Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Are we addicted to Existential Anesthesia?

I call it ‘Elder Wisdom.’ The kids and grandkids are apt to describe it as “Gramps has gone off the rails again.” I suppose the truth lies somewhere between. Still, when my sometimes-suspect mind pauses to consider the matter it finds an ever-growing mountain of evidence to support my logic. The concerns that I first addressed in late 2014, as Oregon prepared to legalize marijuana, were real then and even more real today.
“But why be so upset?” I ask myself. What had me so upset back then about what I saw as a cultural dilemma? (And still do.) After all, I am not a social critic. I write about late-life relationships. What prompted my emotional detour? Whatever it was, I have not outgrown it. With that, I offer Existential Anesthesia Redux
I suppose I am a bit worked up, trying to find the logic in their illogical claims. Whatever the reason it is enough to turn today’s BLOG into a RANT. I suppose it has been building up for a while and finally spilled over.
You see, a while back my beloved Tanner, along with the rest of Oregon, became a legal marijuana zone. As willed by a vote of the people my mythical city, in the heart of a very real Willamette Valley, became part of a rapidly spreading social experiment---one that offers our population the freedom to indulge themselves with impunity. As you might suspect, I have some October (& November) reservations about the wisdom of that so-called “progress.”
Let’s begin with the obvious---ours is already the most medicated culture in history. A large part of that medication is deemed legal---for instance the opioid epidemic that threatens our nation---the product of human frailty along with highly effective corporate lobbyists who spend hundreds of millions to convince us, and a cadre of well-funded lawmakers, that we need what they are selling. 
Disclaimer - I will be the first to admit that when I seek the relief and healing of today’s medicines I am thankful to have them available. Like a lot of you, there have been times when I owed my life to their effectiveness. Yet I realize that even as they heal me, they are also instrumental in creating and funding a delivery system designed to insure huge profits for both vendors and providers---while leaving our citizens to pay by far the highest health-care costs in the world, for what are sometimes less than the best results.
Yet beyond those legal and socially acceptable forms of medicinal intervention our society, indeed the whole world, is awash in a sea of chemical “coping” agents---from booze, to narcotics, to pot, and a whole array of manufactured “designer” drugs. 
Our citizens are increasingly addicted to pharmaceutical aids, both legal and illegal. All around us lives are being ruined and families destroyed. At the same time governments rely more and more on the tax revenues generated by the sale of those products. And all the while a thriving underground economy is equally addicted to the profits that our ‘coping’ produces. Bottom line---more than ever before our “land of the free and the brave” is addicted to its addictions.
And now we find ourselves living in a world that includes yet another round of ‘socially accepted’ means of coping. Marijuana, long relegated to the shadow-side of the conversation, has been liberated. There, firmly established in the daylight, it is available for one and all---young and old. As I mentioned above, tipping the scales in the sometimes contentious debate leading to its legalization was pot’s undisputed ability to be a productive source of coveted tax revenue.
But before I dig deeper into my state’s “progressive” expansion of pot’s availability, let me take a moment to limit the scope of my objections. Like many states Oregon already had in place a modest medical-marijuana program. Though not everyone agrees with that, I accept the evidence of the drug’s medicinal capabilities and have no problem with it being available in that form, given proper regulation and oversight.
Rather, it is the brave new world of universal marijuana acceptance that has me concerned about what lies ahead---the wonderfully misnamed era of ‘recreational’ pot, i.e. 'Pot as fun.' What could possibility go wrong with that?
Though that new reality has yet to make its way into any of my Tanner stories, rest assured that it has more than a few of us October and November types wondering what good or bad, help or harm, will come from this new state of affairs. At least one old fossil I know feels the need to have his say about that.
To be clear, I don’t pretend to speak for anyone else. I may be the only one who harbors unsettling visions of where our chemically-sated society is heading. Of course, mankind’s efforts to escape the harsh realities of life are nothing new. Those tendencies are surely as old as the species. Everyone of us has moments when he or she wants to avoid hurtful circumstances. There was a time when scotch-on-the-rocks was my favored retreat. Fortunately, somewhere along the way I learned that whatever I was running from would still be there in the morning.
But I worry that in today’s increasingly chaotic world---with its ever-growing availability of more effective, even lethal, ways of avoiding life as it is---more of us are relying on those means of escape. I am so concerned about that trend that I have given it a name. I call our societal attempts to escape reality Existential Anesthesia or EA.
Of course, with true late-life logic I tell myself that if anyone needs Existential Anesthesia to face their circumstances, it would be us October and November types---the ones worn down by decades of dealing with real life. That makes sense, doesn’t it?
But instead it seems that more and more of our young people are succumbing to EA in one or more of its often-enticing forms. And they are doing that at an ever-younger age. At the very time of life we hope they are curious, alert, and clear minded---preparing for the daunting challenges that await them---it seems that too many, overwhelmed by those possibilities, are turning to EA---seeking an emotional retreat that is too often a dead end. 
Still, the advocates of that brave new world tell us we must accept the reality of a ‘new way’---one that makes pot available to everyone. They tout its “decriminalization,” a change that will allow future generations to avoid the legal residue of youthful indiscretions. And I’ll admit, those arguments ring true. Yet how many lives, young and not-so-young, will be impacted by the freshly reinforced message that we have the right to indulge ourselves in potentially harmful, but perfectly legal ways? How many of us will learn to cope by retreating into a TCH haze?
They tell us that escape, in a socially accepted manner, is fine---even therapeutic. That it can be a wonderful stress reliever. Yet in the end how often do those forms of retreat, be they booze, drugs, or 'recreational pot,' resolve the ills that drive the urge to hide and escape?
The fact is, of course, in the end this is not an argument I am going to win. The forces pushing for the acceptance of marijuana as a valid form of EA are growing stronger. They will eventually have their way. I may not agree, and will sometimes give thanks that I won’t be around to see how it ends. 
But then I will pause to remember that my children and grandchildren will be there, dealing with that outcome. It seems that I must pray for their well being and accept what I cannot change. Unless, of course, I choose to pour myself a tall scotch-on-the-rocks and try to forget about it.

So what do you think? I’m guessing that you have an opinion on these matters. I’d like to hear what you think. If you would like to “Comment” feel free to choose “Anonymous” to avoid exposing your personal details. If you are inclined to share this post I hope you will. 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ah, Young Love --- at 81

Enough already! I'm the one who claims to promote ‘thriving in late-life.’ Yet the last few posts have concentrated on my own ‘unthriving.’ It is time for a change, to focus on something more upbeat, yet just as age-appropriate. With that in mind I’ve dusted off an earlier post that I loved the first time around. Surprise---I still do.
Just imagine the possibilities. What could a storyteller like myself make of it? Former high-school sweethearts, Jack and Betty, are eighty-one years old and about to meet again for the first time in sixty-two years. Months of letters, emails, and phone calls have fanned old feelings, setting the stage for a much anticipated reunion. Now, as we watch, Jack prepares himself for that moment of truth.
Sounds like something beyond October, doesn’t it? Eighty-one has the ring of November. But no matter the label, our friend Jack is awash in anxious ‘schoolboy’ feelings, facing questions he has not asked, or answered, in a very long time. 
I have made the point before. The often-timid fellows who inhabit the pages of my Tanner Chronicle stories are not the torn-shirt, Alpha Males you see on the cover of supermarket paperbacks. In a moment, when you meet Jack, you will know what I mean.
In any case, as his plane descends to the airport where he and Betty are to meet, those questions are growing more urgent by the second. What will she look like? Will he even recognize her? And what will she think when she sees the “him” he has become?
It must be a bit disorienting at that age---the unlikely revival of schoolboy dreams. As silly as it sounds, Jack is caught up in a new and hopeful ‘geriatric adolescence.’ As you watch the video I’ve linked to the end of this post the results may strike you as funny. That’s okay. You’ll notice that he too sees the humor in his dilemma. 
Yet there is no hiding the deep and powerful feelings behind his embarrassed chuckles. From beginning to end his story is a testament to late-life love, with a dose of teenage anxiety thrown in for good measure. Of course, those feelings of his may be over-hopeful---but there is no doubting their reality.
Truth in tell---when I used this clip in a post a couple years ago I was just a kid myself---78 going on 79. Now, with 81 lurking just around the corner, making me nearly as old as Jack and Betty, I am better able to empathize with their situation. In a word, I can ‘relate.‘ Matter of fact, they strike me as a perfect illustration of October Boldness, the willingness to take a chance when the calendar seems to say it is too late. (Apparently that works in November too.)
You can see the questions on the face of our anxious ‘video hero’ as he takes the next timid steps (actually he is in a wheelchair) toward their reunion---fueled by still-powerful recollections of a much earlier time. Sure, he is old enough to realize that every stage of life brings hardship and disappointment. For October and November folks those obstacles come in many forms---infirmity, the painful loss of a loved one, financial setbacks, even relational concerns. Still, though Jack’s limitations are there to be seen, you can tell that he is counting on new, but long-familiar feelings to see him through.
Most of us have known the healing power of loving affirmation. We understand how much we need someone’s special caring when we are tested. That is true at any time of life, but especially in late-life. With its unique challenges, there is no other time of life when the enabling support of love and caring is more important. 
And with that caring support comes its working partner---‘Hope’---the necessary catalyst that makes it all happen. You can hear that in Jack’s story. Whether at eighteen or eighty one, it is those feelings of love  that nurtures hope. Or is it hope that nurtures love? Either way the two go hand in hand---reinforcing each other, impacting what we feel and shaping our perception of what is possible. It’s a reality that I try to capture in my stories---the affirming effects of caring and hope, and how they enable us to keep Becoming in October and beyond.
For the lucky ones among us it’s always been that way---though of course husbands and wives at seventy or eighty are very different persons than they were at twenty or twenty-five. (I think I hear Roma shouting her agreement.) But after a lifetime together we scarcely notice those changes. Why would we? We have made that journey together. More importantly, we remember those years (as well as we remember anything these days) and all those changes through the prism of love.
So, you might ask, what is it that has an old fossil like me carrying on about that sort of kid’s stuff? After all, it was a long time ago---those heady, hormone-driven years. Right? 
So, you might ask, what is it that has an old fossil like me carrying on about that sort of kid’s stuff? After all, it was a long time ago---those heady, hormone-driven years. Right? I hope you will take a couple minutes to watch THIS CLIP. Put yourself in Jack or Betty’s shoes. Realize that as much as some things have changed, the overriding need to care about each other remains. By the end of their story you can tell that both of them understand that.
Finally, if it seems to you this is a message that deserves to be passed on to others, I hope you will consider forwarding it to those who might enjoy hearing the truth to be found in Jack's story.