Finally, The Right Entertainer.

A memory has haunted me for years, coming back to me now and then.  I was a toddler, alone – I know this because the light blue kitchen was enormous for me, and it took great effort for me to climb up onto the counter. I simply had to get closer to this song as it played.

It was this exact rendition of Scott Joplin’s “The Entertainer” playing on the radio – which I just found. It’s a joyful memory. I laid my head against that old mono-speaker radio, delighted at the sound, with no care in the world.

For years, I found various renditions that could have played on the radio during that period. It wasn’t any of them – you can tell if you listen carefully.

But this was it, I found it 46 years later thanks to that memory, YouTube, Wikipedia, and a lot of trying to figure out exactly where I was when it happened.

And now I know.

Finally.

Imagined Conversation.

My Late FatherYesterday marked 12 years since my father passed away. I am reminded every year in Trinidad and Tobago only because of Emancipation Day.

To say that our relationship was complicated would make a British person cringe at such use of understatement. We rarely agreed on anything, and if we did we, as individuals, wondered what was wrong.

So I wondered how the conversation would go, so many years gone by and myself having grown entirely out from under his shadow.

I expect my father would start it off. He was good about that.

“I’ve been dead 12 years. What have you done?”
“Well, I’ve turned things around on the land. People have gotten to know me and are coming around.”
“Good. You learned how to deal with them. I didn’t think you had it in you to squeeze them.”
“Well, I didn’t squeeze them.”
“What? They’ll take advantage of you!”, growling, “You can’t be soft! They’ll walk all over you!”
“Well, they walked all over you when you were confrontational.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I have 12 years of knowing what I’m talking about. Your ashes blew away from Mosquito Creek with you not having enjoyed anything about the Estate. I tell the people who have problems with you to go down there and shout into the wind.”

He sighs, grinds his teeth and looks off.

“So, are you married yet? Children?”
“Nope.”

He sighs, grinds his teeth and looks off.

“What about your cousins? Are they dealing with their land?”
“That’s not my business.”
“So you don’t know?”
“Ask them yourself. The answer they give you may not be the answer they give me, the answers they give may not be what they are actually doing. Why waste time worrying about things like that?”

He glares at me, then sighs. “That was always the problem I faced.”

“And I don’t have that problem simply by not making it mine.”

“What happened to the workshop?”
“Oh, you’ll love this. Your sister closed it.”
“What?!”
“Yes. Your brother had a stroke, a lot of things happened afterward that boiled down to her taking control and she closed it. ”
“You were supposed to run it! Or one of your cousins!”
“Well, truth be told only one of us ever really wanted to run it and when it came down to it, he didn’t really want to either. And your sister made sure of that.”
“Hmm. Which sister, anyway?”
“What, you folks still don’t talk?”
“Don’t be a smartass, tell me which sister.”
“Does it matter?”

Again, the glare.
“No, it doesn’t.”

“See, you’re all dead but two. It’s a brave new world.”
“How is it?”
“If you were here, you’d probably die of heartbreak.”
“Oh.”
“Yeah. So did you ever talk to your father like we’re doing now?”
“Many times.”
“Drove you crazy, didn’t it?”
“What do you mean?”
“You never really got out from under his shadow, did you?”
“What?!”
“Well, the closer to death you got, the more you talked about his visions and plans.”
“I did?”
“Yeah.”
“I didn’t realize that. So are you trying to do the same as you get closer to death?”
“Nope. Your visions and plans are gone with you – have been for 12 years.”
“So why the HELL are you even talking to me?”
“I thought it would be interesting. I thought about how you imagined your father, and I imagined mine. And you’re here. And now… you’re gone, left as a part of my memory and imagination in a small room of my mind. I may visit you from time to time, but you are only me remembering you.”
“You always talked about shit like that. Unproductive!”
“Generally speaking, yes, this was unproductive. But it was closure.”
“What?! You little…”

And he’s gone. What’s more, I’m free of him.

The Gentle Art of Self-Deception

Riverside Park HDRsWhen we write our memories to our brains we write them twice. Yet we remember as we see the event, and how we see that event is subject to all sorts of biases.

First, we lie to ourselves – and we do it for a variety of reasons, most notably self-enhancement. And then we are lied to by our biases and how we receive information, and our biases are based on like-mindedness, on whether we as individuals are in the in-group or the out-group – even when we perceive ourselves to always be in the in-group.

Critical thought is supposed to be a part of all of this, guarding us from biased inputs or at least letting us stamp them as being potentially biased. In the broad strokes it doesn’t seem to, in the broad strokes it seems to fail even when individuals and groups experience cognitive dissonance. In individuals it’s part of life, but in groups it can be downright frightful.

We not only lie to ourselves, we allow ourselves to be lied to. We even encourage it, seeking out things that prop up our biases. This is why many reformed addicts talk about ‘hitting rock bottom’ – where they reach a point that self-deception can no longer be done, when facts rip away the armor of self-deception. Some trade one self-deception with another so that they don’t feel alone.

This is the foundation upon which we build our institutions. Democracy, as great as it is in theory, fails here (as do all other ideologies) not because of some sinister agenda of a group but because of self-deception. Where there could be dissenting opinion from dissenting perspective, we label the ‘other side’ as wrong and paint them with a broad brush. This is why committees rarely come up with anything innovative and are great ways to waste time – because of the commonality required to be a part of the group.

And this is why we fail to live up to the standards we give ourselves. We’re crappy witnesses to our own deeds.