Friday, October 26, 2012

Thoughts thunk on the way to thinking other thoughts.

Last week I started a little "stream of consciousness" writing while at the ice arena with Gabe and Brenden. I recently popped it back up on the MacBook screen, corrected some spelling, added a couple of thoughts about a friend in the hospital, and will now publish it to the cruel, cruel world. Don't take anything I say seriously. These are just random firings of neurons and have no significance in the greater world. Yet, like a train wreck, some will stop and stare.

It all started with a line I read in a history book: "All of us know that what we want to do and what we do is always the subject of an interaction between our will and the world around us.”

Ahem … (just clearing my throat … and thinking …)

One hopes that, with age, will come some wisdom. The school of hard knocks is a good teacher, but often the tuition is quite high. This political season is the first that I’ve experienced with so much free time on my hands to consider and study. Usually I was engrossed in the activities of earning a living. Getting along, day-to-day, can be very absorbing for anyone, but I worked in the business of thought and ideas. I often did more work in my head after work than I ever worked during work. I was a problem solver, and that took more of my time — and my family’s time — than I was ever willing to admit. The great loss since retirement has been that interaction with thinking people as we worked our hardest to solve seemingly unsolvable problems. Frankly, I really miss that. Oh, I’ve got plenty of problems to solve in this time after retirement, but it doesn’t seem the same at all. For one thing, all the time pressure seems to be gone. There are no longer any deadlines to deal with, (at least not too many deadlines), and I have the luxury of time on my hands.

I’ve taken advantage of that time and this marvelous human creation called the internet to get back to school … a place always on my mind. I’ve accomplished my childhood dream of enrolling in Stanford University … something prevented in the past by lack of good grades, lack of money, and just plain lack of will power. But now I’m there … virtually. I’m sitting in the back of the classroom learning more math and physics and even history. Guess which topic is the hardest for me? Guess which one is taking the most study time? Guess which one I carry a text book wherever I go? I’m sitting in the stands at the ice arena freezing my nether end off as I watch my grandkids skate and I contemplate the twentieth century. The twenty-first will have to wait.

I’ve responded to some of these new challenges of retirement through writing and other creative outlets. That has been a great joy to me. I now have time to pursue these personal interests. To some extent, this little theme is a result of that spare time … that and battery powered laptops that can go anywhere … even to the ice arena.

Linda and I have also taken advantage of our physical and fiscal health to travel extensively, and we have more fun journeys in the works, as soon as the snow clears, we’ll be back out on the highway. Maybe this winter should be spent on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean. Now that’s a solution in search of a problem.

But this new found time to relax and think has been struck head-on by the current election cycle and political season. I’ve had to think hard about politics and candidates, as well as evaluate the posting of friends and friends of friends expressing their frustration with those damn democrats and those rascal republicans. (Note I didn’t even capitalize the party names. Not in the mood. Sorry.)

I’m a frequent poster on Facebook, and read all that others post. I’m out on the web, and keep my nose in the news. Not to mention the fact my phone rings day and night and my mail box is stuffed full of people telling me what to think. All those conflicting voices. Facts to check, and claims to verify. Bias to consider and point-of-view to contemplate. Where will I find all the time. Important decisions … certainly. As one comedian said, “Half the people in the US don’t read the newspaper and half don’t vote. Let’s just hope it is the same half.” (Insert audience laugh here … whistling is also recommended when walking past a graveyard.)

Meanwhile I’ve dealt with the frailty of age, sickness, doctors, hospitals, … It hasn’t been me, although I am high maintenance and keep on first name basis with my doctors, but it has been loved ones and friends. The frailty of life, and the cost of living … and medicine … are on my mind daily. We have a dear friend in the hospital as I write these lines. So this has led me to even grander thought excursions as I contemplate human suffering and the cosmos in the same thoughts.

Consider this quotations from the British political scientist Martin White which seems to me is something everybody who has a life will immediately recognize, “All of us know that what we want to do and what we do is always the subject of an interaction between our will and the world around us.” We continually live our lives with what the great military strategist Clausewitz called “friction;” that is the resistance of the world to our effort to master and act within it. Experience tells us this conflict between freedom and necessity, between will and circumstance, it is the nature of life.

As an engineer and a physicists, I know that friction produces heat. Does the heat produce light? Or does it just produce smoke? That is the question.

As we live our lives, we wish for a better outcome, from ourselves, our family, our country, our politics, our military, our friends, our religion — all the institutions upon which we base our thoughts and philosophies. I wonder, and I study to answer, but I still can’t really say if things are better now or worse now. Is the trajectory an increasing graph or a declining graph. A simple matter to determine with calculus in the unthinking realm of equations and numbers. But in “real life,” who can say? New life is born, old lives end. The world goes round.

My conclusion: I’ll be glad when this political season ends, so we can get on with acting so assured about out beliefs and so certain about the falsehood of others. it'll be great to say, "I told you so" or "If only." If we’re so damn smart, then why ain’t we rich?

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