Saturday, June 21, 2008

Limbo, martyrs, and blank slates

I am not only the devil incarnate but I am a cynical, heartless person, or so says Sid of the current debate.

Because I said, several times, that the meaning of life is pleasure/satisfaction and experience, I am evil because people do things all the time out of the goodness of their hearts and get nothing for it. Horse hockey. I guess he doesn't get a warm glow when a homeless mother and her children get nourishing food at the local soup kitchen where he works and he gets no sense of satisfaction from saving someone or their pet from a burning building. He does everything in a state of martyred limbo where emotions and thoughts never occur. Horse hockey. He refuses to see that it is all right to be happy or feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction for charitable works or giving back to the community or that those warm and fuzzy feelings are all right when contemplating giving your life for friends and family and that it does not diminish the act or the person.

I used the example of early Xians going to the arena where hungry wolves, lions and bears would tear them apart; the people went to their deaths holding hangs and singing and continued singing while they were ripped apart. I'd say they felt something and it wasn't the blank slate of martyrdom and giving back to the community either. They were happy, even ecstatic, to be released from their perceived physical bondage and they were -- and are -- heroes to a multitude of believers. Do their display of personal emotions in any way lessen their experience or their heroism? Did they get satisfaction from their circumstances? They were afraid, but they believed they were going to heaven and they were happy about that despite the horrific circumstances in which they found themselves. In those last moments, along with the fear, they felt a sense of pleasure and happiness in being together here and believing they would be together in heaven after they died.

I agree it is an extreme example, but the idea that altruism and charity are blank slates and you must be in an emotional state of limbo, or that to believe anyone can feel pleasure or satisfaction when giving freely of time and resources to the community is ludicrous. Cynical? I'd say the pot is calling the mirror black. To deny the pleasure and satisfaction of any act, even an altruistic act, is to deny the truth of life. We do what makes us happy, gives us pleasure and satisfaction, or we don't continue to do it. Even someone trapped in a horrible job or rotten relationship gets some satisfaction, even if it's the fleeting sense of purpose that loved ones are being cared for and nurtured or seeing and working with people you like, or just going home at the end of the week knowing there are two full days of relief from the pressures and torments of the job.

Yes, people act out of duty and a sense of sacrifice, but even in the midst of the worst situation there is a flutter of pleasure, a sense of satisfaction at accomplishing a difficult task and the hope that some day things will be different (there's always retirement) or they would not do it. There has to be a payoff. Knowing that doesn't make me cynical, just realistic, and believing that and seeing it every day doesn't extinguish hope but keeps it burning brightly, else why not end it all and move on?

That is all. Disperse.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Dirty word

I've been really busy catching up work and staying cool (temperature-wise) and haven't really had the energy to post. I'm back.

This has been a difficult week with Paul's funeral, my beautiful flat panel monitor dying and work, work, and more work, but I did have time to earn the title of evil incarnate, as I have been dubbed in the past. This time the evil comes in the form of a discussion about the meaning of life. Everyone knows the answer and it's different for everyone, at least on the outside. At the heart of the matter is one simple and basic truth: Life is pleasure and experience. Everything, no matter how different people are and what they choose to do with their lives, boils down to pleasure and experience, and that's where the evil part comes in.

Sid prefers to take the high road and believes that for some people the meaning of life is selfless service to others and to the community. I maintain that even those altruistic individuals do it for the experience and for personal pleasure. Sid sees pleasure as a hedonistic abandonment of moral values. I see pleasure as simply satisfaction. And so the debate continues.

Last night Sid offered the story of a young soldier who threw himself on a grenade tossed into his vehicle. He died but he saved the lives of his buddies. Sid sees this as proof that life is not about pleasure but about selfless service to others. I beg to differ. Even though the soldier died and had a split second to act, he had probably thought about that particular scenario many times during his training and military life and decided that it was his duty and even his privilege to give his life for his buddies. There should be no doubt in anyone's mind that the soldier experienced a flush of satisfaction and even pleasure that he could save his friends so that when the time came he didn't think but acted and did what he had envisioned doing so many times -- saving his buddies' lives by giving his own. He may even have thought briefly about how proud his parents would be and how the story would be told that he so loved his buddies, and his country, he gave his life for them. That momentary satisfaction, all the hours and days he thought of giving up his life for others, was pleasurable.

We do nothing for very long in this life that doesn't afford some pleasure. Even people who prefer pain get pleasure out of the pain. People who gripe and complain, criticize and denigrate their fellow men get satisfaction from their misanthropy and satisfaction is a form of pleasure. People who work in soup kitchens, donate time and experience and money to various charities, become public servants, and perform a billion other tasks and follow a trillion other hobbies do so because it gives them pleasure. They may work at mind numbing jobs that suck the life out of them but they get something for being drones: money, benefits, something to gripe about. The sum of all these things is pleasure, satisfaction for doing something for themselves or for others, and satisfaction is pleasure.

Experience speaks for itself.

You may disagree, as Sid continues to do when he offers his altruistic bromides, but the fact remains that life is pleasurable, sometimes for a lifetime and often for fleeting moments, but it is still pleasurable. Consider pleasure hedonistic, but you lie to deny the pleasures and satisfactions derived from living, however brief.

I don't know when pleasure became a bad word, something consigned to the evils of abandoned morals and wanton behavior, but pleasure is not synonymous with evil. When we enjoy the aroma and sight of a beautiful flower, the sound of children playing, birds singing, a warm cat purring in a lap, a gift, a sunny day, a thunderstorm with lightning crackling and flashing, a television program, a child's first tentative steps and then the child's wedding day or first love it is pleasure. It is those moments, those precious memories and sensations that remind us we are living. Disasters come and go and some disasters remain in nightmares and haunt moments of weakness, but even those give way to a fond memory or something that brings laughter and smiles.

Life is pleasure and experience and pleasure is not a dirty word.

Monday, June 16, 2008

In the lows

The sky has been filled with pewter clouds and the rain drizzling all day, which is good for the plants and makes sure the ground is saturated and the rain doesn't just race off down the storm sewers to flood the drains. I went out early this morning to get something for breakfast and returned with strawberries, kiwis, mangoes, pineapple and blueberries that went very well with the warm croissants and began to dig into work. I stopped for a quick Greek salad for lunch and returned to my desk to find my monitor wasn't on. I turned it off, turned it on and it faded after a second over and over until I got the message. There is either a short in the monitor or it was doing a Camille. I had just downloaded five jobs and had to call the office after checking every connection and run through my check list to make sure the monitor was DOA. It was. The day ended abruptly and is going to cost me tomorrow when I pick up another flat panel monitor, just when I had funds earmarked to replace some of my cooking utensils and buy enough food to stock the cabinets and freezer. Oh, well, I didn't really want to eat this week. I can wait until I get paid for the next few reviews at the end of the week and at least I was able to dig into the next review book and take a nap with a glorious rain-laden breeze blowing through the windows.

I had a hard time sleeping last night since someone or something tied weights to my sinuses, a sure sign that a big storm was coming. Breathless and having trouble breathing, in addition to getting up all night to go to the bathroom and get more water to drink, in a foggy haze of semi-consciousness was no fun. The nap this afternoon helped, but I must get back to Gary Braunbeck's latest so I can finish in time to add this review to the others for this week. I've had worse days and at least this day was brightened by a brand new cookbook arriving in the mail and time to read without watching the clock or worrying about staying up too late since I have to work in the morning, and the weights have been lifted from my face and sinuses now that the low pressure has finally broken and the rains descended for the next two or three days. I can live very happily with that since it revives the honeysuckle that perfumes the moist winds and helps to clear my foggy brain.

That is all. Disperse.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A different view

As I sit here writing a letter of condolence to Erin, I am struck by a longing for a pen pal. I communicate with lots of people by email, but it lacks the tactile sensation of ink, or pencil, on paper and the sense that the fragile paper package has traversed oceans and continents or even just rivers and states to reach me and bring a glimpse of another time and another way of seeing the world. Many years ago I adopted a child from Nicaragua. I carefully dragged my rusty Spanish onto the page and sent cards for holidays and celebrations and letters to which she responded with pictures and drawings and her own halting English words as she struggled to learn my language. She has long since graduated from high school and moved out into the world. We lost track of each other but I wonder at times how she is doing and whether or not she married and had children of her own. What I miss most are the letters, the peek into her world that grew more detailed and richer as she grew up and experienced more of the world.

I have a basket of letters, a fairly large woven basket with a lid, that once was a very small box in which I have kept all my letters, some of which are going into a book. I received many more letters when I didn't have a computer, obviously, and I miss that, which probably makes me a dinosaur of sorts, a hedonist drunk on the scent of the perfumes of paper and ink, stamps and the fading brush of hand to page as each word was written.

This morning I googled pen pals and came up with a site that offers free connections to people from all over the world. I'm not looking for a date or a mate, I have those covered, but I am looking for that momentary glimpse of the world through another's eyes. What I did find interesting was the disclaimer about putting a physical address out on the net and legally covering the site owners' behinds by asking those using their service to be aware that some people will send nasty and obscene letters and might even show up on the door step and to absolve them of having a hand in anything of that kind. It seems so strange to think that it wasn't so long ago that the only way people could communicate is by letter and rarely by phone (it cost too much for long distance) and giving out your phone number and address was not so dangerous or fraught with peril. When did that change?

Let's face it. If you know how to use the Internet, you can find anyone's street address and phone number. Caller ID protects you from incoming calls but even a nonpublished number will not protect you from people who really want to find you, and that goes for your address, too. I know how to stop reading an obscene or nasty letter and throw it away. I know how to say no to someone who wants more than friendship and correspondence. I've done that many times, too. I also know how to call 911 if someone I don't know shows up on my doorstep without an invitation and refuses to leave. I know how to take care of myself because I've had to take care of myself for a very long time. I put my home address on the ad. I can't get a letter if it's not out there.

So this morning, instead of writing about the adoption book that was so difficult for me to read and still need to be reviewed or the little domestic details that are a part of my everyday life, I decided to reach out and ask for what I want, a regular pen pal. I still have work to do, trash to take out for tomorrow's pickup, roots to dye and clothes to put away but for this moment all I'm thinking about is the thrill and feel of a letter that has crossed oceans and continents or rivers, lakes and states waiting to be read that offers me a different view of the world we share.