The War

It may seem odd or grim that I’ve been binging on World War II documentaries lately. The first few were true documentary series with film footage from the time across many episodes and mostly focused on the Pacific theatre of war. The current HBO MAX 10-episode mini-series, The Pacific, is an amazing production recreated with actors and is extremely period-accurate and realistic. Unlike many Hollywood war movies, this series shows what it probably really was like: the frightened kids, poor logistics, horrible conditions, unfathomable carnage, and more luck to survive it than mere bravado.

My father was a career naval officer, serving near the end of the war, and later as a pilot during the Korean War aboard a carrier in the north Pacific, then held a desk job until he retired when I was in high school. Since we lived in base housing throughout my growing up, my friends and I didn’t play cowboys and Indians, we played soldiers. Some of my fond memories as a 10-year-old living on the base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were those moments after DEFEX (defense exercises) when my buddies and I would go out exploring and find cool stuff left or lost by the soldiers. And while this isn’t a pro-war upbringing story, it is one of how WWII was the last war we fought united in a just cause. Later in high school I would forget those days playing soldier and peacefully protest our Vietnam War involvement (and escaped getting drafted).

Why I found these long documentaries and mini-series interesting about an insanely brutal conflict fought over 80 years ago with so much death and waste, was a bit of a mystery. I realized around the sixth The Pacific episode there was a parallel in deaths and loss, and a nation’s citizen involvement, between World War II and our current pandemic war. Both were times of collectively fighting a known enemy, but in WWII our foes were visible, whereas our pandemic war’s enemy is invisible.

Back in the ‘40s, patriotism pulsed strongly across America and played a significant part in why we prevailed. Now it seems we battle both the unseen enemy and a portion of our society who deny the science and ignore the rules of engagement that could help us win this war sooner. Back then, we eventually prevailed from superior manufacturing and technology. Today we are beginning to use the only “bullet” we have to fight this invisible invader: vaccines for the masses. Yet we may only prevail if we can unite under a common cause and be willing to do everything to keep ourselves safe and those around us.

After WWII, those who survived and returned had a hero’s welcome, but many returned scarred in unseen ways. We who hope to survive this current war will get to embrace a new “normal.” Those whose denial and selfish behavior contributed to themselves or others to suffer or die, sadly will probably carry the unseen scars of this pandemic war for the rest of their lives.

Late-Late-Mid-Life Crisis

I’m well past that infamous moment in a man’s life where he suddenly buys a red convertible, or a fancy watch or laptop he doesn’t really need, or dyes his hair dark again and sudden appears in public with a much-younger woman on his arm.

No, I’m beyond those impulsive fountain-of-youth siren calls, but not immune to having a later-in-life moment of feeling good vibes from long ago, wondering if I should get back to that early passion.

I’m talking about the urge to pickup playing guitar again, this time via a modern, digital modeling amplifier with effects and mods preset to mimic many brand amps and well-known band sounds. Add to that the latest in amazing luthierian wonders from PRS guitars and I’m ready to remember (try at least…) all those songs I used to know lead licks to, plus catch up on all the great sounds since. Purple Haze I may be coming back!

Now, to be fair, any pursuit of music is a wonderful, creative endeavor regardless of when. Music has always been a constant in my life, vastly more listening than creating. In high school and into college, I played at being a guitarist in bands pretty seriously (and likely in part because the chicks thought it was cool). In college, selling off gear for other obligations plus interest in other things, seemed important at the time (it wasn’t, but that’s water under the bridge).

Fifteen years ago, I met a guitar collector and told him about the ‘69 Fender Stratocaster and ‘65 Gibson ES335 w/Bigby I owned and sold in the mid-70s. He ruined my day when he mentioned the pair were (then) worth close to $50,000. I probably didn’t get more than $500 when I sold them.

About ten years ago I got the guitar itch and picked up some acoustic gear but didn’t stick with it. Had thoughts of songwriting and open mic nights, but again, other “stuff” in the way. I sold that round of gear (and not ironically for less than I paid).

Now, with the pandemic, my life without obligations but time and funds available, coupled with listening more to the music I loved and played way back when, the thought returning to it showed up again. YouTube’s amazing depth of videos, from breaking down how to play riffs to interviews with my heros back then to gear reviews and stories, hasn’t helped deter this idea.

This story today doesn’t end with me telling you that I bought the gear, although admit there’s a fat shopping cart out there waiting for me. Also, in my defense, it is my birth month, so clearly I need to spoil myself somehow.

But as I’ve learned with major purchases as I’ve grown wiser, I’ll wait a bit to see if a) the idea is still exciting, and b) my choices still feel like the right ones. Stay tuned (pun intended!!) to see how this flash of youthful whimsy turns out.

Sanity Courtesy of ORT*

How do we cope during this pandemic to fulfill that human need to buy stuff? We can’t go to stores (especially when many are closed), we can’t hold curbside garage sales, that religion of the bargain hunter, and we can’t ply the mall walkways to find what we need we didn’t know we need until we see it.

No, the solution and newest sanity therapy these days is *Online Retail Therapy. Sales are booming online for merchants for obvious staples, but even more so for those proprietors of entertainment and activity goods useful for distractions and indoor pleasures. No wonder the streaming services are doing so well. And try to find a cool puzzle or game in stock online these days.

As a stationery nerd, one who’s had to cease the formerly beloved distraction of wandering office supply stores, or the few cool true stationery stores left, not to mention garage and estate sales, it’s been a dry season this past year.

Fortunately, it’s been a new world of discovering lots of small shops online selling the goods we love, both here in the states and elsewhere. But my real guilty ORT solution falls down that much beloved (and dreaded) rabbit hole of subscriptions. From limited Blackwing Volumes pencils, to Field Notes limited edition notebooks, Dapper Notes handmade notebooks, ArtSnacks monthly boxes, Mouse Books pocket readers, and on, and on, these subscriptions have been the modern equivalent of care packages in the old days. Who doesn’t remember being away at college and getting a care package full of goodies from home to sooth the separation blues?

The problem becomes, though, that in active ORT engagement, such satisfying moments of search, finding, ordering, waiting, then finally opening, tempt like opening a fresh bag of Lay’s potato chips: you can’t “eat” just one.

Now that I and many I know are getting the vaccine, can the end of ORT been near? Probably not. While these one-two stabs of hope open up possibilities, don’t see any widespread opening of shops and old-style, in-person shopping resuming soon. So I’ll have to continue with my doctor-ordered ORT (nevermind what doctor, that’s not important right now…) for now. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, but I’m staring to have the problem of where to store all this ORT goodness.

Another Year Around the Sun

March, being my birth month, marks the approaching exodus from winter, and the entering of yet another year bookended by a birthdate. Measuring life via this yardstick was a celebrated day growing up. As an adult, it’s more one of mixed feelings. In these pandemic times, never a bad thing to celebrate still being “here,” but at a certain age, it’s also yet another year apathetically torn off the calendar of life.

No complaints here. I consider myself fortunate to be this far and confident I’ve a long way to go, but it’s still a poignant time of life. 

I view existence as a horizontal timeline, one we move along slowly while hopefully pausing, noticing, and enjoying each day. Some people, however, see this same timeline like a sine wave on an oscilloscope, with even peaks and valleys we ride up and down, our birth day being at the top of these curves. I suppose optimists see it that way whereas pessimists it’s at the bottom.

Of the many things I’m grateful for during this birth month, my thinking and cognizance seem to have weathered well, and such pursuits are more important to me now than in my past. Oh, if pressed, I might admit to wishing I’d read deeper and wider, written more often, and pursued more learnings earlier. Had I done so, I wouldn’t be enjoying the renaissance I seem to have now with reading and writing. 

If I were to sit and pen a letter to my younger self right now, what would I say? And if I could tell him only three things, what would they be? First, I’d tell him to stop worrying about where you’re going and focus on where you are. Second, I’d advise him to reach more outside his comfort zone to try different things. And last, I’d tell him to take better care of his body, especially during those dangerous years between our active twenties and the awakening from lethargy in our 50s. 

But of course, that’s not possible. All I can do is take these lessons I would have shared with him and apply them to me: don’t worry about not doing them yesterday, nor planning for tomorrow so much, but simply embracing them today.

Sarah Manguso’s 300 Arguments

Sometime last year I discovered the writer Sarah Manguso. Some call her a poet-philosopher, others one of the sharper literary voices out there. For me, being a fan of quotations and quotable zingers, especially from writers who have a gift for turning a phrase and that special talent to surprise you, I enjoyed it. Here are a few examples from 300 Arguments, which is admittedly all I’ve read of hers… so far.

It’s an odd (not in a bad way) little book of Twitter-length thoughts. Her own site defines this book as “genre-defying work of aphoristic nonfiction” which pretty well covers it. Here are some that appealed to me:

  • Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages.
  • When someone insults you, it will infuriate him if you pretend to misunderstand the insult as a compliment.
  • I made so many mistakes on purpose just to get them out of the way.
  • There are truly two kinds of people: you and everyone else.
  • It’s impossible to fail if one doesn’t know how the end should look. And it’s impossible to succeed. But it’s possible to enjoy.
  • Vocation and ambition are different, but ambition doesn’t know the difference.

This Canvas Called Life

Yesterday’s stroll down memory lane continues to stir up more thoughts about my past than expected. I wonder why we sometimes dwell on a period of our life remembered fondly, and for some, wistful to experience them again. So what’s the value in recalling these younger, impactful times when few responsibilities allowing doors to experiences and experiments?

Why did these dredged-up memories of my twenties stick with me so long after looking at these photos? Was I subconsciously yearning for living like that again, or the fabled time machine fallacy of “Wish I could go back then knowing what I know now?” Connecting to the people and places back then, that’s no longer me (nor them), since our lives since changed into different people and newer places. We should cherish such memories, since these are the layers of paint we applied to the canvas called life throughout our years. Each overlapping layer—our experiences and errors—build up to what our lives are now.
 

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

We all probably have that Uncle or someone at family get-togethers who tells the same old stories from his past. I remember at one such gathering finally asking him, “So what cool stuff’s happened to you since then?” To which his reply showed how tightly he held and refuse to let go of the past: “Oh, you know, the same-old, same-old.”

Philosopher and author Nassim Taleb wrote about the “narrative fallacy,” that tendency for some to pull unrelated events from the past, spun into stories and inserted into conversations, often unconnected to the conversation. For these people, it’s another chance to brag about one’s feats, salve for their souls they must think need constant reminders of those glory days.

So does that mean telling stories from our past is bad? Out of context, or for the benefit of the teller and not their listeners, probably not the best idea. Sharing and learning from those who’ve walked this Earth longer than we have is a valued tradition. But when it’s all someone can talk about, probably not good to dwell too much on the past, or see them as their “best of times” with later years merely clock-watching until it’s over.

We grow to fit the time we live in and enjoy and appreciate it because of these continually applied layers. Each succeeding layer influences the next, changing in color and tone, through the years. We should never stop creating our life’s artwork, even though we don’t know how majestic or colorful each added layer will be, but we know they will reflect who and what we are.

Vivid memories of my youth simply reveal a life embraced and explored. These people and places back then are ones to cherish, not wish to be back there with them. Each layer on our canvas are ones to be thankful for, and perhaps occasionally enjoy fond memories. Quickly, though, we return to finding the right paints for the wet layer we’re brushing on today. Each day we should be ever grateful to what’s underneath, once again standing at our easels, on yet another day with brush and palette in hands.