Blogs by Kalikiano Kalei
Life in the 'OTHER Walden Pond'...
4/18/2008 1:42:45 PM
Ever think your life has been little more than a continuing series of failed promises, impossible dreams, unreached objectives, misconceived ambitions, and other windmill tilts of the Don Quixote kind? Live long enough and you shall! Stick around as we take another glimpse into the kindly (if somewhat addled) Don's head.
LIFE IN THE 'OTHER' WALDEN POND...
Henry David Thoreau’s transcendentalist thoughts have exerted a powerful influence over me throughout my life. As an inherently peaceful person who conscientiously makes an effort to recognize and acknowledge the relatedness of all humanity on this increasingly congested but breathtakingly beautiful little mudball we call home, there are moments, however, when I rue the fact that I am about as dangerously exciting a personality as a snow-flake in July.
Having returned once again from my spiritual home on Molokai to my regular venue in Central California, I found the ambient temp this morning hovering in the low 30s. While this is not any sort of remarkable low in any thermally absolute sense, it is cold enough when you have to get on the bike and make the daily mad dash to the office. Fortunately, the upside of such crisp, clear, and cold early morning rides is that it gets the blood circulating through the brain more rapidly than by caffeine alone. At such gutter-bunny moments, when the unconscious half of me is keenly attuned to diligent avoidance of becoming HumVee roadkill, the conscious half has about 30 minutes of quality reflective time to yet again mull over the endless bumps and irregularities that characterise the bicycle path of life.
Thoreau was of course a brilliantly insightful, if severely internalized, cerebrally convoluted and existentially constipated individual. He circulated among and was attracted to thoughtful and reflective peers of his time, as one would expect of any intellectually gifted individual. Thoreau was also, as many fail to recognize, quite extraordinarily fortunate in his desired pursuit of contemplative wisdom in that he had the leisure of a reflective lifestyle afforded by family access to substantial money…not something many philosophers of any era may typically avail themselves of. Even if one is not a student of human economics, it isn’t hard to appreciate the fact that great ideas are usually produced only when the basic needs of survival (health, food, shelter) have been met. In Thoreau’s case, as a naturally conservative material minimalist, HDT’s situation was considerably aided by a convenient ability to get along on a fraction of what others might. All of these factors enabled him to devote an unusual amount of time to consideration of the quality of human existence. Thanks to all these factors, we have the outflux of Thoreau’s many ruminations to call up and examine at our own leisure (attenuated as it may be in comparison). Of the many, many eminently repeatable quotes that I associate with his deeply intuitive meditations on the universal human experience, a phrase from his seminal work Walden never strays far from my thoughts: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
It is, of course, too true, even if many among us aren’t adept enough to put a finger on it as perfectly as Thoreau managed. Not all of us can be the sort of cavalierly reckless and hyper-hormonally exciting sort of person that most women find inescapably interesting and attractive. In fact, very few of us XY chromosomed critters are actually like that. This tendency for women to unconsciously seek out the unpredictable, willful, and masterful aspects of maleness, while simultaneously screening potential mates for more conventional, balanced, and supportive traits is probably (to a substantial extent) the fault of America’s overall mainstream delusion that Hollywood 'reality' mirrors genuinely authentic life. Regrettably, few of us males can be Brad Pitts, Tom Cruises, or Johnny Depps, since there is usually only one such person with those characteristics, and the image and affect of each is a carefully titrated, calibrated, and fine-tuned synthesis of artificiality that has little (if any) association with the genuine daily realities of American life.
Nevertheless, this doesn’t seem to deter the largely subconscious allure of uncontrollable danger in relationships that many women seem to vicariously seek in the objects of their affection. And therein lays the pathos, for most of us are locked into sad little routines of expedient daily existence the terms of which are largely dictated by the undeniable need to make a living in the best manner possible. The terms in reference are best met by being quiet, unobtrusive, compliant, flexible, bland, unannoying, soft-spoken, and otherwise indistinguishable from the rest of the herd. That why most of the male herd are able to hold down boring but steady and reliable occupational situations that eventually convert them into pale and pathetic paragons of synthetic vanilla pudding.
My own basis for contextual comparisons took form over 10 years of expatriate life that found me in many places around the globe, regularly interacting in a variety of cultures with a widely varied number of often non-Caucasian and ethnically diverse individuals. At one point, one of my closest and most valued associates was a Sudanese fellow. At others, I counted Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Arab, and Indian individuals among my inner circle of friends and colleagues. Having the opportunity to vicariously absorb and appreciate the rich cultural features (thoughts, attitudes, outlooks, view, feelings, and emotions) of each had a cumulative impact on my own understandings of who I was that was at once profound and subtle. Having had tendencies to embrace the broader view of what humanity is all about from a much earlier point in my life (as a white child adopted by a couple in Hawaii), these years of ‘graduate school’ in the University of Life simply enhanced the already strong clarity of my world-view and permitted me to see things through lenses unclouded by the natural (perhaps even understandable) biases that characterise many of my fellow American compatriots.
I regard my time spent abroad as a sort of important transitional ‘rite of passage’ out of the conventionally skewed American socio-economic manner of regarding life and towards an appreciation of the viewpoint more closely affected by other nations and their citizens. This was an opportunity of the greatest possible value for me personally, and fortunately I was well aware of that value before I started the journey, with the result that I benefited tremendously from it. One of the side benefits that I hadn’t really focused on in my anticipation of becoming an expat was the broadening effect it would have on who and what I am as a whole person. The folksy chorus of a classic World War One Tin-Pan Alley song by Joe Young and Sam Lewis echoes amusingly: “How ‘ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm, after they’ve seen Par-EEEE?” As true as the allegorical statement made in the famous Thomas Wolf novel is (‘You Can’t Go Home Again’), once you’ve left the lazy eddies on the slower periphery of the river and been caught up in the swift central currents of the larger world, you’ll never be the same person again, no matter how hard you may (or may not) try.
As a result of this newly familiar world milieu I began swimming in, I gained a refinement of thought, wonder, curiosity, and endless thirst for variety that one simply doesn’t find in a small, sleepy plantation town in Hawaii. This effect is strong enough in itself, but when you take an adopted boy with strong Celtish inclinations and factor in that additional influence, several things happen: 1), you can never again think along the same conventionally unremarkable lines as the rest of the herd, and 2) you’ll never be able to comfortably return to the old flock of lambs you came from. A fish out of water, a moment stolen from time, a shark among minnows, a supernova in a black hole, all sorts of expressions of incongruency and non-concentricity aptly describe the resulting feelings such adventures inspire in one whose perceptions have irrevocably changed in this manner.
The down-side of all this is that it tends to make you a social pariah of sorts in your native culture, since once returned to the conventions of ‘normal’ life, any deviation from the normative plane of thought or mode of existence shared by the vast majority of ‘ordinary’ people marks you apart as an ‘odd’ individual. Sometimes this characterization takes form as a verbal rejection (for instance, when you are characterised as a weirdo for daring to think differently, embrace and bespeak values that run contrary to conventional wisdom, or when one is singled out as a ‘geek’ simply because one has vision that extends beyond the normal limits of human perception). At other times the aspersion is a bit more cultivated or discrete (‘colorful’, ‘wonderfully crazed’, or ‘refreshingly different’), but the overall fact is that extreme diversity in outlook, thought, and or attitude is seldom rewarded with frank approbation by the herd. Thus, unless the attitudes are conveniently shielded behind the exterior façade of a handsome, hunky, and finely idealised male appearance, a Weird Harold regard is more often than not the usual reward for being somewhat in advance of common awarenesses in America.
As a result, and despite one’s intuitive feeling that despite others’ misperceptions, one is a valuable, stimulating, and interesting person, ‘odd fish’ have their occasional dark moments of quiet desperation, to be sure. Usually, this occurs when the ego defenses have failed to shield some normally well protected vulnerability that unpredictably yawns wide, despite our best efforts. At others, a careless missile of ignorant disregard or limited awareness may cause a momentary system failure of one’s self-confidence. I’ve certainly experienced many such moments and uncertainty is not a ‘sexy’ quality to project, whenever it happens (someone once observed that unshakable self-confidence is perhaps the best aphrodisiac anyone may possess, in terms of attracting the interest of a potential life-partner; it's better than pure good looks, better than overt sensuality, and better than any other ‘positive’ quality you can think of that one may have in his/her armamentarium of attractions).
And yet, to be so absolutely certain of one’s authenticity, one’s legitimacy, one’s personal affective rectitude, is so extremely difficult for someone who has intuitively grasped that there is no such thing as absolute certainty to be found in any aspect of human affairs as to be an impossibility. Regrettably, the more one learns and the more one opens the mind to experience and knowledge, the less certain one tends to become about just about anything. Was it Socrates who is reputed to have uttered the words “The more I know, the more I know nothing” (or an approximation thereof)? Unless one is an actor, a highly skilled performer (hello Hollywood!), or a human chameleon, the more intelligent individual tends to suffer a greater number of these ‘moments of quiet despair’ than most normal people.
This is, of course, the basis for my oft repeated and highly sardonic observation that the happiest people on Earth are the pre-frontally lobotomized. If one accepts the definition of happy as a total lack of sadness and despair, then lobotomies of all types, whether physical, metaphorical, or spiritual, are highly desirable. There are strong associations here with certain Eastern Asian philosophies (specifically Ch’an Buddhism and Taoism) and various martial disciplines (Aiki-Do and related warrior mind-sets) to be sure, but to fully succeed in embracing such supremely accommodating outlooks is a near impossibility in mainstream America (or at least highly improbable). Predictably, ‘interesting’ people are often viewed as anything but attractive and are more likely to be viewed as dull, when the sad irony is that this perception of dullness might reasonably be considered a projection of the contemplator’s own vapid, lackluster, and unimaginative personality as an assessment based entirely within a necessarily limited set of awarenesses.
Very recently an article came out in which it was suggested (in a light-hearted, whimsical sort of way) that the vast majority of men are just plain dull. The article went on to cite a web URL that serves as the coordinating focus for the grossly aspersive view of maledom that is the International Dull Men’s Club. Yes, it’s cute and yes it’s light-hearted amusement, but as true as the IDMC's satirical thesis may be, I refuse to consider it any sort of accolade to be lumped in with the bland masses of married male parent-persons and consider such archly ironic attempts to neuter a dreadfully sad fact with applied humor anathema. As a joke goes, it’s the modern satirical equivalent of SINA, that bizarre 70s organization that made a national campaign out of promoting the clothing of naked animals (Society for Indecency to Naked Animals). The small kernel of deadly truth found lurking behind the establishment of this jokey group (the IDMC) is, nonetheless, painfully apparent. As with all gems of humor, there is a hard, uncomfortably incisive element of edgy truth lurking at its core.
Another recent article catching my eye concerned a study done on moods and found that contrary to previous popular wisdom, one’s happiness quotient is no more a fixed emotional given than anything else in human affairs. The argument made, based on the finding of the 10 year study, was that a simple process of reflecting (at bedtime) on three positively pleasant events that occurred during the day, could in a fairly short period of time raise one’s ‘happiness quotient’ as much as 20 to 30 percent. I found myself thinking about that this morning, as I bounced over yet another yawning Grand Canyon of a chasm (the City Department of Public Works people humorously refer to these pits as potholes) in the bike lane. I normally don’t reflect on happy events that I stumble into in my daily affairs, since it is a well known fact that would-be intellectuals of limited cerebral ability who think too much frequently burn out the pleasure centers of their brains entirely (Hawaiian adopted, pseudo-intellectual Irish lads not excluded).
Consequently, after arriving at the office (where I faced another multi-billion dollar State Treasury Bond processing headache), I was still thinking about this when I left the Treasury to get the daily AM coffee and paper across the street with my faithful Indian compendium (AKA: Smilin' Jack). Jack and I were standing on the corner, just across the street from the Treasury and exchanging the usual round of insinuative personal insults, low-brow jabs, and dismissive jests (all in good fun, of course, since it is a game played well and enjoyably by most men), when suddenly who should show up but Bicycle Girl!
Bicycle Girl is an absolutely drop-dead healthy young woman who bikes to her office each day and it is the chief highlight of our every coffee run in the early AM to catch a glimpse of this paragon of excellent physical condition as she zips by us in her pleasingly stretched Spandex. This morning, however, she turned towards us at the last second and made to pass. Since her trajectory was squarely vectored to take her through the spot I was momentarily rooted to, coffee and paper in hand, I instinctively moved a couple of feet to the right to let her go by. Unfortunately (for her, fortunately for me!), her reflexes also commanded a simultaneous leftward course-correction for the same purpose. As you might guess, this left us both on an unavoidable collision course. Sure enough, split seconds latter my coffee was flying, the paper was scattering in the wind, and I ended up on the pavement with one of the most beautiful woman bicyclists I could ever imagine sprawled deliciously across me (literally holding her in my arms on the pavement).
We were understandably both absolutely flummoxed by the attempt to occupy the same space simultaneously and all I could think of was to smile as broadly and as genuinely as I possibly could, for the sheer spontaneity of the moment was to me absolutely priceless. My smile must have been as spontaneously blinding as a high-output laser because she also smiled broadly, and for a few precious seconds we were looking each other squarely in the eye from the distance of a few inches. What I saw there was not mild disapprobation, constrained disgust, superficial embarrassment, or even neutral appraisal, but a glimmer of honestly unconstrained mirth. The absolute incongruity of this unexpected collision seemed to have sparked some sort of strange (but wonderful) synergistic feeling in both of us and for those few seconds I could feel an open and entirely unguarded merging of spirited energy that was better than the impact of a quadruple Espresso. It was a delightful moment and I must have continued to beam stupidly for quite a while after that. After we had picked ourselves up and made our mutually polite, but smiling protests of blame for causing the accident, she dusted off her Spandex, remounted the undamaged TREK mountain bike she was riding, and continued up the block to an office where Smilin' jack and I surmised she must work.
I can truthfully say that I’ve never been run over by a more gorgeously appealing and beautifully conditioned gal in my life. As I sit here in the office writing this, a bit later in the morning, I can’t help but feel some regret over the fact that this is exactly the sort of woman I would have liked to have met earlier in life. Attractive, exceptionally fit, witty, and clearly very intelligent, she shared the same apparent conviction I do about making a positive effort to substitute healthful alternative transportation means for the use of personal automobiles.
I guess the nearest thing I can think of that comes close to this feeling (in a necessarily superficial way) is the scene in ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’, wherein the young maiko (apprentice geisha) takes her first stroll through the village that her ‘house’ is located in. The young maiko’s tutor tells her that the truest test of one’s success as a geisha is to be able to leave a passing man gaping stupidly with a single glance, so totally captivated by her passing has he become in that instant. In the movie, such an event occurs and the effect is most whimsical. That is exactly the sort of feeling my collision with this attractive young woman produced in me. I was literally stunned into a happily stupid state, so impressive (no pun intended) was her impact (in every way, LoL) on me.
As I think it all over again, for the hundredth time, if I had been a bit more quick-witted on (or off) my feet, I might have parlayed that incidental meeting into something more, such as a weekend bike ride on the local trails and bike paths. Regrettably, the moment came and went at light speed, as is so often the case when an unusual opportunity knocks briefly on one’s doorstep and is irretrievably lost forever. Sigh! Who was it that said ‘Every human life is an hourglass of possibilities, and each grain of sand therein is another lost second of opportunity’?
I imagine that I shall be there on that same corner, every morning, at the same time, from now until the end of forever, futilely attempting to will another such totally coincidental collision to occur. At least she now knows that I make an exceptional cushy landing spot, eh?
Postscript: Several months later, I found myself riding home from work on my bike one afternoon, when I came up behind the young woman in reference above, also on her bike and apparently going home from work herself. In my usual ‘bon homme’ mood I greeted her with something REALLY stupid like “Hi! I’m the guy you just about ran over a few months ago…” The response from her was the strangest, blankest, and most puzzled look I have ever encountered in my life. Heart sinking to my bike shoes like shark shit in the Challenger Deep's Marianas Trench, I swallowed hard, smiled again hugely, and immediately passed on by her at a high rate of speed (about 22 mph) to hopefully cover my embarrassment in a cloud of dust. Clearly, she hadn’t had a glimmer of what I was referring to, although her ‘impact’ on me the day we had collided had been unforgettable. Another example of why Thoreau had it nailed down so neatly when he uttered his famous remark, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” And now please excuse me; I have a quietly desperate life to resume.
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