Tuesday, March 31, 2015

"Two Steps Forward..."

I was on a roll, I really was.

I was kicking butt in matters technological.  I had learned to program my CD-clock radio.  I had mastered the DVD player (after spending ten years pretending I had watched numerous movies that I hadn’t.)  I am making headway with my iPhone – when they say to switch it off at the movies, I can do that; and when it’s over, I can successfully switch it back on.  I am a wizard with Kindle.  And the list goes on!

Not really.  That’s pretty much the whole list.

No towering achievements, I suppose.  I imagine lab monkeys going, “I learned the iPhone in seven minutes!”  But for me, it was definite progress.  I still get excited installing a new light bulb – I flip the switch, and, miraculously, there’s light!  For decades, that was my technological highpoint.  And then, starting about six months ago…

I shot exponentially ahead.

I had finally broken through.  Building confidence.  Gaining momentum. 
Given up on as “hopeless”, I had matriculated from technological “Special Ed.”  I was unquestionably on my way.

And then…  

A comeuppance.  Or, more accurately, a discouraging “come-downance.”

I had wanted to watch the Parks and Recreation series finale; it was a show I enjoyed, and I was curious to see how they would bow out.  Unfortunately, other plans had been made for me, placing me during the actual broadcast somewhere I was considerably less happy to be – a testimonial dinner, where the club soda was seven dollars a glass.

No problem.  We have ON DEMAND, a Time Warner cable service where you can access shows you missed and watch them whenever you want to.  I am still in awe of that sentence.  Not how skillfully I wrote it.  That that service actually exists.

I had internalized the procedure.  Press “1” to get to ON DEMAND, click on “Prime Time”, click on NBC, click on Parks and Recreation – Look at me!  I can do that stuff!

I scroll down the list of Parks and Recreation episodes to the series finale, and I click on the “Play” icon.  The first thing that comes up is a white-lettered announcement, saying,

“Fast forwarding and other functionality may not be available during this program.”

A considerably more honest rendering being,

“We paid people to disable the ‘Fast Forward’ function so you will be unable to ‘Fast Forward’ through the commercials.”

What is this “may not be available” business?  It isn’t!


I begin watching the Parks and Recreation series finale.  Then, at the twenty-minute point – as indicated by a clock at the bottom of the screen – the show is interrupted by a series of commercials. 

Traditionally at such moments, I fiddle impatiently with the remote, switching to another channel, and switching back when I program I was watching resumes. 

With commercials playing, I reflexively fiddle with the remote.

I am not entirely certain what I did.  In retrospect it appears possible that I accidentally pressed the “Exit” button.  


The commercials – and the Parks and Recreation series finale they were sponsoring – to immediately disappear.

Okay, it happens.  No big deal.  I go back to the beginning – keystroke, keystroke, keystroke, keystroke – I scroll down to the Parks and Recreation series finale…

And I’m back.  

I heave a huge sigh of relief when I see a right-pointing black arrow at the bottom of the screen, indicating, as I have learned, that, if I click on that arrow, the show I was watching will pick up exactly where it left off.   

I confidently click on the right-pointing black arrow…

And the Parks and Recreation series finale goes right back to the beginning. 

The clock at the bottom of the screen registering not the twenty minutes where I had left it when the commercials started, but…


(The first zero designating the hours, the two to the right of the colon, the minutes.)

Left with no alternative – remember, I am unable to “Fast Forward – I get up and I walk out of the room, opting to chat with the missus rather than watch the first twenty minutes of the Parks and Recreation series finale over again.  Gauging the time lapse, I return to the television just short of the twenty-minute mark, and I continue watching the rest of the show.

In time, the clock on the bottom of the screen reads:


Fifty-two minutes into the designated (on the screen) 58-minute “Producer’s Cut” of the Parks and Recreation series finale. 

Another cluster of commercials comes on.  I fiddle impatiently with the remote, instructing myself not to go anywhere near the “Exit” button.  My mind must have misheard the “not” part.  I apparently accidentally pressed the “Exit” button again, and I am again…

Back at the beginning. 

Fifty-two minutes from where I would ideally like to be. 


I am not quite as techno-savvy as I had led myself to believe.

What am I going to do?  I can’t go talk to the missus for fifty-two minutes (while the video once again catches up.)  Such attention arouses suspicion.  And I would have to explain out loud what I did.  I was making such amazing progress.  She was starting to be proud of me.

Lacking reasonable alternatives, I resigned myself to missing the last six minutes of the Parks and Recreation series finale.  And then, somehow, the show unassistedly popped back.  At precisely the fifty-two minute juncture!

I have no idea how that happened.  It was certainly nothing I did… unless moping was the answer.

The lesson in this matter – and believe me, I am not learning it for the first time – is humility.  You can make progress with your machines, but being human – you, not the machines, the gadgets will always have the edge.  Though you can certainly learn from your mistakes.

Next time, when I am watching a show on ON DEMAND and the commercials you cannot “Fast Forward” through come on…


Monday, March 30, 2015

"Hidden Meaning"

Are there any dream interpreters in the house?

“Save some grain for the difficult times to come.”

Thank you.  I’ll remember that when I am the First Minister to the Pharaoh.

So here’s what happened.  Openly acknowledging that this venue is not traditionally known for its solicitation of dream interpretations…

“Save some grain for the…”

I got it.

But you know the drill around here:  When it comes to me – it comes to you.  Unless it’s unwritable, boring or falls below my “Threshold of Embarrassment”, which, for me, is the level where elderly gentlemen in Miami Beach Florida wear their pants.

Which is noteworthily high.

Okay, so here’s what happened.

I am meditating this morning – making this not a dream exactly because I was fully awake when it came to me.  And by the way, I was meditating incorrectly.  In meditation, you focus your attention on some extraneous word, chant or syllable, like thinking “Om” as you exhale, or, as I have been trained to do, repeating silently the number “1”, the objective being to clear your consciousness of all unnecessary thoughts and concerns, especially the ones involving upcoming doctors’ appointments where they could possibly find something.

In this case, however, an unconscious impulse broke into the empty theater of my mind, projecting the following images onto the screen, a screen that should have been blank, or more optimally still, the visual projection of the number “1”. 

Okay, so here’s the dream.  Or meditational hallucination.  Or whatever.

I am riding a horse, facing an expansive, open field.  The horse is proceeding at a comfortable pace.  When I am ready, I direct the animal to speed up. 

The horse immediately breaks into a run, taking two galloping steps forward.  And then, abruptly, it stops.  Returning to its previous casual rhythm.  I encourage the horse once again.  And once again, it erupts into action, and then equally quickly, it stops again, resuming its earlier unhurried amble.

The exact same sequence repeats again and again.  There is the open field in front of me.  I am ready to run.  The horse beneath me breaks into a run.  And then, within seconds – frustratingly, I might add – it stops, refusing adamantly to go fast. 

Imagine a car moving forward but you have forgotten to release the “Emergency Brake.”  That’s what it felt like.

And then in a SMASH CUT to a subsequent SCENE, there was this:

There is a line of about fifteen horses catapulting across the field, not racing against each other but hurtling forward as a unit, like a precision troop of advancing cavalry.  And as you CUT CLOSE, it is recognizable that one of the riders crossing that field at a breakneck tempo…

Is me!

Riding the same horse that had refused to run when I was alone.

And then I woke up… or at least stopped meditating, beginning my everyday life, minus the balming benefit of adequate meditation.

So tell me, doctor…

What do you think that dream meant?

“Save some grain for the difficult…”

Is that the only one you’ve got?

“Hey, it’s one more than you’ve got.”

---------------------  (Meaning, Earlo put in his place.)

I hate a mouthy soothsayer.

Friday, March 27, 2015

"Blaming The Storyteller"

In all the years I watched movies and TV shows, there has always been a “Bad Guy”, somebody the “Good Guy” could vanquish and then ride off into the sunset, sometimes without even a “Thank you.”  Merely a post factoly curious “Who was that ‘Masked Man?’” 

There were always the Indians.  Terrible.  (Only later revealed to have had some legitimate grievances of their own.)  You wrote westerns, you had a built-in adversary. 


On a less colorfully war-whooping level, there were the railroad executives, the bankers and the businessmen.  Terrible.  Inevitably sporting dead-giveaway mustaches.  When the Indians were starving quietly on their reservations, these capitalistic corruptees filled the gap as the targets of audience hostility. 

But never concurrently.  I do not recall any western where I heard,

“Woe is us!  We’ve got trouble with Indians and the bankers!”

Like my friend who married four women consecutively, evil adversaries ravaged the countryside one adversary at a time.

But there was no time when there was nobody.

The movies appeared to be lucky.  Filling the “Villain Contingent”, materializing one after the other with nary an overlap, there was, without intermission, somebody out there trying to destroy us. 

When the “Indian Trouble” died down, it was, briefly, the Spanish (in the Spanish-American War) and shortly thereafter, the “Huns.”  Then it was the anarchists (whoever they were.)  And when the “anarchist peril” died down – here come the Nazis.  (And the Imperial Japanese, but those were two branches of one totalitarian tree.)  We vanquished the "Axis Powers", and before movies could worry, “Who are we going to hate now?”, in march the Communists.  And the storytellers heave an appreciative sigh of relief.

The Communists fall apart?  No problem.  Say hello to the terrorists.  It’s like they’re at home cataloguing their record collection and the call comes, “You’re up!”  If the Communists had stuck around, the terrorists would be sitting there 1like Prince Charles waiting for the Queen to die.

The identity of the “Them” may have changed over the years, but what never changes, it would seem, is there is always a “Them.”  (There was even a movie called Them (1954), where the “Them” were giant irradiated ants.  (A generic stand-in for "foreigners.")

In all of my rapidly expanding years, I do not recall a moment when we have not experienced a “Them.”  Making me wonder if we don’t inherently require these adversaries.  We must.  Judging by their continual appearance, we seem incapable of living without them.

“Adversarialism is inevitable”, the conventional argument asserts.  “So stay ready at all times.”

The question today is,

What if adversarialism isn't inevitable but we have been conditioned to believe it is  and believing that has turned "adversarialism is inevitable" into a “self-fulfilling prophesy”?  

Such speculations did not originate with me.  Some really smart people have been writing about this.

I recently slogged through a book entitled The Undivided Past, by David Cannadine.  (I’ll tell you what an ordeal it was getting through it.  At the three quarters point, Cannadine himself writes, “If you have persevered through this book to this juncture…”  Even the writer knew it was unbearable.)

Cannadine’s important, albeit boringly articulated, message was that an assiduous study of history reveals that, contrary to conventional assumption, the classifications of identity that fuel brutal ”Us Versus Them” adversarialism were never as monolithic as they’ve been portrayed to be by earlier historians, who are nothing if not their respective eras’ “Storytellers of Record.”

According the Cannadine, the traditional cohorts of personal identification – be they patriotic, religious, racial, class-based, gender related, or whatever – were, upon further examination, more internally fractured than historically depicted rather than being unilaterally united against “The Other.” 

There were some historical periods when these oppositional groupings actually got along.

Of course, we would never know that from the stories we’ve been fed.  And that's where the hammer's coming down.

It is time for the storytellers to own up to their responsibilities, for contributing – in my view substantially – to making this troubled world the internecine nightmare that it is by sticking exclusively to telling one kind of story.

The kind with the savagery in it.  (Taking the “lazy route”, ‘cause it's an easier sell.)

I challenge storytellers everywhere to tax their imaginations, belatedly “balancing the books” with stirring counter-narratives where there is nobody to hate.  (Somebody recently asked me, “Can you tell an interesting story without conflict?”  We don’t think we can, so we have convinced ourselves it is not possible.  And by the way, your story can have conflict.  It just needs a conciliatory center.  Rather than “We win!”  Or in the case of the Alamo, “We lost.”  Followed shortly thereafter by “We win!”)
Movies tell us having an enemy is the natural way of things.  In real life – at least according to one writer – that is not necessarily the case.  What we need now are some memorable stories to back up that under-publicized perspective.

Hit the computers, boys and girls.

You have a long way to catch up.