2020

“…in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort….” (From The Republic, Plato)

It’s hard to avoid the irony—the titular year of perfect vision, the unraveling of once reliable norms, political structures, checks and balances, civility in all arenas, the losses of loved ones and heroes to injustice and disease.

And it’s equally hard to avoid the comparison—between that titular year of sudden perfect vision, and the years of blurring and distortion, loss of sight preceding it.

That loss creeps up on us slowly. Colors lose their intensity, fading from brilliant to dull, letters spread into each other across pages and screens as poetry and prose and road signs seem layered with petroleum jelly. For a while, it’s easy to grow accustomed to, and comfortable with changes, a world smearing out of focus, and accommodate them with sharper lenses and adjusted habits. It’s easy to say we can deal with things as they are. We’re not missing anything truly important. We can still make out the big picture.

But then, one day, those street lights that come on at dusk glare at and confuse us, make us misread road signs. Or, the newspaper goes untouched because it’s too taxing to decipher small print. That’s when we realize how much of the big picture we’re not seeing.

I’m getting to that stage with my own vision, which has been on a steady decline for years. And I’ve been through enough cataract surgeries with friends and family to understand how startling sudden clarity can be.

More than one friend has related how shocked she was by her first look at herself after surgery. “I walked by the mirror, not intending to stop, then did a double-take after I caught sight of a strange image moving across the glass. I couldn’t believe the woman’s wrinkled up face was mine.”

For many of us, the severely clouded lenses that enabled our old lives and habits and beliefs have been stripped away, and we aren’t quite sure how to process and respond to the stark and painful clarity of new vision, or function with it. No matter which way we turn, no matter how well we think we’re adjusting, there’s always another flaw, another act of cruelty, corruption, injustice, bigotry, stupidity, selfishness, and there’s always another loss—of a loved one, or hero….

I wish I had words to ease the pain, fury, and helplessness over being assailed with such clarity, the harsh reality it exposes. But all I have is an increasing sense of urgency to more actively care for those I love, impress upon them the necessity of taking care of themselves and their loved ones, paying attention to persistent symptoms, scheduling life-saving tests, looking both ways when crossing the street, wearing a mask…wearing a mask….

That, at least, is a start.

Stay safe. Be well.

©2020 All Rights Reserved

Mass Hypnosis

Albert von Keller – Hypnose bei Schrenck-Notzing

There’s a moment in the film, All About Eve, where Margo Channing, an actress in mid-life with a salty tongue and noble spirit says, “I detest cheap sentiment.” Words to live by. Yet, she becomes prey to the cheapest of sentimental ploys by a young, ambitious, and conniving actress, named, Eve.

Margo is the model for my inner critic, Griselda, mentioned in earlier posts—although Griselda’s cynicism would never allow her to be victimized by someone as saccharine as the title character in All About Eve. She would have seen through Eve immediately and sent her packing.

As you might suspect, I detest cheap sentiment, too. Over the years, I’ve learned to recognize that sort of emotional manipulation. Google’s recent Super Bowl ad was a particularly offensive example. Narrated by an actor playing the part of a widower asking Google to remind him of things his departed wife said, the voice-over and images were set to a threnody designed to to wrench viewers’ heartstrings from their chests.

And, judging by the majority of reactions on social media, the technique worked.

But I was infuriated. Because aside from what I saw as a facile and obvious attempt to manipulate people’s emotions, there was an underlying awareness to it that all the sorrow and empathy evoked would make viewers forget forget forget that Google is storing those lovely memories and photographs, along with plenty of other data they’ve amassed via tracking, and that the accumulation of that data, and access to users’ lives and activities comes with risks.

Cheap sentiment is a powerful tool, and those who use it know that.

Last night people’s screens filled with shamelessly sweet and heart-stirring images and false promises designed to make them forget forget forget years of the most sinister and self-serving behavior.

Look here not there, listen to this, not that, and think only about how the images and words make you feel….

It hard to blame people for not seeing the truth. The technique is cheap, but frighteningly hypnotic.

It’s hard to fault them for being distracted, forgetting….

But do you hear that? It’s the sound of fingers snapping. Wake up. Wake up. And remember….

©2020 All Rights Reserved

Provenance

“Picture of Dorian Gray” by Ivan Le Lorraine Albright,

His car belonged to a Nazi.
Not a would be,
Or wannabe,
Or could have been,
Or clone,
But a Nazi high in rank,
A name you’d know,
And I forgot
The minute he smiled and said it.

He keeps it under wraps in his garage
To shield it from harsh winters,
Hungry salt;
But brings it out when sunlight burns
Each Independence Day,
To drive in the parade.
Crowds wave and sweat,
And he waves back,
Honking,
Drowned out by marching bands.

Afterward, he parks it by his house,
And beams as neighbor’s children
Ooh and ah,
And beg to climb inside.
He doesn’t balk, but
Makes them wash their hands
Of sticky cream,
And cheesy dust,
With disinfectant wipes.
He is insistent on this step,
Of course,
To keep the car pristine,
Interior unstained—
As if it could.

©2019 All Rights Reserved