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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

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Location: Surreality, Have Fun Will Travel, Past Midnight before a Workday

Master's Degree holder, telecommuting from the hot tub, proud Darwinian Dawkobot, and pirate librarian belly-dancer bohemian secret agent scribe on a mission to rescue bloggers from the wholesome clutches of the pious backstabbing girl fridays of the world.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mistakes are Marvelous!

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. - Charles Darwin Clarence Darrow*

Let us not mince words: the marvelous is always beautiful. Anything marvelous is beautiful, in fact only the marvelous is beautiful. - Andre Breton

At last, at long last, we may be seeing the death of the Helicopter Parent!

His own revelation came while listening to the feedback about his son in kindergarten. It was fine, but nothing stellar — until he got to the art room and the teacher began raving about how creative his son was, pointing out his sketches that she'd displayed as models for other students. Then, Honoré recalls, "she dropped the G-bomb: 'He's a gifted artist,' she told us, and it was one of those moments when you don't hear anything else. I just saw the word gifted in neon with my son's name ..." So he hurried home and Googled the names of art tutors and eagerly told his son all about the special person who would help him draw even better. "He looks at me like I'm from outer space," Honoré says. "'I just wanna draw,' he tells me. 'Why do grownups have to take over everything?'"

At age twenty-nine, I was a second-shift supervisor of data entry clerks. My style was quite hands-off, although I had one strict rule: No backbiting. Anyone who had a problem with another employee either respectfully told that employee, or came to me. Except for one problem employee, chronically late and insubordinate, who required a lot of "talks" with me and my supervisor (and who eventually walked off the job), I had no bitchy behavior.

Then, I had the experience of being supervised by a better educated person who was quite a bit younger than me. Despite having had every advantage and privilege, this unfortunate person was a chronic complainer, whiner, control freak, and back-stabber. This person was intolerant of mistakes - even small mistakes - in anyone, and would get upset about them. I lost respect for this person when I learned that the target of the back-stabbing was me, a subordinate who had done nothing to harm anyone.

As far as I'm concerned, bitchiness is always going to exist in the workplace, but those who are in a position of power and who bad-mouth people beneath them occupy a unique category of wicked. Behavior like that is a tacit confession made by this type of person that he or she cannot compete honestly in a meritocracy, and lacks integrity as well.

My goodness gracious, I'm a big girl; I humored this youngster and would rather that the bullying happen to me, as opposed to someone younger and much more vulnerable than I was. But what creates such a bully? In my opinion, it is overparenting - refusing to allow your child to make mistakes. What folly. Mistakes, in my mind, are possibly heroic gestures - only those who dare, who take risks, make mistakes. Only those who imagine what cannot be and yet try to find out if it could be true - like Kepler with his polyhedra and Newton with his alchemy - make mistakes. The real mistake is in not admitting, at last, that they are mistakes! Kepler finally admitted that he could not reconcile his Platonic solids with the orbits of the planets, and instead bequeathed to us his exquisite laws of planetary motion. Newton, convinced in his certitude, went on to send several men to the gallows for forgery and died a virgin.

Every teacher can tell the story of a student who needed to fail in order to be reassured that the world wouldn't come to an end. Yet teachers now face a climate in which parents ghostwrite students' homework, airbrush their lab reports — then lobby like a K Street hired gun for their child to be assigned to certain classes. Principal Karen Faucher instituted a "no rescue" policy at Belinder Elementary in Prairie Village, Kans., when she noticed the front-office table covered each day with forgotten lunch boxes and notebooks, all brought in by parents. The tipping point was the day a mom rushed in with a necklace meant to complete her daughter's coordinated outfit. "I'm lucky — I deal with intelligent parents here," Faucher says. "But you saw very intelligent parents doing very stupid things. It was almost like a virus. The parents knew that was not what they intended to do, but they couldn't help themselves." A guidance counselor at a Washington prep school urges parents to find a mentor of a certain disposition. "Make friends with parents," she advises, "who don't think their kids are perfect." Or with parents who are willing to exert some peer pressure of their own: when schools debate whether to drop recess to free up more test-prep time, parents need to let a school know if they think that's a trade-off worth making.

Well, I admire Newton's knowledge, but consider him to have been an incomplete person, bitter and vindictive in his old age. My personal belief, if you want to call it that, is that each person must make his or her unique mistakes in order to be a complete person. If one is not brave enough to be wrong, one can never quite be right about anything - no matter how hard one tries. Expect too much, and you'll always be disappointed. Mistakes are dares; being "right" is mere coloring-by-the-numbers. Mistakes are creative; being "correct" is being redundant. Mistakes exist in all their obscene glory; being "right" is merely the absence of mistakes.

I have spent my life seeking to make my own unique mistakes. Quite frankly, I've become good at it, too. It's easy: just figure out 1) what scares you the most, and 2) if it scares you because you secretly want to do it, and 3) do it! Simple.

Needless to say, I'm good at being scared, too! In fact, I'm so good at being scared, that it's starting to feel like fun. (In other words, while other people are reading What Color is Your Parachute, I'm watching the ground come rushing up to me with startling calm and wondering, "...Parachute...?")

No wonder I have a strong stomach for the back-stabbing and "hate stares" people sometimes like to torment others with at work! I won't say that I'm not still angry about it, or that I am not still shocked and outraged by it. In a supposedly professional person who has higher ambitions, this behavior is shocking and remains shocking. However, it almost seems epidemic today; we have become a nation of control freaks. You may as well get angry about the weather as about how crappy people treat each other.

(Besides, life is too short. I never understood the "he's her best friend and they're both not talking to her" crap at the office, anyway. Who can keep track of the stupid politics, when Jupiter appears next to the full moon, or there is so much interesting stuff to read, or when I've come up with a great scene for my novel while listening to movie soundtracks while on the treadmill? Don't these people know that while they're freaking out over petty things, I'm thinking about my next writing project or adventure?)

Freakonomics authors Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt analyzed a Department of Education study tracking the progress of kids through fifth grade and found that things like how much parents read to their kids, how much TV kids watch and whether Mom works make little difference. "Frequent museum visits would seem to be no more productive than trips to the grocery store," they argued in USA Today. "By the time most parents pick up a book on parenting technique, it's too late. Many of the things that matter most were decided long ago — what kind of education a parent got, what kind of spouse he wound up with and how long they waited to have children."

If you embrace this rather humbling reality, it will be easier to follow the advice D.H. Lawrence offered back in 1918: "How to begin to educate a child. First rule: leave him alone. Second rule: leave him alone. Third rule: leave him alone. That is the whole beginning."

Not only do I think that children do not get outside for unstructured play enough these days, adults don't do it, either. Yet, unstructured play is key to building imagination, problem solving skills, negotiation, creativity, and values. As the surrealists knew, boredom was important:

Corsair Sanglot was bored! Boredom had become his cause. He let it grow in silence, while he marveled every day that it was still increasing.

VMartin often commented at After the Bar Closes that he was puzzled by my being an atheist and also being attracted to surrealism. He should not have puzzled over it. First of all, the surrealists were atheists (with the exception of Artaud and a few others), but secondly, and more importantly, the surrealists believed in the Marvelous. The Marvelous is not perfection - far from it. The Marvelous is the revelation of inner life to the willing surrealist. I am not interested in being perfect; I am interested in living life while I am alive. I do not believe that anything or anyone is ordinary. However, the sad thing is that, in their pursuit of "perfection," so many people make themselves ordinary, because they're trying to be everyone and everything else but who they are.

Who are you? You are the sum total of your decisions. Your life becomes the decisions that you make. However, if you make no mistakes, you really never made any decisions. That is truly tragic.


*Sigh* Excuse me while I strike out this "marvelous" mistake:You probably haven't heard that quote, have you? Well, Charles Darwin said it, and all the "documentaries" by Ben Stein or all the Origin of Species introductions by Ray Comfort cannot change it. Hell, both Ben Stein and Ray Comfort made mistakes - big ones. Let's see if either of them will be adaptable to admit it.
Wah, wah, wah, waaaaaaaah! *Raspberry*

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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Are Four Legs Better than Two?

This commentary cracked me up: "Animals make the perfect humans."

In case there are a few on two legs who aren't convinced, allow me to present my case.

Your dog is a great food tester. If she won't eat it, you'd better not either.

No cat snores as loudly as a human.

Your cat, dog, horse or bird doesn't care if you're young or old, rich or poor, fat or thin. She loves you just as you are.

No animal has ever tortured himself by trying to be perfect.

No herd of horses or pack of hounds will ever ask you to clap your hands in unison. Nor will any animal -- even in front of a TV camera -- introduce another as "the lovely and talented ..."

Humans routinely breed past the food supply. Most animals are too smart to do this.

Some animals are monogamous. Some are not. They accept their fundamental natures. When it comes to humans, the kindest way to approach this is to understand that monogamy is contrary to nature but necessary for the greater social good.

Animals do not pay for sex.

Animals cannot damage the water table. Humans are doing this all over the world even as you read this.

No animal is ever a hypocrite.

A cat doesn't care if another cat is black or white, so along as she catches mice.

A dog may steal from you but will never lie to you.

And so on.

With all due respect to the valid points that she makes, she is wrong on a couple of points:

Animals do pay for sex. Many animals exchange gifts of food, for example, for sex. Others just force the female. Nature isn't always pretty.

No animal is a hypocrite? Tell that to my cat. After having a moderate-to-severe urinating problem (he didn't want to go inside the box), we had both of them neutered and I, who had lavished praise on little Newton for any box-doody, began rewarding him with food if he used the box. Well, I'm happy to say that Newton has had a complete attitude change - if anything, he's turned into the happiest little puppy that a cat could be - running at my heels with his face upturned, wagging his tail, and "barking" - but he also learned to scratch in the box whenever he wants a treat (which is constantly now). Actually, random rewards are best - I did try that, but you know how cute they can be when they want something!

What a little shit! Plus, I cannot eat cheerios without both of these characters (they're tuxedo cats, but I think they more resemble killer whales) in my face, running over my feet, jumping on the counter, meowing, etc. These little twinks get breakfast, then also get a taste of my cheerios before I have any breakfast. And since I loathe eating in the morning, cheerios or oatmeal is about all I can stomach. (Yes, they have to lick my oatmeal bowl, too!) I admit it; I let them manipulate me.

Animals aren't "too smart" to overbreed - any animal can and will overbreed. That's why we get our little darlings fixed. (If you own a female cat, you know the routine: "Meeeeoooaauur! I want to have a million kitty-brats!")

Do I need to mention that, even if your dog will eat it, you'd better not? (Cats, too. Loki throws up on the floor, and there's Newton, running over to see what's tasty. He'll even eat his own barf. Eeeaaauuugh!)

But for the most part, this article is true. Animals don't care if you're ugly or pretty, fat or thin. Animals work well with disabled people, and people with autism or brain damage respond positively to them. They love without condition, without reservation; I never felt judged by an animal, or alone in nature. Also, it goes without saying that animals have a sense of humor; every single cat I ever owned sure did. They were all sweeties, and I swear they were laughing at me, and playing tricks on me! Animals are happy "just because," and this year, I resolved to do just that.

One of the reasons we made a social contract with domesticated animals years ago was to "borrow" their power, speed, senses. In return, we feed them, care for them. We have broken this contract. They have not.

Man, that's the truth.

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