By Sonny Boy Arias (2018)
Recently, someone turned to me and said, “You’ve got a lot going on in your life right now, don’t you?” and in a micro-second of reflection I thought, “Not any more than normal,” and then the reality of my situatedness of daily life sunk in. “Yes,” I thought, “I guess I do have a lot going on.” By this coming June, I will have 8 grandchildren (including a set of twins), as everyone is pregnant (we currently have 4 male grandchildren).
I am currently searching for solutions to place my father in long-term rehab care in San Diego and my mother’s dementia is progressing so rapidly that I can hand her something and she will place it immediately in the proverbial Black Hole. I am leading a major policy shift at my university, while acting as lead academic planner for our University’s 25th anniversary, and I have made arrangements to take our entire family to Maui for the greater part of the summer, oy vey!
I’ve even reached a point where I conducted the preliminary math demonstrating that I may be retiring as early as this summer. These events were for the most part not unexpected as I am an old scuba diver and I always “plan my dive and dive my plan,” but I have to confess: no matter how prepared one is, Father Time has a way of sneaking up on you and tapping you on the shoulder. It seems that time, numbers and my personal philosophy make up the mainstay of how I construct my reality in daily life at least for the onset of this coming year.
I didn’t think my goings-on were observable, nobody ever really does, that is, until somebody does make the observation, “You really have a lot going on right now, don’t you?” We all believe that most people don’t really care about who we are or what we stand for, not really, for emotional and practical purposes.
Daily life is way too complex for one to keep up with the energy it takes to truly care for others. I mean, doesn’t everybody always have a lot going on? It’s simply too much to keep track of what people are doing, thinking or facing. Why should my situatedness stand out, why now? Conversely, this is why I find most everyone quite interesting, everyone has a story, and every story is unique and in turn interesting. Said differently, everything may in fact be observable but what is interesting for the day or even for the moment is a topic of social inquiry all on its own; it is phenomenological in this way.
It’s as though my Self (in a social psychological sense) is evolving with every social interaction; how can it be perceived any other way? While I am keenly aware of such evolution, I’ve never felt the evolution of Self the way I do now. What better way to measure one’s situatedness than to compare your time (like, your time left on this earth) against the backdrop of the endless situations that come up in everyday life? Everything is quantifiable such as the number of strokes of genius, impulses, how many grandchildren, even the number of heartbeats in one’s life, you can count them all.
Again, the statement directed to me can be directed to you: “You’ve got a lot going on in your life right now, don’t you?” At first, it can only be examined existentially because it evokes feelings, often deep feelings depending on the situation at hand. I will say there are markers along the way, some outright signs along the way you might say that are not only directive, but, all at once full of symbolic meanings. Much like the radical empiricist William James, my tendencies are to ground what I say theoretically in observable examples, including those found in my own life.
At the onset of this past summer, I observed two massive (I mean massive) chunks of glacier each the size of five football fields slip into Glacier Bay, and this occurred within 12 minutes of each other. I video-taped the second slide, but haven’t mustered up the courage to view it again as it really rocked my world. Having been taken by surprise, I was all at once mortified to the core of my being, my brute being that is, I honestly still can’t seem to shake the feeling.
I wasn’t fearful of a tidal wave effect or anything of that sort, frankly I didn’t know what it was I was feeling. It wasn’t until weeks later that I came to the realization that I was in shock and this triggered my sensibilities beyond my control all at once, changing my human condition, forever. Likened to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s “white sheet flashes” to massive sheets of sliding ice were simply too much to handle all at once.
How else can I say it except that “It scared the hell out of me!” I wasn’t aware of the full impact it had on my psyche until much later. It was as though I was completely caught off guard by a sensation so overwhelming my sensibilities were shut down by natural defense mechanisms and as a result, I switched to autopilot, not allowing myself to feel the sensations that were so overwhelming. It was one of the greatest contradictions of my life.
While I have always enjoyed living and dwelling in contradictions, suspended existentially so, enjoying being at the helm of a sailboat with a broken rudder in a full gale storm, this was a test of the tempest, “nor'easter” you might say. I imagined the sky ripped open by a giant Russian god-like philosopher, yelling down to all of humanity:
“You all have ruined the earth; look at her now look, at Gaia (Mother Earth). The massive sheets of ice slipping into Glacier Bay are her tears crying to let her loose, to let her heal herself the way only she can do. You (humanity) need to step aside and let nature (Mother Earth) take over and heal herself, she has taken care of herself for billions of years, well before humans arrived, for Christ’s sake step aside!”
This was it! This was the penultimate contradiction of my life and it caught me off guard, I’ve been sensing this ever since witnessing Gaia cry; it was like Mary, Mother of God, crying for her son and for our sins.
Last month, in my capacity as the keynote speaker and a Distinguished Alum at UC San Diego’s 50th year celebration of its graduate division, I presented myself as a well-trained scientist that had tried on various rationales that might help me mask the realities we are facing in American society today – one is global warming. I argued that during current times it is quite difficult to perform critical objective scientific analysis because the average person on the street does not understand science and their thoughts are based on what they gather from quip-like political remarks they hear on television, on the radio or read in pop-ups that are not scientifically based.
The physical condition of Mother Earth is in the back of my mind, even more so than is the fate of humanity, she needs real help beyond what I have to offer and I have offered more valiant efforts than most as evidenced by my work in convening world-class scientists in Big Sur. At the core of my being, I’m keenly aware that everyone tacitly knows but doesn’t want to say out loud the unspeakable truth:
“We [humanity] have systematically ruined the earth due to greed and to self-preservation beyond the type designed for us by nature. We somehow got off track and at the cost of forsaking others or even contributing to the social good have designed distractions into our realities so great that we consume much more than we can play out in useful ways in one lifetime. This behavior has driven humanity far beyond the tipping point for any possibility of ecological reconstruction. There is no going back; the massive chunks of ice falling by the minute in Glacier Bay don’t suddenly re-attach themselves, they don’t grow anew like frozen crystals, they simply melt away like islands of meaning that only few can understand, because people don’t take the time or have the time to save them or Mother Earth.”
People remain distracted seeking refuge in the Google-god thinking they have an understanding of every situation, every problem and every subject matter. From a scientific perspective, it’s simply annoying to constantly hear interpretations of a Google sort from those who have little understanding of deep levels of predication. “Just Google it,” they say, with no understanding that the rhythm of their personal algorithm shines only a subjective light that cannot (will not) allow for objective truths.
We live in a world where perception is everything and scientific truths no longer ring of truth. We are experiencing the advent of new curious concepts like “fake news” or “fake truths” and so what we find is small children questioning thousands of years of scientific truths the scientific method, models and paradigms based on knowledges that were built on each other, not that we suddenly postulated as a tweet or felt sense and nothing more.
The philosopher Aristotle believed that “seeing is believing” although he didn’t live in a world of social media in the same manner as we do today. He did not take into account that for political reasons people would begin purposefully altering video and pictures for political reasons. This was not part of his awareness. Said differently, whether you believe in global warming or not, whether you practice science or fake science or fake news, I know what I saw and experienced in watching Gaia cry sheets of ice.
This truth cannot be denied, I heard it, I saw it, I even smelt it. It’s like listening to your aged mother who is hard of hearing trying to order her prescriptions over the phone: “Can you please speak up,” she says. “I can’t hear you, please speak up.” It’s a truth you can’t deny, it’s not “fake,” just as in the gym, the barbells don’t lie—they are in fact heavy. Sir Issac Newton observed a basic truth “What goes up must come down.” Watch video replays of when you were young as they capture a picturesque younger Self about the way things once were and sometimes these are difficult to watch because they capture a truism: “You are [today] what you once were [yesteryear]. The unforgettable sound of cracking ice is so memorable; it is in fact plaguing to my senses, I will never forget the sound and yet this phenomenon becomes the mainstay marker for the rest of my life, placing me on a hermeneutic spiral to enjoy in a rather disturbing way.
For me the sound or old reflections are evocative, poignant even melancholy; they linger and contribute to the way I construct my reality in daily life – how else can I say it, except to say it the way it feels, this becomes my situatedness, this becomes the foundational springboard for the evolution of my Self (in a social psychological sense).
So in this way, yes, I am just like you, I do have a lot going on in my life, for many it appears I am preoccupied with the end of the end of things: objects, relationships, even perspectives or paradigms for looking at scientific discoveries. Things change, science changes the way we view realities through scientific discovery not through “fake news” or “fake truths.”
It’s the eve of yet another year to come and a year gone by even at a more precipitous pace than the previous one. Yes, I sound like my parents and uncles who constantly remind me, “Life is short.” Yet I remain baffled at what is inevitably to come, this year, unknown yet seemingly felt in my soul. What new vulgar circumstances (even rollicking vulgarity or playful exuberance) will give birth to my story writing for example?
As I grow older, words, it seems, sit on ideas with uncanny ease and make more stories seem inevitable, I never know what is coming out of my imagination next. I do however remain convinced that as Einstein puts it, “Imagination is more important than knowledge,” which, by the way, is the trick for scoring at the highest levels of IQ tests and college entrance exams. “Teach your children well.” Now headed for quasi-retirement, the fictional stories I started writing in the form of “science friction” afford me a separate life, a “separate reality” as my old friend Carlos Castaneda used to put it, and new relations.
I’m aware of my lack of formal training in creative writing, yet it actually becomes the very reason whenever I go to contemplate a “creative” work for pleasure. I’m fine with the fact that my stories will surely not be on the Best Seller’s List nor a Pulitzer Prize winner for these authors always lack soul and only write for the prize. They are in fact creatively boring, what one might typify as “tragicomic solipsism.” Frankly, I’m always fascinated at how boring prize-winning authors can be in real-life. Even so, there is almost no one I can call for honest advice, “Your stories are great” they say, with no proof or affirmation. It’s not difficult to realize how I cause a new deviance disavowal because I know they didn’t read my writings, yet feel the need to tell me they did, hey, no problem.
I firmly believe people trained in creative writing practice linguistic calisthenics; a lot of words, without soul. I understand how the book writing world works, people simply prefer living the illusion, and again, perception becomes everything; therein lies the organic disconnect. In this spirit, I have even come to believe in the “fish stories” I have to some extent imagined and I see this as a good thing inasmuch as I have continued mindful activities and exercises that contribute to the evolution of my prodigious memory that allows me to recite my finished stories verbatim. I became aware of this ability many years ago when seated in a hot-tub next to a distant relative at a family reunion held at the Rosarito Beach Hotel. I told her the story of how I was once attacked by a wild-boar on Catalina Island and she did not believe me until the next day when we were joined by her husband whom I shared the story with as well and she observed, “Sonny Boy (my nickname), I didn’t believe you yesterday but I do believe you today because you told the story in the same way word-for-word.”
It is the case that I practice the art and science of writing like I talk and talking like I write, plus I want to defer atrophy of my brain as long as possible. Most people don’t see the insight my stories can bring as they say, “his silly little stories;” they are all psychoanalytic and often viewed as “irritatingly clever.” I think more about the future and the future I am already starting to miss. I remain eager to see how my personal buoyancy plays out in a hopefully different economic and emotional climate as I reach my later years. The way I see it, psychologically I should be happy, financially I should be set. Don’t forget, a scuba diver “plans his dive and dives his plan,” so I have a plan.
But will an unexpected “four-alarm fire” surprise me, will I find it exhilarating (like being shot at), will I have the capacity to turn a nightmare into an insidious experience, at the very least a cheap thrill. If anything, my trained anticipation of the unexpected has always turned to a mission of good times. I expect to look back at any “urgency” and think “courage, after all, wants to laugh.” You can’t take life too seriously as it wasn’t meant to be that way, yet so many of us cannot see it any other way as evidenced by people who take themselves too seriously.
It is for this reason I continue to amuse myself to death. I’m having a hell of a good time, by design. Life is for me an intellectual game. The allusion and/or insinuation endorses my serious refusal to be serious. I see every idea as inescapable from the link to the evolution of SELF, not vain, not self-defeating, not even a linguistic construct, but artistic. It is through this paradigm for looking at storytelling that I simply want to show those who indulge in my stories how to live a fulfilled and meaningful life and to become less alone inside in a world with inescapable ways of contributing to alienation, Karl Marx’s greatest fear.
Said differently, through my stories I want to help people feel life, and remain more than arm’s distance from being-bored-of-being-bored. Hence, if you are going to mistake your wife for something mistake her for a hat, a nice black hat (a la Oliver Sacks) and enjoy it, don’t get freaked out by the experience. It’s like taking LSD. Timothy Leary use to say, “Never have a bad trip, learn from it, enjoy it as you will never forget what you learned.” What I believe is that there can be optimism within one’s personal despair, elation of a curious sort in its anomie. More than ever I feel like a paradoxical character with an outsized passion, repression and expression: twin causes of complication, harmony and disharmony with significant others who think:
“He is such a nice person, a good father and great grandfather, yet there is something in him that keeps him from being completely decent.”
I have to ask, “Do people not understand my aesthetic?” Years ago I wrote a book on fear and it wasn’t until now that I came to the realization that I write stories because I am afraid that the last thing I will write will be the last thing that I write. This is not paranoia as that would be fear of the unreal; my fear is based not only on real fear as evidenced by the stories I keep producing, but also by the body of original scientific knowledge I have contributed over time. I find in life amusing peculiarities that trigger epiphanies, continually!
Maybe deep down inside there is the possibility that telling a story could lead to redemption of a sort, for what reason, I am searching, but perhaps it may be found in spirituality and values. So, this is what is on my mind on the eve of a new year.
I’m curious to know what’s on your mind.
Sonny Boy Arias, a dedicated contributor to Somos en escrito via his column, Chicano Confidential, is a stone-cold Chicano, who writes under the general rubric of historias verdaderas mentiras auténticas–true stories and authentic lies. He has found this the most effective manner to convey his stories about Chicano life. Copyright © Arts and Sciences World Press, 2018.