Dealing with Verbumvoids: My Humble Contribution
to the English Language
We frequently encounter situations, objects, ideas, concepts, or phenomena for which there is no precise operative word in the English language. I’ve given a name to this problem: VERBUMVOID. This comes from the Latin “verbum” (meaning “the word”) and Old French “void” (meaning “empty space”). Hence, we have an empty space for a word. I believe we must expand and enrich our language to circumvent the verbumvoid. Having words in the English language to plug in in appropriate situations would avert the current tendency to use phrases like “ya know, that thing”, “that concept I had”, “whatnot”, and “whatchacallit”, or simply stutter about until one can find another way of phrasing something using ineffective or vague words that do exist.
The Germans have always had a simple solution to this problem; simply put a whole bunch of words together until you get the ideal word to meet your needs. For example, they needed a word to describe “the total (or ultimate) work of art” so they came up with Gesamtkunstwerk (Gesamt meaning “total”, Kunst meaning “art”, and Werk meaning “work”). Hah! No more verbumvoid. However, there aren’t many situations in which Gesamtkunstwerk is needed, unless you’re referring to the musical dramas of Richard Wagner. It’s not like you can easily work it into a conversation while standing at a urinal next to an office colleague during your morning break; “this urinal is quite the Gemsamtkunstwerk” would seem to be a bit effusive.
I’m not sure what other languages do in regard to filling the verbumvoid, though I suspect the French simply add a few more vowels to an already-existing word and assign a new meaning, all of which must be approved by the French Academy for Language and Literature, an historically receptive body to language modifications. I suspect Slavik languages just add a few more strategically-placed diacritical marks in written language and use peculiar and disconcerting facial contortions in spoken language to convey new words to fill verbumvoids. I’d venture to guess that Scandinavian tongues simply add bizarre and amusing yodel-like vocal inflections to existing words (noted in printed language with emojis above certain vowels).
Time out. I’m taking a break here to note a phenomenon of momentary concern. Technology has its own way of discouraging new words. Every time I type verbumvoid the Microsoft-Word-induced-spell-check flags the “mistake” by underscoring the word verbumvoid with an alarming jagged red line. In technology language this reads as follows to the person typing: “You idiot, I’m flagging you for spelling that wrong. It’s either not a word, you’re guessing at the spelling, or you’re just plain stupid. You can’t just make up new words”. Technology discourages us from creating new words. Either that or I need to turn off spell check to stop the incessant flagging because I’m going to be making up a whole bunch of new words shortly.
What follows is my humble contribution to the English language. I’ve taken the liberty of creating some new words, known henceforth as verbumfylders. This comes from the Latin verbum meaning “word”, the Dutch fylde meaning “to fill”, and the English ers meaning “an intentional and well-intentioned act”. The full definition of verbumfylder then becomes “the intentional and well-intentioned act of filling voids with words”. All of my proposed verbumfylders are very serviceable in the appropriate situations, providing much needed words to fill gaps in our language. I’ve people-tested all of them in Kansas, and I can verify that they were received with trepidation, hesitance, and sincere bafflement. In one case, the recipient of my verbumfylders onslaught became irate and disoriented. One young mother asked politely that I not use that type of language around her young children. An elderly woman I engaged in conversation began speaking in tongues, thinking I had incited the gods. Finally, a young passerby pulled up GoogleTranslate on his phone, but had to ask what language I was speaking. At no point did anyone thank me for taking it upon myself to make improvements in the English language by filling the verbumvoid with functional and colorful verbumfylders. This only served to bolster my resolve to pursue this project further, so I’ve now produced a blog on the issue, which will no doubt be read, supported, and circulated via social media by throngs of my blog followers (roughly 12-15 people). I have no doubt that the verbumfylder movement will catch on. Before we know it our everyday conversation will be further enriched, garbled, and nonsensical through our expansion of the English language.
I encourage you to consider incorporating some of the verbumfylders below into your everyday vocabulary. You’ll be amazed at how smart you feel, and how perplexed your audience will be. After the definition of each verbumfylder, I’ve included an example of its usage in a sentence.
Verbumvoid: The void created by the absence of a word in a given language for a particular situation, idea, object, or phenomenon. A related form of the word is verbumfylders, the actual words created to fill the voids. Example: This blog is about verbumvoids and the verbumfylders created to solve the intensifying global issue of verbumvoidism.
Spotspiration: The actual physical location where a forgotten idea originated. It is often necessary to return to the spot to recall the initial idea. Example: The brilliant idea I had in the restroom evaded me upon return to the office, so I returned to the spotspiration to recall the idea.
Severfie: An attempt at a group selfie by a non-seasoned (or inebriated) cell phone user in which one of more individuals in the picture have their heads cut off. Example: Can we take that picture again? That last one was a severfie.
Ahatsgone: The exasperating situation in which one has a brilliant thought or idea while another person is speaking and, at the point of intended strategic vocal interjection of the thought or idea, the individual realizes the idea has completely eluded her or him. Example: The committee meeting, dominated by verbose people, led me to one ahatsgone after another.
Phantcellery: The misconception by a cell phone user that use of said device in a public place renders him or her invisible to everyone in the immediate surroundings. The college student was wrapped up in phantcellery throughout the entire 60-minute philosophy class, apparently even believing his loud vocalizations and random gesticulations were not audible or visible to classmates or the professor.
Stalguffaw: The childishly uncontrollable urge to laugh hysterically when someone in the stall next to you in the bathroom breaks loud wind and mutters “Oh, yeah”. Example: My day at the office got off to a resounding start due to an exceptional stalguffaw incident in the restroom.
Dridiot: Uninformed and oblivious driver who drives 20 miles an hour under the speed limit in the passing lane on a highway, requiring all other drivers to pass on the right side. Example: The dridiot on the interstate simply refused to move into the proper lane despite my verbal encouragement and animated hand gestures.
Wispette: A single tiny cloud without any cloud friends floating aimlessly in the sky. Example: The wispette looked so lonely as it hovered over the funeral home.
Wortgeek: An individual who has too much time on his or her hands and becomes engrossed in the task of creating new words. Example: I can’t believe some wortgeek spent so much time writing this blog and I’m actually wasting my time reading it.
Ditzkopfery: The act of panicking upon the loss of reading glasses, cell phones, keys, or other personal effects, only to realize they are actually on your person. Example: Earlier today I had three bouts of ditzkopfery, later locating my reading glasses twice on the top of my head and once in the cuff of my pants.
Calcuthenics: The mental act of processing the maneuvers and gyrations necessary to arise from a physically awkward or uncomfortable position before actually trying to extract oneself from the position. Example: After sitting in the chaise lounge for a couple hours I had to engage in calcuthenics to avoid serious injury before returning to the house.
Rasaskance: Frequently or constantly looking at the ceiling or walls to retrieve a memory, word, idea, or thought. Example: The psychology student demonstrated a severe case of rasaskance during class today, but was eventually able to recall Freud’s name from his subconscious.
Awkenter: An awkward encounter in which two individuals who have not seen each other in quite some time must spontaneously select modes of greeting, but the selected modes don’t correlate (hug, hand shake, kiss on the cheek, touch on the shoulder, or simply ignoring the individual). Example: I had an awkenter with an old high school buddy today. Man, that was weird.
Haltgreet: Odd phenomenon in Oklahoma in which any driver who arrives at a four-way stop intersection is obligated to wait until at least one other driver arrives at the intersection, after which he or she will exchange a series of waves, gestures, and various other hand motions, ending in the last arriving party moving through the intersection before the driver who first arrived. The entire haltgreet process can be both frustrating and time-consuming, depending on how many vehicles are involved. Example: I had another one of those bizarre haltgreets on the way to work, which contributed to my tardiness.
Never again will I weed whack. I’ve had enough of weed whackers that don’t work. Of course, this blog is being written immediately in the wake of yet another exasperating encounter with a weed whacker that failed to perform effectively, succumbing to mechanical issue #437 on my master list of Things That Can Go Wrong With A Weed Whacker. So yes, the topic of this blog is weed whacking, which may seem banal. I’d like to argue, however, that the subject can be rife with valid points, is of universal interest, and can be emotionally-charged for those of us with an acute hatred of weed whackers. What follows is the kind of relevance, depth, and sincerity you’ve (all twelve of you that have read any of them) come to expect from me and my blogs.
I’ve always taken yard work seriously, ever since I was old enough to watch my father sit on a riding mower. I actually enjoy it; you get to be outdoors, you’re in nature, you get exercise, on a good day you get to sweat – all reasons many people don’t like yard work. But, here’s why I’m retiring from weed whacking, the one task of yard work I’m least fond of: I HATE WEED WHACKERS. I get pretty worked up about this (as you can surmise, given my use of underlined boldface text, and all caps). I dream about mass burnings of weed whackers in which whole towns come together to drink dandelion wine and immolate all their weed whackers in a Ceremonial Weed Whacker Bonfire. I’ve imagined performance art pieces in which a bunch of ornery weed whackers are turned on in a small room and left to vibrate and flail about pathetically for hours until they run out of gas. I’ve produced a World-Wide Wipe Out Weed Whacker Day, on which everyone in the weeded world commits to going au natural.
I have great respect for technology and science. In most cases, they’ve made our lives easier. I feel like I’m pretty savvy when it comes to mechanical and technological things; I’m able to find the power button on most computers, I can pump my own gas in my car as long as I go to the same gas station every time, and I know where to insert my credit card (I’m on the cutting edge here; I have one of those “chip” cards) on those new-fangled machines in store. I know how to call up Siri on my cell phone (who refers to me endearingly as “Your Royal Awesomeness” – I set that up, by the way). I also know a few tech people, mechanics, and plumbers, and I know when to nod in approval at the appropriate times when they jabber on and on to me about technology or mechanical stuff. I’ve even flipped through Popular Mechanics one time while waiting at the doctor’s office (though I didn’t have my reading glasses at the time). I really GET science, mechanics, and technology.
But let’s be perfectly clear; science and mechanics have failed when it comes to weed whackers. There has NEVER been a weed whacker that has run continuously for more than 18 minutes without having to be shut down and worked on by the All-Knowing Weed Whacker Operator. I’ve had spontaneous conversations with people that have never owned or operated a week whacker and they, too, have confirmed that they have no use for them because they have a suspicion that there is a possibility they might not work very well. If I effectively sway the conversation, I’m often able to get these people to agree with me that weed whackers are indeed Stupid Devices That Should Be Banned.
You need to trust my experience and research here a bit. I’ve worked with weed whackers for over 30 years and during that time have personally owned and “operated” well over 200 week whackers. I’ve invested a great deal of money in all types of weed whacking units over the years, sometimes spending as much as $8 at a garage sale for a used one or up to $40 for a new one. I always consult user reviews online before I purchase a new one because I always blindly embrace the opinions of people I don’t know or trust. I also solicit the advice of sales associates in the stores; these people are serious experts in their fields. Before my last purchase, the sales associate provided a glimpse of hope regarding a particular model, stating “I had a buddy who had that’n there fer dern near a month before she dun broke down, but muh buddy, he’s a purty mechanical type, so he kept her up ‘n runnin’ for that long”. I even purchased one from a company in Nuuk, Greenland, where everyone in the town of 17 works for the Nuuk-en Better Weed Whacker Corporation. I thought a weed whacker built and distributed in “Green-Land” would certainly be a quality product. All the weed whackers they produce are “green”, and that’s my favorite color, so that was another selling point. They do extensive testing of their designs and products in their local environs, which requires the weed whackers to penetrate layers of ice to get to the richly weed-laden tundra below; you can imagine my zeal in getting my hands on one of those. Nope, didn’t even make it through one use without “throwing a sprool” (I apologize for using exclusionary language here – those of us who are experts in Weed-Whackinginology will know what this is). Any seasoned weed whacker knows that once you’ve thrown a spool, the clock is ticking or the machine will never be the same.
I can’t begin to enumerate the many things that can go wrong with weed whackers. I used to keep a notebook of design flaws and functioning issues I’ve encountered with weed whackers I’ve owned, but the notebook got shredded by a weed whacker with a particularly aggressive personality. I’ve owned electrical weed whackers and gas weed whackers, the only difference being that one uses electricity and the other uses gas (and in extremely advanced designs requires a complex and elusive MIXTURE of gas and oil).
Both types have proven highly ineffective, despite the fact that they both have engines, moving parts, are available in green, and come with manuals laced with poor grammar and vague diagrams. The most common problem with weed whackers, of course, is the color, design, motor, power button, carburation system, gas tank, spark plug, handle, string, and spool. The spool is a circular “thingy” (the technical term). String can be purchased in circular bundles. As well all know, the circle has historically and universally been understood as a symbol of perfection. Don’t believe this; the design is flawed. Other issues can include a myriad of things: operating in too much sunlight, flooding the engine, not using the precise arm speed or arm strength required to start the engine when pulling the starter string, using the wrong colored string in the spool, a left-handed individual using a right-handed weed whacker, killing the motor by trying to whack a Canadian thistle (arch enemy of the weed whacker), not whacking on a completely flat surface, or glancing askance in the general direction of the weed whacker at any time.
Weed whackers come with extensive directions – roughly the length of a modest Balzac novel – designed to assist the owner in becoming intimately familiar with his or her New Device Which Will Not Last Long. The explanation of the spool mechanism alone can take anywhere from 4-7 pages, or several hours to translate and read if you choose the wrong language in the manual. In the back of the Owner’s Manual for Your New Weed Whacker That Will Not Work Very Long, you will a find helpful “Trouble-Shooting Chart” as well as a section on “Safety Issues”. This alone should be of concern: Inclusion of potential TROUBLE and SAFETY issues with a purchased item that has a part moving at 600,000 cycles per second doesn’t make sense from a marketing perspective. I prefer to know that the unit is safe, not anticipate problems or have contingency plans. Nevertheless, any time I’m within 30 feet of my weed whacker or when I consult the owner’s manual I wear safety glasses (Safety glasses are a big deal in the manual, generally mentioned in BOLD PRINT and CAPITAL LETTERS as much as possible. NOTE: I’ve never actually seen anyone operate a live weed whacker while wearing safety goggles).
Anyhow, the owners’ manuals are generally designed to be helpful or to address any possible problem you could encounter, with the exception being the specific problem you’re having at any given time. Among the valuable nuggets I’ve encountered are the followings:
1) Use extreme caution when operating your weed whacker indoors
2) To turn the unit off, turn the ON/OFF button to the OFF position
3) It is necessary to have gas in the gas tank for your unit to operate effectively. Gas should be placed in the tank labeled “Gas”, though on some models the term “Fuel” may be used.
4) Your new weed whacker may also be used as a weapon in the event of a home invasion. Follow steps 1-18 to start the unit. Please allow 20-30 minutes to start up your unit in the event of a home invasion.
5) It is recommended that you wear shoes when operating weed whacker, but open-toe sandals are acceptable if they match the rest of your ensemble.
6) What To Do If Your Weed Whacker Explodes (see ALWAYS WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES, pages 1-7, 9-14, 17-32, and 47-67 in this manual).
7) Best excuses to give your wife if you “accidentally” whack down all of her irises.
I’ve tried to make it clear here that the issue with weed whackers is not me, it’s that weed whackers are poorly designed and simply are not reliable or designed to last long. I’ve certainly convinced myself that this is the case. In any event, you won’t see me weed whacking anymore. I have better things to do, like spending hours sitting in my living room watching my neighbor happily weed-whacking his yard while I write this blog on weed whackers.
You Know It’s Going to Be a Bad Day When….
We all have those days when, at some point early in the day, we think “Can I just start the day over”? Unfortunately, those “DO OVER” days happen all too often. A myriad of circumstances and situations can set things off. No doubt, your list of triggers will be different than mine, but allow me to list some of the things that have led me to think “It’s going to be a bad day when….”:
Lost in Translation
WARNING: Not everything in this blog is necessarily true, accurate, or worth your time.
I recently came across documentation regarding the effectiveness and efficacy of online instruction. I have a former friend who teaches an online German course for a prolific and notoriously business-savvy online course delivery corporation. Bear in mind, I have nothing against online coursework; it certainly satisfies a need, is convenient, and can be very effective. I’ve even taken two online courses myself, one in world religions, and the other in literature. My former friend once related to me the rigorous application process he had to navigate to deliver the course – certainly atypical - which involved: 1) producing a photo of himself standing next to a Volkswagon, 2) documented ability to eat brats and drink beer, 3) the ability to find Germany on a globe, and 4) willingness to pose in lederhosen for a faculty profile picture. This former friend forwarded me some of the more stellar work from his advanced German course, a group with which he was unusually frustrated. The assignment and accompanying homework he forwarded required students to translate titles of German lieder composed by Austrian composer Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Further, as a second component of the assignment, the students had to acknowledge via a head-nod on Skype that they had indeed attempted to pronounce, in their best online German dialect (either high German or low German), at least four of the Schubert lieder titles in the assignment while listening to polka music and eating pretzels in a bar. Below are some of the translations of Schubert lieder titles from my former friend’s class as evidence. The left column is the German lieder title, the right column is the translation from online class members. I’ve selected only the best translations to share with you.
Das Dörfchen The Dorky Chicken
Der Flug der Zeit The Flight of the Zit
Schnatzgrübers Begehr The Snot-Grubbing Beggar
Gruppe aus dem Tartarus Griping About the Tartar Sauce
Es schlug mein Herz My Rental from Hertz Chugs
Wie sol lich tanzen We Sell Dancing Lichens
Der Frost hat mir bereifet I Barfed on My Frosty Hat
Lied der Mignon They Lied About My Steak
Der Wanderer an den Mond The Wanderer in the Mud
Im Dorfe I’m a Dork
Das Wirthaus This is the Worst House
Der Leierman Don’t Believe Him. He’s Lying.
Über Wildmann Super Wild Man
Am Bach im Frühling My Backside is Freezing
Der Abend I Dare You to Bend Over
Das Echo What? What? What?
Of course, the poetry utilized by Schubert in the lieder above isn’t perhaps so colorful and evocative, but the translations provided by students would certainly make for some interesting contemporary song titles.
At the beginning of a new year I always recommit myself to my exercise and workout routines. Though I do regularly do weight lifting, stretching, and ab routines, running is central to my physical activity. It’s been a part of my life for 41 years.
So why do we run? There are some obvious health benefits, but why do we put our bodies and minds through running? Runners run for varying reasons, though there likely are some common ones. Below are some reasons I run. I’m open to counterarguments.
Sunrises are a Great Way to Start the Day
I prefer to run in the morning, which allows me to see sunrises most days. There’s something inspiring about running and greeting the morning sun on the horizon. I’ve been fortunate to live in several places in the U.S., so I’ve gotten to see all kinds of sunrises. Oklahoma has some of the most sensational sunrises, often with a myriad of colors and cloud formations. Beginning the day with the sun is simply a great way to start the day.
Running Shoes are Pretty Cool
I’m quite cheap when it comes to clothes and shoes, except when it comes to running shoes. It’s the only type of attire I don’t mind spending money on, though it’s not for the fashion; it’s because a really good running shoe is critical. In the last 20 years or so, running shoes have become ridiculously ornate, colorful, and bizarre. Some shoes are downright gaudy and ugly. Nevertheless, running shoes have a lot of character.
Due to my hearing issues (tinnitus and hearing deficit) I need frequent quiet time, away from people and sounds. Mornings runs are usually quiet, just the consistent soft thumping of the foot plants. Not much traffic. Having quiet time for myself to begin the day allows me to be prepared for the onslaught of people and sounds I encounter during the day. Running is blissful and peaceful solitary reflection time.
It’s Nice to be Different
I don’t know what percent of the general population engages in running, but I suspect less than five percent run on a regular basis year-round, year after year. This puts dedicated runners in a pretty select and single-minded group.
BodyMind Integration is Quite Fascinating
Runners benefit from a truly fascinating process, the integration and synergy between the body and the mind. This is one of the most significant reasons I run; I marvel at the dialogue that takes place between the two entities. They cooperate, collaborate, and challenge each other. Working through the bodymind integration process on a consistent basis contributes to an understanding of the self and an overall sense of oneness and “centeredness”.
A Good Buzz
You’ve all heard of the “runner’s high”. I don’t know if I’d call it a high, but it is a good buzz. Many who take up running never get to this stage, which is unfortunate because it’s one of the great benefits of running. Words don’t describe it well. For me, it’s a sense of wholeness, completeness, exhilaration, or a general sense of well-being. My grandfather had a cliché to describe this type of experience; “you’re cooking on all burners”. Everything is working together toward a common purpose.
Physical and Emotional Well-Being, Mental and Creative Clarity
When you’re reached THE ZONE, the mental capabilities and flexibility of the mind are freed considerably. I can’t tell you how many problems I’ve solved, compositions I’ve written, or ideas I’ve come up with while running. If only I could run all day! Imagine how productive one could be? Another bi-product of running is to allow emotions to be processed. Maybe “purged” is a better word. Running is cathartic.
Enjoy the Outdoors
I’m always a bit puzzled by the number of people that hole up in their homes. There’s so much to enjoy outdoors. I know some people run indoors on a treadmill out of convenience, but staring at a wall, a TV screen, or other people working out seems to detract from the running experience, particularly when you can be outdoors and enjoying nature. Sure, there are days when the weather isn’t ideal for running, so you throw on a heavier jacket, a stocking cap, some gloves. Running seems natural in nature.
Get Your Feet on the Ground
There’s no better way to get a feel for a place than running it. I’ve been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to run in various parts of the United States as well as several countries abroad. By running a place you get a real sense of its ambiance, energy, and people. It’s hard to describe how immediately connected you can fell to a quiet residential neighborhood in Munich, along streets lined with historic buildings in Budapest, alongside a peaceful canal in a Dutch village, or among the cows and pastures in a scenic village in the Swiss Alps. Running places like these allows you to really connect with the environs. You do have to be careful, though; sometimes you can get so caught up in your surroundings that end up going further than you planned (or are able).
Running is a great way to overcome obstacles. I’m fortunate that my health has allowed me to sustain a running routine as long as I have, given that I’ve had knee surgery, shoulder surgery, abdominal surgery, hip surgery (I only have a partial hip socket on the left hip), seven ankle sprains, and ongoing back problems and pain. Every one of those setbacks was an opportunity to overcome an obstacle, to push the body and the mind, and to challenge myself.
Yes, it’s true. You do feel better when you run, at least I do. I have more energy, more initiative, sleep better, and just feel all around better about myself and my world. I think, in general, the body doesn’t want to be sedentary; we get enough of that at work, in the evenings, or during “down time”. It wants to move. Listen to it.
Running certainly begs for a goal-driven approach. Some runners are driven by preparations for upcoming races, others just run to challenge themselves and meet goals along the way (I’m in this latter category). Years ago I set a long-term goal to hypothetically circumambulate the earth at the equator. The circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,901 miles. Though I haven’t logged my running precisely every year since I started in 1975, I’ve been able to calculate roughly how many miles I’ve run each year based on where I was living, how many months of the year I was running at the time, how many miles I was averaging per run, and time off for injuries. Based on those calculations, I surpassed 24,901 miles some between 2003 and 2005. It’s a pretty cool thing to be able to say you’re run around the world in your lifetime, even though you haven’t actually done it at the equator.
One of the main reasons I run is that it teaches life lessons. Many of these I’ve hinted at or alluded to already. One becomes grounded. Running can teach honesty, self-discovery, discipline, determination, problem solving, freeing the mind, creative thinking, time management, pain management, mental toughness, and many other things that relate to or enhance how we live, work, or simply function. I can’t begin to tell you how important the lessons I’ve learned and benefits I’ve received from running have been and how crucial they’ve been to the successes I’ve had running the race of life.
Excuse me, but I’ve got to run.
What We’re Losing – Part I
Most of us feel like we’ve come such a long way in our lifetimes in terms of progress, innovation, comfort, convenience, and many other means that make our lives easier, more organized, and, well, better. I agree wholeheartedly that I don’t miss listening to music on an old transistor radio or turntable. I don’t miss having to use white typewriter correction ribbon every time I missspell something in a dokument. But I do miss many things that used to be the norm or the expectation in society. Though it may be true that progress and advances haven’t necessarily been the root cause of things we’ve lost, I think in some cases they’ve contributed to our losses. Many of you won’t remember the time we had certain norms, expectations, and understandings in society, particularly if you’re less than 30 years old. And many of you won’t even care that we’ve lost some things because you’ve grown up without them, so you never knew any differently.
Maybe I’m just getting old (all too true) and nostalgic. Maybe I’ve just finally become that crusty old curmudgeon I’ve always aspired to be. Or maybe there really are some subtle or sublime things in life that are now, to varying degrees, things of the past or fading with time.
Now I don’t want to suggest that WE have lost these things completely. I also know it’s dangerous using such an inclusive term – WE – because when I use the term in regard to something WE’ve lost, maybe YOU aren’t in the WE; maybe YOU continue to avoid being part of that collective WE.
Certainly, a piece like this will create some animosity and argument. It’s quite likely I’m wrong in many cases. I’ve always been an optimist, but maybe the pessimist in me just has to have its say every once in a while.
In order to bring some organization to this piece, which will likely require more than one blog, I’ll try to put things in categories, wherever possible.
Reflection, Peace, Simplicity, Quiet
Part I of this blog on What We’re Losing will focus on some very simple things: reflection, peace, simplicity, and quiet. Again, I want to be cautious of implying that these ideas are gone, for indeed they are still valued in some cultures and in some places. I also remind myself that not everyone devalues these ideas, but it appears to me that society, in general, has moved away from these concepts that have so much to offer to us individually and collectively in our world.
Reflection may be more a personal loss for me, as opposed to a general loss to our culture, since I grew up in constant need of time for reflection, but take so little time to do so now. In general, though, I think we’re all so busy constantly doing something – even if that’s something as inane as watching television – that we rarely, if ever, take time to do nothing. Time to just sit and think. Time to just let the mind wander freely. Time for reflection. It’s such a foreign concept, I’m not even sure many of us know how to do it, since we tend to feel so driven to be doing something. The whole idea of actually setting aside daily reflection time is totally foreign to most people.
We typically think of peace as the opposite of war. But the peace I’m talking about here is a personal inner and outer peace. It’s a sense of oneness with one’s self and with the world around us. So many things work against us in achieving this. We’ve got internal struggles like addictions, contradictions, motivations, image, and the like. We also have external battles, such as relationships, work pressures, financial challenges, and so on. All of these wage war on achieving peace in our lives.
When I was a teenager, I frequently ran on our neighbor’s farm property. The trail took me along wheat and cornfields, and there was a long stretch that lined the perimeter of a forested area. I found peace after a run sitting on a rock pile at the edge of the forest. It was a sensory feast; the smells of the ripening wheat and the forest foliage, the visual awe of the glistening wheat and the myriad shades of greens and browns in the forest, the auditory concert of wind through the trees, rustling grain, nesting birds, and other forest critters. Personal challenges and external issues dissolved and melted on that rock pile. Some days I really thought that I had solved all the world problems. I could easily pass an hour on that rock pile. Whenever I’ve needed a sense of peace in my life over the past 40 years I try to find time to allow myself to be mentally transported to that rock pile. Everyone should have a rock pile in his or her life.
Again, the world in which we live is working against us here. There are still some rogue soldiers out there that battle the culture and refuse to be compromised by succumbing to complexity. I think many cultures and locations in the world are really on to something in their struggle to keep life simple. I remember spending two nights in a remote village high in the Swiss Alps. It was a collection of a dozen farms or so, a church, a couple public buildings, and an inn. As I ran through the peak-rimmed village on a chilly morning I was struck not only by the quiet and the peaceful solitude, but even more so by the simplicity of life. It’s almost as though nothing moved, or what did move did so very slowly. The most pervasive noise in the village was the distant clang of cowbells worn by the cows in the fields. I thought to myself “These people are really on to something. I could do this.” Of course, I couldn’t actually do it, at least not for more than a few days. At that point I’d be in some freaky-eyed state of withdrawal from not having access to all the technology, toys, disruptions, and distractions that I rely on daily to make my life complex.
Life in the sixties and seventies, during the time in which I grew up, was simply less complex. We had three TV channels, no video games, no technology to mindlessly amuse us for hours on end. We created our own fun. The operative word here is “created”. We used our minds to create fun and entertainment. Or, if we wanted to keep our lives really simple, we read, made music, played family games, or quietly sat and watched the sunsets. Ahhhh.
This is one of my most envied losses. And for me it truly is a loss. Quiet is something I haven’t experience in well over 40 years, and I mean that seriously. As a youngster I was exposed to an extremely loud and concussive noise that permanently damaged my hearing. It’s called tinnitus and it’s been going on non-stop since that dreadful day. Not a single moment of silence in over 40 years. Round the clock I battle the constant, incessant, and unceasing collection of cacophony of tintinnabulation in both ears. So quiet is something I envy. I constantly yearn for relief from noise, though, ironically, I’m a musician surrounded by sound on a daily basis. I think we need moments of complete separation from sound, though this is increasingly difficult in our loud world. Quiet moments create a blank canvas, an opportunity for our minds to roam freely, paint pictures, score our own soundtrack, or allow the brain to fire synapses and follow threads unfettered and uninterrupted.
Ironically, though I lust for quiet, I despise it at the same time. When the world around me is quiet it creates an environment filled only by the maddening ringing in my head. The screaming collection of metallic dissonance fills the envied silence. It’s horrible for me to be in a quiet place because the tinnitus then has free reign. As I age I continue to move further and further afield from the world of external sounds due to ongoing incremental hearing loss, so the background tinnitus has now become the foreground, and the former foreground – the world around me – has now become the background. I’m more and more distanced from the external world, while the internal world continues to be filled with noise.
Silence. I think it’s necessary for our sanity. At least that’s how I hear it, if I could.