Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Just the Facts, Ma'am

When I heard that a New Zealand “presenter” had made fun of an Indian person’s name, an act that roused India to protest, my reaction was, “Is this guy (or woman) nuts? What a jerk!” As usual, knowing the whole story makes all the difference. The name in question is Dikshit. I ask you, who could possibly let a ripe target like that lie? Not me, that’s for sure.

It is an orange and yellow fall, this year. I haven’t seen a single maple that has turned red, they are all just the candy corn colors. I understand red leaves result when there is a sudden sharp frost early in the leaf-turning process. If fall creeps up slowly a degree or two lower each evening, the color is not nearly so vivid. And there is something a little depressing about an orange fall, like someone you love fading slowly rather than the quick shock of a sudden heart attack. Since I am not working, the days pass more quickly, and I really haven’t fully realized yet that spring is past, despite the Fourth of July and even Labor Day. Apparently my gardens feel the same – some bulb I planted and forgot has sent up leaves I don’t recognized, and finally has a cluster of buds which I think will never bloom at this late date. I have a couple of dahlia bulbs I planted this year and these too have not yet bloomed, and apparently never will, or at least they will not do so this year. And although I do have zinnias and cosmos higher than my head, and although these have brought forth some blooms, the majority of the buds are just forming.

I got to thinking of this business of sharp early frosts causing brighter autumns and it occurred to me that this is one more thing that I think I “know” without really having any independent awareness of it as a fact. Somebody told me that. The difference between this “fact” and many others that I assume I know is that I actually recall where I heard this one stated. The man my dear friend Marilyn married told me this in reference to liquidamber trees in Sacramento. I have never actually done any verification of it – and really why would I? But in the last few years I have realized more and more that the things I think I know – and take for granted that I know – are things I have just read or heard. I realized long ago that the real danger of the silly tabloids one finds at the checkout counters is that you read the false headlines about famous people and laugh, but a year later when a celebrated person’s name comes up you have a vague memory that they did one thing or another and don’t remember where you read or heard it.

Almost everything I know, is actually something I have read or heard. I’d say fully half of my knowledge is in this category – possibly more. I definitely know that hot water burns, because I have been burned by hot water more than once. But every single thing I have heard about, say, South America is something that I heard or read or saw in a film or on TV; I have never been there. Much of it is extrapolated from what I encountered in Mexico - a land that is definitely not South America, simply because the Mexican people look vaguely the same and speak the same language.  I know from experience that Arabs are far different than the common American perception of them. I don’t even bother saying so any longer, when I hear someone who has been nowhere tell me what Arabs are like because my experience is that the speaker will dismiss my eight plus years of actual experiences in Saudi as ‘liking Arabs’ – in the same way many people once dismissed positive statements about black folks as not being true, but merely the deluded effusions of a n------- - lover. Some folks still do – and equally, of course, there are folks of non-white races who will not accept a single positive statement about anyone white.

I love history and I read it constantly, not really to learn anything, but just because I like it. And the more I read of English history, which is my favorite topic and the one about which I read most, the more I realize that almost anything anyone says is mere speculation, or only partly true. It is impossible to really enter into the mindset of an earlier era. How much more this is true of a people that is not as similiar to me as the English are. This doesn’t just apply to history, however. How often have I heard detailed descriptions of life in the inner cities from people whose only experience of them is driving on a freeway that cuts through them?  It is clear that people who tend to read one set of bloggers and who prefer one cable news channel have a radically different set of ‘facts’ from those who get their information from another. It is easy for a person from the first group to believe that a person from the second group is being willfully obtuse. Some people merely want to have their own prejudices reinforced by anything they listen to (this is what we call “Faith”), but even someone wishing to hear all sides, and who listens to all the sources he can find is still reliant on other sets of eyes to know what really happened when he himself was not present. And as to knowing WHY something happened, that is not even within the realm of possibility to know. Most of us really don’t know why we like what we like in our own lives, or exactly why we do most of the things we do.

Dylan, who in my opinion, got so much right, nailed this whole issue long ago:

My guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect

Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect.

‘Good’ and ‘bad’, I defined these words quite clear, no doubt, somehow,

But I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.

Notice that even folks with experience and smarts such as those folks at Microsoft can’t figure things out. They think, for instance, that I wanted to space Dylan’s lines as if they were separate paragraphs. And they were wrong, wrong, wrong.

Don’t think for a moment, though, that knowing how tenuous, speculative and second-hand all my knowledge is will stop me from acting on (or writing about) facts of which I have no personal knowledge. If you think that, you just got another fact wrong.


  1. My dad was visiting this weekend (spontaneous visit from 18 hours away!) and was telling me about a new app he bought for his iphone or ipad or something...which allows you to read text, and notes, and highlight. Well, guess what (haha) - books let you do the same! My point, though, is that, if I had a highlighter right now, your blog would be full of yellow:

    1) one of my favorite Dylan quotes ever: "but I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now." I used it as a facebook status once, and boneheads wished me a happy birthday...(?)

    2) this is so beautifully descriptive: "And there is something a little depressing about an orange fall, like someone you love fading slowly rather than the quick shock of a sudden heart attack."

    3) you attended a 50th class reunion? Of your own? I was surprised, until I remembered my dad, who is 66 and quite possibly the coolest individual on the planet.

  2. Colleen - Good fo your Dad! That is true spontaneity, as opposed to the faux version which is so in vogue, which seems to be "I'll do whatever I feel like at all times and I have my cell phone handy in case I feel like involving you!" My blog actually is full of yellow, but that is mostly the problem of incontinence in a 68-year old. And 1) I have always loved this verse in Dylan because it points out how many people fight so hard for something they only vaguely understand. There is nothing like knowledge for curing dogma - this is why religion hates science - and science hates religion. Neither accepts the uncertainty of most of life. 2) Thanks, i was pretty proud of that - it just came out and then I thought - oh, not bad! (I am my own fondest admirer.) 3) Sad, but true. It is unfortunate it is scientifically impossible to be cool to the masses past age 40 (and usually well before that). In fact, it is hard to even be visible. Your dad would have been 2 years behind me in school and thus beneath my notice.

  3. I am still jealous of your cross country train trip. That is def. on my bucket list. As far as your "lengthy" comments, well I really look forward to seeing them on my blog.

    I know they will be full of insight that I need, a reality check of sorts, and while they may "sting" at times as I said, I would rather hear the truth any day of the week, than some "version" of "feel goodness"

    You put a lot of thought into what you post and that has tremendous value. I am like you also in that I do not let people I know read my blogs. Partly because I do not think some of them can handle the truth. They have lied to themselves too much. Partly because I know things that others do not, and I would rather them be sparred, and not have those memories, such as my little brothers. Thankfully they do not remember a LOT of stuff.

    And as far as friends and coworkers, well I do not want to be judged, I do not want pity and I do not want people to feel uncomfortable around me or talking about certain topics for fear of upsetting me or triggering memories. In my line of work, we encounter situations daily that mirror my life and I know it would make things awkward with people I know and work with.

    Plus, even though the blog I did today was the beginning of the heart of all of this, what comes to follow is something a lot of folks just cannot handle.

    So I leave my truths at the feet of anonymous (sp?) people such as yourself, that are kind enough to take the time to share in my burdens.

  4. OneGirl - I am not a great believer in Bucket Lists, unless the person making one has a definite plan to do the things listed. Not a date and time, but a definite idea as to how he or she will do the deed. Otherwise it is just, "I'd like to do that someday" - and we know what that is worth.

    As to your blog, I read because you write well and you are (un)fortunate enough to have a story that would grip nearly everyone. Certainly, you never have to sit and think, "What shall I write about?" But you also write it well, which is everything. It is my opinion that a blogger should be on Facebook if he or she merely wants to say, "I went to the beach today" and expects a host of "You go, girl!" responses. Facebook is for friends and well-wishers, blogging is for strangers who SHOULD require value - be it humor, interest, information or whatever. That is just my opinion, but I am sticking to it.