True Story: We were living in Tucson. Our son, Cameron, was in kindergarten and came home with a note from his teacher. Good Lord, how much trouble can you get into in kindergarten. Essentially, the note said, “Cameron keeps telling the other children that life is a pair of ducks and I just want to know what the story is.” I wrote a note back, “Paradox. I was a philo. major. Sorry….”
If you’ve read more than one of my articles, you know I’m going…somewhere with this and it’s a place that I think is important. I know it is to me. As we travel through life, we each pick up tiny bits of wisdom that we glean from some of the weirdest sources. For some reason, one will just stick with us, though when you try to explain it to someone else they say, “Uhmmmm…. Okay, now moving right along….”
Here are a couple that stuck with me, goofy as they may sound. “You have to be a sucker for somebody.” Steinbeck in one of his little books. The corollary to that is: If you’re never a sucker for anyone…anything, you aren’t letting people through enough. It works for me and I am at ease, knowing I may be suckered, or a sucker once in a while.
Another one, this time a tag line in a song by The Association: It’s not the bridges burned that bother me, but the ones that I’ve never crossed. In a way that’s been Pamela’s and my philosophy…forever. You have one life…do whatever you’re going to do. More importantly, don’t get to the end and say to yourself, “Aw shit, I never tried to (fill-in-the-blank).”
For those poor bastards who’ve known me a long time, you know that I use the concept of The Paradox of Life or….The Zen Paradox a whole lot. It gives me perspective. Sometimes it warns me that something that’s GREAT…just might not be what it seems, and happily, when something absolutely horrible comes along…there just might be a way to view it better or even turn it into a plus. The examples are everywhere…everywhere if you care to look for them, and subject-wise, they are all over the dartboard. Pop aspirin now and read on:
A few weeks ago, I got a seriously bad case of food poisoning. Watch out for oysters and mussels. They can sometimes take you out. Got sick. Threw up 45+ times, got dehydrated as well, fell down in the shower and at the time that was a very, very low point in my life. Lying there, my brain whispered, “Let’s see ya find something good about this!” Well, it didn’t happen right away, but I had picked up some winter weight from being inactive and just couldn’t get it together this year to lose it. Well, those mussels were my horribly annoying inspiration to drop the weight. (It’s gone by the way, though I really don’t recommend this as a diet alternative.) But…I got something really good out of something horrible.
The Napoleon Syndrome: Zen Paradox at its Best. We’ve all witnessed it: Little guy, scrappy guy, big mouth and a huge chip on his shoulder. He gets a BIG dog, BIG scary car, and is always trip-wired to go off if you blink at him the wrong way. Why? It’s a no-brainer. Overcompensation. Down deep in his cerebrum, there’s a person who’s scared and feels he has to show the world…before they kick him in the ass. Usually, and I underscore that word, a really big or really capable guy (think of the profile of a Navy Seal) is quiet, understated, very slow to anger. Why? Another slam-dunk: Because he can’t afford to lose his temper. It’s true……..
Religion: Like the old Dragnet series, “the names have been changed to protect the innocent”, we met a couple down in Asheville, NC a while back. Both “Charlie and Gwen” were deeply religious…really deeply. They go to church, literally every day of the week and you hear about their religion a lot. Mutual friends warned us that it might be a hot-button topic, but we’re big boys and girls. Things went well, very well for about a year or so, but then the comments began slipping out, subtly at first. “We really like you two. It’s just a shame that you’re both tragic.” “Huh?????” “Yes, we’re praying for you, but if you don’t change to (again, fill-in-blank religion) you’re going to hell,” do not pass go, do not collect…well…anything. We tried with partial success to slough it off, but it stung.
Eventually, with my philo. background I put forth the concept that, “Perhaps it’s not so much who or what you believe in that makes you a good person but how you behave, how you actually treat your fellow man.” I thought it was at least a debatable topic. Apparently it wasn’t. It seems like a paradox to me that, sometimes, like the Napoleon Syndrome, the ones who point their fingers the most, and proselytize the most aren’t always the kindest or most loving or most forgiving….which is what I thought it was all about. I have invoked “The Golden Rule” more than once in these articles. It works for me.
On a much lighter note: With our now hyper-sophisticated technology, with GPS and WIFI everywhere and a traffic jam of geo-synchronous satellites hovering above us, it seems in a very Zen kind of way that the weather reporting is getting not only worse, but amazingly worse! I have several apps on my iPad and try to average them out. I’ll get a prediction that at 5 am tomorrow morning we will get .07, that’s seven hundredths of an inch of rain…in fourteen hours. Fourteen hours later, we get three and a half inches and 60 mph winds. Geez… I can do better than that with a Ouija Board.
A Little Zen Annoyance: Why is it that every single damned thing on this planet that I really love to eat…is bad for me or is high in calories? Couldn’t there be just one exception? Some kind of new carrot or rutabaga that tastes as good as warm chocolate chip cookies? It’s that old Zen thing: Tastes too good? It’s bad for you. “C’mon, gimme something.”
More Zen: Our technology is getting sooooooo good, that it’s scary…and sometimes bad. The video games have been so cleverly designed that many young guys just can’t resist. Bang-bang, shoot em up. It’s exhilarating. It’s ADDICTIVE. And when it’s over, you’ve lost X number of hours of a very precious life. Lose too many hours at the wrong period of your life and you won’t be able to fulfill your dreams. And, yeah, cellphones are wondrous and ubiquitous. Press em up to the side of your face long enough and look at the stats; they don’t want to tell you about cancer. Or…more bluntly, missing out on what’s going on in your windshield as you streak along at 55 mph. They are so great….and they are not so great. Most of us, if we admit it, are addicted. We know we’ve gone too far, and we can’t stop. Or can we?
Genius vs Common Sense: It would seem that when you belly-up-to-the-bar for your plate full of the two, you can have a lot of one, or a lot of the other, just not both at the same time. It’s sorta like those foods that taste good vs. being good for you. I’ve known many near geniuses and a couple of dyed-in-the-wool geniuses. A guy who lived a mile from our gallery was in the Guinness Book as the smartest man in the world. He’d come in, we’d talk (mostly he’d talk) and we had some weird sort of rapport. But…strange… When he died, they had to back up a line of dumpsters. I could barely walk in his house, so much junk, books, cobwebs, newspapers..
Penny-wise and Pound-foolish: Or, as Irene Dunne said to Cary Grant in that WONDERFUL movie, The Awful Truth, “She had a million dollars…and no sense.” Pamela’s folks were extreme examples of this. Her dad, Emery, was a superb doctor. But as with many physicians, they assume that their acumen in one field translates to every field. Uhmmm…not necessarily. Investing? Horrible. Wasting money? Terrible. Yet when he’d drive through the toll booth, every time we’d hear the ranting and raving over a quarter…fifty cents. Then he’d buy a BMW for 75K, realize he didn’t like it and sell it…at a tremendous loss. There are others in our collective family who are equally guilty, but they’re just too wise and intelligent to notice. Pam and I are penny-wise and pound-wise and nickel-wise. In the early years we could never afford not to be. I washed my own car. I mowed my own grass. Instead of paying $200 a month to a fitness center, I continue to do stuff…like washing my car, mowing my grass.
Vegans and Vegetarians: Conceptually, I think it’s fine. It’s GREAT…maybe to give up eating a whole big slice of what you could be eating. But here’s that Zen thing again: We have a whole bunch of veggie-veganny friends (mostly women) and they’ll eschew the salmon, the shrimp, the beef, chicken, etc. etc. But then…when dessert time comes, they get a great big double helping of chocolate cake and marinate it in ice cream and more chocolate. The only thing I notice is that these gals never look terribly healthy, strong, or happy. They always seem a bit pale, frail, as if they were birds in the middle of molting season.
I think Plato got it right a couple thousand years ago. Moderation….Nothing in Excess. Have a little salmon, have some veggies, have a slice of bread, albeit a little slice. Eat everything you want to eat…just not a whole lot of it. And…if you’re allergic to something, that’s a different matter.
And so…in closing, you might try the concept for a week or two. Look at a person or a situation or an event that seems to be purely good, or purely bad and find that paradoxical opposite lurking there. It’s fun…and it gives one a bit of perspective.