What Age Do We Live In?

I suppose it will eventually be up to future historians to give some descriptive name to this time — if they go with Heinlein’s “Crazy Years,” I wouldn’t be too shocked — but if you could give this current era a name, what would it be?

Would you name it according to what’s going on in the U.S. — political battles, deepening social divides, and such? Or would your name try to encompass what’s going on in other parts of the world as well?

It’s the “Age of …” — what?

flower of romance
“By any other name,” right? No matter what we call this age, it will still have thorns to go with its flowers. (Image: “flower of romance,” by mario, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

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So Many Things in My Head …

Between trying to make progress on the new novel (writing the thing, as well as adding more detail to the fictional world); and looking at other people’s novels for the “day job”; and reviewing chapters of the forthcoming audiobook version of Walking on the Sea of Clouds (paperback version at this link); and reading bits of other books for pleasure; and spending time with family in the real world; and looking over notes for literally dozens of possible blog entries that I’ll probably never flesh out; and reading interesting articles that come to my attention; and comparing products that I might want to buy; and interacting with other people by e-mail or text or social media; and playing songs every once in a while; and looking at possible graduate courses to take; is it any wonder that my brain feels like this:

I can’t seem to stay in one mental lane long enough to get where I want to go! (Image by Joshua McKenty on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Lord, help me figure out what mental road I should take to get where I need to go.

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Immigrants Are Like Salt

(Third in a series.)

With the ongoing governmental brouhaha over whether a fence or a wall is better for securing a border, it occurred to me that immigrants are like salt.

For context, in the initial post of this series I wrote,

A little bit of salt enhances a dish. Too much salt ruins a dish: It no longer tastes like the dish it was meant to be; it only tastes like salt. When it comes to salt, moderation makes it more effective and saturation makes it unpalatable.

Metaphorically, the dish is culture. The dish is social solidarity. The dish is commonality in terms of language, values, beliefs. Immigrants, like salt, improve the dish by enhancing its starting flavor — whether it’s a local delicacy, a regional specialty, or a national favorite — when applied in moderate amounts.

Sprinkle the salt with the spoon, or even with your fingers; don’t pour out the whole bowl into the dish you’re about to eat. (Image: “salt,” by theilr, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Extending the metaphor: In the same way that salt is not automatically bad, unless you’ve got a condition which salt may exacerbate, immigrants are not automatically bad. Limiting salt does not mean never using it, it means using it sparingly, in the right amount to make the best dish. So, too, with immigration.

Limiting immigration is meant to keep from ruining the societal dish. Or, to borrow a phrase, to keep from turning the “melting pot” into an unappetizing mess.

If only the chefs in the governmental kitchen had discerning palates, and could agree on the menu.

Previous Entries in the Series:
A Little Less Salt, Please
Then There’s ‘Salty’ Language

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Starting the Year: More Perspective than Retrospective

As I wrote in my newsletter yesterday,* I thought about writing a “2018 Year in Review” piece, and then I thought about writing a “What’s Coming Up in 2019” piece, but I decided that I didn’t like either idea.

It’s not that 2018 was terrible — it was okay, it had some nice moments — and it’s not that I expect 2019 to be particularly troublesome. No, what I’m trying to do is shorten my perspective. Instead of looking at the past or the future through a metaphorical telescope, and trying to bring them closer to learn more about them, I want to look at now, at the present, to see it more clearly.

Song Lyrics
The moments of our lives seem to slip through our fingers…. (Image: “Song Lyrics,” by Silke Remmery, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I want to see each day through a lens of gratitude, thankful for being alive and for whatever opportunities I have. I want to see things as they are, not through rose- or any other-colored glasses. And I want to do what I can, when I can, to discharge the responsibilities I’ve taken on — and especially to be careful about taking on any new responsibilities, lest I fail and let myself (and maybe you) down.

So here’s to the New Year! Let’s make it the best that we can.

*Join my mailing list here, if you will.

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Our Permanent, Intangible Enemies

It seems pretty evident to me that sometimes you choose your enemy, but sometimes the enemy chooses you. And sometimes things act as enemies that we may not usually think of in those terms. Those enemies are nebulous, incorporeal. Not nations, nor people, but ideas, concepts, for which the terminology of battle may be ill-suited.

When it comes to things like that, I think of permanent as opposed to temporary enemies. Permanent or abiding enemies may not hold our attention as much as temporary foes that spring up and must be dealt with ad-hoc. A short-term enemy attacks; a long-term enemy infiltrates. Perennial enemies operate at lower levels and over longer timelines, it seems, than do enemies that charge us with sudden ferocity.

Charles Dickens identified two such eternal enemies in A Christmas Carol. In one memorable scene Scrooge is surprised to learn that the Ghost of Christmas Present stands upon two dirty, emaciated children he names as Ignorance and Want. The human race may face other timeless and shadowy enemies, but these two must be included on the list.

Are they brother and sister, as intimated by Dickens, or are they partners of some sort? Do they feed one another, help one another, keep one another alive? Is one dominant? Is one the forcing function of the other?

Are they related to what may be considered another perennial and sinister enemy of mankind: injustice? Is our political or ideological outlook based (at least in part) on which of these, Ignorance or Want, we consider cause and which effect? This may be something of a chicken-and-egg argument, but we often differ over which problem is worse and deserves the most (and the most immediate) attention.

We have met the enemy...
(Image: “We have met the enemy…,” by Thad Zajdowicz, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

Unfortunately, these permanent, intangible enemies do not arouse as high a degree of fervor as more acute and palpable enemies. Even if they did, in the long run we have to include Ignorance in the same category as Want in terms of Christ’s observation, to wit: that just as we will always have some poor with us, so too we will always have some dimwitted. We cannot eliminate either, but we would do well as a society if we could minimize both.

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Then There’s ‘Salty’ Language

Yesterday I wrote a post about salt, and today I’m making it a series. The main point of yesterday’s post is that

A little bit of salt enhances a dish. Too much salt ruins a dish: It no longer tastes like the dish it was meant to be; it only tastes like salt. When it comes to salt, moderation makes it more effective and saturation makes it unpalatable.

So let’s talk about salty language.

On the one hand, we may mean the kind of gracious speech that Saint Paul directed the Christians at Colossi to use: “seasoned with salt,” rather than overloaded with it, when giving an answer to anyone who might inquire about Christ and why they followed Him. We who follow Christ today would do well to bear that in mind as we do our best to speak the truth in love, not in anger or bitterness.

On the other hand, and in my experience more frequently, salty language means something quite different. Foul language. Crude language, whether profane or vulgar. Here, too, the point remains the same: A little goes a very long way.

(Image: “Salt?,” by Stefan Powell, on Flickr under Creative Commons.)

I know quite a few people who make such a habit of vulgarity or profanity that I cringe whenever I sense they’re getting ready to speak. I confess that in the service I developed some bad habits along those lines myself, that I have not overcome: Very frequently, my first inward expression of frustration or anger is an obscenity, even if I successfully chisel off the hard edges of my language most of the time when other people are around.

As our culture has coarsened, though, I’ve observed more and more people who interpret “freedom of speech” to mean “freedom to express anything in any way,” and they frequently employ vulgar or profane language on social media posts or in other ways: on bumper stickers or T-shirts or even tattooed into their flesh. Maybe they’re right to do so, and would be justified in scoffing at me for even suggesting that they could exercise a bit more self-control. Maybe they’re expressing the kind of deep rage and dissatisfaction that can only be captured by obscenities, rather than just being lazy or trying to be edgy. But as with salt itself, so with salty language: moderation makes it more effective — its relative rarity calls attention to it and it bears more emotional weight — while saturation just makes it unpalatable.

Previous Entry: A Little Less Salt, Please

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The Visceral Feeling of Pride

A while ago I wrote about pride, and particularly that pride gets a bad rap, but I wonder if sometimes other things masquerade as pride. That is, if other emotions may give us the same sensations as pride, and make us feel as if we’ve accomplished something even if we haven’t.

That brings up the question of whether we can identify the physical results, the visceral sensations, of pride.

Think back to something you did that went very well, and how you felt at the time. Not something routine, but something fairly important: instead of warming up hot dogs and being happy that they only got a little charred, you fixed a sumptuous meal to celebrate a special occasion and every dish came out perfect; instead of stammering your way through a presentation or some other public appearance, your delivery and timing were flawless and the audience hung on your every word; or whatever you can recall that was a clear victory for you, a triumph in your life.

Think about that sense of accomplishment, in terms of what your senses told you. What did it feel like, deep inside? Was it the “thrill of victory”? Did you feel it through your chest, or down in your belly, or all over? Was it a little like being nervous, but at the same time being excited? Can you describe it at all?

I don’t mean to imply that the same emotional states create the same physical sensations in each of us — in the case of these feelings of elation, it’s very possible that one person’s fluttering stomach is another person’s head rush is another person’s feeling of walking on air. But I wonder if that feeling we have during a moment of prideful accomplishment may be duplicated by other things.

What kinds of things can give us the feeling of pride similar to what we might get from crossing the finish line? (Image: “Athletics tracks finish line,” by Petey21, on Wikimedia Commons.)

For instance: could it be that for some people defiance feels like pride? That is, is it possible that being defiant — whether acting rebellious or standing against a perceived authority — elicits the same emotional feedback as being proud of some accomplishment? I think back to times when I have been defiant, and the sensations may have been similar.

Could other emotions also produce similar (or even indistinguishable) physical states to the feeling of pride? Thus, is it possible to feel something like pride without a clear, recognizable accomplishment of which to be proud?

That might explain a few things.

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The Dark Energy of Insults

I find it interesting that the tendency to want others to like what we like, to think how we think, and possibly even to do what we do, all too often results in insulting those who like, think, and do different things than we do. It seems rather difficult to acknowledge our differences and admit that other people prefer something else; instead, all too often we attack.

I get that you prefer some things over others, and that you have sound reasons for doing so. I get that you would like for other people to prefer the thing(s) you do. I don’t get that you think it’s a good idea — that it’s to your benefit or anyone else’s — to insult people who prefer things other than those you prefer.

And I especially don’t get that you employ more insults regarding things of great import than you do for trivial things. I don’t encounter many people insulting me because I prefer tea to coffee, for instance; it might be amusing (I do get chided about it from time to time), but people generally don’t think to use insults or coercion in such cases. But the higher the stakes, the more frequent and more scathing the insults; e.g., in the realm of politics and policy decisions. It’s as if being insulted would somehow induce me to change my preferences where other, more reasoned arguments failed to do so.

(Image: “Disagreement Llama,” by Valdrec, on DeviantArt under Creative Commons.)

But that’s not the main purpose of those insults, is it? They’re not meant to convince the other side, but to signal which side we’re on, and to make us feel powerful in our righteous — or self-righteous — indignation. Their dark energy can be addictive, but it’s not all that productive.

Consider: Someone on the conservative side calls a progressive a “libtard.” Someone on the progressive side calls a conservative a Nazi (or a racist, or homophobic, or a misogynist, or whatever). And each one turns away, smug and content — not that they have convinced the other person to reconsider their erroneous views of the world, but that they have put the other person in their place.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, of course. As we find in James 3:10, “Out of the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. Brethren, these things ought not to be this way.”

I wish I had an answer, an alternative, a workaround. But all I can do is work on myself, and try to hold myself to a higher standard.

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Once More Unto the Blog, Dear Friends

I’ve been away from the blog for a long time.

Maybe you’ve noticed; maybe you haven’t. Maybe you care; maybe you don’t.

But I’m back, and it’s back. Or we’re back. (Or something!)

I don’t have much of a plan or a purpose, just things I still want to say and this handy place to say them. Maybe more people will come visit; maybe they won’t. I’m going to try not to worry about it too much.

As my high school English teacher wrote in my yearbook, “Our beach is a lonely beach, and few come to see our castles. But, on we build.”

(Image: “Sand Castle, Cannon Beach,” by Curt Smith, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Stop by and visit anytime!

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The Lone Worker, the First Advance

(Another in the series of quotes to start the week.)

I haven’t posted a Monday quote in a while, but here goes.*

Today’s quote comes from Scottish biologist, pharmacologist, and Nobel Laureate Sir Alexander Fleming (6 August 1881 – 11 March 1955). Fleming shared the 1945 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine — that’s the whole name of the thing — for the discovering the antibiotic penicillin in 1928. In addition to a knighthood granted in 1944, his other honors include being named one of the “100 Most Important People of the 20th century” by Time magazine.

Considering that Fleming shared the Nobel Prize with Howard Florey and Ernst Boris Chain, I find it interesting that he’s quoted as saying,

It is the lone worker who makes the first advance in a subject: the details may be worked out by a team, but the prime idea is due to the enterprise, thought, and perception of an individual.

That interests me from the standpoint of creative work, and indeed all work. Even when we collaborate with people to produce something, the initial idea — the prime vision — always comes from one person. Rarely can one person nurture that idea from conception to birth and beyond, but the impetus is always a solo achievement.

We strike the spark of creativity in the deep primordial darkness of the mind, though we are not equally warmed or illuminated by it. The moments before we strike that spark may be suffocating or invigorating, and the mental space we inhabit may be silent or deafening, but neither family, friend, nor foe can join us in the confines of our cranium at the instant the idea strikes.

(Image: “Flint spark lighter being struck,” by Tim McCormack, on Wikimedia Commons.)

And the idea, like God saying, “Let there be,” is only the beginning.

Something to think about. Have a great week!

*I had actually intended to revive the “Monday Morning Quote” program, and to do so via live streaming video. Obviously that didn’t work out, since it’s now Monday afternoon and there’s no video here. C’est la vie.

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