Leaving the Cocoon of Childhood

I am currently in California to participate in celebrations for the birth of a new family member. Some of my family are in their ‘teen years, reminding me of my own youth with its uncertainties and terrors.

I am so reminded, constantly, in observing youths in the public places of Stockholm who dress, preen, pose, and behave to attract others of their age. But to be in the same house with a relative of this age brings forth echoes of my own youth more forcefully. My heart suffers for them, but to a much smaller degree than they suffer, to be sure.

I have no doubt–I can say that I know–what Nature intends for these young people, the same as she intends for the newly fecund members of all Her living species: “be fruitful and multiply.”

But such an imperative is more complicated for those humans who no longer live in circumstances where the newly fecund can successfully procreate at the youngest possible age, with the expectation that their issue will also successfully survive for the long term. We are “civilized.” We need to get an education; we need to gain the knowledge and skills to support oneself economically, and to garner sufficient assets to provide a home for oneself, one’s mate and one’s children.

Thus, the mating and procreating are delayed well beyond the time Nature prepares us, physically, for it.

But, the hardest part of being this age is not in contemplating the future, but in how to deal with the newly arrived emotions of the present. I think any parent will attest to the metamorphosis that takes place in their offspring upon the onset of puberty. Each young person is learning about her- or himself without a built-in instruction manual. Advice from older people is usually unwelcome, or not sufficient to the need. One learns about oneself from one’s own experiences. So, the loving parent will do her and his best to protect and guide the youth through self-discovery, which will often include dangerous experimentation and impulsive behavior.

Sigh—Oh Parenthood!

While pondering in this realm, I remembered a favorite “Star Trek” episode of many years ago, “Amok Time,” written by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, first aired September 15, 1967

The First Officer of the Starship “Enterprise,” Commander Spock, had been exhibiting unusual behavior and requested that he be granted leave to go to his home planet, Vulcan. Captain James T. Kirk orders Spock to Sick Bay, where Medical Officer McCoy finds evidence of extreme physical and emotional stress, a condition that will kill him within eight days if not treated. Spock explains that he is undergoing pon farr, a condition male Vulcans experience periodically throughout their adult life, and that he must mate or die.

At Vulcan, Spock invites Kirk and McCoy to accompany him to the wedding ceremony. He explains that Vulcans are bonded as children so as to fulfill the pon farr commitment, and that T’Pring is to be his mate. T’Pring arrives with Stonn, a pureblood Vulcan, whom she prefers to Spock [who is half-human]. T’Pau, a matriarch…, prepares to conduct the ceremony. However, T’Pring demands the kal-if-fee, a physical challenge between Spock and a champion she selects. To everyone’s surprise, she chooses Kirk instead of Stonn. Spock begs T’Pau to forbid it as Kirk is unaware of the implications, but T’Pau leaves the decision to Kirk; another champion will be selected if he refuses. Kirk accepts the challenge, only to learn that it is “to the death.”

(Of course, none of our heroes dies, but I’ll leave it to the reader to pursue the plot in the source for this information.)

Spock, his pon farr ended, returns to the Enterprise, but not before warning Stonn, T’Pring’s mate to be, that “having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting.”

Yes, we are full of wanting, but never so intensely as when having newly emerged from the cocoon of childhood.

 

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Words to Describe My Path  

When age fifty-eight I found myself, once again, at a crossroad in life. A constellation of major events had coincided to release me, temporarily, into the world, living alone and without a job.

Newly based in San Jose, California, I wandered, in a 1988 Honda for around a month throughout the US southwest. In Arizona, I met, separately, two people who were friends of a friend in the place I had just left. The first had the promise of a possible romance, the second was a place, near Kingman, to rest and recover.The romance didn’t ignite, so I traveled to Kingman.

Looking over the mountain forest from a spacious living room, I began to ponder my life’s path. I perceived recurring patterns. Try as I might, to go in direction A or B, I seemed always to revert to C.

After some thought-less viewing of the forest, I found myself at peace and wrote this:

Words to describe my path

To let go; to not-cling

To accept; things are as they are

To be open; to learn about the universe/my-“self”; to reveal the spirit residing within

To live simply

To nourish loving relationships

To create and maintain a private space

To contribute to useful processes

To avoid negative people and processes

I have revisited these words many times in the ensuing twenty-three years, just as I have this morning in Stockholm and find no reason to add to, or subtract from, what I wrote in Kingman more than two decades ago.

Now, enough of words, and back to the weekly laundry…

 

Nothing New Under the Sun

When one is old, as I am, one learns to remain silent on certain things, except when in the company of close friends of a similar age.

One’s physical complaints, of course, are never to be mentioned, or only in a mildly joking manner. One often lives with constant pain, certainly with discomfort, in one or more joints or sinews, or perhaps in an organ or two, most of the time masked by one’s wonderful brain which commands, “carry on.”

An old person’s musings about: “yes, that also happened to me when I was younger, and this is what I learned…” evokes glassy eyes and body language signaling a yearning for escape. And, of course, the younger ones are right: experience is the master teacher, along with pain and suffering.

Recently, I have been musing, mostly silently to be sure, about the vast store of knowledge and experience I have accumulated and remember during the four score years since before the United States entered World War Two.

I met a man a few evenings ago, the husband of a writing colleague—a charming, engaging, and accomplished fellow. Our conversation was wide-ranging, chronologically, geographically, and philosophically, a real treat for me (and my poor hearing required my interlocutor to work hard for me to understand him in the noisy room). At one point in the conversation, he realized that I was much older than I originally appeared to him (a family trait) and interjected to remark that I must have been present or aware of certain well-known historical events. Yes, I was, and briefly gave details of a few.

This pleasant experience remains with me to savor for a while. But the rarity of such an experience reminds me that I and my cohort have knowledge, or at least information, largely untapped, which will expire with us.

I feel that the main motivation for my writing is to leave a record, necessarily incomplete, of what I have seen and learned, at least as interpreted through my biases and prejudices.

I remind myself of “The Diary of Samuel Pepys,” which was more fully appreciated by later generations and stands currently as a valuable historical document.

My musings observations are not as important as those of Pepys, but I fancy (the word is based in the concept of fantasy) that there will be at least some minor value, perhaps entertainment, to people in later generations if they are made generally available (which, thanks to the Internet, already are). In addition, if they survive and are made available after I achieve room temperature, I have retained decades of correspondence with friends and family, both in digital and hard copy form. (Oh, yes, I am obsessive about certain things).

How full of myself I am to think, or at least hope, that my scribblings have and will retain value. As the wisdom contained in the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us:

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Scholars may learn from history, but it seems the rest of us do not. My father tried to impart to me what he had learned, which was much, and I did listen and record what he said. Nonetheless, I had to live a full life, making my mistakes, to fully understand what he was trying to help me learn and avoid in life.

Thanks for trying, Dad.

Me ‘n’ Dad

Gone is the child

Gone is the child
That young man
I remember so well

Eighty years of living
Some of it hard
Some of dangerous

Much loving
Much heartbreak
Much fear

Music
Marriage
Children

Schools
Jobs
Betrayals

Successes
Failures
Recoveries

Years fall into the abyss
Friends, family disappear
Leaving tearful memories

But new friends, family appear
I cherish them and every moment
Even as the memories travel with me

Blanking out for Thirty Minutes, as Gurdjieff’s “Robot” Takes Over

Two days ago I experienced an episode of transient global amnesia (TGA). It is a most curious syndrome.

A part of the brain is disabled so that one’s immediate memory is permanently lost during a limited period of time. Yet, another part of the brain is aware of this sensory loss. During this episode I kept asking my wife Eva (as she later told me) why was I here, why was I holding a bag of gardening tools, and other questions regarding my immediate environment and circumstances.

This approximately thirty-minute episode occurred while Eva and I were returning from work in our small plot in the communal garden, walking toward the entrance to the building containing our apartment.  My memory stops around 100 meters from the door of the building until I was talking with an EMT in the ambulance, parked outside. According to Eva I was aware the ambulance was coming and I left our apartment to wait for it in the driveway.

My robot had taken over.

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff
1846 – 1949

G.I. Gurdjieff was of the opinion that we should try to remember oneself. He believed that during most of our lives it is the machine or the robot who sees and experiences whatever is there.

Gurdjieff … asked, “Why should we experience so much, only to forget it immediately afterwards? Half our experience rolls off us like water off a duck’s back. Yet experience is food, whose purpose is to enable is to evolve.”

Lots of what we do is carried out without proper thought, almost with robot like routine. I realised this (recently) when I had been out somewhere in my car and then for a moment wasn’t too sure where I was on my journey. I had no awareness of having driven a certain distance. (Source: Mike Perry)

I was examined by the EMT in the ambulance, and then by the emergency department physician at the Akutmottagningen of Sankt Görans Sjukhus. I had become mostly conscious by the time I underwent the EMT exam (that is, able to retain most of my current experiences in conscious memory), and felt the trip to St. George’s Hospital and my examination there to be an interesting adventure.  Eva accompanied me the whole way, including during the CT Scan of my head and its contents.

I seemed to be in no immediate danger, but the protocol is to observe the subject (now a hospital patient) overnight, and to await the results of the scan. Eva left as I was escorted to the observation room (No. 11) of the Neurology unit on the fifth floor, to cohabit with three other patients. It was a comfortable enough bed, but I was restless and spent most of my time in the cafeteria across from the nursing station.  Good food, snacks, juices, and coffee were available, and in the traveling library bin there happened to be a thriller in English I could read (Children of the Revolution, by Peter Robinson).

I had been admitted to the Neuro Unit after the day shift had gone home, so there was late-hours staffing until 0700 the next morning. I was aware of several others as mobile as I, but we kept to ourselves until breakfast time in the cafeteria.

Hippocampus within the brain

TGA can be viewed as an illness of transient hippocampal insufficiency. It is a clinical syndrome with no clear aetiology identified. Most symptoms are transient and resolve within a few hours. The incidence of TGA is approximately 2.9 to 10 people per 100,000 worldwide. It typically affects patients between 50 and 80 years of age, at an average age of 61. [Note: I am in my 81st year]

The clinical presentation of TGA is anterograde and partial retrograde amnesia lasting less than 24 hours without any other neurological or congestive symptoms. Most cases show complete resolution of symptoms within a few hours from onset of symptoms. Brain CT scan and conventional sequences of MRI brain show no abnormalities. The underlying cause of transient global amnesia remain unknown. There appears to be a link between transient global amnesia and a history of migraines, though the underlying factors that contribute to both conditions aren’t fully understood. [Note: I experience migraine auras without headache periodically and, perhaps significantly, more than usual for 36 hours around a week before this TGA incident].
Sources:
https://radiopaedia.org/articles/transient-global-amnesia
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4911939/
http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/transient-global-amnesia/basics/causes/con-20032746

As alluded above, after the day shift began two other patients under observation gathered at the table where I was eating my breakfast. They were men, one between 65 and 70, the other perhaps nearer my age. Both were world travelers with many stories to tell. We told each other about our condition and experiences, and complimented members of the staff who visited us for services (food, medications, information—they unexpectedly gave me my daily dose of blood pressure medication which I had not brought with me.)

After some waiting for the doctor to attend the more seriously affected patients, we were, one by one, told we could go home. One fellow, however, was told to return the next day for an ultrasound examination of his carotid arteries, which indicated to me that he was suspected of having, not TGA, but TIA.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is like a stroke, producing similar symptoms, but usually lasting only a few minutes and causing no permanent damage.

Often called a ministroke, a transient ischemic attack may be a warning. About 1 in 3 people who have a transient ischemic attack will eventually have a stroke, with about half occurring within a year after the transient ischemic attack.

http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/transient-ischemic-attack/home/ovc-20314613

Of course, I hope that the ultrasound scan will rule out such a possibility for my new acquaintance. He has said he will contact me by email to invite me to his place in the country for some Mosel wine and conversation. The other fellow seemed interested in reading one or more of my blogs and I may well hear from him also. I hope so.

This experience has brought home to me some notion of the mysteries which remain about the brain and its functions, despite marvelous advances in the various medical sciences. Also, I now have direct evidence of the “robot” that G.I. Gurdjieff identified and warned against relying upon–that is, to be consciously awake to everything one does. (Read Colin Wilson’s “G.I. Gurdjieff: The War Against Sleep).

In addition, I am more alert to possible memory lapses, no doubt overly much right now, to be alert to my aging neurological functions.

As one ages, one’s thought processes may appear, to younger people, to be slow or faulty. Willa Cather had an answer to that notion in her book, Death Comes to the Archbishop:

Sometimes, when Magdalena or Bernard came in and asked him a question, it took him several seconds to bring himself back to the present.  He could see they thought his mind was failing; but it was only extraordinarily active in some other part of the great picture of his life–some part of which they knew nothing.

 

The World Changed

I recently read an article by a person whose “world changed” at a young age by the event of “9/11” in New York City. My reading of her well-written memoir initiated a memory search for that moment in my life when the perception of the world may have changed — that is, to have shaken me loose from the unexamined feelings of comfort and safety that childhood, for some, allows.

After pondering, I found that my awakening was gradual, with punctuated moments of fear, despair, horror and, in the case of “9/11,” anger.

I was one month away from becoming age five when the Japanese Air Force bombed Pearl Harbor, Honolulu, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. I don’t have a memory of the actual day of the invasion. What I have is the memory, subsequently developed, of all the pictures and commentary since that time. It didn’t affect me at age five — this was just the way the world was.

My first memories are of living with my parents and my mother’s family in the top flat of a Victorian house on Arguello Boulevard in San Francisco, around three miles from the Pacific Ocean. None of the men in the house was called to military service, but Dad and Uncle Harry were ‘war workers’ in the shipyards of San Francisco, and in Richmond across the Bay. Grandpa was too old for service.

Uncle Harry was also a block warden for the times when ‘blackouts’ were called by the civil defense organization. He was to assure that we and the neighbors had pulled down their blackout curtains and shades so that no light could be seen by possible invaders from off the coast of San Francisco. These were the times the whole family, seven of us would gather by candlelight in the living room to listen to news on the radio, or to music on the big Victrola. I imagined Japanese planes and submarines searching, searching, but finding nothing because we were so good at hiding. It wasn’t scary.

Later in my youth, I would play with other kids, boys, in building a small fire and throwing into it stick figures of Japan’s General Tojo, Italy’s Dictator Mussolini, and Germany’s Fuehrer Adolf Hitler. Then the war was over, and I was eight years old.

My dad got a job in Manhattan with his cousin, a printer, and found a railroad flat in Brooklyn for us, a few blocks from the docks. Mom, sister Diane, and I followed later to arrive by train on New Year’s Day, 1946. I learned to live with fear and uncertainty in this neighborhood, more and more as I grew toward adolescence.

When I got to junior high school, we learned how to act when the sirens went off, signaling a nuclear bomb attack from the Soviet Union. These felt weird, and I always felt that such preparations were useless because everything would be wiped out anyway.

Toward the end of the 1940s, many people from Puerto Rico started arriving in New York’s boroughs, including Brooklyn. One summer day a car full of Puerto Rican immigrants was circling around 48th Street, looking for a destination, the occupants unfamiliar with the neighborhood. They had interrupted the stickball game of the older guys too many times, so they stopped the car, bounced on it, rolled it, and beat up the guys in the car, using pipes and other things as clubs. I ran away to our tenement up the street, feeling as if I had been beaten up.

Not long after this we moved back to San Francisco and, later, to Berkeley. We felt safe again.

Until, ten years later, October, 1962. This is when the world changed for me: the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was living in Berkeley, attending the University. I often awoke, sweating, having dreamed a nuke had exploded over the whole Bay Area.

Then, in 1963 President John F. Kennedy was assassinated and began a horrible period of uncertainty and anger and disbelief in the authorities which the ‘Warren Commission’ could not quite damp down.

The civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, then Senator Robert Kennedy was gunned down within months of each other in 1968. I didn’t care that much for the Kennedy brothers or family, but upon “Bobby’s” death I felt America was coming apart.

Then came the horrors of the Vietnam War, in which I was too old to directly participate, but I saw and felt the havoc it wrought on the young people and their elders.

I was present, in 1964–1965, at the ‘Free Speech Movement’ on the Berkeley campus, which began as a righteous protest and devolved into a battle between well-organized radicals and the State. It was warfare on campus and, in my mind, began the destruction of universities everywhere in the USA.

Time passes, wounds are layered over while one continues to do what humans tend to do, make families, go to work to support them, try to enjoy life occasionally. The horrors are buried, then… 9/11.

I could not believe, at first, I was not seeing a video-fiction, a story. My guts roiled, at age 64, wanting to go to battle with the hidden perpetrators.

I felt I finally understood the anger of the nation upon the bombing attack on Pearl Harbor.

The general anger and concomitant madness have not dissipated. I cannot now imagine what life will be like for my five children and, especially, my four grandchildren.

In grade school, we used to sing “God Bless America.” Is there any singing in grade school these days?

Feeling Old

From my notes on July 7, 2016, while on holiday in Bad Gastein, Austria

I am feeling old today:

  • The knees are going
  • Short-term memory lapses
  • Irritability over minor inconveniences
  • Despair over the decline in culture

On the other hand:

  • A feeling of comradeship with people my age
  • An appreciation of the connectedness of all things
  • The acceptance of minor miracles as part of everyday life (e.g., Jung’s synchronicity)
  • Birdsong, flowers, trees
  • The immensity of the Earth