Archive for September, 2017

That Fragile Ego

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

It has become increasingly clear to me lately that the image I have of myself is intrinsically bound up in the tools I control. This fact is clearest when things break, and the repair is not simple.

What are humans really? We don’t see well, nor can we smell well. We have no claws or decent teeth for defending ourselves. Our protective fur has worn off many thousands of years ago. We have hands with thumbs, and brains big enough to control those thumbs. But more than anything, our brains have developed to allow us to work together in groups. That is our strength, and the secret to our success.

The tools I control, be they metal, electronic, or some combination, were not designed or made by me. I control them because smart people cooperated to design and manufacture them, and have made a profit by making them available to me. I have access to many more tools than I can possibly use. Modern man, it seems, has the job to envelop himself in a cocoon of tools of his choosing, and keep them operating. That is the persona I project more than any other I can think of.

Lately, I’ve had a string of bad luck with my stuff. Things have been breaking, and I have not been able to figure out how to fix them. My life is such that without them, I function poorly if at all. And that gives someone a lot of power over me (the generic me.)

I’m fortunate to have enough money for my needs. But what does that mean? During mid-November, 2008, Zimbabwe’s inflation rate was 79.6 billion percent. It could be argued that regardless of how much money you had at the beginning of that month, it wouldn’t be enough to assist you by the end. There were people in charge in Zimbabwe that made decisions that caused this inflation. These people had tremendous power over their countrymen.

Back to my string of bad luck. As things I depended on started going wrong, and I was powerless to fix them, I began to feel differently. I was less confident. I was less likely to try new things. I took stock of the things I had that were working, and cherished them. That is until I examined the roots of why they were still working. I reasoned that it would not be difficult for someone with more power than me to pull the plug on those things too.

Pictures I saw of the people coping with hurricane Irma brought this into focus for me. They looked dazed. You shouldn’t have to walk hip deep in water to cross the road. Your home should be air conditioned. You should be able to call or text whoever you want whenever you want. You should be able to jump into your car and drive wherever you need to go. But they couldn’t.

The Irma affected people had their egos bruised like mine, albeit on a much larger scale. What happens to us when events conspire to make us question the foundations we cherish? In my experience, as soon as things start working reliably again, we depend on them just as we did before, and as our confidence builds back up, we scour the network for newer, better, and more powerful tools, to allow us to do whatever it is we are doing faster and better.

Perhaps that explains my fragile ego lately. I own some property from which I can cut wood to heat my home, and produce lumber for building materials. I grow food in the gardens, and know how to preserve and store it. I think I’ve been skeptical of “the system” all my life, but have clearly been seduced by it. I learned a long time ago I can’t just live in a tipi and hunt buffalo. The tools I am so skeptical about are part of me, and I’d better get used to it.

Did it Happen?

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

We had a wedding here about 4 weeks ago. It was an event we’d been planning and preparing for all summer. It was a rainy summer too, but the clouds parted and we had perfect weather. In thinking back, I can’t think of anything I’d change about it.

The wedding ceremony was in our front yard by the pond closest to the road. The reception which followed, was held on a spit of land between our two ponds. I’d long wanted to do something with this piece of land, but have never gotten around to it. This summer, I leveled a 40×60 section of it with my bulldozer and planted grass seed. The grass had to be an acceptable lawn by the time the crew arrived to put up the tent for the reception. And what a tent it was!

Trucks with tables, chairs and the big tent arrived, and crews swarmed over the site. Soon the caterer arrived and provided food and drink. By the time the guests started to arrive, the whole thing we’d planned had to fly on its own, because we were all so busy enjoying the event. The meal was great, the cake fabulous (complete with cake toppers sculpted by Steve!) We had about 10 groups of folks that camped in tents on our property. It was like a small city.

We laughed and cried, ate and partied until we were exhausted. The next morning we had to get up early and be sure the tables were folded, chairs stacked on their stands, table cloths folded, and table centerpieces put away in their respective boxes. We were just finishing up when the people came to take down the tent and carry it away. We were so intensely busy we didn’t have much time to internalize the whole thing.

Then, as quickly as it started, it was over. One by one folks packed up and left until it was just Alice and me.

I distinctly remember the day after everyone had left. I walked out to the back field and surveyed the area. It was like the thing never happened. Where there had been a tent was a field of grass with some wood chips. There was barely a shred of evidence on that lawn. I found one cigarette butt, and a green bean. The porta-potties were gone, as were the camper’s tents. I looked in vain for something to indicate that this thing had taken place, and really couldn’t find much.

At that point, my mind started playing tricks on me. Had it happened at all? How hard would be for someone to hypnotize me into just thinking it had happened? We had pictures, a green bean, and great memories of the event.

In the literature of the world, there are stories about creatures with supernatural powers that like to tease us mortals. They mess with our minds and trick us into thinking our wallet is full of money, but when we wake up there is nothing except a handful of leaves. Just when we’re convinced that the whole thing was a dream, a large denomination bill is found in among the pile of leaves. I can sure understand where these international authors came up with the idea for these creatures. I wonder if one of them is lurking between our two ponds?

Habits

Saturday, September 2nd, 2017

I was sitting in the bathroom the other day when I felt something on my neck. With well practiced efficiency, I grabbed the wood tick between the nails on my thumb and forefinger, placed him in the center of a piece of toilet paper, wadded it up, tossed it in the toilet, and flushed it away. This required no thought on my part, as it is a ritual that is performed many times each year during tick season.

That event made me think about habits, and I clearly remembered my aversion to habits during my teen years. In my family structure, all decisions were made for me, and often, it seemed, as a show that what I wanted or needed didn’t matter as much as the fact that I was under control. I rebelled, as I did so many times when I was pushed. I decided that habits were a curse. That being free to do as I pleased when I pleased was the goal, and I avoided habits as much as possible. In my early adulthood, no longer under the parental yoke, my days were unencumbered by habit and routine as much as possible.

Somewhat later in my adult life, a friend of mine told me he had once worked as a draftsman. He said he noticed two strategies among his colleagues. Some used a drafting tool, and left it on the table. They repeated this throughout the day. By the end of the day, all their tools were in layers on their table. My friend observed that they sometimes struggled to find what they needed in the mess. The other type opened a drawer, pulled out a tool, used it, opened the drawer again, and put it back. Every time. My friend observed that these people spent almost no time looking for anything. My friend decided to copy the later group.

It is lucky we are not granted the ability to see in the future. If my teen-aged self would have seen what a habit infested senior citizen I would become, I might not have made it to adulthood. My slippers always sit in the same place by my bed. The contents of the bedside table do not vary. I can reach into my drawer and know exactly what is in there, and where each thing is. My pajamas are either on, or hanging on the hook on my closet door.

And the tools in my workshop? I’ll bet you could name a tool in my workshop, blindfold me, and that I could make a pretty good stab at walking up and putting my hand on or near that tool. To this day I believe the effort to keep things neat and organised is well worth the effort. Out here in the country, we can’t depend on a Lowes ™ being open 7 days a week for supplies and tools. I have to have a stock of tools, pipe fittings, wire, lumber, and many other things so I can cobble together what I need without jumping into the truck. And I’ve gotten pretty good at it too. The struggle is to make sure things that are no longer useful don’t hang around. Getting rid of a formerly useful tool or a potentially useful 2×4 is not in my nature, but I’m working on it.