Recumbent Truth

When people are limited to clear and cautious truth, they often have very little to say. I know, because in much of my professional life I am limited in that way.

Here is a typical exchange from my work:

Me: “… we’ve seen incidence rates going down now for the last four years.”

Them: “Why is that?”

Me: “I don’t know.”

Them: “What do you mean ‘you don’t know’?”

Me: “We’ve been able to eliminate some theories as to why this is happening, but we do not as yet know the underlying cause.”

Them: “Well, then, what good are you?”

Me: “I don’t know that, either.”

We human beings love cause-and-effect relationships; in fact, we often see them when they aren’t there, like some sort of ex-lover we mistakenly think we see pass in the streets. To some people, this might seem depressing; I find it hilarious, for whatever reason. In fact, I like to find faux cause-and-effect relationships wherever possible.

Her: Did you notice the neighbor’s recycling bin was in the street?

Me: Yes. I think maybe they’re protesting.

Her: Protesting what?

Me: The plight of recycling bins, abandoned to the streets, far too young.

Her: You are weird.

I get interesting reactions whenever I post any (other) of my wife and my bizarre, stream-of-consciousness sort of conversations. Reading back through them, we often are playing with whole concept of “causation”, which is slippery at best, and widely misused. Deliberate misuse seems a logical next step.

And I’m all about logical next steps.

In a former career, I worked for the United States federal government. I’m not sure if it was a coincidence, but I found myself one day, at work, standing with some coworkers and trying to see if we could come up with better euphemisms for “lying” than those we were currently hearing from various people higher up in the governmental structure. Here are a few stray bits of that conversation that I still remember:

  1. “It’s not lying. We’re creating ‘new truth’ where there was no truth before.”
  2. “Don’t think of it as lying… think of it as recumbent truth… just, you know, having a lie-down.”
  3. “Nothing that beautiful could possibly be a lie.”
  4. “This is war. Truth is a peacetime luxury.”

The first one of the above list was mine, and was based on something I heard an acquaintance of mine tell his girlfriend when she caught him cheating on her. He actually said, “I wasn’t lying, it’s just, there was some new truth out there I hadn’t gotten around to sharing yet.” She (thankfully for her) left him shortly thereafter, “shortly” here meaning about 1/2 second later.

I always loved the second one listed; the woman who said it was originally from Norwich, England, and she was employed as a writer. The word “recumbent” isn’t one you hear in this United States very often.

The third one was a guy who had formerly worked in the oil business, so I assume he had some experience with dissimulation, either as a purveyor or observer.

The last one, reminiscent of the quote “truth is the first casualty of war” was the one I found most disturbing, at the time, because I’m pretty sure the young man who advanced it, meant it.

It’s hard to achieve anything without honesty, because problematic situations can’t be bettered if we won’t see them for what they are.

While we’re on the subject of honesty, I want to talk for a moment about platonic male-female friendships. Here is what I’ve learned, from real-life experience: these can be easily maintained, as long as both parties want to, and are impossible to sustainably maintain otherwise.

Where honesty comes into play, however, is in realizing that what we “want” is often a set of conflicting wants, some one of which is “winning” at the time we are asked: some combination of circumstance, opportunity, and (often) alcohol may change what we want.

I have always been from the “no means no” school of interpersonal relationships. To use the language of mathematics, physical relationships have an asymmetrical risk distribution, therefore the greater power should always lie with the female. Young men (and I know, I was one) often find this to be frustrating and unfair. Too bad. We have to get over it.

If boys are not taught to protect girls before sexual madness kicks in, then these same boys (as men) are unlikely to protect women, and will often abuse them. “Protecting” here means protecting them even from us – especially from us.

So, what do cautious truth-telling, bizarre husband-wife conversations, sort-of-euphemisms for lying, and male-female friendships have in common?


Come To Think Of It

It’s early on a Saturday morning, and I’m out at the River Walk. After some warm months, autumn has finally arrived, and it couldn’t be more welcome. As I head down the ramp for the walk, proper, the University is behind me to my left, and the River Club and the old mills are behind and to my right. Two young women jog by (college students) looking both healthy and determined.

I decide to walk south, the longer walk from where I’m starting. As recently as five or six years ago, I would have brought rollerblades out here; nowadays, though, I just walk. I gave up skating. I think I got tired of falling.

Come to think of it, I know a few people who have given up dating by employing the same principle.

I’m always “coming to think of it” – whatever “it” might happen to be. My whole day is a series of come-to-think-of-its.

I walk a ways past a little amphitheater. My wife performed her first marriage ceremony there. The couple from that wedding are one of the few couples she ever married who are still together. That got depressing for her after a while, so, she’s given up presiding over weddings, for the most part.

A half mile or so further, a woman is stretching by the rails in front of me. I recognize her from the gym I go to in the morning. We have never spoken: I don’t like to bother people when they are working.

Or any other time, come to think of it.

She always smiles at me when we make eye contact, which we’ve just done, so I return the smile, then keep going. Within a few seconds she runs off in the other direction.

This is, in a nutshell, pretty much every relationship I have, nowadays. All the friendship I can muster crammed into three second interactions.

As I round a bend in the river, the Civic Center looms up on my left. I know I’m at about the three mile mark here. I’ve taken my boys to that place to watch wrestling, including seeing Chris Benoit wrestle there days before the murders and suicide he became infamous for. His family lived within about 90 minutes drive from here.

That was in June, ten years ago. My son was only twelve at the time.

The year before that, in 2006, a Little League team from our city, managed by my brother-in-law, won the Little League World Series, defeating a team from Japan.

For any of you who might wonder, by male standards, my brother-in-law has (officially) accomplished something.

As I walk past the Civic Center, two young men on bicycles go by. The autumn colors are really beautiful this year, albeit late.

Come to think of it, a lot of really beautiful things happen later than we thought they should or ever would. Try as we may, we can’t really imagine the future to any practicable degree.

I reach a sort of wooden covered walkway, which I like to walk on, even though I turn around to head back the other way at the end. For some reason I’ve never quite figure out, the trail looks completely different when I’m headed in the opposite direction.

Come to think of it, a lot of things look different as our destinations change.

I pass two inline skaters, three skateboarders, and a busker. I thought about busking as a career when I was younger. However, busking is a little harder to bring off effectively when you play the piano as opposed to something more portable, like, for instance, a guitar.

This particular musician is playing a saxophone.

You don’t see a lot of musicians up this early. Nocturnal habits seem to go with that profession.

Of course, he might just be practicing, and decided to do it in an environment where tips were at least possible.

Come to think of it, that’s not a bad way to choose a career – figure out something you like doing, then figure out how to get paid to do it.

I run into my “friend” from the gym again. She has that kind of seemingly careless beauty that comes with people for whom healthy living is a joy. At any rate, with this particular encounter she doesn’t happen to notice me, so, by the unwritten rules of our relationship, I head by her up the ramp (shown on the picture affixed to this piece) and back to my car.

Much of our behavior is a function of various unwritten rules, of course; there is little that simultaneously fascinates and frightens us quite like the freedom to make our own choices. Rules help, because they keep choices to a manageable set of alternatives.

As I’ve written elsewhere, anxiety itself is a function of having more choice than we are constructed to handle. I have chosen not to ever speak to the woman at the gym (or anyone else at the gym, for that matter), because it eliminates a potential cause of anxiety. I can’t say anything stupid if I don’t say anything, in a nutshell.

I’m not quite sure why I am always putting things in nutshells. A lot of people are allergic.

But then, come to think of it, I suppose there is a reason why “idiomatic” and “idiotic” are so close to being the same word. As is “idiopathic”, for that matter, a word I always hear used to characterize the seizures I have, and which means “of unknown origin”.

Much of the human condition is idiopathic, come to think of it.