perhaps more. I wish I could see just the “right” side of a problem and say, “Here’s the solution. It’s pretty cut and dried. Just do it.” But as much as I want to be that person, it is not so simple, so black & white as we might fantasize.

Here’s an example. A local Orlando hospital recently announced “No more smokers on the payroll. We don’t want the costs associated with the adverse health affects of long term exposure to smoking cigarettes.” I get that argument. I do. For years I’ve said we could fix Medicare costs by simply announcing, “In 2013, if you require medical care and nicotine is found in your blood, you will receive less services and/or you will pay more for care.” That’s two years out which gives people adequate time to quit smoking if they want to tap into any government healthcare plans. This seems reasonable to me. Does it to you?

Same goes if you’re a chubster, too. Packing on too much weight? Well, why should your fellow citizen pay for your sloppy health habits? Just because you cannot say “NO” to the feedbag and you show-up requiring medical care for your diabetes (Chop another toe today, Mr. Jepson?), should your neighbors pay? Again, show-up in 2013 requiring government subsidized healthcare “X” percentage over healthy bodyweight and “you will receive less services and/or you will pay more for care.” Again, I’m okay with charging folks more for their free market-determined bad health decisions. Are you?

I’ve one more example. Say your wife or girlfriend has amniocentesis and there is high probability that the child will be born with “X.” Pick any expensive malady. Down Syndrome. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Spina Bifida. Any number of costly-to-treat (after birth) congenital defects. You make a personal decision to take that pregnancy to term (knowing that “your” fetus is damaged), who legitimately should foot the bill for the subsequent surgeries and long-term care required for that malady? Some premature babies easily cost half a million dollars to stabilize so Mommy Dearest can take baby home. Again, should the rest of us be saddled with the expenses associated with your personal decision? It seems pretty cut and dried to me. Is my frontier “Spartan” logic in error?

We’re not quite there yet but the state of Arizona is showing us our future. Republican Tea-Party Governor Jan Brewer this month slashed money for the state’s transplant program. “Death by Budget Cuts” is how one headline read. I’ve seen two Arizona citizens on TV matter-of-factly stating that if they do not receive a heart or a lung, they will die. Death Panels, anyone? Should we care? Do you care?

I was recently sitting around with my brother discussing the “problems” of world and after one particularly loquacious diatribe on America’s political and economic system, I summed-up my perspective with, “We’re all of a piece.”

“Yea,” said my brother, “and some of us have a little moldy piece at the edge.”

Folks, it’s what we collectively do for the people on the edge (of society, of life) that determines whether or not we are a great nation, let alone a good one. Yep.

Merry Christmas.

She Got The Lord

Every so often you’ll hear of a person who “jumps the shark” and finds the lord. And I’m not talking about behind the sofa. Or, at Wal-Mart. “I went for the savings and found salvation!” The most recent context concerned a woman who got right with the Lord, with the boyfriend left, sacrificed at the altar. Alas. These sorts of stories intrigue me no end. But I say, better that such a “revelation” occurs before marriage because such a threesome may not be part of the marital bargain.

When I was 19 years old, way back in 1968, I believed that there were no fundamental differences between men and women. I whole-heartedly embraced the feminism of those times (still do). I had a mother who was exemplar nonpareils and two extraordinary sisters—all three creatively validating the lyric, “I can do anything you can do better.” Sure, there were/are the obvious physical considerations—vive la difference!—but essentially men and women approached life “roughly” the same. I felt and do to this day that each sex respectively reflects an aspect of a two-sided coin. Or, perhaps the Greek Muses, Thalia and Melpomene, of comedy and tragedy. On any given day, either sex wears the mask appropriate. We are of one theatrical production.

Sister Sandra says being married is the toughest thing we humans do. I might legitimately suggest that going into battle would be tougher. But then my faithful reader might ask, “Chris Dearest, I know you’re married, you must never, then, have been to war? Not to clearly understand which is more brutal.” Hah! Sigh.

Now why is that? Why is marriage so damned tough? It starts out soooo sweet. Maybe that is what sex is for. To chemically inure you to the reality of the institution. At least for a while. I get such a kick out of religious fundamentalists who want to deny homosexuals the right to marry. That to do so might undermine the institution. Is that too funny, or what? Actually, marriage, if statistical evidence is to be believed, is most under attack (through divorce) in America’s most religiously conservative states. Yes, it turns out that the less education you have, the greater your prospects of divorce. Draw your own conclusions on that correlation.

I know of a woman who finally had it with her verbally abusive, abrasive husband. He repeatedly denigrated her abilities and eventually he used-up any residual good will. A line was crossed mentally (for her) and he is soon-to-be history. But it needn’t have turned out this way.

Is it that marriage creates unreal expectations? Is disappointment inevitable? Should “happily ever after” come with a caveat. Sometimes. Yes, sometimes you will feel that way. And how much happiness is enough? If you’re happy 72% of the time, is that sufficient? Life being what it is, should we consider anything over 50% a net plus. Marriage is a human construct and as such, its underpinnings are subject to reconsideration by each generation. Quite reasonably so, I might add.

I’ve decided to write a soon-to-be classic Country Western song. The opening lyrics go, “She got the Lord and you got me.”

“And you got me.”

Appropriate for marital vows? Think twice. And, then again.

Word of the Day: Impudicity.

I stumbled on a word that I was convinced was created out of late night whimsy and excess. One of those Scrabble bluff words. Impudicity. I was laughing and conversing with a witty individual and we both said, “No way that is a reeeeal word!” Wrong. Impudicity. It’s a noun that means shamelessness, immodesty. An appropriate application? Think: Republican economic policy.

Actually, impudicity was woven into an e-mail account name that a lesbian friend of mine was contacting to see if the person on the other end was worth knowing. We speculated on what impudicity implied, it’s context, it’s suggestive qualities when, on a whim, we consulted Uncle Webster and BINGO! It’s the real deal, a legitimate word.

Shamelessness suggests operating without shame. I once read that even monkeys feel shame. How that was determined is anyone’s guess but I get the implication. That if a creature, oh, say as primeval as a monkey can experience shame, then surely shame is part of the universal human condition.

I recently finished an excellent book titled, “The Finkler Question.” It offers a modern fictionalized examination of what it means to be a Jew in 21st century Britain. Shame, it would appear, is more of a consideration within the Jewish community—something to acknowledge and reflect upon. Jews take on, and unreasonably I might add, the “sins” of their brethren. That Bernie Madoff, as one example, was such a hurtful, deceitful schmuck and that he was a Jew is a “shameful” reflection of the whole tribe, so to speak. That’s a collective ownership I would never embrace. Jews are no more prone to corruption or malfeasance or any other human shortcoming. Historically, I understand their dread. To standout for the “wrong” reasons was an invitation for reprisal, as if a provocation was ever required.

Personally, I can vividly recall the two instances in my life when I have felt intense shame. “Only two, Jepson!?!” Yes, two. I’ve embarrassed myself any number of times but embarrassment is not even remotely at the level of shame inducing behavior. I broke my nose four times before I was 20 years old. I used to lead with my nose. Hah! Ah, impetuous youth. There’s no shame in stretching, pushing the limits of life when the crash victim is just you, the solitary individual. I still shudder, however, over my shameful behavior. It’s as real today as when I committed either act. Mea culpa. Sigh.

Impudicity. Shamelessness. And immodesty. Immodesty when combined with shamelessness suggests (to me), a certain wantonness. An over-the-top, uninhibited libidinousness. And, exactly how bad could that be? Between consenting adults, of course. Exactly. Recall the 1963 movie Tom Jones, the tavern dinner scene and subsequent, uh, events. I think that glorious impudicity.

“The only shame is to have none,” observed Blaise Pascal.

Now that is an intriguing quote. It could, quite possibly, mean two distinct things. One, that you are so deplorably shallow as to have lived the unexamined life. And woe is you.

Or, two, you have lived such a cautious, limited life that not once did you ever put yourself “out there”—that your behavior so egregious that it crossed over to shameful.

To experience neither is not to have lived at all.