Friday, October 26, 2012

Life after death and the supreme pizza

This just in from the - Trending topics this week:  A brain surgeon says the afterlife is real.  And, Pizza Hut offers lifetime pizza. 

Now that’s my kind of news!   

Doesn’t it just take away the fear of death?  Relax!  You know everything will be OK if there’s Eternal Pepperoni!   

Maybe that was what Felix Baumgartner was thinking about right before he stepped away from his own personal Red Bull space pod.  Twenty-four miles up.  Eight hundred miles an hour.  Free falling.  He must have been contemplating life everlasting and a fresh calzone. 

Actually, I heard he’s a big romantic.  Just at that moment when you can’t take it back, he reported saying to himself, “I don’t want to die in front of my girlfriend.”   

But…but…Then why would you…?  Oh never mind. 

Now I don’t have a death wish, but I do have a death thought.  Totally unbidden you understand.  Still, almost every day “it” crosses my mind somehow, someway. 

For example, we recently bought a mattress with a 25-year warranty.  That’ll give you pause for a death thought.  This could be THE mattress.  If I’m lucky that is, and meet my demise while at home, smiling in my sleep, dreaming of a Chicago-style pan pie with everything on it. 

I often think of death when I’m at the gym, but not my own.  It’s not exactly that I’m wishing actual death on anyone.  It’s more like that commercial where an unwanted nuisance just goes “poof!”  There go those muscled-up guys who wear sweatbands and flex the tattoos on their biceps.  No more toned young women with ponytails and other things bouncing.  Abracadabra!  It’s satisfying. 

And I guess some might say I dramatize my near-death experiences in the U-Jam class.  Maybe I don’t have to bend from the waist and gulp oxygen quite so often.  No true need to hold up my hand for all to pause and watch as I declare my imminent end.  OK.  Whatever.  You try U-Jam. 

But I’m not preoccupied.  I’m not!  It’s natural to think about death and dying every day, isn’t it?  Admit it.  I’m not the only one. 

My center for rationalization has kicked in to assure me that we all do it – we all think of our own unraveling. 

I figure it’s a common train of thought or we wouldn’t have so many euphemisms for “passing away.”  You know, like the Eskimos and snow.  Or, MontyPython and the parrot.  

Or, maybe it’s unique to of those of us who’ve crossed a particular threshold:  More yesterdays than tomorrows.  A person occupying that spot on the timeline of life can’t help thinking about, you know, let’s see…what’s a gentle way of putting it - joining the crowd invisible (my own personal favorite nickname for “going to meet your maker”).   

An upbeat tidbit in the life-and-death dilemma comes from DiscoverMagazine’s online edition.  They report that reverse aging is not a physical impossibility, but merely a technological challenge. 

So, it appears that baby booming lab geeks are also mulling over the phenomenon of expiration.  They’re no doubt working on some kind of gadget we’ll clamp onto our heads to regenerate tired old sagging cell structure and pink up the gray matter.  Or maybe they’ll invent an immortality pill.  Either way.   

Perhaps they’ll wrap us in aluminum foil like Miles Monroe in “Sleeper” and freeze dry us in anticipation of death defying scientific innovation. 

I figure it’ll be a metabolism thingamajig.  Discover says a lifetime spans 1.5 billion heartbeats, give or take.  That’s true for any and all living beings.  Humming birds, grizzly bears, retired high school principals…all the same.  Critters with shorter lifespans just get their 1.5 billion in a lot faster than the rest of us.  So logically, all we need is an H.G. Wells sort of slow everything down pacemaker.  

The guy in the article actually said that he doesn’t expect to live forever, but when it comes to his grandkids “all bets are off!”   

Ha ha ha!  It’s just so much fun not to fret over the inevitable. 

Oh well.  There’s no point in getting morbid about it.   

After all, even when we do tuck it in, there’s always the pizza.


Friday, October 19, 2012

Elvis has not left the building

Like William Shatner, Chris Christie and Hillary Clinton, I too live with a disorder.  I know how it feels to struggle with reality.   

Happily, while our disorder can create an incongruous circumstance on occasion, day-to-day it protects us from unpleasant truths. 

Let’s call it reverse anorexia.  With this condition, in spite of our mirror’s testimony, we persist in thinking we look good. 

That’s what tripped me up for my Elvis party - I thought sure I would be the young, sexy Elvis.  You know, the one in black leather.  Or Jailhouse Rock Elvis in cuffed jeans and a striped T-shirt.  Man! 

That’s how I’d always pictured myself in spite of the obvious dissimilarities:  His black hair, my blonde.  His sneer, my lack of lip control.  His maleness, my femaleness. 

Does this sound weird?   

But I thought, what’s the fun of being Priscilla?  OK the big hair.  That could be fun.  So I bought a Snooky wig from the party store conceding Priscilla might be my fallback position.   

Her Cleopatra eyeliner could be cool.  But past that, what would I wear?  Priscilla’s only known wardrobe is a wedding dress!  I’d have to get a ‘new’ one at Goodwill because despite how my mirror assures me, my 1990 Battenberg lace is a little snug. 

No!  I wanted to be Elvis!  

And why not?!!  I know the lyrics to all his songs.  I practiced his moves - the twitching shoulder, the single knee dip and the tippy-toe walk.  I wind milled my arm all around the house in anticipation of this shindig.  I deserved to be Elvis! 

So you can imagine the disappointment, even disbelief.  What a slap in the face when I first caught sight of myself in my size large gold lame` suit and jet black wig. 

I never dreamed I’d look so pasty.  Or boxy.  Or genderless. 

I so believed I’d look cool.  Thank God I could hide behind those giant gold aviator sunglasses. 

Why didn’t I try everything on together BEFORE the party?   

Why?  Reverse Anorexia!  I was certain my imaginary self was my real self.   

I love my fantasy self even though she’s a deceiver.  Her clothes always fit and flatter.  She doesn’t need make-up what with her natural beauty.  Reverse anorexia may be the best defense mechanism ever clung to by a partygoer or party-thrower like me.   

I guess I can take some solace in the fact that pretty much everyone at the party looked ridiculous.  But they gave the impression it didn’t bother them.  They rather expected it.  Evidently, they’d been living in the real world from the start.  So when they donned their blue suede shoes, it was all good. 

Even my husband, normally reserved and circumspect, joined a cadre of Elvises in white jumpsuits with rhinestones strewn across their shoulders and down their chests - the chests exposed by the jumpsuits’ deep ‘v’ front.  They tucked their thumbs into their be-jeweled WWE-style belts, twirled their red scarves while prancing about in white boots.  Multiple pseudo-Elvises strode around our living room swinging their capes and saying, “Thankyaverimuch.” 

But their wigs didn’t fit either!  How were they OK with that? 

I had searched the internet in vain for an Elvis impersonator within my price range.  Then, when it seemed impossible, I got a referral!  

I approached this professional entertainer shyly, saying I was embarrassed to be asking on such short notice.  But he won me over with his willingness to appear for a pittance, and his response to my inquiry: “No need to be embarrassed, Miss CaroLynn,” he wrote, keeping in character start to finish, “there’ll be enough time for that during my performance.” 

So I was a dubious, but he was amazing!  His unabashed channeling of Mrs. Presley’s only son made our party a smash.  He took the mic in breakaway costumes and layer after layer he went through a sort of backwards evolution - from a chunky hunka burnin’ love, all the way down to King Creole!  

He might not actually be Elvis, but his imaginary self worked it.  No apologies.  No regrets.   

Now that’s my new coping mechanism:  How to deal with reverse anorexia and the clash between my mirror and my dreams?  Shake it, baby!  Shake it!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Reunion, Regression and Traveling Light

Our common experiences are the events that characterize our humanity.  Rites of passage carry us across in-born boundaries and reverberate in the deepest fibers of our being.   

At once frightening and thrilling these defining moments, and our responses to them, structure what comes next as we tiptoe through the tribulations and trials of quiet desperation. 

We must breach these cultural thresholds to make our way in the world.  We each have our own heroes’ journeys: 

Sleep away camp.  Prom night.  Public Laundromats.  Festival seating.  Marriage.  Divorce.  Marriage.   

Each daunting in its own rite.  Each with its own special brand of innocence lost.  

But few milestone events can bring a person’s life screaming past her field of vision faster than her High School Reunion. 

Oh no, no!  Not that!  Anything but that!  Not a Reunion!

Please don’t make me relive the days of self-conscious fear that everyone is looking, coupled with oblique terror that no one cares.  I don’t think I can take it. 

I can’t take it.   

I’ll crater.  I’ll buckle.  I’ll say something stupid, again.  I’ll freeze and say nothing.  I’ll revert!  I’ll be the exact same awkward, clueless, needy, uncertain, arrogant, unformed, human-in-the-making as I was, oh so long ago. 

Yet oddly, I can feel surrender creeping up on me.  My friends are my undoing.  They’re on each side of me with their hands on my arms, pulling.  “Come on!” they say.  “It’ll be fun!”  

I go limp like a child resisting bedtime.  I don’t want to have fun.  Don’t make me.  

But I can see they’ll prevail.  I’ll go.  

I’m pretending to hold out, but I can feel my feet betraying me.  They’ve begun to move, slogging, pulling out of the sucking mud of dread, marching toward the inevitable – old cliques, old crushes, old in-crowd v. old out-crowd.   


Here it comes:  A party where I’ll wear a nametag with my yearbook picture on it so my be-spectacled gray-haired peers can somehow bridge the chasm between that senior and this senior.  A raucous good time where the golden oldies play so loud I’ll have to shout well-meaning but inane questions about what you’ve been up to and do you have kids. 

In truth, I’ve already reverted.  My latent immaturity has bobbed to the surface and is treading water, waiting for an opportunity to embarrass me.  It twists every possibility into disaster and every nuance into innuendo. 

Do I sound neurotic?  Good then, you understand.  

Oh sure, on paper, I had a fine high school experience.  My pimples came mostly one at a time, and were strategically located.  I deployed my eyebrow pencil and disguised them as “beauty marks.”  I had long, straight blonde hair.  Priceless in 1968. 

I played what’s her name in “Barefoot in the Park.”  I was secretary, or historian, or vice president of my class or my club or something.  I was Student of the Month, but not until May. 

I didn’t know it at the time, but I’ve been told I was in with the in-crowd, the popular ones sharing inside jokes.  So why didn’t it feel any better?  If I’d only known I was cool, I would have relaxed. 

And there’s the rub.  Forty-five years later and that ole black magic has me stressing over who likes me, where I’ll sit, and if these jeans make me look fat, just like I did back then.   

Thank goodness those weren’t really the best years of my life! 

So I’m thinking this condition deserves a name all its own.  What shall we call it?  It’s a relative of that phenomenon whereby you reconnect with your old friends and take up right where you left off, as if nothing ever changed.  

Good grief!  Nothing ever did change!  Oh sure, I grew up, lived a life, did stupid things and smart things, suffered, loved, lost, won, learned and learned and learned. 

Yet here I am.  Getting ready for my reunion.  Regressing with every step.  Making reservations for a trip back home and packing all the baggage that adolescent girl carried with her.  So I hereby dub this constellation of swirling emotions the Samsonite Syndrome. 

I can only hope the airlines will lose my luggage.  Maybe I’ll travel light.   

Friday, October 5, 2012

How to Wrangle Your Irrational Thinking

From the Department of Stating the Obvious comes this revelation from Julia Galef, President of the Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR): Society would look radically different if rational thinking and decision making were widespread. 

Well now, that is a dream, isn’t it?  And coming from a card-carrying member of the New York City Skeptics too. 

But I kind of love what this bright young woman and CFAR have to offer:  training in rational thinking and strategies for employing such thinking in everyday life.   

Realistically though, who’s going to do that?  Think rationally I mean.  After all, things are going pretty darn well as they are.  No need to repair this topsy-turvy apple cart.  We’re bumping along quite nicely, thank you very much. 

Galef senses such resistance to the reasonable.  So, to warm us up to the concept of thinking and even acting rationally, she recounts a situation we can all relate to:  In 1985, Andy Grove and Gordon Moore, the co-founders of Intel, were reviewing the years of losses their mega corporation had sustained as a result of its repeated investments in the manufacturing of memory chips.  They put their substantial noggins together to try to figure out what to do with the grim data that showed them and their stakeholders losing money yet again in a long-term trend. 

Andy turned to Gordon, as the story goes, and asked, “What if the Board of Directors fired us and brought in a brand new CEO?  What would she do?”  

Gordon replied without hesitation, “She’d get out of the business of making memory chips!” 

(OK.  I’ll admit, Andy didn't made the new CEO a woman, did.  So, I put in the quotation marks, but that’s not an actual, direct quote.  It just makes sense though, don’t you think?) 

Once these two whiz kids agreed there was nothing to prevent them from taking that same hypothesized action, they took it.  They shut down the memory chip-manufacturing segment of Intel and staunched the flow of good money after bad.   

Huge success.  Genius.  Rock and roll.   

Who wouldn’t want to do that?  Be rational and all.  

But you can just hear the masses, their shoulders rounded, heads hanging low, groaning like so many Eeyores, “Oh great.  We’ve gotta be rational now.  On top of everything else.   

“It’s not as if we have a lot of empty slots on the dance card, you know.  We’re busy, what with all the repetitive, non-productive behaviors that fill our days.”   

We do love our routines, don’t we? 

Galef calls the syndrome the Intel brainiacs and the rest of us are mired in the “commitment effect,” wherein perfectly clever people stick with a business plan, a career, a relationship, or a pair of cruel shoes in spite of the evidence that they’re counterproductive or even destructive. 

It’s also been called, less diplomatically, insanity.  You know, when you keep limping around in those pointy stilettos in spite of the painful corns. 

The big question is why we cling to our self-defeating commitments.  Let’s see…Could it be that by nature, humans are illogical?  Why yes!  We maintain senseless commitments to the futile things we do.   

And those shoes are so darn cute. 

But rationality is good for you.  It can ease your pain.  So let’s all do what Grove and Moore did.  Let’s look at those shoes like a brand new CEO would.  Fresh eyes.  You get the idea.  

Why, she’d come in like my mother, take one look and say, “What?!  Are you crazy?  You’re ruining your posture.  You don’t want to wind up with a hammertoe, do you?  Here.  Take my orthopedic clogs.  Like buttah.” 

OK.  My mom was from Oklahoma.  She didn’t really talk like that.  Or wear clogs.  But to make a point.  You understand.   

Now I don’t want to dismiss Ms. Galef, CFAR or its mission, but I think I can handle the commitment effect.  No training needed.  Just call in mom. 

Yet Galef persists, warning against another common form of irrational thinking:  “confirmation bias.”  In this one a person first adopts a point of view and then goes about amassing evidence to support it, while ignoring any evidence to the contrary. 

That’s just bizarre.  Imagine if voters did that before elections!