Friday, July 20, 2012


Summer 2012 has been a lesson in the unknown and unexpected. It's been many years since so many things have not gone according to plan. As the plumbing for my new furnace fails a pressure test for the second time, I imagine that my friend J.R. will be right, and it will be October before my new furnace and hot water heater is installed. My summer has been dominated by this monumental utility event. The number of days I've missed work, re-arranged hours, had to work Sundays, all because I'm waiting for contractors, code inspectors. The Fridays off that I could have gone to the beach, or out for a day trip, nixed because "the code officer will arrive between 10 and 4". Still, I am grateful that the code officer checks these things. If he didn't, I'd end up with a gas leak, and probably an explosion, if I wasn't overcome by fumes. No one likes red tape and regulations, but with something like this, I'd rather be inconvenienced than dead.

We have had very little rain in the last month. For the last couple of days, nature has finally thrown us a bone, and at least 2 inches of rain have fallen. I will take small batches of rainy days to a rain-intensive hurricane any day. Still, rain leaves me feeling listless. It takes me all day to finish simple tasks. I remind myself that it is good to take a break sometimes.

Today the story broke about 12 people killed in a Colorado movie theater by a gunman, a 24-year-old PhD student. It happened at the premiere of the new Dark Knight movie, and apparently he has some delusion that he is the Joker, or was acting as the Joker. If that is true, then it is more evidence that the line between fantasy and reality can wear very thin for some people. It doesn't have to lead to disaster, but sometimes it does.

I went to see my guru about 10 days ago, when she was visiting New York. For a woman with so many physical problems--back problems, shoulder problems, diabetes, who knows what else--she is ferociously strong. She held me so tight to her, I could feel the mala underneath her white dress, I almost couldn't breathe. Mother Kali was crushing me, destroying the apparent to get to the real person, beyond illusion. When I left her, I shook all over for some time. We exchanged no words, I don't think she really even looked at me.

But after I left her and went home, I found myself changed, yet again. Opening my computer, I was barraged with articles telling me how to dress, what to eat, who to vote for, what kind of career to have, how to manage my money. Visions of celebrities whose names were familiar, but meant nothing to me, spilled over across those articles. This is why people like to look at pictures of cute cats and dogs with grammatically poor captions. When I turn on the computer, I don't want to feel under attack for my life choices.

Really, it is all self-judgment. It is almost impossible to escape day-to-day media. There are things we really do need to know to make good decisions. But we will never really get to those things, sucked into the vortex of images and information that assails us.

I realized when I got home that I don't have to listen to the images or compare myself to them. I don't have to pick a career that makes millions. I don't have to live on fruits and vegetables. I don't have to like Obama or Romney. I don't "have to" do anything. My life is my own.

Maybe this shouldn't be a startling revelation. But so many decisions are made because I "must" do this or that. We do things that we think will impress on our resume or CV, we try to impress people that we think can help us in our goals, we follow life paths that are "acceptable" to society. It's all political, and it's anti-soul politics. We're not about becoming uniquely who we are, we're about competing, winning a rat race, doing what it takes to make money, not to do what makes us happy. We are told that certain careers should be avoided because they don't have a good ROI. Society judges us by our actions as though we were a financial investment.

There is no need to participate in this. It is true that the independent path is harder. But that doesn't mean it's not worth treading. One who experiences the thin line between fantasy and reality does not have to become a killer; they can be a magician instead. Imagine what you want to become, and then act as though it's the truth. Surprisingly, it can become the truth. If magic is an illusion, so is life. So much talk about "fictions" when it's all a fiction of sorts. The creative person writes their own fiction.

The day I went to see my guru, I saw many people who I used to be friendly with. Many of them looked sick and anxiety ridden. Some were just the same. I was aware, and perhaps surprised, by my own lack of remorse about those people and friendships. They had been in my life, now they are not. We are not friends. And it does not matter. Bitterness comes from attachment, from wanting to be liked, from judging ourselves failures when others don't like us. Sometimes, as in marriages, you are just not compatible, and some people are poison for each other. I recognize that the events that made me finally and fatally disgusted with these people actually helped the person that they tried to hurt. I should be grateful to them in a way. But I have no desire to return to political games. I am not interested in being the person they would like me to be.

For now, I am interested in long walks, reading literature, and enjoying the company of good friends, new and old. Lunch at the National Hotel, a walk along the Delaware River, a cup of green tea and the New Yorker at breakfast. I am back to French lessons, and the works of Marcel Proust, which are sometimes engrossing, sometimes irritating. In between I have listened to audiobooks--Thackeray's Vanity Fair was the first. I'd borrowed it from the library, and the last disc did not work, so I resorted to the horror that is the text to finish it. I had to know, after all, if Rebecca Sharp was picked up by the Hell's Angels. Or maybe, being the end of the 19th century, she would have run off with Aleister Crowley to India or China.

"Mrs. Dalloway" by Virginia Woolf was the last audiobook I finished. I'd read "To the Lighthouse", but this was astounding. I understood the term "literary fiction" after listening to this. There is something wonderful and sublime within the mundane in literary fiction. It's like the forms of meditation that call for awareness to every action--watching yourself do dishes, watching yourself take steps, watching yourself do everything. The mundane is like the opening of a geyser for the creative mind. While doing menial, everyday things, thoughts gush through, and if we paid enough heed to them, we'd find at least some of them to be "literary". It enables one to see the connections between things.

In the first Proust book, there was some discussion of "Vinteuil's Sonata", a bar of music heard by Charles Swann, that gave him a great epiphany, that somehow summarized his relationship to Odette de Crecy. I found this passage intriguing, because I've had similar experiences with phrases of music. I am looking forward to the day that you can input an MP3 of a phrase of music, and find everything similar to it. Pandora Radio, the "musical genome project" does a very poor job with this so far. It does not understand the experience of a phrase of music that puts us in a different place, almost a different dimension. For Proust it was violin and piano that created this effect; for me, it is usually guitar and flute.

And no doubt you Monty Python fans will snicker at the use of the words "Proust" and "summarize(d)" in the same sentence. I know I just did.

Sunday, July 08, 2012


There is a cat wandering around my property that looks very similar to Whiskers. For those of you who don't recall, Whiskers was a cat I had adopted from neighbors (who no longer live here) due to neglect. Whiskers had to be put down in January, as she was in obvious pain all the time, couldn't eat, and could hardly move.

I watch the cat out the window, as it saunters down towards the cemetery, near where Whiskers' original owners had lived. The cat sits looking through the locked gates of the cemetery, and rests a paw on one of the bars. Then, swishing its tail, it gets up and heads into the thicket on the opposite side of the street.

This morning, the cat is wandering through my neighbor Linda's yard. The sight of the cat does give me a bit of a shiver, not because I think it is some ghostly revenant or reincarnation of my previous cat. Whiskers' death was at a time when I made all kinds of vows and decisions. The death of Whiskers was the death of many things, or at least a walking away from things I thought were finished. Now, seeing a cat much like Whiskers in life reminds me that many of those things I walked away from are still here, and by no means finished.

I am hoping for a less oppressive week.Yesterday's heat index was about 110ยบ, and I did nothing but sleep, exercise, and read. Severe storms came through in the evening, and as usual, they passed to the south of us--no rain. So, at sunset, I went out to water the gardens. There was more rain this morning, but again, it passed to our south. I'm not going to complain as of yet. It is true that the grass is turning brown, and that some regular rain would be helpful, but I find myself thinking of last August and September, when we had two thunderstorms dropping 4-9 inches of rain, followed by a hurricane and a tropical storm. I think we had 26 inches of rain total. I hope to be digging trenches and putting in drains this year to avert a basement flooding disaster, but there are no guarantees that will work. And right now, with my new furnace, still not hooked up, sitting naked as a jaybird in the middle of my floor, I don't need any wet floors downstairs.

It's all about finishing. Yesterday at breakfast time, I cooked eggs, roasted potatoes in the oven, and popped an English muffin in the toaster oven. I realize that it was a terrible day to turn on the oven, but I was finishing---finishing off the potatoes and the eggs before they are no longer fresh. I have started several books, including one audiobook, that I must finish. I have a furnace install that must be finished. And I have a mortgage refi that must be finished.

In the midst of all this, I keep trying to start new things. I have contemplated going to Paris this Fall, as there is a ridiculously good deal on flight and hotel via Virgin. I could probably make it work. But I remind myself that I need to get rid of old debt--a substantial portion of it--before I start spending money on European vacations. I'm not even going to see John Foxx in London in September (mainly due to outrageous airfare costs to the UK). Hopefully by next Spring with tax return money I will be in a position to go. I am anxious to finish old business. But much of it cannot be finished right away, however badly I may want that to happen.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a couple of very good friends, Dan and Jeanette. (Dan had written the Mirage Divine blog that I recommended a few years back, though I think he's on hiatus from doing that right now.) Dan shares my interest in astrology, and was showing me how to do "progressions". This is an alteration of the natal chart that shows you what will happen in the future, or to see what influences are affecting you right now. He looked at my natal chart, and pointed out the position of Saturn in the 12th house. "This," he said, "will tend to make you feel you are always running out of time." And this is true. Whatever face I may present to the world, I can tell you that underneath, patience is not a virtue of mine. My Impatience is only stayed by its dubious neighbor, Distraction. And even that has difficulty containing it.

I note that Dan says it makes me "feel" I am running out of time, but this is an illusion. There's no need for me to irritably run here and there, to cram as much in to a single day as I seem to feel I must.

So, I go through day-to-day, trying to pretend that there aren't major changes that I have to participate in, and spend my time reading books I've always wanted to read, getting a refresher in the French language, and continually look for extra sources of income and other things that might move me ahead in reaching my goals. Internally I am all set to go, externally, I am stuck on the runway due to inclement weather conditions. If I was literally stuck on a runway with nowhere to go, I'd likely be reading a book. So, the metaphorical meets the literal.

Even worse than waiting is having everything dropped on you at the last minute. Nothing irritates me more than planning for something--making phone calls, finding out exactly what I need--only to be made to wait, and at the last minute, being told that I don't have everything I need and am suddenly under the gun to do a whole lot of work in a very short space of time. A classic example of this in my life was when I obtained my first mortgage. My loan officer literally did not call for weeks. I called him every week for a status update, and he actually seemed annoyed with me. "I'll call YOU if I need something," I was told. Of course, my closing was getting closer and closer, and I still had no idea what was going on. Suddenly--one fine July day when I planned a relaxing day at my apartment--I got a frantic call from someone in the mortgage division, screaming at me because a whole lot of paperwork was needed RIGHT NOW and he didn't have it. You can bet I screamed back at him for a full 10 minutes. And, because I wouldn't make my closing if I didn't scramble to get that paperwork, I now had to abandon my plans and run around trying to get everything they needed. I have no patience for this kind of thing, and I think it's what I'm seeking to avoid most of the time. (To be honest, between the mortgage debacle and an incompetent attorney, I'm amazed that I live here at all right now.)

Of course, they say much of it is about attitude, and perhaps the lesson here is that in spite of the chaos, everything turns out all right in the end. That, and never use Weichert's mortgage services.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Occam’s Razor

Early morning has been the only time I can get a breath of fresh air. Summer started promptly last week, and most days have been hot and humid. But the early mornings are cool and breezy, and make me wish I could go for a long walk in the early AM instead of driving to work.

Life around me becomes more overgrown and tangled. There is a fox screaming in the yard across the street almost every morning. Deer are a regular sight now, when previously we never saw them on our side of the highway. And a family of turkeys has been shambling around my property and my neighbor’s, occasionally taking to the treetops, a weird juxtaposition against the hot air balloons that have been flying overhead on certain evenings. The grass at the foreclosure across the street is probably 4 feet high, and the church’s adjacent property to mine is equally dense. It feels like the encroachment of natural monsters onto my neat little block and lot in the township where I live.

In the midst of the oppression outside, I find myself rebelling against complexity, especially the self-imposed kind. But life is not that simple. And the more I attempt to simplify and focus, I am besieged by more complexity, usually of the unexpected variety.

In my self-imposed isolation in air conditioning, I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries on poltergeists. From an analytical psychology perspective, such phenomena is a constellation of the Trickster archetype. In plain speaking—the manifestation of unpredictable behavior—throwing dishes around, making objects fall from the ceiling, starting random fires, and other such “surprises”—is due to an archetype manifesting in the “real” external world. I find such phenomena interesting because it is the most dramatic evidence of the existence of the psyche.

Of course, there are those who say that such phenomena don’t happen. It can all be “simply” explained as an illusion or a hoax, especially by those who have not experienced it and not read any of the evidence. Besides the phenomena themselves, I find the behavior of those involved interesting as well. Often these events are first witnessed by females and children. The male in the household is usually skeptical, to the point of calling his kids “imaginative” and his wife “delusional”. That is, of course, until the phenomena affects him. Then it’s a whole different story. Firsthand experience is a whole different story, especially when there’s no obvious rational explanation.

There is likely a natural explanation for such things, and as I’ve said in previous posts, I think it’s due to a “perfect storm” of biochemical, psychological, and geomagnetic factors. But there’s not a “simple” explanation, and it’s not easily tested in a consistent way, because it’s not consistent phenomena.

Skeptics will often mention “Occam’s razor” when faced with complex phenomena. Put simply (no puns intended)—the simplest and most obvious explanation is probably the right one. There are many cases where this is true. However, we are dealing with things that do not have simple answers. If we move away from so-called “paranormal” things, one could easily point to quantum physics as a good example of complexity. There is not a single theory from this field that is “simple”, even with attempts to make a unified “theory of everything”.

We live our lives with an illusion of causality and probability. When things happen we look for a “reason”. We may choose where we live, how we eat, sleep, exercise, and de-stress based on statistics from studies. But they are only statistics—they do not create reality. Numbers are as metaphorical as any other symbolic construct that we use to define our universe.

Simplicity is a tool to keep us from going insane. We stick to what is familiar, to what is easy, with the idea that we can then progress to what is more difficult. It’s like taking a swim in the ocean—you’ll start at low tide, stick one toe in, and eventually work the rest of your body into the water. Similarly—you could find yourself stepping on a crab, stung by a jellyfish, you could be pulled towards an undertow—anything can happen, even when you’re sure you’ve checked conditions and you’re “safe” . We adopt beliefs about how our lives will go every day, because we’d be overwhelmed by uncertainty if we didn’t.

I had a conversation with my friend's son and daughter a couple of nights ago. We were discussing education, and solutions to learning problems that bureaucracies try to solve by "assessment" and "testing"--of both teachers and students. My friend's son said, "I have learned to be suspicious of simple solutions. Usually someone thinks there's some innovative, simple trick that will fix everything. The solution actually may be simple, but it takes work, and requires money." This reminded me of Lerro's assertion in his book on the movement from Earth spirit worship to sky gods; societies usually don't implement long-term solutions to crises that involve major changes in lifestyle. They only make small changes that are "band-aid" solutions, leaving the fallout to future generations. This has been true since the time before the Iron Age. "Simple" can equal "lazy". "We know we have a problem, and we don't want to deal with it." It's a form of burying one's head in the sand.

Simplicity is neither good nor bad; it can be a very useful tool, and can help us move forward and accomplish things in our lives. When I have too many things to do, I make lists and break things down into small parts, doing a little each day. This is very helpful—except when it’s not. The day that I wake up not feeling well, the day I get an unexpected phone call with bad news that drains me of all my energy, the predicted sunny day when I was going to do yard work that turns out to be stormy—these things can upset even the best laid plans.

This is the nature of the Trickster archetype. We try to exercise a certain amount of control over our lives, but things happen to remind us that we’re not in control, life is very uncertain, and anything could happen. It’s another version of, “You can eat right and exercise all you want, but you could still be hit by a bus tomorrow.” And unless you’ve completely surrendered to uncertainty, this will be a frightening thought. So, we pretend that things are certain. And it’s good that we do, as long as we remain flexible, and realize that it’s a game we’re playing with ourselves.