Everywhere But Here

By Terry Plotkin

 

It is almost maddening to watch in action: Drinking a glass of water, but not focus on swallowing. Driving a car, but not paying close attention to this important and dangerous job. Having to wait just a few seconds, and out comes the phone. Going through the day’s activities with a song, one that we may not like, that we may not have even chosen to listen to, that is totally unwelcome in our brain, and yet, there it sits repeating the same verses over and over again, as if we were locked in some deep meditation. The TV is on while we cook, and the radio while we visit.  And so the day goes. The shocking truth is that we seldom fully engage with the task at hand.  Our brain is only partially present in the actions that our bodies are taking. It is an epidemic that is so prevalent that it goes unnoticed.  My guess is that lack of attention is the leading cause of accidents, a suppresser of creative thought, a contributor to the alienation from ourselves, a blocker of insights, and a reason we turn away from nature and each other. It makes us jittery and anxious. There are products for sale that try to alleviate the symptoms, and others drawing us ever deeper into the morass of mind clutter. The solution – if there is one – must lie elsewhere.

 

Walking. I am teaching myself to walk. Preposterous! Absurd! A grown man knows how to walk! Do I do it consciously? Do I pay attention to my gait? Fifteen years of heel pain indicates not. Arch supports, ankle supports, expensive, rigid running shoes, cushioning for the sole, encasing my feet in all manner of technologies to improve performance and cut pain, all for naught.  Technology let me down. I stretched every day, more than once, but got at most temporary relief. A friend raised my consciousness about another way to approach the problem, and I made the switch, going barefoot as much as possible and wearing minimalist shoes when necessary. (Check out the book Born to Run if you want a great read and to learn about the topic.) All of it made sense to me, yet my feet still hurt. Just when I was thinking that this is the way it is, that I should accept my fate, that it is just bad genes, flat feet, old age, or a combination of everything, and that it will likely get worse as I get older, and with the prospects for later in life filled with pain and disability, I tried one more thing: Teach myself to walk in a way that doesn’t injure me.  The principle being that there must be something that I do on a regular basis that is at the root of the problem. I observed myself walking and quickly noticed that I take fairly big strides, heel striking as the foot lurches in front of the body. Then I bring the other leg forward and POW! POW! POW! Again and again, clomping onto my heels. When I ran, it was even more pronounced like a Frankenstein type stride, punishing not only my heels but my feet and knees and back. Ten thousand times a day, decade after decade. It is a wonder I can even stand up. The revelation almost feels foolish it is so obvious. I look around. I watch others walk. I talk to people. I do research on the internet. Someone tells me to walk like the hippie in the Scooby Doo cartoon. He doesn’t stride in front of his body. He steps under his body, rolls onto the balls of his feet where there is natural shock absorption, and pushes off. The heel hardly touches the ground. It makes sense to me and I try it, but I must retrain myself to move differently. I must walk consciously, paying attention to each step. Don’t let the mind wander: No chatter, no music buzzing in my ears, no spacing out, no fantasies. If I lose the focus, I must bring it back. Every day, every time I walk. Slowly, over a few months, with some messages thrown in for the leg muscles now used in new ways, and the pain slowly abates. At this point 90% better. Amazing. Call it the Zen of walking.

 

It is quiet in my house nowadays: Most of the time no TV, no music, no news. Just fold clothes, cook food, write, eat, stretch, clean, work. It is quiet in my car when I drive with no talk radio or songs to fill the empty space. I observe many things coming at me and me at them. There is much to be aware of and lots of small decisions to make.

 

It is true that it is never too late to change. Meanwhile, almost imperceptibly, slowly, slowly, quieter, ever quieter in my brain.

Lost Camel

By Terry Plotkin

Trust in Allah, but tie your camel. So goes the old Arab proverb, which makes good sense to me, and I have repeated it on many occasions. But in reality, I hardly pay attention to it. Thus it was that the camel thief entered my house at 1 in the morning through an unlocked front door while I slept. The medicine cabinet was raided for an old painkiller that I never took. The laptop was taken from off my desk. He (I feel safe assuming the robber was a he, call me sexist if you want, it is just the way it goes.) took my high-end backpack, the contents which held cash, debit card, car key, and license. My winter hat and my cross country ski boots disappeared from the hallway. And then there was my bicycle, my Dawes royal blue bike, the one that was perfectly suited to my body type, so much so that the first time I test rode I knew I would buy it by the time I had gone around the corner, the one that took me all over the valley and up into the back roads of the hill towns and then back again flying down with delight, the bike I thought I would keep as long as I could ride, that bike was taken by the midnight rambler.  The likely addicted, perhaps homeless, man fled my house when I sensed him in my bedroom (!) and yelled out in my sleep. He proceeded to elude the police, who came to my house soon after the robbery, found little, and from whom I have not heard anything since. Perhaps his getaway was made on my Dawes royal blue bike.

 

My breathing was shallow the next day, the kind of breathing that happens when one has been in a nasty argument and lost one’s temper, or had a close call with death. I bought a club to lock my steering wheel. I dug out the old keys to my house which I never used and found one key that worked. I threw out all the old ones from knobs gone by. I locked my house up day and night, and kept a light on while I slept. I renewed my license and got a new debit card and then contacted all the places that use it to pay my bills; long tedious conversations were had with choppy sounding computer voices telling me what to do. It took three days for my breathing to return to normal, to not be afraid to go to sleep at night, to think about something else.

 

 

I don’t hate the guy who did it. I don’t wish him ill. I just want him and society to find a way to coexist without him having to resort to such a dangerous game. Let him have his drugs, give him the treatment he needs to stop being an addict, but get him away from the sane people of this world who are trying to live a decent life in a troubled time. I talked to many people around here and was surprised to learn that more than half of them never lock their homes. I am glad to live in a town where people feel they don’t have to be that scared. I know there are many people living in cities and dangerous neighborhoods where burglary is a daily occurrence along with fights, gunfire, drug deals, and gangs just outside the front door.  Others live in war zones for years on end and must carry a form of PTSD that I cannot imagine, as even one night of this profoundly disturbed me, and I didn’t get shot at or stabbed or raped or held hostage.

 

Even though my place is locked, it might not do any good. If someone is determined enough, they will get in. There is no real security in this life. Best not be deluded. A person I know, a mentor, told me that he always locks his house. He said, “Otherwise you are just asking for trouble.” Yup. Now I got to go out and get another camel.

 

Done

By Terry Plotkin

Sometimes I get fed up past my ears with someone or something and I am done.  I am blessed and cursed with a high pain threshold. So it can take me a long time to get to a place of finality where I question my intelligence for putting up with things that should have long been discarded. Past loves come painfully to mind, crappy jobs, bullying too. The good news is I eventually, however belatedly, reach a point where I put a stop to it.

So it is with being a political junkie. I have followed the goings-on in Washington. I know most of the senators names, what they look like, how they talk, where they are from, how they vote, and what party they represent. I follow the theatre that passes for governance. I root for good things to happen. I hope that things will get better. Not any more. I should have listened to Sting when he sang, “There is no political solution to our troubled evolution.” That was over 30 years ago. I could have saved my brain a lot of verbal pollution if I had listened to him. Instead it has been C-SPAN, MSNBC, Nate Silver’s web site, Democracy Now!, Sunday morning talk shows.Spare me! Or better still, I will henceforth spare myself. The two capitalist parties can battle it out for the rest of the century and there will be little to show for it. How could it be otherwise?

No more Meet The Press or This Week. Don’t care what the Speaker says nor the Majority leader; they don’t speak for me. I don’t want to hear from the Minority leader either. Never did watch Fox News; I plan to keep it that way. Joe Scarborough can fluff himself up, talk incessantly, and interrupt people all he wants, but I won’t be listening. No milquetoast news from CNN. I don’t want to hear Amy Goodman grinding her axe, or Rachel Maddow spoon feeding me her points, or Chris Hayes and Mathews inviting guests on so they can do all the talking. Don’t want to know the polls. The majority of voters are ignorant. Don’t believe me?  Listen to the morning call in show on C-SPAN and you quickly will. Or look at who they vote for. I can no longer listen to so-called journalists, who think they are wise pundits, who sit on panels without having been out where the action is, who think politics are gossip, who treat world events like sports, who say things like “at the end of the day,” and “that being said,” before they launch into another pseudo analysis of a situation they do not understand. I don’t want to hear speculation about whether Hilary Clinton will run or desire to hang on any of her words. She won’t turn things around the way they need to go unless you are from Wall St. or a neo-con. I don’t want to listen to the war drums beating and their cheerleaders masquerading as reporters. Don’t want to tune in to commercial breaks where I can hear about the side effects of medications, class lawsuits being filed, cleaning products to kill bacteria, quick food to be prepared by soccer moms, fake love, fake friendship, lies passing as information, or how to keep my penis hard. I’d rather do my morning stretches on the floor in silence than listen to that drivel. I am saturated. I can’t take any more. I can’t even say good bye. We still have very serious issues to deal with. Don’t look for the press to properly address them, and don’t look for solutions from Washington. The TV has gone silent in my house. I don’t miss it either. Who knows, maybe it will make room for clearer voices to penetrate my mind.

 

 

Unexpected Events – Part 2

by Terry Plotkin

Unexpected Events – Part 2

 

Optimism. That is what my friend asked me for in a post. OK. I admit that my last post about World War 3 was not exactly feel good material. I am not an optimist, nor am I a pessimist. One could say I’m a realist, but the question of what is reality is most complicated, and I firmly believe that humanity is largely ignorant of it. The most optimistic thing I do is plant garlic in October. The belief is that it will come up in the spring and be harvested in July. So far, so good.  I am a strategist. I attempt to look calmly and, hopefully, wisely at a situation, and see where things are at, and where they are likely to head. It makes no sense to me to think in any other way. Positive and negative outlooks are subjective in nature. They refuse to look at the whole picture and factor out sudden change. I don’t want to exist in a bubble of my own creation. But I am mindful of my friend’s request. The spirit needs to have hope. Presented below is an optimistic outlook. Or at least that is how it would appear, but sometimes a positive development can have a negative unforeseen downside and vice versa. Sometimes the apparent loser wins and the winner loses. Enough of this.

 

Many people think that climate change is the biggest issue we face. I don’t think that is true (I will leave that discussion to a future post.), but it is a big deal. Occasionally, a technological breakthrough comes along that changes the way the world operates. We live in a time where we have witnessed it first hand with the advent of the internet.  The technological revolution we need now, the one that will permanently alter the landscape, make a huge dent in world poverty, help solve the looming fresh water crisis, put an end to the main cause of war, clean up the polluted air, lessen the corporate stranglehold around the worker’s neck, protect a massive amount of fragile wilderness, and change the geopolitical landscape of the world. What technological change could do all these great things? A new way to generate electricity.

There was a time back in the 50s and 60s when the nuclear industry promised electricity that would be safe, clean, and too cheap to meter. OK. They were wrong. About all 3. Not even close.

But the promise of clean, safe, and very cheap electricity could become a reality. For instance, right now a solar panel is about 15% efficient. What if an invention, using something superior and cheaper than silicon, increased the electrical output 10 times or more? Something like this does not seem farfetched to me. Suddenly the whole picture would shift. Climate change could be quickly reversed. The burning of coal, oil, and gas, would soon cease, the oil companies would quickly lose their clout, countries like Saudi Arabia would lose their money and dark influence, poor people who have never had access to electricity could use it to help lift themselves out of poverty, workers would find themselves with a higher standard of living, desaltination plants could be built to provide ample drinking water, wars in the Mideast over oil would no longer need to be fought. Many people that have been on top would find themselves heading to a more sober life, and those who have languished at the bottom would catch a huge uplift.

 

How’s that for a positive outlook?