THE WAY WE WEREN’T

The trouble with turning memories into memoirs is that when one is finished, a sneaky feeling comes along: “Things never were that way, anyway.” –Jean Negulesco (1900-93), Academy Award-winning movie director

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I’ve just finished reading Jean Negulesco’s memoir (coincidentally, he died 25 years ago today) titled THINGS I DID AND THINGS I THINK I DID. The above quote is from that book–as is his reflection on having raised, with his wife, two adopted daughters from war-torn, post-WWII Germany:

And so it starts, and so it ends. And we see ourselves in them. There is no sense in telling them, “When I was your age….” We never were their age. 

“We never were their age.” And so it is with us. We’ve never been ‘inside’ them–even our own children. When all is said and done, we’re lucky if we know ourselves–now, then or in-between–which is not to say that, along the way, we were not open to wanting whatever knowledge romance promised….

They say “You can’t go home again”–even if your old haunts still exist, your past and its ghosts stay with you, not with where you were….not so? So, where do we go?

Now, I’m as nostalgic as the next old geezer, but as my past recedes further into the past, I look at old photos, see the images of faces and places I knew, and there’s no avoiding the sense that the road between THINGS I DID AND THINGS I WISH I DID leads to a place where the sun sets before we get there.

Sooner or later, it’s all over but the doubting. It’s the place where (to paraphrase a phrase) OLD GHOSTS NEVER DIE, they….just….fade….a w a y

Still….

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NOVEMBER 20 POEMS ARE CHILD’S PLAY

Because I have long taken a fancy to light verse, I wrote a number of nursery rhyme-like poems in my early poetry writing days because such poems are in the light verse vein, though seemingly just for children….but look at Mother Goose: if a bit of wit (in the telling) warrants a closer gander, the simplicity may not lay an egg in the eyes of grown-ups.

November 20 being UNIVERSAL CHILDREN’S DAY and WORLD CHILDREN’S DAY, I thought I would bring back a selection of those poems — say 20% of 20 — for a second childhood look. Two have been published in children’s magazines, two have not. You might even say that two of the four are for the birds. Well, as Humpty Dumpty may have shrugged after his fall, “Wall,  you can’t win ’em all.”

A GOOD QUESTION

Free as a bird —
That’s what I’d like to be.
But, if I were a bird —
Who would be me?

THE ONE WHO WON

The tortoise and the hare
Ran a race from here to there.
The winner, of the pair,
Was the tortoise, by a hair.

OF ALL PLACES!

Birds build nests
Where they will —
Gutter, building ledge,
Window sill.

One I saw
Amazed me —
It was nestled
In a tree!

(N)ICE TRY!

There was once a brave lad from Nebraska
Who went off on a trip to Alaska.
To climb up steep slopes, he bid —
But they were so slick, he slid
Almost all the way back to Nebraska!

Is word play child’s play or hard work, you ask? As both a light verse and jazz lover, I can tell you it helped to have….

 

A QUESTION OF DEPRESSION

Countless studies have shown that people who suffer from depression have more accurate world views than nondepressed people. Depressed people do not nurture the cheering illusion that they can control the course of their lives. And they understand, all too acutely, the basic conditions of existence: that their lifespan is just a brief blip in the cold sweep of history, that suffering is real and ongoing, that they and all the people they love are going to die. That outlook is known as depressive realism. Depressed people might be unhappy, but–when it comes to these big-picture, existential matters–they are generally more right than the rest of us. –Kathryn Schulz, author of BEING WRONG

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The National Institute of Mental Health lists six forms of depressive disorder/depression: major depression, persistent depressive disorder, psychotic depression, postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder, and bipolar disorder (aka manic-depressive illness). NOT listed is Depressive realism.

I have never given much thought to depression (in the listed sense), probably because no one I’ve known (that I’m aware of) suffered from depression. However, the Schulz quotation strikes a chord because I’ve “suffered” from realism for years (since I’ve been free of inherited Catholicism), but without becoming depressed as a result….though heaven knows I have good reason to be (and perhaps should be), given that I “understand, all too acutely,” the reality Schulz cites. Why am I not (by N.I.M.H. standards) depressed? Why isn’t everyone depressed?

There are palliatives available before depression might come into play — for some, there is no shortage of such catholicons as drugs, alcoholism, power addiction, and yes, religion, to hold the wolf of reality at bay or serve as “the cheering illusion” that all’s well that ends well. Who knows, maybe all does end well, after all….but, given the mean time in the meantime, you could’ve fooled me. Life seems to imitate a product designed and built (sooner or later) to fail, but am I depressed? No….and, I take it, neither are you. Why not?

Well, it’s not as if life were an unmitigated disaster, that’s why — at least, not for most of us. The half-full part of the glass, I wouldn’t miss for the world. Even if our futures get short shrift, if our talents go under-appreciated, if we see ignorance, arrogance and greed thrive — even if love goes south — was it not “better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?” No matter what is terribly wrong with the world (thanks to both the Creator, if any, and the created), we see in small children not original sin, but original innocence (perhaps our original innocence), the sheer joy of being alive, the promise of hope….and we hope to God or Fate that their promise doesn’t go up in smoke.

After due consideration, my take-away from all of this is that if we really want to get it right, do not go gentle into that good night*; there is a more challenging way: depressive realism. Think about it. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.*

*from the poem by Dylan Thomas

 

 

THE AGE OF INNOCENTS

I always feel young people are innocent. [They] have a certain beautiful innocence to them that’s touching and remarkable to see. –Woody Allen

Christmas is for kids. As truisms go, that is one I find especially valid. It seems to me that even if you’re not Christian, it won’t hurt your young children to believe in Santa Claus. They’ll have to contend with the real world soon enough (there could be worse introductions to reality than the day they discover the truth about Santa). So, while they may, let them be innocent and without sin and believe in pure, unalloyed being loved. Isn’t that the idea that Christmas is supposed to represent?

I may be old, but I’m not too old to remember the thrill of Christmas mornings as a boy in the early 1940s. What did I know of the World War raging a world away, where young men of my age little more than a decade earlier, were now dying like sacrificial lambs because innocence was foreign to the forces of time. Life is short. Life as a young child is short beyond belief, although wishful thinking can extend the warranty indefinetly. I wouldn’t count on it.