A dream

I was walking alone. A little melancholy. Stopping to take pictures of moss and tree parts. Thinking about random things like how the light looked in the trees. Wondering if someone else would see it exactly the same way I did because their eyes aren’t physically the same as mine. The usual.

I wound up in this cave. Or maybe it was a loading dock. Or an overly modern office space. Or a construction site. Or all of those things at once.

It was very bright, full of desks and office furniture. There was a big printer there, with an overflowing trash bin full of crumpled papers next to it. I bent to pick them up. There was an error on the display so like the former PC tech that I am, I could not resist opening the printer up to clear a paper jam. There was a drawing on one of the papers jammed inside, with a bit of writing underneath it.

The handwriting was familiar.  Like comic book block text. The drawing was a cartoon of a pair of brothers behind the wheel of a piece of heavy machinery, in superhero costumes. Prehistoric superhero costumes. Brightly colored. Very well drawn.

The handwritten note was about the brothers. It wasn’t finished. A sad note on a cheerful drawing.

A man came in and gave me a bear hug and I quickly put the paper in my pocket. He started to show me some elements of a project that he was excited about. Arm around my shoulder, occasionally stroking my neck or hair without noticing. Burying his fingers in my hair.

He finished showing me around, and we held hands as we looked up at some detail of the ceiling or maybe it was the sky. I asked if I could show him something I found in the printer.

I took the paper out of my pocket and put it on a counter. Smoothed it out. He smoothed out the drawing again and asked if I knew who drew it.

Of course I knew. It was his brother. The drawing was of the two of them. Both superheroes. Or maybe a hero and a sidekick.

We held hands, looking up into the night sky or maybe it was just  the ceiling, and my hands shook as I started to tell him something about his brother.

The alarm went off before I found out what it was, but he was still holding my hand when it did.

An imaginary conversation about obsessing

Should I accept that I am someone who obsesses over things or try to change it?

That’s quite a launching point for a chat.

Sorry. Hi. How are you?

Good thanks. You?

Obsessing. You?

Shaking my head. Thanks for asking.

You’re welcome.

You’re weird.

No shit.

What are you obsessing about today, anyway?

No one, nothing in particular

I am not sure I believe that–why are you bringing up the topic then?

I am wondering where the line is between an obsession being harmless distraction and self-sabotage.

So you’re obsessing about whether obsessing is automatically a bad thing.

Yes. And if, by extension, I should try to eliminate the behavior like I would if it was something like excessive masturbation or alcohoolism.

I’m not even sure where to start with that.

Just pretend I didn’t bring up masturbation.

What are your preliminary findings?

Probably not, but it’s risky.

You probably shouldn’t masturbate excessively?

I told you just to pretend I didn’t mention that.

You think that your obsessiveness might be a bad habit that you should correct.

Right. Maybe. Except that it launches me into thoughts and creative directions that I like. And for the record, I do not masturbate excessively.

What is excessively?

More than I do.

Of course. So what are the pros and cons?

Of  excessive masturbation?

Right. No! Of obsessing about things!

It gets me to really focus on something deeply. Which is great, since I tend to be terrible at concentrating.

But?

But it’s usually not on whatever task I might really need to be working on.

For instance?

For instance, I might spend a week revamping my blog instead of reading technical material for a certification exam at work.

Not good.

Or writing an imaginary conversation about excessive masturbation instead of doing laundry.

Clean underwear is overrated.

Hygiene is crucial, but maybe sometimes a person can go commando in an emergency.

Well…

My point, if I have one, is that is it really so bad to come up with imaginary conversations instead of cleaning?

Not unless you stop cleaning entirely, and you always have a point.

I do?

Sometimes a sharp one.

Huh. I thought I was rambling.

You ramble with ulterior motives.

What sort of ulterior motive could I possibly have for asking if I obsess about things too much?

You could be trying to get me to tell you that you do.

Why would I do that? It would take the fun out of obsessing about it myself. I mean, deciding for myself.

Uh-huh.

You’re very doubting.

Maybe you want someone to absolve you of your weirdness.

No one can do that.

Not even me?

Not even you. Especially not you.

Why especially?

Because you will barely even give me an opinion about things. Also, you are not weird at all.

Yeah, well you always say “both” and “maybe” to everything. And while you do like to listen and discuss, you seldom take anyone’s advice.

Perhaps…but I do like to hear the options.

See?

You aren’t very likable sometimes.

More likable than you are.

Really?

Well, yes.

Damn!

Or maybe I am just more approachable to a variety of people.

Is that a polite way of calling me an insane bitch?

I would love to reply “yes” to that, but you’d kill me.

No, but I might poke you gently with a fork. I’d miss you if you were dead.

If you kill me, you mean.

I’d miss you regardless of how you died.

That’s…uh…

Sweet.

No, that’s not what I was going for..but sure. Sweet.

I am, though.

Yes, you are. Do you think maybe you could try a little harder to stay on task for things that are essential while still letting your mind wander when you don’t have important work to do?

That’s awfully logical of you. And  yes, I could try harder. I hardly try at all currently.

You say that like it’s something horrible.

No, just a little…I don’t know…

Say it.

Prosaic.

I was expecting something worse.

Soul killing?

There we go.

But it wouldn’t kill my soul.

No, it wouldn’t.

It would dent it a little.

I thought you didn’t believe in souls.

Not a literal soul. But sort of metaphorical one. The thing that makes a person who they are, not a literal thing that weighs 28 grams.

Don’t you think that you’re quibbling?

Don’t I always?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Human weakness, universal truth, character and history

We are judgmental beings, we humans.

This can be good in many ways. We use our capacity for judgment to decide if certain foods will kill us. If we are in danger and need to run. If that guy who just bought a drink for us really put something in it. It gets a little slipperier when we use our judgement as a group to gang up on someone who behaves in a way we disapprove of.

We like to believe that there are certain inalienable truths. That some things are “just wrong.”

Is that really the case?

Murder. Surely we can all agree on murder. Can we?

Define murder.  Is it any time you kill someone? What if it is self-defense? What if it is justified in some other way–in the course of a crime, when you catch a partner in flagrante delicto, when someone assaults your child. Maybe there are some justifications for killing another human being.  Do you think they are universal?

What about if someone insults your honor in some way? How ’bout if they have a consensual relationship with your adult daughter that you disapprove of? Is it different if it’s your son than your daughter? No? Why not?

Most people probably agree that killing someone while defending yourself is justified, but where does the boundary of self defense begin and end? If they’re in my bedroom? My garage? Knocking on my door? Standing in my front yard? Walking down the street wearing a black hoody?

Justification, justice, judgment. They are largely subjective. Entirely, maybe.

The entire world would probably agree that killing someone for no good reason is wrong, but  there would be a whole world of disagreement about what constitutes a good reason.

Other crimes are even harder to define. This is very apparent right now with the attention being focused on sexual misbehavior, assault and rape. Some people think it’s all equally bad. Some think there are degrees. In some cultures, women are married as soon as they hit puberty. Obviously in most of the Western world, that is considered child abuse. In many cultures, rape is the fault of the woman no matter what the man does.  Even here, rape is a crime in which most often the victim is shamed instead of the criminal.

At one point many cultures, including broad segments of the US, thought that owning people was perfectly fine. People were spoils of war taken by the victors, fit to be bought and sold as laborers and domestic help. Some were seen as less than human. Slavery persists in some areas, thought it is nearly universally reviled in this period of history.

You might think that there’s a very strict Right and Wrong, but morals and ethics vary from culture to culture. Not only that, but the culture itself changes views over time. Radically.  So how can we continue to believe that our views of people from earlier times can remain static any more than our belief systems and cultures do?

If you look at classic films, art and literature it’s very clear. History is full of examples of people who behaved in ways we would no longer find acceptable today. Sometimes it’s just an expression that is no longer appropriate like “that’s very white of you.”

Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner, who had a longstanding sexual relationship with his slave Sally Hemings. In all likelihood, he is the father of her children. Can a sexual relationship with someone you own ever be considered consensual? Is it always rape? Are there degrees? And how should that change how we view Jefferson now? Should it?

He’s  on Mt Rushmore with the Great Emancipator. Should he be removed?

Can (and should) you separate a historical context in which many people believed that black people were not even really human from the context of Black Lives Matter. Didn’t one lead to the other? The culture in our country is at a crossroads, a tipping point in the dominant culture.

This is only intensified by the flood of information and misinformation raining down on us from TV and the Internet. It’s being used to direct us against each other. To fragment us into sides, each believing in a version of Right and Wrong that can never find common ground.

Can and should we judge men and women of the past by the standards of the present when we can’t even protect ourselves against the troll and bot armies trying to shape the direction our country takes?

Looking at it with a view of context seems crucial. Educating ourselves on an ongoing basis to acknowledge that the world changes and that people who had important roles in the world’s history behaved in ways that we would consider despicable today.

The only thing clear to me is that this is a world full of gray, rather than black and white. Maybe I am just a woman who wants to get along. Maybe I can’t commit to even a concrete ideal. Maybe I am too willing to see both sides to pick one. Maybe perhaps is easier than yes or no. .

Still. I don’t trust an idea or ethical code that doesn’t allow for some wiggle room.