Here are a number of general observations I have made about the American way of life while I have been here on vacation. Today is my fifth day back. Remember that I am a returning ex-patriot with one foot on the European continent and the other foot still firmly placed on the North American continent.
There is this old blue rusting chest in my mother's garage covered with years of dust. It contains a bunch of my old stuff when I used to live here many years ago. The usual teenage items of sentimental value which I have never had the heart to throw away. Long diaries, old letters, tickets from the World Series, my third place award at the Monterey County Athletics Association, souvenirs from the Big Game, golfing paraphernalia, my Stanford graduation tassel, high school awards, ad infinitum. I have left it all here to age in silence and darkness, because I just have not found the time nor the energy to go through it all when visiting during those short and frantic sojourns. This in order to see what I want to throw away for good and what I want to save and take back with me. The time has come to do this once and for all, decide what to have destroyed forever and ever, and randomly pick out those items which will survive with me to the grave. While rummaging through my many old things, I discovered a collection of poems I had written back in the days when I thought I was a future famous philosopher poet. Just for fun, here is one of my favorites. It is untitled and goes like this:
Whenever I have money
I always waste it
So today I bought a
- Kiffin, (way back in) 1978
Isn't it funny how some things never seem to change? Too bad I gave up the lucrative path as a future famous philosopher poet.
We all went to the Cannery Row this afternoon and it was lots of fun. When I was a kid it was nothing more than a bunch of old warehouses falling apart next to the ocean. Back then, I would climb around underneath the piers looking for starfish and real pirate treasures from the Steinbeck days. Now it is a tourist trap with mobs of people crawling all over the place, but the city still did a pretty nice job restoring the area to look a little like during the heyday of the fishing canneries. Our highlight was seeing the Monterey Bay Aquarium, pretty amazing to see. My favorite exhibition was the so-called "Floaters." These are invertebrate sea creatures who cannot propel themselves and are thus prone to the random ocean currents to take them everywhere all over the world. Beings whose soul purpose is merely to drift and hopefully get some place where they will survive in an unpredictable climate. Kind of reminded me alot of my existence, so to speak. When we left, I made the kids buy caramel apples because it was so American and they had to experience this (unhealthy) cuisine. But after two bites it made them all feel sick to their stomachs (Dutch kids have never had anything like that before), so I ended up eating all the leftovers. I have to admit that although it tasted great at first and I had to prove myself a worthy American father by consuming the three encapsulated fruit treats, I did feel slightly nauseous for the rest of the afternoon. Tomorrow it's up north to the San Francisco Bay area. That should be alot of fun seeing the relatives again after all these years.
What else can I say except that we have been having a really really great and fantastic time. It is hard to believe, but we are nearing the end of our first two weeks in good old sunny California. In fact, today is the very last day at Grandma's house, and we will be flying to the East Coast early tomorrow morning. Sad but true. Boy, time sure flies by. Two weeks may seem like a long time, but as you fill the day slots in with all of the activities, people you want to see, sites to visit and ad infinitum, the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fit in nicely and snugly to produce a tight and complete picture of it all. Not much room left over.
The best part of the last few days was visiting the San Francisco area, where we could see all the relatives: my wonderful aunt Jeanine, my cousins Gail and Sue and their husbands Allan and Geoff respectively, and my nephew Scot. Boy has he grown up into a man (24 already) with potential and a love of life! Brent brought his wife Cindy and youngest son Nick also. Even Uncle Dick flew down all the way from Reno, Nevada to see us for the weekend, thanks alot Uncle Dick, I feel honored to see you again. You have not changed that much at all. Everyone was really nice to us, and a special thanks go to Sue and Geoff for letting us stay over at their house. They have an absolutely beautiful home in Orinda, just perfect. Great barbecue dinner with everyone the first evening. You guys are fantastic, I mean it! The big highlight was the good old American picnic we had up in the hills behind Oakland, where after riding the little steam train and the hundred year old merry-go-round, we played baseball and ate some great food. Loved those fudge brownies (I think I had five of them). Why does it all have to go by so quickly? Vacations cannot last forever.
We ended up staying one more day than planned in the Bay Area, because I had to take Lennart to a Giant's game. I felt kind of bad staying away from my Mom, as she was the one who had paid for our plane tickets, and she really likes and deserves to see us more. But this was a once in a life opportunity to see a real ballgame. Although the game was sold out we took the risk and went there anyway using the BART public transportation. Standing in line we kept our fingers crossed, and just as we moved in front of the ticket window, two adjacent seats became free, right in back of home-plate on the upper tier. Boy were we ecstatic. The Pacbell stadium is neat with a fantastic view of the bay. The game itself was packed with runs and hits and plenty of action. We witnessed Barry Bonds hit home-run number 599, and we jumped up and down screaming our lungs out. His last time up he was thrown an intentional walk, so we felt robbed of the historical six hundred. Oh well, can't see everything. We consumed a giant hot-dog, had cokes and ice-cream, all in order to get in the mood. The Monday evening game was a first in a series of three against the Cubs. Wow what an unforgettable evening.
Other activities in San Francisco included: Fisherman's Wharf, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, driving down Lombard Street the crookedest road in the world, China Town, Union Square, a long walk along the Embarcadero promenade next to the piers, Little Italy, riding a Cable Car, the Cable Car Museum, crossing the Bay Bridge, ad infinitum. I am sure I am leaving out something, but I do not want to bore the readers too much with the specifics of our sojourn. The best part though, as I said above, was seeing everyone again, and they were so nice to us. That is probably the one thing I miss the most living so far away: the more intimate family and relatives interactions that are so important in life. Thanks alot to all of you guys! Hope I didn't leave anyone or anything out of this blog entry, and if I did I apologize.
On the way back to Monterey, we stopped over in Menlo Park to visit my old Salinas High School friend Trudi. Hadn't seen her in many years. We had lunch at this so-called famous corner grocery where you could eat upstairs and have their famous brownies. Within an hour, we had a quick chat before I took the family to see Stanford University from which I graduated way back in 1979. That's a long time ago, twenty-three odd years, almost a quarter of a century. We walked along the corridors and I started to give the kids the grand elegant tour filled with interesting discussion and details of student life in those days. At least that is how I felt, all invigorated by the surroundings and rambling on and on about this and that. Unfortunately, it had been a long day up to then, and the poor kids were a little bored to say the least. Pretty bored. Are you sure you do not want to see my old Physics classroom? No thanks. Want to see my room at the Freshman Dorm? Think we'll pass on that one, Dad. Howabout my old Fraternity SAE? We want to get back to Grandma's house now, please. Without realizing it I was acting like a boring old fart father, reminiscing about the good old days. Dad, we are bored stiff. Sorry kids, maybe when you get older you can appreciate the importance of history better. What hit me hard was discovering that my favorite Physics classroom called the "tank" had been demolished back in 1995 to make room for this stupid modern-looking replacement. That hurt. Lots of memories in that place lost forever except for those in my mind.
So here we are at Grandma's house again. The very last day. We are sad but at the same time glad, because we were able to see and do so much. So very much. As a father I feel very thankful they could witness first hand how I grew up and get a feeling of what American life is really like. A bit different from television and the movie films. Because it is vacation maybe not exactly the most objective view of things as they really are, but close enough. I try to temper the kids' judgments about this great country, balance their ideas with the truth insofar as that is possible and to the limited extent that kids even hear what their parents are saying. As far as the kids are concerned though, life in California is a hundred times better than Disneyland. Now that's pretty cool.
Better stop here, even though there are tons and tons of other things to write about. Like yesterday evening when we went out with David Wilsey, his wife Linda and their son Bryan for pizza, and we had a great chat afterwords at their house. Reminiscing about the good old days, talking politics, and discussing the fine art of raising kids. I had even brought with me a couple really old yellowing pictures of me and Dave when we were kids. Pretty funny and also embarrassing. However, I cannot spent the rest of the vacation blogging my limited and valuable vacation time away like this. Grandma will be returning shortly from the hairdresser, and I want to spend some quality time with the greatest mom and grand-mom in the whole wide world. Even vacation life has to continue.
As a symbolic gesture of thankfulness for these wonderful two weeks, I promised to go with the kids to the top of the hill behind the house. Once atop this famous monument of nature, we will salute the Monterey Bay Area with a couple of meditative moments of introspection and deep thanks.
As I had promised him for two weeks now, Maarten and I climbed the hill behind the house together. We sat at the peak for ten minutes in silence (at least as silent as is possible with a curious seven year old) contemplating the future next to each other. It was a great view down to the house and over the the hills across the small valley.
I took a nice long stroll with my mother next to the Carmel Beach along Ocean Avenue just being comfortable. Hopefully in my own quiet way I was able to convey to her how very thankful we are to have been able to visit for two weeks.
Finally, and the most symbolically, Thea shaved my head with the very same hair clippers that my mother used to run loose on my father's bald dome before he passed away two years ago. Kind of funny when you think about it.
No matter how difficult it is to depart, we leave with a combination of subtle sadness and regret over compensated by all the lovely memories we have been able to share.
So we had a safe flight back east over the United States, and we now find ourselves at the stylish home of my sister Martine and her husband Alan. We are having a great time.
For the afternoon we all hopped into the rented mini-van, and I drove us on over to Washington D.C. where we saw all kinds of monuments including the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, as well as the White House and other important historical stuff.
While we were outside walking around the perimeter of the White House, Maarten of course really had to pee badly. Leave it up to a seven year old to pick out the most opportune moment. The security was tight and there were police all over the place, but this was too important. Maarten ran over to some historic tree and urinated on the magnificent trunk over to the right. I hope President Bush does not mind. No one saw us and we were not arrested.
Boy, was it hot and humid.
My other sister Kathleen and her husband will be arriving shortly for a fun good old American style picnic with barbecue. They are stuck in traffic somewhere. It will be great fun when they get here.
Wait. They have arrived, and it is time to go.
While reading on the plane from San Francisco to Washington Dulles, I happened to come across the following passage:
"If you think it is important to know about yourself only because I or some one else has told you it is important, then I am afraid all communication between us comes to an end. But if we agree that it is vital that we understand ourselves completely, then you and I have quite a different relationship, then we can explore together with a happy, careful and intelligent inquiry." - Krishnamurti, Freedom from the Unknown.
I found this passage particularly appropriate in light of the fact that my journey through the this country in which I grew up offers me new insights into the past as well as the present. As long as I am not influenced too much by what I am told to see and feel for the United States, eg. through so-called patriotic sunglasses, religious institutions, touristic elements, or whatever.
Every journey, even those while on vacation, offer insights and open up new dimensions into learning about oneself. Even better so as long as you are not overly influenced by the external pressures to experience events in ways that they were never meant to be.
People in this country sure have to work hard. Really really hard. Getting up at five thirty or six in the morning to go to work, and then not coming home until past seven in the evening does not seem to be that unusual here. This must be tough for a country which values so very highly freedom of the individual in general and family life in particular. At least the Americans keep repeating this to themselves on and off (on the radio and television, through magazine ads, sometimes so often that it gives the impression that they still have to convince themselves this is true). How can one live a balanced life in America? I think this is really difficult, but possible for the strong at heart and the people with a true pioneer fighting spirit. This is somewhat ironic when you think about it, almost a kind of dilemma. I love the feeling of getting the job done and the community feeling behind achieving these actions with an inspired team spirit. However, I do not think I could live this way very long without getting pretty depressed. Really really depressed. Isn't there more to life then just working working and working? While folks in Europe are perhaps less determined to work until they drop, at least we can enjoy life more fully there, spend the much deserved time left over with the family and friends. Five or more weeks vacation a year is not uncommon in Europe. Coming home in time to have dinner with the family either. The better society is the one in which the proper balance between work and play is achieved, or at least striven towards. Each country has its own norms that should be respected and understood, so do not read this entry as a kind of critique on the America way of life. This is merely a view of mine and how I might (never) be able to fit back into this way of life. A man stuck between two cultures, one foot on the European Continent and the other foot still firmly attached to the Amercan ways.
Finally got to see my Dad again for the first time since he passed away. Almost two years ago. I made my way with the family to the Arlington Cemetery where my father's ashes have been placed in one of the impressive structures called a columbarium. There was his niche where they had interred his ashes. Three from the top and three to the right. Three down, three across. The number three. I took my blue Monterey, California cap off in respect, stood in silence for about a minute or so. I felt in the air the mood of the official ceremony which had taken place more than a year ago. Finally I felt the marble surface with the engraved words of his name with my fingertips, asked the kids to do the same, and then I said it was time to go. Just like that.
What struck me on the way out of the columbarium was how humid, arid and dusty everything there was, the surroundings so very white and bright in the awesome sunlight. The hard ground was parched and arid, strands of grass yellow and dying in the sun.
I still miss him alot, but time goes on just the same without him.
People keep telling me all the time that I look and act just like my father. "Hey," the keep saying, "that's exactly what your father used to do!" Mostly my family, but I can also see it in the eyes of my relatives and friends, how they react. I do not know what it is, but I have heard this more than a dozen times now. Perhaps it is the way I slurp my instant Nescafe, my loud and grumpy voice, the occasional huffing and puffing sounds, the way I sit reclined next to the swimming pool, certain things I say (eg. "I guess I'll have a bite now to tide me over"), my balding scalp (and how it is peeling badly after getting sun-burned), or whatever. To be honest, I do not like to be compared with someone else, even if it is my father. The fact that he has passed away makes it more sensitive for me, but at the same time I can understand the psychological patterns which family members share when they confirm these so-called similarities. Alright, I am who I am, I am me, no matter what. But that does not change the fact that it was my father who gave me half of my life. Similarities remain no matter what, and it is interesting as well as insightful. Not only for the others but for myself also.
One finds it hard to believe that a mere twenty minute drive outside the very densely populated Washington D.C. area brings one to a beautiful countryside of undulating country hills in the peaceful state of Maryland. This was a pleasant surprise for us on our way south on highway 301 to my sister Kathleen's place, which is a fine abode almost in the middle of nowhere but close enough to Annapolis and other medium sized towns. Calvert County is the place to be if you really want to get a feel for the American way of life. So much green vegetation and tall trees swaying in the slight breeze, the sun shining across the tops and casting an array of shadows here and there. If it were not for the telephone poles and the occasional gas station here and there, you might think that you were back in the colonial days. Some of those houses look like mansions, and many small wooden grocery stores along the road seem to verge on mystical wooden cabins dating back from the previous century. We are having a fun time and the time is passing by quickly. In just three days it will be time to head on back to the real world of Gouda. Bummer, but that's life. A vacation is by definition a fleeting moment, so we must absorb as much as possible before we return. The kids are now calling for me to finish up on the computer, as we are ready to go to some world famous water park nearby. This is the water hole where the rednecks go to spend there free time, so we should fit into the crowd perfectly and mingle with no problems. Nothing like having a nice cool dip to escape the sultry heat and humid air. Boy is it sure hot, hotter than hot. This evening Bailey (Kathleen's husband) has promised to treat us to one of his famous barbecues. I cannot wait to sink my teeth into the nice big steak and corn on the cob. Every evening we have dinner together on the wooden porch outside, enjoying the food and talking about anything that comes to mind.
For some strange reason, my kids do not like watermelon. They had it for the very first time while in America on vacation, and (with a slight though politely repressed grimace on their faces) they said it tasted kind of funny. Unusual and not edible. I guess as Dutch kids who grew up in a faraway country where there is no such thing as watermelon, they had never had the opportunity to develop an appreciation for this fine form of gigantic fruit. By never having tasted it, the buds on their youthful tongues had never developed any specialized nerve endings near enough to the surface. Feel like a nice juicy piece of watermelon? No thanks. On the very last day of our stay, my sisters and their husbands and us drove down south near Solomon's Island to have a nice going away picnic. The barbecue was fantastic. Afterwords we had juicy pieces of watermelon, but me and my sisters were the only ones who could really appreciate the great taste. There's nothing better to cap off a filling barbecue on a hot and sultry afternoon next to the water.
Well we have finally made it back to the real world of Gouda after having a truly wonderful vacation. What can I say except that the three weeks went by really really fast. The first week was gradual, the second week a bit faster, and the last week just flew by everyone without warning. Everyone was just fantastic and we really appreciate their hospitality. A vacation is by definition finite in time, otherwise it would not be a vacation at all. Kind of like how beauty does not last forever either and that is how its essence can be truly appreciated. If life was one big vacation then would there be room left over for something like a vacation? Not really. It is hard to say good-bye to everyone because I will miss them very much. But the great part I should not forget is the fact that I was blessed with the opportunity to see the rest of my family and relatives and take part in the celebration of being together. I have one day to recover from the jet-lag and re-acclimate myself, before deciding what to do with the rest of my life. Going to have to find out what is really happening and what I have to choose the proper path to follow.
For the very first time in my life, I will be unemployed. Can you believe that? Unemployed. That is at least if I do not find some other form of paying employment before the first of September. Bring in the bacon like any respectable father is supposed to do. That leaves me with less than ten days to get my act together, but I am not getting my hopes up. Less than ten days and counting.
The market and economy is plainly in bad shape for now, and I will have to accept that. Opportunities for folks my age and with similar experience and expertise are minimal. Bad chances. Survival of the fittest and all that muck. Bad chances.
Okay, let's rewind.
This morning my greatest of fears became a reality after a short and unemotional meeting with the manager of my department and the human resources manager. Two against one. This meeting lasted just under thirty minutes and it was quite unsettling for me. Very frustrating. I felt pretty helpless, angry and desperate, sad and nervous, all at the same time. In the back of my mind I wondered why things had turned out so sour this time around. As far as I was concerned, I had not done anything wrong. These two folks on either side of the table from me seemed distant, impersonal and formal. Masks and sounds and motions. A couple of nods, some so-called understanding glimpses, words emitted and then silence. Words came out like this: these are the facts, here you are, that's it, good luck, see you later. I nearly lost my cool on two occasions, but I caught myself just in time. There was also a short heated debate over whether or not I would receive some form of compensation because of this last minute announcement. I mean really, isn't it a bit at the last possible moment telling me bye-bye so near to the end of my contract? There is no time to prepare, two weeks is nothing, I will never find a job in time. In order to meet my financial requirements during the hiatus of unemployment, what now? But no go, as they told me further with the very same straight faces. I receive absolutely nothing, because my (temporary) contract was for one year only. Nothing more. Nada, rien, niets. One year sounds like a long time but it is not. I kept muttering to myself on the drive back home that I never should have accepted it (the contract) in the first place, but I didn't realize the grave risks at the time. That's how life is sometimes.
Isn't it strange and ironic that three wonderful weeks of a vacation can be followed by such a letdown? The pendulum swings back and forth, from one extreme to the other. Now is the time to join the grind of sending off job applications and feeling like you-know-what. Bad chances lead to new opportunities. Or so they say.
At least living with me is never boring and interestingly unpredictable (as my wife says).
We have been back in Holland now for two days, but still it is difficult indeed to shake off this aggravating thing called jetlag. What is jetlag anyway? Basically, jetlag is caused by crossing over multiple timezones in a short period of time. While your biological clock is based on a certain timeframe, by quickly shifting to another timeframe, the human body takes time to acclimate. While you are in California where it is six in the afternoon (dinner time), your inner clock still set to Dutch time may be telling you that it is three in the morning (REM time). It is time to eat a pile of Mexican food but your body is telling you that it is time to sleep.
You feel tired and cannot concentrate, have dry eyes and throat, and easily become irritated and/or irrational. In addition, it is hard to sleep becuase your periods of slumber are short and light, and you suffer broken sleep because you are either waking up all the time, or too early. All in all, not much fun.
So the four of us were all wide awake last night and could not sleep. In a way it was kind of funny. The two parents and two kids hanging around with all the lights on at two in the morning, reading and talking to pass the time. In a way, it was almost like a slumber party, and the fact that the vacation memories were still fresh in our minds made us feel in a good mood despite the discomforts. Fortunately I did not have to go to work in the morning. I slept until noon, believe it or not.
For more information about jetlag click here.
Since I have nothing else left to do now, I decided to organize my life by creating a pseudo-checklist of important things that should be done (some time in the future). So-called structure and a twisted form of guidance that will provide me with those normal goals and purposes that everyone entertains these modern days with pleasure. New purpose that is. Here follows my to do list:
the petals scatter
through a frozen web
yet moving the same
a fluttering of red confetti
drifting with each breeze as
the rose becomes
Hard to believe that I wrote this so-called poem almost twenty-five years ago. Not bad for a naive kid who way back then was convinced that he would become a future-famous philosopher poet someday. The bizarre element is that the feelings which are evoked by this piece echo not only how I felt at the time but how I am feeling now as well. Not bad. Hard to believe.
Hey, just in case you were not already aware of it, we are all in on this thing together. What thing are you talking about? This thing and that thing and all the other things around you and me and the rest of the world. Everyone in the rest of the world? Yes, everyone and everything. But that is impossible, I do not believe it, how can you explain it? Simple, once you can figure it all out and have faith in what you know has always been true. Nonsense. Yes, nonsense is a good word for it I would say. Ridiculous. Another description that overlaps well with what I mean. Impossible. Sorry, but you already used that word. You must be kidding. I am and I am not. Stop it, I hate it when you start talking like this. Sorry, but I cannot help it now. You're crazy! Could be, but I think I am crazy also, but because I think that I am crazy that means that I am NOT crazy, so there. I give up, I'm getting out of here. Alright, that's fine with me. See you next time. Yeah sure. Bye.
Once in awhile, someone tells you something that ends up really sticking in your mind. That is exactly what happened to me while I was visiting the family and friends back in America during my summer vacation a few weeks back. It was a wonderful and sunny day up in the green hills surrounded by Eucalyptus trees. We were all celebrating our reunion with a fun picnic, great food and some friendly baseball. At the end of the afternoon when it was time to say good-bye, my favorite uncle Dick came up to me, gave me a warm hug, and then he whispered the following in my left ear:
"You've got four beautiful children and a wonderful wife. What else does a man want in life?"
Maybe to some this statement may sound trite, but for me it struck a vital chord deep inside of me. It started to make me think. In fact, since he has said this to me, not a single day has passed without me thinking about the kind statement. The comments are now especially true considering the situation in my life.
You know, I need to settle down and enjoy the wife and kids more.
Howabout signing my new-and-improved guestbook? Finally got around to ironing out the last wrinkles. With a little extra time left over this week as a so-called poor soul on the dole, I finally decided to crank out my own homepage guestbook powered by good-old fashioned CGI scripting and all that stuff. Might as well spend my late evening hours in a productive manner. Take the stuff I have been reading (Programming Perl and CGI Programming with Perl) more seriously, practice what you preach. So I did it, I think. I based my new-and-improved guestbook on the Guestbook25 scripts which I downloaded a while ago. Wasn't quite pleased with its somewhat limited functionalities, not quite at least. So why not tweak it like any brave Perl programmer in his right mind would do? That is what I have been doing, and you are welcome to judge the almost final product for yourself.
Perhaps it would be better to spend the rest of my life as a pseudo-web-designer. Hard to believe. What do you think?
Take a risk, check it out and sign my guestbook if you dare.
I cannot believe it. Just happened to be playing around on the Internet when I discovered that the hit-counter on my homepage has passed the ten thousand mark. Ten thousand visitors and counting. Actually right now 10,116 to be exact. Wait, it just went up a notch when I wasn't looking. Time to celebrate you might say.
This afternoon I felt honored to receive the following amazing one-of-a-kind email from a fine individual:
"I am prince fobi otumfor Opokuwari the 4th son of my father, His Royal Highness late Nana Otumfor opokuwari 11 of kokofo in Ashanti confirm by oyoko clan here in Ghana. I am 23 years, I have confidence in you that made me to reveal this deal to you. Because i got your information from yahoo search on reliable gold dealers..."
This email goes on for another few paragraphs, but I will spare you the nausea of having to read the rest.
Is this for real? Does the originator of this fine email actually believe I will read this and take him seriously? Are there actual takers somewhere out there that make sending these types of emails worthwhile? Who could be sucker enough to fall for this nonsense? Makes me wonder. To be honest, I do not know why I am even taking the time to dedicate a whole blog entry to this.
I receive about fifty plus spam emails like this every day. I find this aggravating, an invasion of privacy, and I think these folks should be put away for good.
Be patient and the meek shall inherit the Internet, I hope.
Believe it or not, my future-famous homepage is number one on the Google search results list for the name of "Gish." Even higher than the The Official Website of Lillian Gish. I guess this is prove that I am well on my way to becoming a future famous person, don't you think? To see it for yourself, click here.
I just finished sawing through a really interesting book called "From Beirut to Jerusalem" by Thomas L. Friedman, who is a winner of a Pulitzer Prize. This book was awarded the 1989 National Book Award for nonfiction in 1989, and I can recommend it very highly.
For many years now, I have been totally confused by the events occurring in Israel and the Middle East and the resulting chaos there, especially with the PLO and the surrounding Arab countries. Rather than remain unfairly negative about the whole situation (which is human nature's way to protect the psyche from accepting ignorance and the unknown), I decided that perhaps it is high time to read more about the historical perspectives and the political intricacies. That way, by learning a little more about this explosive region, I would be able to form my own objective judgments based on the so-called facts. Boy, things there are very complicated, and this book gives an excellent overview from the perspective of an American Jew who has actually lived in the region.
After reading this book, while I felt I knew more I also felt even more perplexed, wondering if peace there can ever be achieved. It is a complete mess. The fault is not one side or the other, but a common shortcoming that has to be dealt with equally by all the sides involved. The burdens of the historical viewpoint have to be relaxed in order to make progress in the negotiations. To forgive and to forget.
To quote a review: "As a reporter for UPI and The New York Times, he was stationed in Beirut from 1979 to 1984, and in Lebanon from 1984 to 1989. He describes with intense vividness the sometimes horrifying, sometimes wondrous cities, for which, he says, nothing in his life had prepared him. Friedman brings alive his journey from Beirut to Jerusalem through anecdotes, history, analysis and self-examination -- and puts all the currents into perspective with inimitable detail, clarity and remarkable insight. This is a much-needed framework for understanding the psychology and politics of the Middle East, and for understanding the future of this unique region."
Now when I am watching the television and some report is shown about the problems of Israel, I do not immediately switch stations in disgust like I used to. I can listen and (slightly) understand, respect the historical complexities behind the chaos, and finally keep my fingers crossed that in the long-run things will turn out for the best.
To quote from the book: "There are going to be good days and bad days, and all one can hope for is that the good days will vastly outnumber the bad."
Do you sometimes worry that you are too much of a perfectionist? Well, visit the BBC Science Human Mind web-page and take the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale (MPS) psychology test to find out out how much of a perfectionist you really are.
For those readers out there who might be interested, here are my scores:
Concern over Mistakes - 3
Personal Standards - 5
Parental Expectations - 1
Parental Criticism - 3
Doubting of Actions - 4
Organiz(s)ation - 5
I scored above average or above on five of the six aspects, but was not that bad of a perfectionist at all. Howabout you?
I am reminded of the nineteen sixties TV series called "Branded" which I watched every week when I was around eight years old. This was a great program and I loved it.
The star character is Chuck Connors. He plays an army officer named Jason McCord, a West Point graduate and decorated army officer, who has always been a good and honest soldier. He is the only known survivor of the Battle of Bitter Creek. However, despite his courage and perseverance in that battle, for some reason he is dishonorably discharged for cowardice. Rather than reveal the killed army commander who was really responsible for the massacre, thereby bringing the deceased man in disrepute, McCord remains and accepts complete blame on himself.
I never really understood this part of the series, but nonetheless accepted it in faith. Why didn't he just tell the truth, thereby saving his skin and remaining in the army that he loved the most? Without this twist the series would have reverted to a meaningless adventure, even if this thin gossamer of illogical truth barely held the series together in the first place. No ten year-old in his right mind would let go of such a great series for such a lame reason as this. I was infatuated with the idea of being an underdog and rooted for McCord every week.
The saga continues. The poor man who has been unfairly treated has no home, and he has nowhere to turn. McCord has no choice except to travel westward. Putting his army training to use and doing engineer work for hire, he is always trying to prove through his actions that he didn’t deserve the brand of “coward.”
At the start of each thirty-minute episode, the same classic scene is played:
McCord’s commanding officer rips off his army decorations and breaks his saber in half, chucking the bottom half of it right out of the fort’s gates. McCord leaves the fort’s walls, picks up the broken half-saber, and heads out..."As far as I am concerned, this is one of the classic premises, even if now it would appear pretty corny and unrealistic. At the time, and in the ten year old's mind, it was unsettling and fantastic at the same time.
Now even more than thirty-five years later, I can really relate to this episode. Considering my situation, you could say that I am also a kind of McCord and it is time to travel westward in a symbolic kind of way. My army decorations have been torn off my shoulders and my broken half-saber is held tightly in my right hand.
All but one died, There at Bitter Creek, And they say he ran away ...
Marked with a coward's shame.
What do you do when you're branded,
Will you fight for your name?
He was innocent,
Not a charge was true,
But the world will never know...
Scorned as the one who ran.
What do you do when you're branded
And you know you're a man?
And wherever you go
for the rest of your life
You must prove...
You're a man.
Time to be the underdog again. This should be fun, I hope. Maybe someday they will dedicate a television series to me and my cause.