Should You be Friends Before You Become Lovers?

(About a 3 minute read)

“I’m here, sir, to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage.”

“Do you like her, boy?”

“Sir, I love her more than I love anything else in the world!”

“I didn’t ask if you loved her, I asked if you liked her. Love is wonderful, but love isn’t enough by itself to get you though the arguments and tough times any husband and wife will have.”

(An old movie, the title of which I’ve forgotten.)​

There was a comet in the sky that fall, and ostensibly, Jackie and I had come out on the porch at dusk to sit under a blanket and watch it. But Jackie soon began talking about “boys”.

She was 17 that year, and though she hadn’t much experience of boys, she went into great detail about her relationships with them. It took her two hours to cover the topic, and she wrapped things up with a simple question, “What do I have to do to keep a boy? I’ll do anything you tell me to do. I’ll change myself in any way. But tell me what I have to do.”

I suggested she was looking at it the wrong way. It might not be best for her to think about changing herself to suit boys, but rather best for her to be true to herself. The boys who really loved her for who she was would appreciate that. She politely thanked me and we wandered off our separate ways.

About ten months later, Jackie stopped me on the street one day to tell me my advice had not made immediate sense to her. But she had thought about it, and over the past month or so, it had begun to click.

I think Jackie had a point. It can be hard to fully understand what it means to be true to oneself, and even more so, see the importance of that in our sexual relationships with people. But my advice didn’t really go far enough.

Had I been thinking that night of the comet, I would have gone on to suggest to Jackie that she pick her lovers from among her friends. That is, that she become friends with someone before becoming a lover to them, when at all possible.

Now, tons of folks might disagree with me there. They tell me they don’t want to do that because they’re scared of “ruining a good friendship”. Normally, I’d respect that, but in this case, I think that’s crazy talk. You can’t ruin a good friendship by becoming lovers. You can only reveal or unmask a “good” friendship for what it really is — a bad friendship. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s your choice whether you want to risk that.

Beyond that, befriending someone before becoming their lover is perhaps the best way to get to intimately know who they are as a person before you get so involved with them that it becomes hard to extricate yourself from the relationship, should that be wise to do.

Moreover, it’s much easier to see who someone is when you are not sexually passionate about them. But perhaps the best reason to pick your lovers from among your friends is that love is seldom if ever enough on which to base a committed, long term relationship.

It’s not just that, soon enough, giddy-headed romantic love wears off. Romantic love is usually replaced by a deeper bond. It’s that friendship is insurance of a more comprehensive relationship than love. You can love someone without actually liking them, but when that happens, your relationship tends to come down to little more than sex. Friendship guards against that.

Of course,  plenty of couples come together as lovers before they develop friendships for each other.  I’m not arguing that folks should absolutely forgo any romantic relationships unless they’re friends first.  But I do believe there are advantages to first being friends.

So, ideally speaking, should you be friends with someone before you become lovers?

The Horrors of “Higher Consciousness”

(About a 3 minute read)

Like most sensible Americans, I believe the state of higher consciousness that so many mystics talk about can be attained by listening for a solid 24 hours to tapes of Rush Limbaugh played backwards.

Now, I have never actually seen any science to either prove or disprove my belief, but I am a true American, and so I know reality is merely a rumor. I am also a virtuous American, and so I abhor rumor-mongers, such as scientists. Hence, I don’t need to see any science: I hold my beliefs intuitively true by virtue that they feel right to me.

But what feels wrong — very wrong — to me is the term, “higher consciousness”. A perfectly horrifying term if you look at it my way, by which I mean the proper way.

And why is my way the proper way? My chief reason is it annoys Teresesums a carefully guarded secret. Beyond that, all my reasons boil down to this one complaint: Higher consciousness is so radically different from ordinary consciousness we should be aghast merely to hear the term.

First, ordinary consciousness crucially involves an awareness of ourselves and the world as divided into us and not us. Higher consciousness does not.

Second, ordinary consciousness involves conceptual or symbolic thought, while higher consciousness does not. Thought and no thought. How can you not get more different than that?

Next, ordinary consciousness involves judging and comparing things, while higher consciousness does not, since it does not involved thought, which is necessary to such judging and comparing.

Moreover, ordinary consciousness involves defensiveness, while higher consciousness does not, since the self that one would defend is absent from it. We would reflexively duck a rabbit if it were thrown at us, but we would not defend ourselves against most other kinds of threats — especially those that required thinking things through in a foresighted manner.

Last, ordinary consciousness has a largely focused awareness, while higher consciousness does not. This one reminds me of a story. I was with a group of eight or so people one night when, for no apparent reason, seven of them spontaneously asked one of them seven different questions almost at once. There was only the briefest interval between each question.

He calmly replied to six of the seven people, and he did so in the order in which they had asked their questions. Our hostess that night was a student of Zen and she told us that her teacher had said, if someone can respond under those circumstances to seven out of seven people, in the order in which they asked the question, it was evidence they had attained spiritual enlightenment — or higher consciousness, in this case.

The point is, I don’t think that sort of thing would be likely, or even possible, for someone in an ordinary, focused state of consciousness.

I believe I have now proven to any reasonable Americans, by which I mean all two dozen of them, that the term, “higher consciousness” should be held in the most abject distaste possible. In its stead, I propose “higher awareness”.

But naturally, I do not demand that the term be replaced.

Comments? Questions? Derisive snorts? Declarations of political solidarity with our cousins, the bonobo?

Mom Died Recently

(About a 9 minute read)

One night, when I was about eight or ten years old, I woke up towards 11:00 PM and, sensing something was wrong, went looking for mom.  She was not asleep in her bed, but there was a light on in our living room.  I expected her to be awake reading, which she sometimes did.  Yet, when I got to the living room, her favorite chair was empty.  Almost the same moment, however, she came in through the front door.  Naturally, I demanded to know where she’d been.

“I’ll tell you”, she said, “But only if you first promise me that you will not tell anyone where I’ve been.”

I solemnly promised that I would not, for she was using her serious tone of voice with me, the tone she reserved for when she wanted her words to sink in.

“I leased an apartment to a new tenant today, a mother and her five children, and I discovered that she was out of money and without food for herself or her family.  She won’t get paid for a few days yet.  So after work, I went to the store and bought some groceries for them.  Then I waited up until I thought they would all be asleep before delivering the groceries to their doorstep.   I’ve just now returned from doing that, and you must not tell anyone what I’ve told you, not even your friends.”

“But why, mom?”

“Because it could rob them of their pride if it ever got around how poor they are, Paul.  Besides I don’t want them thinking they owe me anything.”

I don’t recall that I entirely understood her reasoning, but I did understand the gravity of my promise, and so I kept her deed a secret even from my two brothers.  Looking back now, I can see how that event Illustrated three of her character traits: Her compassion, her sensitivity to others, and her modesty.

To many people in our community, she was above all else a strong, stoic person, even a bit on the strict side — and while I think there was a great deal of truth to that — I knew her as also caring, compassionate, and considerate.  She was, however, a very private person, very modest about most things, and so somewhat difficult for most people to know.

In fact, I have wondered for some time how much even I and my brothers knew about her.  Some years ago, when she retired, the local newspaper ran a full page article on her accomplishments, positions, and honors.   My brothers and I were astonished to discover that about half of it was news to us.  I would not call mom an “intentionally secretive” person, but there was so much about her that she had simply not thought important enough to mention to us.

For 33 years, she was the CEO of a small housing company at a time and in a community where women were not generally thought to be extraordinarily capable of running a business.  She grew the company eight-fold.   When she took it over, it was in the red.  In relatively short order, she had it in the black, and she kept the company there for 30 consecutive years until her retirement.  Yet, when you spoke with her about it, she would modestly ascribe her success “mainly to luck”.   Mom seemed to feel no need for praise nor recognition.  In fact, she tended to shun it.

Like many people in our hometown, both of my brothers think of mom as an especially strong person.  My younger brother in particular has told me he believes “she was the strongest person he’s ever known”.   A story that’s still told about her in the town concerns a huge, burly contractor who once went ballistic on her, yelling and screaming at her in her own office.

She had employed him to build a six-story apartment building.  One day, she noticed a flaw in the brickwork and ordered him to tear down the wall in order to fix it.  That’s when he lost his temper, threatening her with, “I’ll have your job”.

It was no idle threat.  He was well-established and respected in the community, friends with several of her board members, and she was new to her job.  Moreover, she had three small children to fend for, no husband to fall back on for support (our father having died a few years before), and no prospects for landing a similar job in the local economy if she lost the one she had.  Yet, as the story goes, she didn’t blink.  She stood her ground, calmly presented her case to the board, and in the end, the wall came down and the brickwork was fixed.

I too remember her as a strong person, but even more, I remember her as a stoic person.  In all the time I knew her, I witnessed her crying once, and only once.  If you’re curious, I blogged about that here.  My brothers, on the other hand, never once witnessed her crying.

Only one of us ever witnessed her lose control of her temper, too.   My older brother has a memory of her engaging in a shouting match with a neighbor when he was about five or so.  That’s the only time anyone of us can recall her raising her voice in anger.  Of course, she would get angry at times, but — excepting that once — she kept her anger in check, never lashing out irrationally or unreasonably.

In fact, she could be a bit too stoic, I think.  During the earliest parts of my childhood, she found it difficult to express love or affection.   A friend — a psychologist — noticed that about her, and convinced her to reform herself.  Afterwards, she gradually got much better at it with practice, but I will always remember her very first, very awkward effort to express the love she felt for me.  She shocked me one evening with a hesitant but abrupt pat on the head — after which, she was so embarrassed that she fled into the next room.  Somehow I cherish that memory of her as much as any — it was, after all, part of her character.

Mom was an eminently reasonable person.  There were many times when I thought she was wrong, but there were few, if any, times when I thought she failed to listen to my side of an issue.   Even when as small children we challenged her rules, she would (at least at first) patiently explain her rules and seek to reason us into complying with them.

Only as a last resort would she fall back on, “When you’re old enough to make your own rules, you can make the rules you want, but you will obey this rule because I’ve made it, and I’m your mother, and responsible for you.”  Sometimes we could even reason her into changing a rule — especially as we grew older — and provided that she thought we’d made a good case for ourselves.  Friends of hers often enough remarked that she “spoke to us like adults.”

Mom was in the habit of gently interrupting us whenever we made an error in reasoning. She would then not merely point out the mistake, but also patiently explain to us precisely why it was a mistake. Naturally, as a child, I did not immediately appreciate her guidance in these matters. In fact, I came to think she was a wee bit obsessed. Or, as I once insightfully put it to my best friend, Dennis, “My mom is nuts”.

It wasn’t until I was at university taking an introductory course in logic that my opinion of her sanity began to change. When my class came to the section on informal fallacies, I was astonished to discover I already knew 35 of the 36 most common fallacies of logic – knew them backwards and forwards, and knew them only because mom had drilled them into my head over the years I was growing up. All I had left to do was learn their names.

She was quite reasonable in other ways as well.  I’ve blogged about one of those ways in a funny post here.  She also implemented a policy after we became teens that several parents in our community were inspired to adopt for their own kids.  She told us that if we were out drinking and we even “so much as suspected” that we’d had a bit too much to drive safely, we could call her at anytime, no matter what the hour was, to come get us home — there would be absolutely no repercussions.   She would not, she promised, so much as mention or hint about it the next day.   My brothers and I took her up on her offer more than once or twice, and she was always true to her word.

Mom took religion seriously, so seriously that she believed children were too immature to make any firm decisions about it.  Consequently, she forbade us from deciding whether we believed in God and such until we had, as she put it, “reached the age of reason” — by which she meant at least 18 and, preferably, our early twenties.  She went further than that, though.  She refused to tell us of her own beliefs while we were young on the grounds that we might go along with her just to ape our mother.  Of course, her rules for us about religion scandalized a few people in the county who thought she was hellbent on raising infidels.

She did send us to Sunday school each week, and when we asked “why”, she told us it was “to expose us to our cultural heritage”.   Around the age of eight, I got fed up with Sunday school for some reason that I now forget.  I pleaded with mom to allow me to stay home.

At first, she was adamant that I should continue to go, but then I had a rare stroke of genius.  The thought suddenly occurred to me that mom’s real objection to my staying home was that she cherished having an hour or so by herself without us kids underfoot.  I promptly began fervently promising her that I would be quite well behaved during the “church hour”, exceptionally well-behaved, even silent as a mouse well-behaved.

She held her ground until I blurted out my newfound conviction that what she really wanted was quiet time to herself, and that since I was willing to give that to her, she should give me a chance in return.   That struck her as reasonable, and so I was allowed to stay home on Sundays — on the strict condition that I kept my word.  The very next Sunday, my brothers cut their own deals with her.

In her later years, mom would reminisce with us about the days we were growing up.   What she herself seemed to remember best was the laughter.   One day the four of us were eating in a restaurant when a man approached us to remark that he’d seldom seen a family laugh together as much as we were doing.  And that was pretty typical of us.  Whenever we were together, whether in a restaurant, around our kitchen table, at friend’s homes, or in our car, we were often enough laughing.

Unfortunately, most of the jokes were of the sort that would take some explanation, for we seldom recounted jokes we’d heard, no matter how funny they were.  Instead, we made things up on the spur of a moment — and our family tended to see humor in nearly anything.  My mother, for all of her stoicism, never had a problem with laughing, and she especially appreciated self-deprecating humor and genuine wit.

She drew the line, however, at malicious laughter.  She simply did not believe in making fun of others if doing so risked wounding them.

The newspaper article published upon her retirement mentioned, among other things, that she had served on the boards of one university, one college, two poet’s societies, an historical society, a zoning and planning commission, and a welfare advisory council.

Much of that was news to us.  At her visitation, my brothers and I were still finding out things about her from the guests.  In some ways, I think I knew her well, but in other ways, I believe she will always remain a bit of a mystery to me.

She died peacefully, August 22, at the age of 99.  We buried her the 2nd of September.

Something quite unplanned happened after the graveside service. We were each of us holding a red rose, quietly conversing, when one of my young nephews approached the grave, stood silent for a few moments, and then dropped his rose onto her vault, which had already been lowered into the ground.

One by one, the rest of us followed his example, without a word of direction from anyone, until we had all said our silent goodbyes.

“So Of Course I Didn’t Even Think to Ask!”

(About a 1 minute read)

Jennifer was the first person to befriend me after I moved to Colorado in my late 30s.  One day she showed up at my work, looking for a job in response to an ad I’d placed.  Our rapport was instantaneous, and I quickly hired her.

Unfortunately, she didn’t like her new job and quit within two weeks.  She kept in touch, though, and we became casual friends.  I soon learned that Jennifer harbored a number of eccentricities.  Not the least of which was her enjoyment of sexually teasing me.  However, I was able to quickly realize that she wasn’t seriously coming onto me, because she would tease me in such blatantly funny ways.  So, I would just sit back and enjoy her humor.

But about a year after we’d met, she left the city to live up in a small mountain town with her mother.  We lost contact with each other, and I gradually accepted the fact I probably would not see her again.

However, one winter’s day I walked into a convenience store near my apartment and was astonished to discover her clerking there.  It was her first day on the job.  After enthusiastically reintroducing ourselves, I wrote down the directions to my apartment, and left them with her.

The next day was extremely cold, and the night even colder.  Around eleven o’clock, there was a knock on the door.  I was happy to see it was Jennifer.   We kissed “hello”, and then sat down on the couch together.

Immediately, she turned herself towards me, broke into a wide, brilliant grin, and without a word of warning, plunged her hands down the front of my pants!  Then she quite cheerfully rushed out an explanation as rapidly as she could,  “I’m so sorry Paul!  But my fingers are freezing!  And I figured your crotch would be warm.  And you’re such a humane man I just knew for sure you’d want to help stop my fingers from getting frostbite, so of course I didn’t even think to ask!”

We both broke out laughing.  Jennifer was back.

Diane

(About a 7 minute read)

Diane had a wicked sense of humor.  Usually, she didn’t repeat jokes she had heard, but rather made them up on the spot.  But besides being creative, she was quite level-headed and down to earth.

She was the evening manager of a fast food restaurant.  After we’d gotten to know each other, I took to staying late in my office so I could drop by her restaurant around seven or eight o’clock on the nights she worked.  We’d sit together in the dining room for two or three hours until the restaurant closed.

Diane had the greenest eyes I’ve ever seen on anyone, a pretty good figure for someone who’d had two children, and dirty blond hair.  Her facial features included high cheekbones and an angular chin.  I think Diane’s most beautiful feature after her eyes was her grin. It was wide and generous.

Our conversations were rarely serious, or at least not wholly serious.  Once, Diane soberly mentioned she’d been raised in a nondenominational Christian church before becoming an agnostic around the age of 18 or so.  Somehow that quickly led to a flood of jokes about preaching.  Yet, there were almost always truths wrapped within the jokes — insights into each other’s lives, views, and values.

One of the very few times when we discussed something that neither one of us laughed at occurred about a year after we’d met.  As usual we were sitting in the restaurant when, for some reason I’ll never know, Diane’s mood abruptly changed.  “There’s something I want to tell you, Paul, but it has to be a secret between us.”

“Sure”, I said a bit too casually.

“No a real secret.  You can’t tell anyone.”

“I promise”, I said, becoming attentive.  After searching my face, Diane glanced away, as if gathering her thoughts.

“When I was seven years old, Paul, someone in my family taught me to give him blowjobs.  He’d pay me a quarter.  I’m not sure why, but I want you to know that about me.”

“God!  I mean…God!”  I was too shocked to say more at the moment.  “What…Who was it?” I finally asked.

“I don’t want to tell you who”, she spoke calmly,  “But it messed with me.  When I started having sex, I couldn’t at first take pleasure in it.  I thought I was fridged.  It took me a long time to learn how to enjoy it.”   Diane went on to describe how she’d overcome her initial inability to take pleasure in sex.  As she spoke, I became aware of the emphasis she was placing on her success at healing herself, and the almost casual way she now seemed to all but dismiss the early abuse of her.

“Diane…”  I paused, searching for the right words.  “A handful of women have told me about being abused as children, but I think you’re the only one I know who has gone so far in overcoming the problems it caused them.”  Diane thanked me for my understanding, and for the first time since she had begun her story, she smiled.  “It’s been quite a journey, Paul.”  Her smile, I realized, was one of victory.

Our evenings together lasted about two years.  During that time I came to regard Diane as my best friend in the city.  I wondered if she felt the same about me.  One night I decided to test her interest by suggesting we go to a movie that weekend.  She enthusiastically agreed.

When Saturday night came, however, she was late showing up at my apartment, where we’d arranged to meet.  A couple hours went by, and then another.  Finally, she called.  She was on her way, and would be there in 30 minutes.  Yet, by the time she arrived, it was too late to go to a movie, so we sat on opposite ends of my couch making small talk.

At some point during the evening, I decided on an impulse that it would be a wonderfully good idea to tongue her ear, so I casually crossed over to her end of the couch, and proceeded to do just that.  As it happened that was indeed a wonderfully good idea because her ears were among her erogenous zones, and she was quickly overcome with pleasure, which I thought was yet another wonderfully good idea.

We then spent the next six or so hours walloping each other with pleasure in every way we could imagine to do so.  Afterwards, she fell asleep in my arms for about an hour and a half until I had to wake her up, for she was pulling a double shift that day by working both the day and the night shifts.

Late in the evening of the day after our love-making, I drove over to her restaurant, parked my car, walked up to the door of the restaurant, and observed Diane behind the counter talking to a co-worker while grinning ear to ear and laughing uproariously.

It was the last time I would hear her laughter for several months.

The moment she caught sight of me, the happiness in her face popped out of existence almost as fast as it takes to snap your fingers. It was replaced by an expression of pure worry, and she placed her hand over her stomach as if something felt wrong with it.

I think I might have turned to look behind me to discover what had caused the change in her expression, because I couldn’t imagine it would be me, but I can’t entirely recall now whether or not I did.   At any rate, when we spoke to each other, she quickly asked me to go back to my car and wait for her.  I did.

It was a long wait.  Naturally, I had no clue what it all meant.  And I was pretty anxious when she at last came up to my car to kneel beside it and speak to me through the open window.

“I’m sorry I made you wait so long, but I was hoping you would leave so I wouldn’t need to speak to you.  Please, Paul, forgive me for being a coward.”

Leave?  Forgive? Coward?  I didn’t understand a word she said.

She went on, “All day today, I was happy.  I didn’t think about last night even once, but then I saw you and my stomach instantly dropped to my feet.  I’ve never felt it sink that fast and low before in my life.   That’s how I learned something was wrong, very wrong about what we did last night.”

I couldn’t believe what I was now hearing.  I stumbled out some question about whether last night’s sex had been that bad.

“No”, she said, “Honestly, Paul, that was some of the best sex of my life.”

I was now totally lost.  Some of the best sex of her life?  The worse sinking feeling she’d could remember having?  Nothing in what she said was aligning well enough to make sense, but it was just dawning on me that she was in the process of dumping me.

“You made me feel like a slut, Paul.”  She didn’t say it accusingly, but she said it with sad conviction.  “That was our first date and we should not have had sex.  We should have waited.  I can’t live with being reminded that I’m a slut, and you remind me of that.  That’s got to be the reason my stomach fell when I saw you.  It has to be.  I have never felt so guilty and ashamed in my life.”

Now to put all of the above in context, this was the first completely irrational thing I’d heard from Diane.  It wasn’t like her to run around with a tin foil hat on and a club for beating off alien abductors.  She was in my experience, always a reasonable person right up until that night.

I was so surprised I could think of nothing to say besides, “What do you want me to do?”

“Please leave. Please go home.  And please don’t come back unless I call you back. I think the best way I can get over it is alone.”

I drove off that night without having said a thing to change her mind.  I was so shocked I couldn’t think of anything that might persuade her she was being unreasonable, let alone persuade her to relent.

We didn’t see each other again for several months, but we eventually got together again a few times — albeit never sexually.  I was unsure of her now — too unsure to want sex with her.  But I wasn’t angry with her, and I bore no grudge against her.  Diane’s irrational behavior had been incomprehensible to me,  and — instead of resenting her dumping me — I came to feel a bit sorry for her.  Whatever had provoked her behavior was a mystery to me, but she was above all a friend — I was unwilling to condemn her for it.

I am still not entirely certain what her rejection was all about, but in the intervening decades I’ve come to know a great deal more about the likely long term effects of childhood sexual abuse.  Although I will never really know, it seems plausible to me now that the abuse of her lay behind her behavior towards me.  One thing I do know:  The victims of child abuse do not merely include the children themselves, but everyone who will ever love those children at any point in their lives — from childhood through old age — so long as any fallout from the abuse still remains.

It’s been decades since I last saw Diane, and I imagine, having known her, that she has worked out over time all or almost all of the problems the abuse of her caused.  She seems to have had a genius for that.  But I cannot imagine she’s paid anything but a heavy price, no matter how successful she’s been in the end.

Late Night Thoughts: Richard Feynman, Flirting, Contrary People, Big Ideas, and More

(About a 13 minute read)

To oppress a mother is to oppress a democracy, for it is mothers who teach the value of democracy to their children.

◊◊◊

Some years ago, if I heard a pounding on my door around 11:30 on a full moon night, I could reliably guess it was Suzanne come by to demand that we go for a midnight hike in the mountains.   I always went for — after all — how often do you get to risk becoming a mountain lion’s next meal?  Besides, the mountains are magic at night.

Suzanne was, and still is, highly intelligent, creative, beautiful, and resilient.  At the time we were taking midnight hikes, however, she was also largely dysfunctional due to an untreated bipolar disorder.  That kept me from developing a genuine emotional intimacy with her, for it’s difficult to feel genuinely intimate with someone who — for whatever reason — is wrapped up in themselves.  Nevertheless, we did pretty good as casual friends.

One crisp night, we set out for a trail head, but when we got there, a noisy group of about seven or eight people were setting off down the trail, so we decided to drive on.  That eventually landed us on a dirt road high up in the mountains.  Since it was about two or three in the morning, and no one was likely to be traveling that narrow road but us, we parked the car in the middle of the road, put the top down, and threw a blanket over us in order to stargaze.

The moon soon enough went down behind the mountains.  The sky blazed with what seemed like five thousand stars, and Suzanne and I fell into silence.  After 45 minutes or an hour, Suzanne spoke.  “Why do I have to be in love with Jeff?”

“I don’t know.  Have you figured that out?”

“Not yet.  I just don’t understand why I get along with you better than I get along him, but I’m in love with him.”  After a moment, she went on,  “I love you too, of course; just not in the same way.”

Jeff was Suzanne’s boyfriend.  Like Suzanne, he was highly intelligent.  He was also abusive.  Whenever we were together, Suzanne would sooner or later start talking about him.   Usually, she spoke of his most recent outrages.

I knew, by that time in my life, that criticizing someone’s partner — even someone’s abusive partner — would most likely achieve nothing more than cause them to rally to the defense of their partner, so I carefully avoided giving Suzanne any hint of how profoundly I loathed Jeff for his abuse of her.   “That does seem strange”, I said as evenly as I could, “I mean that you get along with me better than him.”

“I do love him.”  She turned to look at me.

“Is he good for you?” I replied, looking at her and trying my hardest not to make my question sound like a challenge.  I thought that, if only she would ask that question, sincerely ask that question….

“But I love him!”  She protested.  “That’s got to count for something, right?”  She’d done exactly what I feared: Taken my question for a challenge, rather than genuinely think about whether he was any good for her.

Suzanne was twenty years younger than me.  She had yet to learn the difference between genuinely loving someone and merely being emotionally dependent on them.   Nor was there anyway I could have explained those things to her that night.  Although she never would have expressed it this way,  on some level, Suzanne believed the world was fair and just, and that Jeff had to sooner or later come around if for no other reason than she loved him so much.

In time, Suzanne came to her senses and dumped Jeff.

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Today, May 11, is the anniversary of Richard Feynman’s birth.  He was born 1918 and died 1988.  Probably, I think, not only one of the greatest physicists of the 20th Century, but also one of wisest people of that century.

I have a friend who’s an artist and has sometimes taken a view which I don’t agree with very well. He’ll hold up a flower and say “look how beautiful it is,” and I’ll agree. Then he says “I as an artist can see how beautiful this is but you as a scientist take this all apart and it becomes a dull thing,” and I think that he’s kind of nutty. First of all, the beauty that he sees is available to other people and to me too, I believe. Although I may not be quite as refined aesthetically as he is … I can appreciate the beauty of a flower. At the same time, I see much more about the flower than he sees. I could imagine the cells in there, the complicated actions inside, which also have a beauty. I mean it’s not just beauty at this dimension, at one centimeter; there’s also beauty at smaller dimensions, the inner structure, also the processes. The fact that the colors in the flower evolved in order to attract insects to pollinate it is interesting; it means that insects can see the color. It adds a question: does this aesthetic sense also exist in the lower forms? Why is it aesthetic? All kinds of interesting questions which the science knowledge only adds to the excitement, the mystery and the awe of a flower. It only adds. I don’t understand how it subtracts.  — Feynman

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I think Sarah was fifteen when I met her.  She and I were both regular customers at the coffee shop and we often enough sat together at the sidewalk tables.  Sarah was one of a small handful of girls who would keep me company even when I was not sitting with any handsome boys their own age.  She also struck me as generally cheerful, optimistic, and sensible.  The sort of level-headed, but occasionally mischievous, young person who gives you hope for the future.

One sunny morning,  about a year after Sarah and I first met,  I was sitting by myself when I happened to glance down the street towards the local high school.  About two blocks away, a woman was walking towards the shop, and though I couldn’t make out her face at that distance, there was something in the way she walked that made me recognize it was Sarah.  I think it might also have been the style of skirt she wore, for Sarah favored long, flowing skirts with a certain kind of print — almost paisley.

As I had guessed, it indeed turned out to be her.

When she arrived, she came straight to my table, and we were soon discussing her jewelry for no other reason than to pass the time of day.   “I have the worse luck, Paul.  Every piece I own has lost its partner.  This ring — see the naked man?   This silver ring had a naked woman that went with it.  That way you could divide the ring into two pieces, and give one piece to your lover.   But I lost the woman.  An ex of mine wouldn’t give it back when we broke up.”

“And you see the man in the moon in my earring? I used to have another earring just like it, but I somewhere lost it.”  She grinned.  “Now I have the moon in one ear, and a dragon in the other.”  She turned her head one way and then the other to show me.

We went on like that for an hour or two it seemed: Simply enjoying the sunny, but cool weather.  Eventually, she had to go back to school, for though her high school had an open campus policy, she was of course expected to attend classes if they were not study halls.

A few weeks later, Sarah and I were again at the coffee shop together.  At some point in our conversation, she decided to draw a dragon for me.  She explained as she was drawing it, that she had practiced and practiced drawing the dragon until she could almost draw it blindfolded.

“Ah! Well executed!  I know you like dragons.”  I remembered her earring.

“Oh yes!  Did I tell you about my dragon lamp?  I have a lamp that a candle fits inside.  When you burn the candle, it casts dragon shadows on the walls.  I love it! I use it as a night light.”

It all came together for me one evening a few months after that.  Sarah and I were once again at the coffee shop, but this time it was towards dusk.  Another man had joined us  — a guy about my age, which was twenty-five or so years older than Sarah.   He and Sarah were flirting with each other, which rather more bored me than anything else.  I became absorbed in watching the sunset.

Presently, the man left to go home, or go to his job, I don’t quite recall which now.  Sarah soon turned to me, “I love flirting with older men”, she said.  “I know I won’t let it go anywhere.  The age difference makes that impossible.  But you can learn so much!  Should I be ashamed of myself, Paul?”

I don’t remember now exactly what I said to her, but she responded by almost pouting — a very unusual expression for her — and then playfully suggesting that I was a public killjoy for refusing to flirt with people, especially with her.  That so surprised me that I felt I needed to make amends!  Hence, within a few days, I composed a simple poem just for Sarah.

She’s a woman in the grace of sixteen summers
With skirts flowing in the morning sun
And she speaks of the silver man ringed naked
A dancer who dances alone
For her jewels have all lost their partners
But the moon still laughs in one ear
And she sleeps in the shadow of dragons
With a heart uncorrupted by fear

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Physics isn’t the most important thing. Love is.  ― Richard Feynman

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Some “religious” people are just contrary.  They profess to be Hindus or Christians, Muslims or Jews, Buddhists or Taoists, but their real religion is simply to find fault with other people.

God, enlightenment, the Tao are to them little more than concepts that they imagine give them ultimate permission to condemn folks, to dehumanize them.  “I speak for God”, they imply.  “I speak for the Tao.”  Such strange people: Always hiding behind some pillar like “God”, peeking out only to snarl!

But such people are not confined to religions.

No, you find them in the lunatic fringes of every political and social movement, every ideology — including the better ones.  What sort of person makes it their life to condemn others?  What sort of person lives for it?

It is part of the comedy of our species that we often give them the time of day.

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The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.  ― Richard Feynman

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To me, the ultimate goal in life is neither meaning nor happiness, but to be as true to yourself as you can be in a socially and environmentally responsible way.   The way I see it, if you shoot for that, then you’ll find what meaning and happiness there is for you in life, like icing on the cake.  But I don’t see how living falsely can bring about either meaning or happiness.  Of course, all I really know is that it works for me.

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I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers and possible beliefs and different degrees of uncertainty about different things, but I am not absolutely sure of anything and there are many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here. I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without any purpose, which is the way it really is as far as I can tell.   ― Richard Feynman

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Top 40 Lovers

I listen to the radio play those old two songs:
“How I love him more than life itself” and “How she did me wrong”.

And I think it’s hard to be a simple lover
If the goal’s a cosmic truth.

And I think it’s hard to be a simple friend
If we’re lawyers in the end.

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Humans are natural born cartographers.  We make maps of the world, which we call “beliefs”.   It’s what our species does.

Sometimes, our maps are more or less accurate.  And sometimes, they are fantasy maps, like the ones we made as children to show where a pirate’s treasure lay buried in our backyard.

The accuracy of our maps often matters less to us than the fact they are ours.  Because, for most of us, our maps are something we think of as us.

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I’m smart enough to know that I’m dumb.  ― Richard Feynman

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“Hullo?”

“Don, this is Paul.  We’re rich!”

“We’re what?”

“Rich, Don, we’re richer than our wildest dreams!”

“Are you kidding me?  What happened?  Did you win the lottery?”

“Lottery?  You can’t depend on lotteries, Don.  This is so much better than a lottery.  This is Big!  Huge!  I’ve had an idea, Don.  An idea!”

“Paul, I have always believed you are capable of having good ideas.  Which is why I am still patiently waiting after all these years for you to actually have one.  But if this is like that last ‘good idea’…”.

“Don’t worry, Don, this one can’t miss.  It’s huge!  What is the number one complaint people have about foods, Don?  The number one complaint?”

“Paul, where is this leading?”

“Don, I’ve been researching this, and nine times out of ten, when people complain about food, it’s because they don’t like the taste.  It’s a scientific fact, Don.  Nine times out of ten!”

“So what?”

“Six words, Don, six words:  Spray-cans filled with liquid nitrogen!  Zap that awful taste right out of your mouth!  Instantly!  Never worry about a bad tasting meal again!

“Don we are going to get rich here!  We are going to get so rich!  I’ve already called some architects, asked for designs on our office building.  Are you excited, Don?

“Don?  Damnit, Don!  You’re a going to have to get a new phone.  Yours keeps dying on me!”

Late Night Thoughts: Socialism, Theresa and Carlos, Kindness and Tragedy, Poems, and More

(About a 9 minute read)

Thunder has been rolling off the mountains since the afternoon.  The breeze has carried the scent of rain for hours, but there’s been no rain.  It’s once again warm enough to leave the doors and windows open to the night air.

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Someone was telling me that judgmental people are always jealous people.  If that’s so, I haven’t noticed it.  But it sounds like something that could be true.  And if it is true, I wonder if the converse is also true: Are jealous people always judgmental people?

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Waking Up in a Coffee Shop

The sun slants geometric on the floor,
Van Morrison drags the air,
Serbian troops surge forward,
And two old women sit and tell
The lives of relatives —
Their jobs, their marriages,
Births and deaths
Recounted at a trot
With shoes kicked off —
Statistics on estrogen.

The cup of Kenyan is just enough
To provoke the thought Don and Becky
Like the smell of leather better than most religions
And a good walk better than the rest:

Then it’s time to do the laundry.

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I might have been 14 or 15 the first time I heard that socialism fails because people are not equal in their abilities.  Of course, the truth of the statement, “people are not equal in their abilities”, is indisputable.  But does any prominent socialist assert that people are equal?  Not that I know of.  The argument seems to be a straw man.

So far as I know, socialists only assert that people should have equal economic, social, and political rights and liberties — not merely in theory (as under capitalism), but in practice.

Nor do socialists typically hold that everyone should receive the same compensation for their work as everyone else.  Rather, compensation typically varies according to the principle, “To each according to their contribution”:

The term means simply that each worker in a socialist society receives compensation and benefits according to the quantity and value of the labor that he or she contributed. This translates into workers of high productivity receiving more wages and benefits than workers of average productivity, and substantially more than workers of low productivity. An extension of this principle could also be made so that the more difficult one’s job is—whether this difficulty is derived from greater training requirements, job intensity, safety hazards, etc.—the more one is rewarded for the labor contributed. [source]

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Surely, a sense of humor has prevented more murders than a sense of morality.

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As I understand it, there are four major religions that contain within them some kind of a fundamentalist movement: Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  According to one scholar at least, the four fundamentalisms are united in that each is a reaction against modernity.

That would seem to make sense to me.  But I would go a bit beyond that to speculate that the fundamentalisms are also rooted in the same psychology as political conservatism.  Over the past several years, a growing body of psychological research has demonstrated that liberals and conservatives tend to have differences that run deeper than mere politics.  That is, their differences tend to be rooted in their psychologies.

For instance, studies have shown that conservatives, when compared to liberals, are among other things:

  • More orderly
  • More anxious
  • More attuned to threats
  • More self-disciplined
  • Less open
  • Less novelty seeking

One seems to find the same pattern in the four fundamentalisms.

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Some years ago a friend of mine, Theresa, saved enough money while working as a $1000/night erotic dancer in Los Angeles to start her own small import/export business.  For a reason I no longer recall, she specialized in trade between the US and Costa Rico.   It was in Costa Rico that she met her husband.

Theresa is athletic and is in the habit of running every day, regardless of where she is in the world.  Consequently, when she was getting her business up and running in Costa Rico, she would run each day, taking the same route, at about the same time in the morning.  As it happened, her route took her by a bank.

Working at the bank was a young man who I’ll call Carlos here because I’ve forgotten his real name  (Sorry, Carlos! But I’m bad with names — even though I recall how handsome you are!).  One day Carlos noticed a beautiful blond woman running past the bank’s windows.  But it wasn’t just her beauty that stopped him in his tracks.

Carlos, you see, had had a dream in which he’d seen a beautiful blond woman running past the bank’s windows.  In fact, it seemed to him that the woman he was watching run past the windows that day was the very woman of his dreams.

He soon became aware of Theresa’s routine and began watching for her around the same time each day.   A month went by.   Then one day, Theresa was not there!

Carlos looked for her the next day, and the day after, but she no longer passed the bank each morning.  What Carlos didn’t know is that Theresa had found a local partner, and had consequently returned to the US.

Seven very long years went by for Carlos.  His friends and family worried he would never get married.  They — especially his mother — put pressure on him to find a woman.  But Carlos resisted.  It was not that he was waiting for the blond woman, though.  Carlos had given up all hope of seeing her ever again.

Instead, the blond woman had made such an impression on him that he didn’t feel any other woman he met during those seven years quite measured up to her in beauty or physical grace — and for Carlos, those were deal breakers.  He wondered if he would every feel differently, but he was adamant not to marry a woman he didn’t want at least as much as he had wanted the blond woman.  That would not be fair to any woman, he thought.

Meanwhile, back in the US, Theresa had long ago cashed out her share of the import/export business and was now a partner in an L.A. restaurant.  One year, though, she decided to take a vacation, and what better place to take it than the lovely country of Costa Rico?  She arranged a month long lease on a house there.

Carlos looked up from his desk one day to see the blond woman running past his bank’s windows!  He was so sure it was her that he didn’t hesitate even a second. Instead, he dashed out the door after her.

Theresa realized someone was calling after her to wait up, but when she looked, it was a stranger, so she kept running.  He couldn’t possibly have any real business with her.  Nevertheless, the man caught up with her.  As they ran side by side, he begged her to stop.

She didn’t stop.

So he sputtered out his story as he ran beside her.  She was the most beautiful girl in the world!  Theresa rolled her eyes.  He just had to meet her!  Theresa picked up her pace.  She was the girl of his dreams!  Theresa pushed herself even faster.  She must stop for he could not bear to lose her for another seven years! Theresa suddenly thought he must have known her from years ago — and remembered her!  Curiosity brought her to a jogging standstill.  She turned to face him.   “Who are you? Have we met?”

The two were married within a year or so.

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Kindness is our most powerful rebellion against tragedy.  – George Wiman

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The Hands Remember

The hands remember
More than the mind your skin

They think of their own will,
“This was the shape of her”,

When they find themselves cupped
Or curled in a certain loose way

Around the curves
Of you no longer here:

The left hand
Especially so.

Yes, I know
now
My left hand
Knew you one way,

While my right hand
Knew you another.

Was either best?

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Once upon a time, a god wanted something to laugh at, while a goddess wanted something to weep for.  The two created humans, and both were satisfied.

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“Hullo?”

“Hi Don!  It’s Paul!  I’m calling to see if you want to go to lunch today?”

“Sure.”

“Great!  Can I come along?

“Don?  Are you still there, Don?”

“Yes, Paul, but now I wish I wasn’t.”