The main alternative to existential despair is religious belief. In our culture, Christianity is the main variety of religious belief. Some of my readers are devout Christians. You are allowed to post comments expressing your belief in my blog until and unless your comments bore me. (No one has come close to this limit so far.)

Random Granddaughter will be allowed to become a Christian if she decides, too, but she probably won’t be allowed to read a web site such as the Christian “blog” worldmagblog until she is much older, if ever. If she does convert to Christianity and then tries to pick on” her mommies as an evangelical Christian (of the variety that noisily abhors gay people), she will be written out of my will.

[Though she’s not in my will, which I responsibly rewrote this year, as it would have become too complicated to write her in. So my meager belongings go to her mommies after my demise. So RG better stay on good terms with her mommies and be nice to them if she knows what is good for her.]

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Although Plato wrote fairly well, most philosophical writing is extraordinarily bad. Philosophers like to say their awful writing results from their burrowing very deeply into very difficult waters; on the other hand, it is quite likely they are lost in the dark. (Yes, my mixed metaphor is all wet.)  

These thoughts were inspired by doing a web search for “existential dilemma.” Even for philosophical writing, articles and books about existentialism are extraordinarily turgid and unreadable. When you get right down to it, “Life’s a bitch; then you die,” sums up existential thinking well enough to at least get you three elective credits on your philosophy 101 mid-term exam.

The phrase I quote above is like a tiny, freeze-dried kernel of existential thinking. If you add liquid (Cherry Vile is an appropriate choice) it expands. Sometimes it expands just a little bit.

 

For example, I found an extremely disorganized and incoherent web site that sounds as if it was compiled by as a class project by some philosophy students taking philosophy 201. Although they’ve gone downhill from the tag I posted above, they still maintain some clarity and focus.

The Existential system of beliefs is very simple – nothing comes after death. We simply cease to be. This creates what is known as the Existential dilemma. That is, our life becomes absurd and meaningless without an afterlife to strive toward. In fact, many believe that the genesis of contemporary religion can be found in the desire for purpose. Thus, the Existential person must try to find meaning in a life that is essentially meaningless and without end culmination.

This web site is almost as bad (meaning it is even worse):

Sometimes adding an entire bottle of Cherry Vile to the tags it expands into the complete writing of Kierkegaard, a man who wrote a variety of works, all of which bear the same title: Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here. Then add a little Sartre, and you create a concoction so stupifyingly dreadful that it earns you a doctorate in philosophy as well as a gag superglued over your mouth for the rest of your life.

Science is the art of figuring how things work. Technology is the art of using science to get jobs done. Ethics is the cloudy system of trying to figure out whether any technology we are using is doing more good or more harm in any particular endeavor. We are all fumbling in the dark in this regard.An old saying goes, “When in doubt, leave it out.” This means, if you’re fumbling around in the dark, and you’re not sure what you are doing, be careful where and how you are fumbling. I am taking a vow to fumble more carefully today.

I have been fumbling around with David and Truce, and suggesting that they talk to each other. My motivations have been questionable, so at the least I am probably being obnoxious, and at the worst, I may be acting dangerously. So I am backing off a bit, and I will suggest something that is less likely to do harm, and though less spectacular and not as cute, perhaps more likely to do a bit of good.

It is very difficult for people to get along with each other. We are driven by instincts and needs to form relationships and often to have children. We hope for the best and often act for the worst.

Technology is often simple to understand and difficult to carry out. I have been reading about how doctors (who know these things) should wash their hands very, very carefully. Failure to do so often spreads illnesses and even causes death. However, attempts to get doctors to wash their hands as well as they should have not been all that successful. If you have to go to a hospital (though I hope not), look this up and talk to the hospital and your doctor about it, as presumptuous as this sounds.

We are better at developing technologies of destruction than we are at developing technologies of wisdom and kindness. David suffered many problems because of a bad childhood. Many efforts to help repair the damage did not help and perhaps made things worse. Recently he found a therapist who studied his syndrome, called DID. The technology she uses seems to be doing more good than harm.

My wife and I will celebrate 43 years of marriage around Thanksgiving. How did we do it? We fumbled around in the dark. We will go see our daughter and her partner, and our granddaughter this weekend to be thankful and to celebrate more than 43 years of not killing each other.

John Gottman is a man who has been studying the technology of relationships. It’s less certain than even the technology of washing our hands properly, but he has made some progress in figuring out what makes relationships work: romantic relationships and parent-child relationships. A sign of a successful technology is that it can be studied and measured and repeated. Gottman claims that by listening to a pair of people in relationship talk to each other, he can predict with considerable accuracy whether their relationship will be successful. This sounds like technology that works fairly well because it can be measured, making it a little better than just opinion, something we all have plenty of.

Gottman has written books and teaches classes on how to build successful relationships.

David and Truce are two very intelligent and talented people-and I am fairly sure-good people, who have suffered a lot of turmoil and trouble in their lives, and have not been very happy or successful in their relationships.  I took it upon myself to suggest perhaps two such eccentric people would perhaps be a good match for each other. In part, I jumped to this conclusion because my wife and I are two eccentric people who had some success in our relationship. We never studied Gottman’s work while we fumbled through our marriage, but as far as I can figure out, we fumbled our way (as many successful relationships do) to methods of communicating and working with each other and our daughter that more or less matches what Gottman recommends. In trying to suggest David and Truce “date,” my hands are not clean enough. In suggesting that they pay some attention to Gottman’s suggestions, I think I am on safer ground.

I called what my wife and I did as parents, “Mad scientist parenting.” My daughter and her partner developed their own system of “mad scientist parenting.” It seemed to be working reasonably well, though it was based on different books and models than the ones we used, so I was respectful. A few weeks ago, Mommy (my daughter’s partner and birth mother of Random Granddaughter) was talking about some advice about communicating she had heard at her job (as a teacher). It sounded familiar; suddenly I realized she was talking about Gottman. “Aha!” I thought, “Our mad scientist parenting systems are coming together!”

I warn you: I may be quite mad.

So here is my conclusion. David and Truce may or may not be a possible good match for each other. I don’t know that I need to apologize, but I will wash my hands carefully before I give them any more advice or suggestions and I will leave them to their own devices. I will be so presumptuous as to say that as brilliant as they are (and again I say I think they are intelligent, talented, and good people), in relationships they probably are their own worst enemies. I will make my final presumption for now in suggesting that they read Gottman’s books and look at his web site; perhaps there is some technology of relationships that may prove useful for them. Otherwise, David and Truce: you are on your own again.

However, although I have not had spectacular success yet in getting people to donate to the “Keep David Alive Shareware Pledge Drive,” I think it probably does more good than harm. Times are tough for all of us. A dollar may be all you can afford; though I bet if you skip a snack or a beverage you don’t really need, you can really come up with a five dollar donation for the year. Truce sent $25 all the way from Australia; you can send $5 from wherever you are. If you read one of David’s blogs first thing when you waste time online you know it is worth it to you. The address is at the top of my blog.

Not very many people major in philosophy in college. There are some sensible reasons for avoiding such a course of study. There are not many job openings for philosophers, and if you find one, it seldom pays very well. Philosophers frequently die in grotesque and unpleasant ways.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deaths_of_philosophers

If you are going to die in a dreadful way, it’s probably better if you didn’t contemplate it deeply for a long time beforehand. Shakespeare said something once about brave men only dying once.

Reading Truce’s blog, I realized that Random Granddaughter is likely to grow up to be Truce.Although she is only four years old, RG is losing her innocence. My posts about RG have been the most popular posts on my blog. As Pandemonic (something of a “soul sister” to me) wrote about RG:
[Now I can’t find the pos on her blog that Pandemonic wrote about RG. Oh, well.]

I am going to write a fairly long sequence of posts about my day at the zoo with RG. I will warn you at the start that this starts out on a with a dark, dour, melancholy tone; in fact much of the beginning tastes like Cherry Vile, the nasty “prep” drink I imbibed in preparation for my recent colonoscopy. So I better reassure you that Random Granddaughter is doing fine. Well, as fine as can be expected for a little girl who is having an existential crisis.

Do four-year-old girls have existential crises? Or is it just Grandpa having a spiritual colonoscopy? Perhaps, but as you read the story of RG’s day at the zoo, you may find an objective correlative (as T. S. Eliot termed it when he talked about how to tell if there is any there, there, in a work of literature).

So take a deep draught of Cherry Vile, or skip a few posts to get to the “good” part (just as the colonoscopy itself isn’t nearly as bad as the prep). I will mark the titles so you know when I get past the boring philosophical part. Tell you what I will do. The morbid posts, full of sophomoric existential philosophy will be titled: RG’s Day at the Zoo with Cherry Vile Prep and the regular sort of cute RG posts will be titled: RG’s Day at the Zoo with a Scope.

You Won’t Grow Up?

November 16, 2008

A while back, David commented about Random Granddaughter:

I was just thinking the other day about the fact that RG was not yet three when I first “met” her via your blog. It’s weird that she talks on the phone now. It’s kind of sad, if you know what I mean. Children are children for such a short time, and grownups forever and ever once they get there. Until they revert to their second childhood of senility, that is, but that’s not nearly as much fun for observers as the first childhood is.

I am trying to be more fun in my senility than I was in my first childhood. As I lie there drooling, I hope the mommies will encourage RG to giggle at least as she spoon feeds me.

Seriously (sort of) this comment made me think about how adults love kittens, puppies, and little children. This affection strikes us so powerfully because they are still innocent, and we have lost our innocence. As John Donne so powerfully wrote, “Send not to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Humans are clever beasts; we are far too clever for our own good; we never know when to stop. The idea will occur to us to “freeze” kittens and puppies so they never develop into boring old cats and dogs. We are technologically close to being able to implement such monstrous behavior. (They won’t live longer; they just will never grow up.)

Once we succeed with the baby animals, we will turn our attention to our children. We will eventually create our own little Peter Pans and Petra Panettes who will grow enough to be toilet trained, but not much more.

I just spent an hour on the phone trying to file for social security.

First, I talked to a machine. It didn’t listen to me very well. It kept repeating itself. I kept telling it I wanted to talk to a human. It kept repeating itself, telling me how many things it could do for me if I just talked to it.

Then it said, “OK, if you insist, I will put you in touch with a human.” [OK, I am editing a bit, but not that much.] Then it said, since you won’t talk to me, you will be on hold for a long time. I was on hold for a long time, listening to cheesy music and cheesy recorded announcements, and then it disconncted me, forcing me to start over from the beginning.

I persevered, pounding the table and snarling. Eventually, I got through to a person on the East Coast, who sounded like a tired bureaucrat who wanted to go home, and telling me that I didn’t have all sorts of paperwork and information with me that I needed. Eventually, she put me through to a real person on the West Coast, who was intelligent, competent, friendly, and helpful, and took me through the steps effectively and joked with me over the phone as we did so. I will write to Obama and tell him to appoint Rene to a very high position in his administration.

Now I am going to get some soup at the organic co-op and then take my cataract-ridden eyes home. Tomorrow my wife and I will get up early and use the chain saw to cut up the willow tree that fell down on our driveway because it has been raining too much in our area, so the Friendly Neighbor can bring over the big mutha log splitter he has in his keeping this weekend, and then we will split the pile of logs from the last few weeks of chainsawing, and then we will have enough firewood to keep us warm for next winter, when I will be really, really, retired, and not a moment too soon.

If I get a chance amidst all this wholesome rural work, I will write up the tale of Random Granddaughter’s trip with Grandpa to the zoo, how she has discovered consumerism, asked Grandpa for a sex education lesson, and also has discovered the existential crisis. Quite a busy day for a girl not yet five years old.

Also, she told to stop saying that she is in “Pre-School.”

I am attending “Pre-K” she told me. Don’t you for get it either.

 

Four year old children are narcissistic personalities. As parents and grandparents, it’s our job to help them grow out of that stage of their personality so they can grow into normal neurotic adults, rather than monsters. Random Granddaughter’s best friend, Mia, is possibly a young genius and has an authoritarian personality to boot; I hope Mia’s parents can convince her to keep her boots on the ground and not aimed at your grandchildren’s butts; I am hoping Mia will become no more than an awful boss and not a dictator by the time she grows up.

RG would make a brilliant con woman; I hope that Mommy and Mama can convince her to limit her predatory activities to convincing someone to marry her and do her bidding and support her in the lifestyle to which she wants to become accustomed. Before reaching the age of five, she has discovered consumerism as a possible road to happiness. Yesterday, she decided to practice skills on me that she will someday aim at a partner with deadly skill and efficiency.

I spent yesterday babysitting my granddaughter. It was a tumultuous day, though not a cataclysmic one. I think I was able to achieve a draw. Of course, she is four and I am 64, so I think the odds were about even. I will be pretty busy for a day or two; I will tell you about RG and Grandpa at the zoo as soon as I can. For now, I will tell you it was a zoo at the zoo and while RG was testing meto see if I was napping on the job, I did not fall asleep at the wheel.

I think I still have my wallet, but I better check just to be sure.

It was a very busy day. My one day with RG will probably produce at least a week’s worth of RG posts.

Apparently, Random Granddaughter has become the official cell phone notifier. “Hello,” the phone told me this morning, “We will be on the 11:30 ferry.”The family stopped at the house. We had lunch, leaving tea to serve as dinner. RG built a perilous tower out of blocks that never fell. She played stair monster with her mommies. Sometimes making monster noise from behind the curtain that keeps heat from rising in winter; other times screaming in pleased terror when they make monster noises from behind the curtain. After a while, I asked her to come over to the chair where I was sitting. I looked deep into her eyes: “I am the stare monster,” I told her.

She brought two dollies with her to the “Baby Doll” tea: Sarah, a china doll about 6 inches high, and Brown Baby Rosie, a doll that integrates RG’s doll family. (I don’t know if Rosie is related to the Obama family dolls or not.)

Two groups were at the tea shop when we arrived. One consisted of three adults; I presume their presence was a coincidence. One mother brought Maurina (who turned out to be four, though she was as big as RG, who is quite big for her age and Rosalina, six years old. Another family arrived after us with Macy, a cute little girl with a fashionable flip haircut. Introvert RG was very shy and reluctant to approach the other little girls.

As the adults chose tea, RG selected hot chocolate. The tea came with cream and sugar cubes. A bit to my surprise, the mommies let RG take a sugar cube and put it in her mouth. The tea shop gives each child one tiny teacup for the dolls; they get to keep the teacup. RG had brought her own highchair for the dolls; she put them side by side. She poured some water as “tea” and placed the cup and a sugar cube in front of the dolls.

After a while RG picked up the second sugar cube; it began to approach her mouth. Rosalina, evidently a child well-indoctrinated in the evils of sugar, walked over to our table and politely told RG that the sugar cube was only for the dolls and she shouldn’t put it in her mouth. RG regarded the child’s advice with the same polite interest she might have displayed if Sylvie (her family’s small cat) had started to give her instructions on table manners.

RG poured herself some hot chocolate, filling the cup perilously full. I regarded her adventures with the hot chocolate with the same watchful interest as I had earlier observed her tower building with the blocks. The result was similar; disaster seemed to threaten at every moment, but no accidents occurred. Is this an indication of RG’s life to come?

The waitress brought two saucers with balls of butter and jam, one for the mommies at their table and another for RG, Grandma, and me at our table. RG was obviously considering eating some butter and jam directly. Mommy (birth mother) told her that a) she should wait for scones to arrive and b) share the spreads with Grandma and Grandpa.

I could tell by the expression on RG’s face that she considered this a difficult philosophical problem that merited deep thought. While she was still pondering, scones and finger sandwiches arrived. Mommy explained that the procedure for dealing with a scone was to break up the scone and apply the spreads to the different portions.

RG had acquiesced on sharing the spreads; at this point her inner food serving artist took command. In action, she communicated: this is not how I serve and consume scones. She spread jam on top of the scone, then placed a ball of butter on top of the jam, contemplating the creation with the judicious eye of an experienced craftswoman. Everyone else regarded her work with silent awe. With a look of All right, I will go a little way toward your sensibilities, RG then mashed the butter into the jam and spread it on top of the jam, and then began to eat the scone with serious attention and concentration.

RG is finally beginning to learn to eat a meal. She ate all her finger sandwiches in a methodical way, except for the tuna sandwich. I learned that RG does not do tuna.

The meal ended with white cupcakes with jelly beans on top. RG worked her way through the cupcake; some of it splashed over herself and the chair. She completed dessert by eating the jelly beans. All and all, however, her table manners and savoir faire were excellent for a child of almost five years old.

As a shy introvert, RG held back from approaching the other children, though she regarded them from time to time with sly curiosity. At the end of the meal, Maurina and then Rosalina approached RG, showed her their dolls and engaged in a little conversation.

She held back quite a bit and regarded them shyly and did not contribute much to the conversation.

As an introvert myself, I am quite lacking in skills such as making small talk, though over the years I have gone from about 10% skill to perhaps 20% skill. It’s not like color blindness or deafness; it’s a skill that can be learned. I think it would be useful for the mommies to pay some attention to this as she grows up and teach her how to function a bit as an extrovert in a world where extroverts set much of the agenda.

After the tea, Mrs. Random talked a bit with the owner. In the years since the tea shop has opened, it has gone through three owners. The current owner is planning to try and sell it in January. She has found it to be exhausting work. Even in the current environment of financial panic, deathly to espresso stands and restaurants as they are such obvious places for people noticing financial calamity likely to fall upon them to cut back, the tea shop has been getting quite a bit of business. The owner finds that unless she works herself to death, she loses the money she might make by hiring help.

RG  and I went outside. She had been a little subdued by the end of the meal, but she perked up and talked about playing tag and showed me how Rosie could stand by herself. Eventually the mommies came out. They played London Bridge with RG, but after some excitement, the falling bridge bonked her nose and she dissolved in tears for a few minutes.

On the way home in the car, she looked exhausted and complained that her stomach hurt. The mommies dropped us at our car in the supermarket parking lot; and decided to stop in the market before heading for the ferry. The last we saw was RG running again.

I will spend tomorrow night at the Barely Extended Family’s house in the city and take care of her tomorrow as the mommies have to work and her preschool is closed.

I hope she has recovered by then. As I’ve mentioned before, adults are often oblivious to how hard small children work.

Revenge of the Wild Life

November 9, 2008

On the way to the gym, I stopped at the Friendly Neighbors to pick up a dozen eggs. The egg carton would not close. The Friendly Neighbors pointed out that one of the eggs was twice as large as all the other eggs. Perhaps one of their chickens is really an ostrich in disguise.

It’s been a stressful week at the Friendly Neighbors. Although they had the henhouse/duckhouse covered with fabric netting as protection, there was a little corner behind some trees and bushes uncovered. The knew about the opening, but weren’t too worried about it as it was out of sight.

A hawk found its way in and dispatched a duck. Although the FNs quickly closed the barn door, so to speak, the next day the hawk caught a (wild) dove and consumed it just outside the poultry dwelling, just to let everyone know it’s still around and waiting for the next moment.

Also, one of the Auracana chickens died. Apparently, it had been egg-bound several times and had just been warn out from a hard life of egg-laying.

To complete the calamities, Mr. Friendly Neighbor struck a deep [deer–leaving typo in so comments make sense] with his pickup truck. It had jumped a fence (not far from where I’ve hit two deer, but on the other side of the highway). He stopped by the road to dispose of the deer (being more conscientious than I), but the deer had disappeared. Unclear whether the deer had only been grazed and gamboled off no wiser than before, or had made it deep into the woods to succumb in terrible pain and suffering.

I suppose not that much different than deer hunting, except nothing to eat at the end of the whole affair. I imagine the mommies will not want me to tell RG about this at the tea, so I will be discreet.