Month: February 2018

Why Did I Wait So Long?

 

I just did something impulsive and bought a real motorcycle. For the six years I’ve been living in Thailand, I’ve been driving a 150 cc Honda PCX motor scooter. It’s the Buick of motor scooters. I’d been considering upgrading to the Cadillac of motor scooters, a 300 cc Honda Forza. But instead I went crazy and bought a used Honda CB500 motorcycle with only 5,000 miles on it. Now, instead of regretting my impulsive action, I wonder why I waited so long.

I live in Chiang Mai, Thailand, up in the north, surrounded by mountains. Compared to its neighbors, Thailand has excellent roads. This is the right place to own such a bike. Automatic scooters are great for weaving in and out of Chiang Mai traffic, but for mountain roads they are not the best choice. A few months ago we were descending Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain. Since ice and snow are not a problem, roads often have steep rakes that would not be permissible in colder climates.

The PCX has a clever switch that allows the engine to shut off instead of idling. I had left the switch on, which meant that as we began the steep and long journey down, the engine switched off. Drag from the engine is important. It means that the brakes don’t have to do all the work. In this case, I only noticed my error when the brake fluid boiled and I found myself without any brakes at all. And with no lower gears to switch to, I was in a pickle.

Fortunately, I found a safe clump of vegetation to crash into at low speed. In the nearest town I had my front brake pads replaced, but most importantly I made a note to self “Don’t ever put yourself in that position again.”

We have a circular route up here called the Mae Hong Son loop. It takes three nights and four days. It’s spectacular and I’ve made the trip six or seven times already, but always on the scooter. The last few times I’ve driven that route I’ve had Wipa behind me. True, she’s not a large person, but having two people on a scooter on steep mountains roads is quite an exercise in endurance. You can only achieve speed when going downhill.

Yesterday we took a bus to Lampang and then bought a real motorcycle, the kind I used to ride years ago in Iowa and California. I’ve heard that today’s marijuana is more potent than the kind I used to smoke 35 years ago when last I inhaled, well motorcycles have met the same fate. A 500cc Honda is nothing like the one I had 35 years ago.

This fact came through loud and clear yesterday afternoon when I found us roaring up a mountain, still accelerating at 60 miles per hour!

There will be a learning curve, of course. I dropped the bike that night in a motel parking lot when trying to dismount. It’s much, much heavier than a scooter, with a higher center of gravity. Fortunately, it has roll bars to protect the engine and the drop didn’t result in even a scratch. My goal is to get through my re-education without an accident. We brought our helmets with us on the bus, but I forgot about shoes. I don’t think I even own shoes anymore. I wear flip flops. Shifting gears in flip flops is agony. My left foot sports a red mark where the gear shift lever dug repeatedly into my skin.

But oh, I’m excited. I wonder why it took me this long to make the leap. Looking back on the last decade, my only regrets are that I:

Didn’t retire sooner

Didn’t move to Thailand sooner

Didn’t buy a motorcycle here sooner.

Destiny is a Choice

27971662_10215293972642834_4681058508271992060_n
We already have free will, so what we experience is probably up to us, though it’s often convenient not to think so.
 
That which is too difficult to consciously process is stored in the unconscious mind. It does not disappear. As Carl Jung said, “Whatever does not emerge as consciousness returns as destiny.”

Digital Fog

13015524_635865729904556_5620990656102961246_n

 

Many people smirk when they tell you “I don’t do social media.” They are above it. One imagines they spend hours in blissful contemplation over a good book, or perhaps engaging in what we used to quaintly describe as “writing” but is now known as “content creation.”

Maybe they glance up from their book occasionally, go online and look around. If they don’t like what they see they hunker down and try to tune out the monotonous drone of discourse that is not so much arguing over concepts as it is preaching to the choir. It’s not debate, it’s a pep rally. If you dare to say something on social media which irritates your fan base, you will soon hear plenty back at you. There is ample pressure to conform.

I’m learning some Handel keyboard pieces that he wrote when he was about nineteen. He and Bach were contemporaries and from almost the same part of what is now Germany. It’s hard to imagine one spot on earth turning out more pure musical genius than those two possessed.

I imagine there was a lot of pressure to conform back then when they were young and just making their way, but somehow I don’t think they let it get them down. They were alive with musical ideas, bursting with creativity, and they didn’t need focus groups and research studies that counted “likes” in order to forge ahead. They must have been as delighted by their creative output as we are today.

So we don’t need massive societal support to successfully be ourselves. We don’t even need dialogue. Bach once walked several days to hear a famous organist play. There were no recordings, no radio, no iTunes. None of that is necessary to reach great artistic heights.

If this whole Internet comes crashing down, the world will not be a worse place for it. It will simply be different. Songs will be written and performed, stories read and recited, dramas enacted, all without digital help. The blind English poet laureate John Milton used to compose his verses during the day and when his daughter came to cook him dinner at night, he would narrate to her his output for the day and she would write it down. Even late in life his mind was that sharp.

The digital fog that pretends to be so much will reveal the true nature of things only after it’s been burned away.

Progress is Our Most Important Product

13015524_635865729904556_5620990656102961246_n

 

Nothing much stands still for very long. Constant care must be taken to slow the effects of entropy, the gradual decline that is built into all structures. Even then, the good often become overwhelmed by the bad. Corruption rears its ugly head. For example, the laptop on which I am typing this essay has developed a problem with the letter “h” which now sticks and requires extra effort. Sometimes, the cursor randomly hops around the page while I write. Four years ago this was a high-end laptop. In four more years it will be sitting in landfill.

Even rarer is when things get actually better. Progress is an elusive butterfly, and rare because there are illusions of progress which when examined closely and over time prove not to be progress at all. False progress is even worse than entropy!

In Saint Louis, Missouri, the city fathers had come up with what they thought was a progressive idea. They tore down miles of old Victorian brick homes lived in by poor people and built a complex of eleven-story apartment towers to house those displaced by Progress. The Japanese architect who also designed the World Trade Center in New York City designed this complex, which was named Pruitt-Igoe. Despite the architect’s drawings, which showed happy families relaxing on the common lawns, it rapidly became a war zone of sorts.

Gangs occupied the elevators, extorting money and sex from occupants who could not easily use the stairs to reach their homes on the upper floors. Drug dealing went on night and day. Within a decade those city fathers had to admit defeat and the entire complex was razed through the same sort of controlled demolition that brought down the World Trade Center thirty years later.

How did they get it so wrong? This debacle was a terribly expensive boondoggle, a black eye in urban renewal that proved myriad experts to be dead wrong every step of the way. At one point the United States army had secretly installed blowers on the roofs of the Pruitt-Igoe towers to disperse radioactive zinc cadmium sulphide into the air in order to test rates of possible mass poisoning by an enemy. The inhabitants of this failed social experiment must have felt like laboratory rats in more ways that one.

Rarely do we get things so wrong on such a grand scale. But when we do, we do it with great verve. The Vietnam war lasted for a more than a decade, as did our secret invasions of neighboring Laos and Cambodia. We’re still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, seventeen years after invading those countries. Looking back, it’s hard to remember why anyone thought these military actions were a good idea. But someone did, and the rest of us are still paying for it.

Compared to amount of our planet’s surface taken up by oceans and deserts, there really isn’t that much fertile land on the planet, but the Russians managed to remove millions of acres of some of the best of it when they contaminated Chernobyl. In ten thousand years or so it may be useful again. Meanwhile, Fukushima continues to pour radioactivity into the ocean at a steadily increasing rate.

When you’re headed down the wrong trail, there comes a time when you have to stop and admit to yourself that this is the wrong path. You’re not getting any closer to where you wanted to go. With each step, you’re making it harder to fix this problem. Walking faster won’t help. Wishful thinking won’t make it magically become the right trail. You’ll have to retrace your steps and start over again. This is a painful choice, but the only choice that has any chance of success.

Nobody said finding Progress would be easy, but it does help to remember that there are good choices as well as bad, that sometimes Entropy can be forestalled, that things can get better and stay that way for a considerable amount of time. Becoming teachable and staying flexible are more important than saving face and defending yourself against criticism.

 

Sometimes it’s time to try a new line of work.

 

27971662_10215293972642834_4681058508271992060_n

A New Renaissance?

016

 

What is all this adding up to? All the blog writing, the Facebook posting, the arguments with strangers, the Kindle books nobody knows about, the YouTube commentaries and documentaries, the repeated barely focused stories about the Illuminati, MK Ultra and Area 51. I just typed “false flag” into the YouTube search bar and got one million, one hundred and thirty thousand hits.

A great amount of effort and time is going into making this enormous tsunami of gossip and sometimes sincere attempts at communication, but most of the world is still left out. Most of the people on this planet are not “content creators.” They’re just trying to get by, one day at a time.

This is not to ridicule the efforts of those who are trying to say something meaningful and perhaps even important. Odd how the Parkland school had a shooter drill just hours before the real thing. Same thing happened on September 11 in Manhattan. Same thing happened in Las Vegas. Coincidences?

Don’t expect a firm answer anytime soon. We’re all inundated in digital noise. The same few percent of us are making most of the clamor. I would imagine that less than three percent of the people on this planet are responsible for advancing any sort of theories at all about what’s coming down. Ninety-seven percent of the world’s population have never and will never ride in an airplane.

YouTube reports that over half a million videos are uploaded every day, and four hundred hours of video is uploaded every minute. I suspect that the same small portion of one percent of the world’s population is doing all that uploading.

What is it all adding up to? Are we witnessing a new Renaissance of creativity? Has human understanding increased and mutual respect flourished?