Sunday, August 25, 2019

You Talkin' To Me?

That is the line we all know from the movie Taxi Driver. Robert De Niro’s character, Travis Bickel, confronts himself in the mirror as he prepares for urban combat and refuses to allow himself to be intimidated by himself. It’s a classic scene and a classic line in a classic, albeit overrated, my opinion. (I still say 'Means Streets' was a better movie).

I’m not yet as whacked out as Travis Bickel, but I must admit that I do talk to myself. I talk to myself out loud. Not talking out loud is just thinking. Talking to oneself is thinking out loud. So I talk to myself, sometimes loudly. My dogs are used to it and pay no attention. They know when I’m talking to them or talking on the phone or just talking to myself. They ignore me until I say their names or use dog talk. You dog owners know what I mean by dog talk, so don’t even pretend it’s not a thing.

I often talk to myself while I’m driving. It’s a safe space. These days if someone sees you alone in a vehicle talking, they assume you’re just having a hands free cell phone conversation. So I am driving alone talking about weight gain and its effect on the ankles, knees and hips. I’ve put a few pounds back on since my big weight loss a few years ago. Not all of it, but enough to notice. So I am talking about the consequences of this weight gain and what to do about it or even if I should do something about it.

All of a sudden I hear my wife’s voice on my cell phone and it’s not a happy, teasing “are you talking to yourself” voice. It’s an inquisitive, almost jealous “WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO? WHO’S WITH YOU?” voice. Ten or fifteen minutes earlier my wife had called me and apparently somehow we had stayed connected. She had stopped to buy gas or something and when she gets back in her car she hears me talking to “someone”. Why would I be talking to someone about gaining weight, modifying workout routines, cutting back on the beer or the merits of wide comfortable shoes?

I assured my wife that I was just talking to myself:

“You know that’s just something I do.”

“Not talking like that. It sounds to me like you’re talking to someone.”

“Nope, just me.”

“Well, that’s just weird. I believe you. But you’re weird.”


I guess the good news is that I wasn’t talking about something that would have been really embarrassing. The subject matter was pretty harmless. But I do need to be more careful and check my phone before I start talking to myself (or anyone else for that matter.)

The fact is that studies have shown that talking to yourself, more specifically talking OUTLOUD to yourself, is not a bad thing. Highly intelligent people (who are not otherwise crazy) talk to themselves. Children talk to themselves as part of the learning process. Talking out loud can help you solve problems and even find things you’ve lost.

As an only child, I grew up talking to myself. After my mother started working, I was a “latch key” kid who was often home alone. So I talked to myself. When I write, I talk to myself. Not out loud, but it’s not much different. Over the years I have argued with myself, confessed my sins and made resolutions. I have debated myself, taking both sides; therefore I can say with certainty that I have never lost a debate.

Truck drivers, traveling salesmen and long distance runners all talk to themselves. The lonely and the brave talk to themselves. So do the lonely and the crazy. The brave talk to themselves to find courage or at least a reason for bravery. The crazy talk to themselves because no one else will talk to them or theirs is the only voice they can hear.

Sometimes when I am alone and talking out loud, I am talking to God. Maybe it’s not prayer. Sometimes it’s more like brain-storming or trying to find the answers, perhaps a clue at least. During the most difficult times of my life, self-talk always leads me to God-talk. And often it’s been the other way around.

“You talkin’ to me?” is the line everyone remembers from that movie. But I also remember one of the lines that follows “You talkin’ to me?”…… “Well, I’m the only one here.”

I guess that’s at the core of my “self talk”. No one knows me better than me. My wife would argue that she knows me better than I know myself and I’ll let her believe that. But, the person who does not strive to know themselves can never find themselves. Part of my journey to knowing myself involves talking to myself….and to God. I’m sure his answers are better than mine, but sometimes it feels like “I’m the only one here.” So I talk to myself…OUTLOUD. I just need to make sure that no one else is listening.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

We Blew It

I wasn’t there, but I remember Woodstock. Yes I am that old. And I remember Easy Rider. Honestly I didn’t think it was all that great the first time I saw it. It was at a drive-in (yes I am that old). I might have been distracted, but I do remember Karen Black. More specifically I remember Karen Black’s legs. But I digress.

Peter Fonda’s passing brings back a lot of memories. By the second time I saw Easy Rider, my hair was getting long, at least long for those days. And this time I actually paid attention to the movie. I’d convinced my Dad to go see the movie. Mom did not care to go, so Dad and I went to the drive-in. (The drive-in loved Easy Rider back in the day. They also loved to run John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movies. But Easy Rider got a lot of play).

We sat there in silence during the movie. I could tell my dad was enjoying it. His mother’s brother, Uncle Raymond, had been sort of an Easy Rider character way back. There are old photos of him on his Indian motorcycle, leather jacket, aviator hat and goggles. Raymond wandered out West and eventually settled down in Tucson, got married and lived a normal life. But he was definitely an unconventional character in his younger days. My Dad had some of that in him as well. He had volunteered for the paratroopers in WW2. He said it was because it paid more and he didn’t like the idea of landing on a beach and getting shot up. But, I think it was mostly because he wanted to go up in an airplane and jump out.

It’s been written, oh probably a million times, that Easy Rider came to define a generation. I would say almost. What Easy Rider actually did was define what a generation IMAGINED itself to be. It was certainly a reflection of the times and the cultural changes that were occurring in this country. The ideas of drugs, sex and rock n’ roll played a big part in the lives of young baby boomers. But it was mostly just ideas, not actions. Ten years later, at the tail end of the baby boomer generation, there was more action. But in 1969, most of us were just riding around, trying to buy beer , talking about sex and listening to the music.

Whatever change took place in us was more subtle, but no less significant. We cut our hair and got real jobs. We navigated around oil embargoes and double digit interest rates to end up riding the largest and last wave of the post-war economic boom. And by the time it crashed, we had ours. Safe at home and voting for a guy like Donald Trump. Along the way to our comfort zone, we had more divorces, attended church less often, took more pills, drank more alcohol, ran more miles, built bigger houses, embraced new technology and the information age without fully understanding what they meant; and failed the next generation in many of the ways that matter the most.

So let’s not romanticize Easy Rider or Woodstock or any of the other cultural icons of that era. While there were some worthwhile lyrics floating around, most of them just got lost in the music.

From the movie Easy Rider:

Billy: “We did it, man. We did it, we did it. We’re rich man. We’re retirin’ in Florida now, mister.”

Captain America: “You know Billy, we blew it.”

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Fuel and Fire

(August 4 update: This was originally posted early Saturday prior to the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings. It was not my intention to specifically address or ignore the mass shooting epidemic we are experiencing in this nation. Certainly this epidemic is symptomatic of the Fuel and Fire referenced in this post. May God have mercy on us.)

Recently I wrote about Fear and Anger being the most powerful motivators when it comes to people making a job change (as well as a lot of other big decisions). Writing about Fear and Anger led me to think about what’s going on socially and politically around the world, in particular here in the United States and in Western Europe.

When one looks at history we see that there are always winners and losers. Those who have more and those who have less. Those who are satisfied and those who are not. That’s just life. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Being unsatisfied can motivate people to act responsibly and take action. Move somewhere and start a new life. Learn new skills. Work harder. Work smarter. Create. Invent. Find solutions. Be better and achieve at least some small measure of happiness and satisfaction.

But sometimes those who are unhappy choose a different path. When enough people become unhappy, it becomes a revolution, often a violent one. What we are witnessing today has the makings of such a time.

So what’s driving us apart and leading us to conflict and confrontation? I think it revolves around two major factors: Hopelessness and Victimhood. Hopelessness is the fuel, but Victimhood is the fire. People can feel hopeless and still not do much about it. For much of recorded history, those without hope chalked it up to the will of the gods, fate or just bad karma from a past life. Spin the wheel, do better next time. For now, lower your expectations and just try to survive. Swing low sweet chariot.

And there have been times when the “victims” had hope. The great migration of Europeans to the Americas was mostly victims of some sort: religious persecution, ethnic or social class limitations, poverty, etc. Victims who have hope often accomplish great things even while doing some not so great things. We did victimize a lot of Native Americans who didn't invite us and Africans who didn't come voluntarily. Yet still many of these "victims of the victims" and their progeny have risen up to achieve great things. In recent years, we've witnessed victims from other parts of the world come to America, legally and otherwise, and make better lives for themselves and their children. But, nowadays more and more Americans seem to be losing hope. A trend that is both sad and ominous.

I truly believe that we have come to another crisis point in history. The world has had it's bloody revolutions and deadly civil wars for ages. Most were local, regional or national affairs. Significant, but not global, until the 20th century when we were finally capable of waging World Wars. Now we find ourselves in the 21st century with even more destructive and rapidly deployable weapons of war. For decades we have told ourselves that these weapons of mass destruction have become, in effect, the greatest deterrent to war. No one wants to start a war that ends the world as we know it. Or do they?

Over the past twenty or so years, we have weaponized information and ideas, some might even say misinformation and dangerous ideas. Furthermore, we have various opposition groups each of whom feel they have been victimized. We see it most clearly and most often in this country between the progressives on the left and the hardcore conservative populists on the right. But, it’s going on all over Europe between progressives and conservatives, globalists and nationalists. Never before have extreme ideas been so broadly connected and disseminated. Around the world we are arguing over climate change, immigration, national sovereignty, religion, sexuality, equality, pollution, trade, energy policy and just about anything anyone can conjure up for a headline that triggers anger and anxiety for some group somewhere.

Bring people together who share a common victim narrative and whose only hope is radical change to “the system” that has failed them; and you have “a movement”. You have Russia in 1917. You have Italy and Germany in the 30’s and China in ’49. You have the Civil Rights movement in this country in the 60’s. Women’s rights and gay rights beginning in the 70’s. You have the collapse of the Soviet Union that began in the late 80’s and was complete in only a few short years.

And now, in many parts of the world, we have right-wing nationalists moving to take back their countries and their culture, hit the reset button and make things the way they used to be, or at least the way they want them to be. On the other side we have left-wing globalists who have a different vision. A connected, diverse, integrated global utopia that cannot co-exist with nationalism, capitalism and fossil fuels. At this point, I see no signs of compromise or surrender. Perhaps a middle ground will rise up and we’ll figure out a way to move forward. But I predict a lot of pain along the way for there is more than enough fuel and fire on both sides.

You say you want a revolution
Well, you know
We all want to change the world

You say you got a real solution
Well, you know
We'd all love to see the plan

-The Beatles