“Every exit is an entry somewhere.” ~ Tom Stoppard

Perception Versus Reality

 

“If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” ~ William Blake
George Rickey's "Column of Four Squares Gyratory III

A quiet Sunday. Corey is working 3 to 11 again. The dogs are being lazy. Laundry is going. Outside, no sounds coming from the park, only the occasional birdsong. Comfortable temperatures and sunshine, although rain later. All in all, not a bad day.

I was thinking last night, or rather, early this morning, about the differences between what we perceive and what is real, that is, is what we see necessarily what is real? Is our reality the only reality?

 I think that what set me on this tangent was a dream from which I awakened in which my father was going to drive a big white Cadillac to a physical therapy appointment; my mother was rearranging papers, and different people kept coming in and out. My father, who was a small man, never felt comfortable in big cars. In his later years, I think that he would have been hard-pressed to see over the steering wheel of a big Cadillac.

But I awoke from this dream thinking about how the mind works, how in dreams reality is always altered at least slightly if not completely. I mean, the appearance of my father so often in my dreams is obviously not in keeping with the reality of my life because my father died almost nine years ago. Yet there he is. I know that I’m simplifying considerably, but for approximately one-quarter  to one-third of our lives, we exist in a state of unreality—those hours in which we sleep and dream; although the dreaming part is usually only about 25 percent of that sleeping time, taking place during REM sleep.

But the perceptions in dreams are not what I am really talking about. I think.

“But I look up:
the stars write.
Unknowing I understand:
I too am written,
and at this very moment
someone spells me out.” ~ Octavio Paz
Liu Bolin, "The Invisible Man," Urban Camouflage

As far as I can discern, the concepts of perception and reality are both fluid, totally dependent upon the individual. My sense of what is right and just is based on how I was raised, the laws of the country of my birth, the beliefs instilled in me by family. For example, I do not believe that it is right to force a woman to cover her body because the sight of a female ankle might drive a man into unbidden lust. However, I was raised in a society in which the roles of men and women have continually evolved. My reality is not that my bare legs are sinful; does that mean that in another city in another country the idea of the exposed female body as unholy is wrong? No. Not wrong. Just different.

But let’s move closer to home. I believe that there is exquisite beauty in a yard that is filled with different kinds of flowers and trees. Five houses down the street there is a house that does not have one tree, one shrub, one flower. My perception is that it is barren. The owner’s perception may be that such a yard is maintenance free, clean lines, uncluttered.

When the trees lose their leaves in the fall, I do not feel a great compulsion to rake the leaves and dispose of them. In fact, I love the look of fallen leaves. My nosy neighbor cannot abide a stray leaf. She probably sees my leaf-strewn yard as the end result of laziness, slovenliness. I see her perfect yard as a reflection of how uptight she is.

Granted, these are relatively small things. But you get the point: What I perceive as beauty is not necessarily seen as beautiful by someone whose reality does not allow for things to be out of place.

“What the caterpillar calls the end, the rest of the world calls a butterfly.” ~ Lao-tzu
Trompe l'oiel by Richard Haas, Facade of Brotherhood Building, Cincinnati, OH

My perception of the reality of my life at the moment is shaped in great part by the reality of my past. Three years ago, money was not so much an issue. I did not awaken each morning and measure the possibilities of my day by how much pain I was experiencing. Today, I see my life as being very limited, hemmed in by circumstances that are very much out of my control. These are my perceptions.

Across the world, in a small village somewhere, the days are measured in more concrete terms: how much water is available? Will there be enough rain to sustain the crops? Will another child die from dysentery?

Across the country in a city somewhere, a woman with perfect nails and a chic haircut is measuring her day by how many pairs of shoes she will buy, whether or not to lunch in this trendy bistro or that one.

Is one reality better than the others? Is one reality less of an existence than the others? We make these judgments according to what we know, most of the time without ever considering what is going on across the world, across the country, or even across the street.

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.” ~ Anaïs Nin
3D Sidewalk Illusion by Julian Beever

I don’t know if I’m being very effective here in making my point. What I had planned to say, or thought that I might say, does not seem to be translating well onto this page.

I think that too often we take our own realities and try to impose them on others. Take the Catholic church (or not).  I am not catholic, but many people assume that I am because I am Filipino.  But my feelings about the Catholic church are mostly hostile, and I realize that my hostility comes from my firm belief that there should be equality between the sexes; the Catholic church is inherently misogynistic. Men have all of the power. Therefore, I cannot reconcile myself to be of a faith that in its basic tenets places women below men. For me, that’s just a bunch of hooey.

But I was watching some documentary a while back that discussed how Catholicism, because of its staunch stance against the use of condoms is causing more deaths in third world countries. Consider: according to the pope, condoms are a sin because of that whole sex and procreation thing. Men with AIDS are forbidden by the church to use condoms when having sex with their wives even though the unprotected sex will most likely result in the wife contracting AIDS.

In my reality, this makes no sense, no sense whatsoever. But there are a whole bunch of people out there for whom this reality makes perfect sense. Do I have a right to be indignant? Well obviously I can be as indignant as I want to be, but whether or not that indignation should be heaped on any Catholic with whom I might come into contact is questionable.

But I’m right. Right? Transmitting AIDS is wrong. Right? Well, duh. But to people of faith, for whom the word of the pope is infallible, it’s not a duh. On the contrary. It’s not even a quandary.

Hence the whole personal reality and perception versus that of another person, society, country, etc. The concept of fluidity is more fact than concept. My reality of today is so different from my reality of 20 years ago.

“I want so to live that I work with my hands and my feeling and my brain. I want a garden, a small house, grass, animals, books, pictures, music. And out of this, the expression of this, I want to be writing (Though I may write about cabmen. That’s no matter.) But warm, eager, living life — to be rooted in life — to learn, to desire, to feel, to think, to act. This is what I want. And nothing less. That is what I must try for.” ~ Katherine Mansfield
Trompe l'oiel Mural: Before and After

When I was younger, my reality went something like this: career first, family incidental. Before I had children I could not conceive of a time in which my career was not the most important thing in my life. My personal success was directly tied to the size and location of my office, the amount of my salary, the scope of my bonuses. In my 20’s, I was a political animal in the corporate world. I had the kind of personality that would have actually done very well in politics.

After I had Alexis, my reality shifted, slightly at first, then dramatically as the days passed into months. I hit a point in my life in which I could not conceive of ever placing anything above her needs, her comfort, her security.  And so on.

My reality now? Not sure. I perceive of myself as being so different from what I used to be, but I don’t know if that is true. It could well be that time has passed, but I have remained the same. Or maybe time has passed, and I have allowed my reality to evolve. I just know that Mansfield’s quote comes about as close to my ideal reality as I can sum up in words: home, animals, books, pictures, music, writing. To continue to learn, expand my mind. Not to stop thinking and delving and discovering.

I feel fortunate that my reality does not include the possibility of starvation, or imminent rape, or death from something easily preventable. That my reality does not include Manolo Blahniks and pricey eateries really doesn’t bother me. In fact, I think that if I were to put on a pair of shoes that cost $800, I would probably hate myself because I would not be able to rid my mind of the thought of how that money might be put to better use.

Evolving realities. Shifting perceptions. Movement. Growth. Life is not the destination; it’s how we get there and what we do along the way.

More later. Peace.

Music by Sugarland, “Make Me Believe”

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Sea Star from Bunaken Marine Park, Indonesia, from The Right Blue 

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Colors from The Right Blue

I’ve been meaning to comment on a beautiful site that I stumbled across: The Right Blue. According to the site’s about page, the title “refers to the goal of a lifelong pursuit. Sea water viewed from beneath the surface comes in many hues and shades. Surfers wait for the perfect wave; divers seek the right blue.” The blog contains beautiful pictures from dives, information about the ocean, and many other ocean-related topics. 

The writers, who live in Hawaii, decided that instead of letting their beautiful photographs and slides get dusty in binders and boxes they would scan and post them. What joy, especially for those of us who love all things related to the sea. The images are incredible, and Bobbie and Jerry have generously posted their work under a Creative Commons license, which means that their images can be reposted non-commercially with proper attribution. 

So today’s post features images from The Right Blue. Please give them a visit. 

“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Hawaiian Green Sea Turtle by The Right Blue

Another restless night, in fact, one of the worse in a while. For some reason, Tillie was very restless last night, which meant that she kept asking to go out just about every hour. At one point, I had put my eye mask on, which I wear sometimes if I have a headache, and Tillie nudged me. Need I say that she scared the crap out of me? Anyway, I slept in fits and starts, and I don’t know if I ever achieved REM as my head is ringing today. 

Anyway, a holiday today celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.  I have used quotes from King in my post before, often with quotes by Gandhi, one of King’s major influences. 

I think that it is worth noting that King was the youngest person ever to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his civil rights’ efforts. When you think about what King did and when he did it, it really is an amazing thing: organizing non-violent protests in the South at a time when most of the white population view minorities  as second class citizens who needed to use separate bathrooms and separate drinking fountains so as not to contaminate them. It was a time in which minorities could not eat wherever they wanted, stay in any hotel they wished to stay in, or even perform in any venue. 

That the United States was once such a country is mind-boggling to generations who never saw these things first-hand. That there are still those in this country who believe that things were better before King, Thurman, and the civil rights movements is what boggles my mind. But then, as I have been the victim of discrimination myself and have had people call me names just because my skin is darker, or my eyes a different shape, or my last name is not Smith, I am not surprised, just saddened. 

“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Lunar Fusiliers, Pulau Sipadan, Malaysia, from The Right Blue

In keeping with my recent stroll down memory lane, I got a friend request on Facebook from another person from my past, this time a former student who worked for me at Old Dominion University. While I was in the English Department there, I managed the two computer labs for a couple of years. This person was one of the twelve student workers I supervised in the labs. 

She was extremely intelligent and very likable, with a cutting wit and insight well beyond her years. For the most part, all the students who worked for me were really terrific, a good blend of personalities. I remember them in a very positive way as that was a very good period for me. Of course, not all of it was good, but nothing has ever topped teaching college as being my favorite profession. 

“The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Feather Stars from The Right Blue

Other than that, not much going on today. I thought that I might give the Harry Potter books my annual read. It usually takes a week to read all seven, and I like to start with book one and read my way through. Yep. My exciting plans for the week: reading the Harry Potter books. I tell you I just don’t know how much more excitement I can take. 

Last night was the season premiere of 24, one of my favorite shows. I am hoping that this season is better than last season. Last season was better than the very weak season 6, but I’m not sure that the show will ever be able to recapture the frenzied storylines that involved Presidents Palmer and Logan. Those were the best. And last year’s season tested the boundaries of believability (of course, the entire show does that) by bringing back Tony. That being said, I taped last night’s two-hour premiere, and I’m going to watch that tonight while the next two hours are taping. 

Personally, I am not bothered by the character of Jack Bauer. He is single-minded, and he serves a purpose. What I love about him is his Aristotelian tragic mien: He is the tragic hero, fallen from grace, torn apart by his own hubris. Like Hamlet, he knows that he is flawed but cannot stop himself. Like Othello, he is caught up in webs of deceit. Bauer represents all that is good and evil in a post-September 11 society. I just wish that his daughter wasn’t such a whiny wimp. 

I have always loved Kiefer Sutherland, though, all the way back to The Lost Boys, one of my favorite camp vampire flicks. And much like his father, I think that Kiefer just gets better with age. Too bad his personal life is always such a mess. 

That’s all for today. More later. Peace

Music from Karl Jenkins, “Adiemus” 

 

 

“Insanity is hereditary—you get it from your kids.” ~ Sam Levenson

"Bathe in me mother and child" by Warwick Goble

“Bathe in me mother and child,” by Warwick Goble

 

“Well, everybody hurts, sometimes” ~ From “Everybody Hurts” by REM

“Stop trying to perfect your child, but keep trying to perfect your relationship with him.” ~ Dr. Henker

Migraine Brain
Migraine Brain

I’ve been wiped out for over 24 hours now with a killer migraine. I had to stop taking my migraine prevention medicine cold turkey (instead of the usual method of backing down gradually) because I had developed a rash on my upper body that had blisters. I know—too much information, but I just wanted to explain my absence. I actually spent most of today lying on the bed in the fetal position with cold packs on my head. Even walking into the brighter living room and kitchen caused me pain. Just have to say how much this sucks in case you couldn’t tell how not happy I am.

Mother’s Day is in two days, and I’m also feeling sorry for myself about this. Believe it or not, it has nothing to do with eldest son. This time it’s my daughter. She’s been getting progressively aloof in the last four months. Corey and I have been trying to figure out what’s going on. But when I ask her about it, she says that nothing is wrong. This is kind of her normal reaction when confronted: denial.

“Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them.” ~ Oscar Wilde

Stock Photo of Two Little Girls, Sisters Or Friends, Sitting OnI should say that Alexis has always gone through these phases. I remember when she was in school, she and her best friend would suddenly not be speaking, and when I would ask what was wrong, Alexis would say “nothing.” I mean, she and her best friend would be like sisters one day, and then a complete rift would arise the next day. I always found that odd, but I knew that it was none of my business.

I’m not even sure that she realizes that she does this, but she did the same thing at the beginning of last year. She just began to withdraw from our lives, and when I asked about it, she assured me that nothing was wrong. And just as suddenly as she withdrew, she was back, and everything was fine.

This time, her displeasure seems to be aimed at Corey, but we aren’t sure why. Their relationship has been close ever since Corey and I got married, and when her boyfriend got a new job that causes him to be out of town sometimes, it has always been Corey who she calls when she needs something: clogged toilet . . . mouse in a trap . . .  broken coffee table  . . . whatever. Corey would drop everything to help her, even if he was in the middle of something here.

Now, she doesn’t call him at all. He has tried to find out what is wrong, as have I, but the only response we get is that nothing is wrong. She’s busy. I’ve had the same thing happen to me, so I can empathize with what Corey is feeling: frustrated from the lack of information and the ways in which his attempts at reconciliation have been ignored.

“Young girl…violins…center of her own attention” ~ “Daughter,” by Pearl Jam

mary-cassatt-summertime
"Summertime," by Mary Cassatt

As far as friendships are concerned, Alexis is actually a lot like her father and eldest brother in believing in the idea that the whole world revolves around them. Don’t get me wrong. Alexis is a wonderful, generous friend. Always there to help her friends when they need it, and most of the time, always there for her family. Her father was like that; if one of his friends called and asked him to help chop down a tree, he was there. In the meantime, things around the house that needed repairing were never attended to.

Friendships for all three of them are very important. I, too, believe that friends are important, that if a friend needs me, I should be there. However, the big difference is that I put family first. This inability to put family first was a big bone of contention between my ex and myself. It was also what caused Alexis to leave home after she graduated. She was absolutely clueless or perhaps indifferent as to how her actions were adversely affecting her family. We finally had to draw a line, and she chose to leave.

“If you have never been hated by your child you have never been a parent.” ~ Bette Davis

edmond-francois-aman-jean-portrait-of-a-young-woman
"Portrait of a Young Woman," by Francois Edmond

I remember so many sleepless nights during that period, worrying about whether or not she was alive and safe. I wanted to call the police but didn’t. Instead, I would sometimes drive through the neighborhood to see if her car was parked by one of her friends’ houses. In that way, I knew where she was and could take some small comfort in the knowledge that she had found some place to stay.

Oddly enough, our reconciliation occurred on a Mother’s Day when I came home to find a card from her and a long letter apologizing for her behavior. I called her immediately and asked her to come home, and she did. From that point, things were very good, until she began to go into these phases of isolation again.

“In spite of the six thousand manuals on child raising in the bookstores, child raising is still a dark continent and no one really knows anything.  You just need a lot of love and luck—and, of course, courage.” ~ Bill Cosby, Fatherhood, 1986

mary-cassatt-young-woman-reading
"Young Woman Reading," by Mary Cassatt (detail)

When you are a parent, it’s so hard to know if you are making the right choices, if you have made the right choices, if you could have done something differently that might have resulted in a better outcome. I have learned that parenting is one of those on-the-job training situations. You can never be fully prepared, no matter how many books and articles you read. 

There is no other job in the world that can make you feel so completely insufficient and that can cause so much self-doubt. It is a job filled with regret over words spoken in anger and frustration and actions taken in an attempt to reign in unruly offspring. Parenting can make you feel completely unqualified, whether you are raising sons or daughters or both.

“To understand your parents’ love you must raise children yourself.” ~ Chinese Proverb

Mother With Children Klimt
"Mother with Children," by Gustave Klimt

And then there is the “mother curse” that comes back to haunt you: “I hope you grow up and have children exactly like you.” And you do. Your children may not be exactly like you, but they test you in the same ways that you tested your own parents. They push the boundaries and break your heart just as you did the same to your own mother and father. In this way, history does repeat itself.

A friend of mine, in responding to my recent post on Eamonn, had this wonderful analogy: “Raising a teenager is like nailing Jello to the wall.” Oh how true. Except that I would change the word teenager to children, because no mater how young or old they are, your children still retain that ability to make you feel as if you are somehow wanting, unfit, and unreasonable, even when you are certain that you are not.

“Your children will become what you are; so be what you want them to be.” ~ David Bly

pablo-picasso-mother-and-child
"Mother and Chld," by Pablo Picasso

In my heart, I have no doubts that Alexis loves me and loves her family. I also know that the very aspects of her personality that grate on me so much are those aspects that are similar to my own disposition: her moodiness, her mercurial swings, her absolute fierceness in her devotion to her friends. So I do keep these things in mind.

Another thing that I know is that I still have the ability to hurt my own mother and she me, even when we don’t intend to do so, which only shows that regardless of age, the relationships between mothers and daughters are fraught with landmines.

The risk diminishes with age and maturity as both parties reach a point at which they understand each other more than they don’t understand each other. But the need to step carefully never completely goes away.

So in the end, I will wait out this current estrangement, try to be patient, knowing that this pulling away is a necessary part of her growing up. And I will try to remind myself not to be hurt, even when I am . . . in spite of the fact that my daughter, who lives in the same city as I, mailed my mother’s day card.

More later. Peace.