letters

A letter from my father to his cousin during WWII

During my adult years I developed a letter-writing habit. Perhaps it was always there, instilled by people who could count on nothing so much as a letter. Phones were problematic. Nothing else existed for communication except telegrams–“someone better be dying or sending us money”–or an in-person visit. Obviously one didn’t jump in the car and drive 285 miles across the state just to discuss the weekly news, find out the latest on your cousin’s marriage, or to  shoot the breeze. (I’ll admit that in college on several occasions I more or less did the latter: I would pick up and travel a couple hundred miles or so just to say “hi” to the family, and as a young man I would routinely drive dozens of miles on a whim late in the afternoon to catch a dinner in a nearby city or visit a girlfriend or somesuch.)

Ultimately no other communications medium served the role of the letter–certainly not telephones. During the first ten years of my life (into the early-1960s), my family paid only for party-line phone service. When you picked up the phone, if someone was talking, you just put the receiver back on the cradle of the desktop-model black telephone. In addition to scrimping on telephone charges by having a party line, my parents learned from their parents that one didn’t make long distance calls on whims, one didn’t linger on long distance calls when they were made, and one didn’t call collect except in the most dire of emergencies. Today’s ubiquitous carrying of a smartphone makes one instantly available. Today our calling plans include the costs of everything–long distance, calls between carrier systems, voice mail, the addition of extra lines, and the ability to download data to our handheld computers. It makes the concept of the desk-bound black telephone seem a relic from further back in the past than just 50 or 60 years.

Habitually writing a letter, though, became ingrained into me even as others my age leaned into the idea that long distance phone calls could be made more often. I’m sure the phone company (there was but one no matter where you lived) made it easier somehow, with a calling plan or discounts or something. My family wrote. It hadn’t been a long time since letters were the only form of communication other than telegrams (see above). My grandparents were born just as telephones were being introduced to the world. It took many years for telephone lines to be strung to all the corners of rural America. One wrote, and one wrote often. Young men with reputations to uphold stayed at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) where they were encouraged to “write your mother”. My parents undoubtedly had access to telephones in their homes–especially my mother since her father worked for the telephone company. Beyond the house, in the dormitories and fraternities/sororities of college, and perhaps even as new graduates, they didn’t have their own telephones. Letters sufficed.

I remember the letters from my father’s parents (mostly his mother) which arrived weekly. Grandma would type them on thin onion-skin paper so that she could put carbon paper between two pieces of paper and thereby make a copy as she typed. One would be sent to my father, her elder son, and one to my uncle, the younger son. To be fair, grandma would alternate pages of the carbon with originals because the carbon copy was fuzzier. A three or four page letter would alternate between black (original) and blue (copy) pages. That was a lot of news! Grandma believed in not wasting the paper. Margins were about 1/4 to 3/8 of an inch all the way around; the letters were single-spaced.

My mother’s parents were less frugal. My grandfather’s employment entitled them to lower-cost telephone service, and my grandmother was more likely to pick up the telephone to communicate, usually on a Saturday morning. I know this seems to negate what I wrote earlier, but this was an exception due to Grandpa’s privileged employment status. These calls were not frequent: no more than two per month. I believe my grandfather wrote his only daughter occasionally, putting pen to paper longhand like many people did, writing cursively.

My parents thus inculcated letter-writing into me, a habit which has not been broken these 50 years since I left home. Our communications became much more frequent and regular with the advent of email. For the last 15-20 years of their lives, my parents would email a letter to my brother and me, usually on a Saturday. My brother and I would each respond to that letter with our own, and the weekly news would be transmitted. In the two years since my mother died and left us to our own devices, my brother and I continue to send the weekly weekend emails, although we also use texting for shorter notes. It pains me to see this skill die out as younger people today disdain email entirely and communicate in other, more terse formats. After thousands of years the letter appears to be dying out as a common form of communication between friends and family members. This rewiring of our brain and of society does not bode well. Humans, never great at believing the best about strangers, have retreated into communication silos out of which we had only recently been attempting to break.

I doubt I will see the next evolution in communications between friends and family members unless someone comes up with a method to visit one another in person easily and on a whim, a la the transporter we see in our sci-fi stories. The face-to-face video calls (FaceTime, et al) would seem to bridge the gap between letters and that instantaneous travel. It will have to do. I don’t see the point: an emailed letter is more convenient because it doesn’t demand that I drop everything to answer it. The video call won’t permit me to derisively laugh at the foibles of others (without their knowledge), encourages me to make sure my bladder is empty, doesn’t let me study the words to make sure I understand what the sender wants me to understand, and gives me nothing to refer back to an hour later. On the other hand they permit the sharing of laughter, of music, of certain sights which might be within the range of the device. Ultimately, though, the video call remains a “call” and not a literary device–and for that reason I mourn its seeming demise.

no-entitlement

In the middle of

Everything: no-thingness.

In the middle of

Everyone: alone-ness.

In the middle of no-where:

Every where.

Lacking morality,

Right action,

Kindness,

Consideration–

Redemption.

(Republished from my old blog, which was killed but resurrected as this blog here)

True Facts and Crazy Facts

Idiocy is different than rational insanity. Maybe it’s just a continuum of wrongheadedness. Idiocy requires an emotional need to believe, a desire to believe, and an acquiescence to trust the veracity of something because it reinforces your True Beliefs. (True Beliefs. Core Beliefs. “People are almost always out to get me.” “There is a higher power.” “The Other is always bad.”)

The danger with idiocy lies in how it leads someone to believe their beliefs are no longer Beliefs but Facts. The most dangerous form of this idiocy happens when a person leaps from a perfectly acceptable Fact to a crazy-assed assertion loosely connected to it, and our susceptible Idiot links the True Fact to this New “Fact” (what we will now call a Crazy Fact) and from thence travels a circular path back to the Core Belief which made them susceptible to believe the Crazy Fact in the first place. 

I taught in junior high with a woman who worked as a teacher’s aide for a special education teacher dealing with learning disability students. This teacher’s classroom included students who have ‘legit’ disabilities like dyslexia, but it more commonly included kids with problems of self-perception that they were not good at math, reading, writing, or whatever. This woman and I shared a prep period wherein she actually prepped while I usually farted around with the nascent network system in the school, trying to make it work. (We were too cheap to actually have a true tech person on the staff of the entire district, let alone our little school.) The aide and I had a good conversational time. She was quite personable. She and her husband had moved to our rural location after he retired from being an urban cop in a large American city. A lot of them did that because selling a very modest house in that market could land a lovely home in our depressed market, cash on the barrelhead, and everything you worked at thereafter was financial gravy. Her gig paid a whopping $7/hr, but this was in the mid to late 80’s, when $250 a week was significant. (For comparison purposes, the $250/week equaled about $1000/month. A beginning teacher in our district earned between $1100 and $1200/month. An average teacher with a good combination of extra training and 5-8 years’ experience earned $2000-2500. The biggest difference was the teacher got paid regardless of holidays, and got paid during the summer months, whereas the aide only got paid when she worked.)

One day we’re talking about something, likely conservative politics, because one thing that drew police and firemen from urban cities to our area was that we were deeply conservative, borderline reactionary. The state we were located in–to be kept a bit anonymous unless you dig through this website–was NOT in the Deep South, far from it. And for the purpose of the big reveal coming up, it also wasn’t Montana or Colorado. But back to the conversation we were having. Somehow it led to a discussion of state governments, and I made a comment about Montana being relatively independent because although conservative overall, it often elected Democrats to Congress. (Look it up.) And this perfectly normal-looking, normal acting woman said:

“Well, but the state of Montana is governed by Colorado.” (And I guess everyone KNEW that Colorado was more liberal being that they have Denver and Boulder there and all.)

I was poleaxed, a battering ram of crazy delivered to me right between the eyes when I was totally relaxed and unsuspecting. I would recount the next few lines, but it’s a blur. All I remember is that I basically, politely said, “Uh, no it’s not,” and all I got was a strongly-convicted woman determined to let me in on the truth of which apparently very few people were aware. She firmly believed that, while the State of Montana had a legislature, it had to run all of its decisions past the government of Colorado.

This woman firmly believed (Core Belief) that We Are Being Lied To On A Regular Basis By EVERYONE (Media, Education Leaders, Politicians). A True Fact–I’m not doing any more Google searches on this, but I’ll accept that maybe somehow, someway in the past, Montana was part of a large territory run from Denver–plus a Core Belief left her open to accepting someone’s assertion that Montana was run by Colorado (a Crazy Fact).

This interchange from decades ago has been playing across my mind in 2021 when we in the United States of America have been living in a Kafkaesque landscape of two political realities. It’s as if two parallel realities suddenly found themselves cohabiting the same physical reality, as if the coordinates of space-time were suddenly coincident. Maybe it’s not as Kafkaesque as I think it is, but the ascendence of conspiracy crazies to positions of prominence in government, influential political groups, and voting blocs has left the rest of us going “what the fuck…?” in our spare moments of privacy spent reading about the latest news while taking a morning crap.

Contrast this woman’s opinion with that a friend of mine expressed in August 2020. He made a cogent argument for the Covid-19 disease accidentally escaping from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. This person is a former member of our volunteer military (as opposed to the Army), who later worked with me in pharmaceutical manufacturing. He is world-traveled also, and he’s well-read. What he said, though I didn’t want to believe it, must be at least accepted for examination and consideration. His argument was:

  • No one outside of China is certain what is studied at the lab, but its focus on bat-sourced viruses was well-established. I’ve since read several pieces about its famous (or infamous) bat cave searcher for new viruses, Shi Zhengli. This assertion of his is a True Fact.
  • The lab had been cited frequently for deficient safety practices, many of them dealing with containment of pathogens and the environmental controls which assure safety to the world at large. This too is a True Fact. It’s a matter of public record by the Chinese government, which I have many doubts about, but when they say the lab had difficulties in this area, I’m a believer in it being true. I think the FDA also did so, but I am not sure it ever got access. Overall, this is not a True Fact, but quite likely it is a presumably True Fact.
  • And unfortunately I’ve forgotten a little bit of the detail of his next point. Basically it had to do with some of the lab workers becoming sick with very similar symptoms to the Covid-19 disease In November 2019 just before it was acknowledged to be a problem. I don’t know if this is true, but I think I’ve read about that elsewhere. It’s at least rationale unlike our fine teaching companion’s belief that Montana is in thrall to Colorado.

The “accepted” view in August 2020 was that his position was a crazy one, and dangerous: we had a sitting president with an itchy nuclear-launch button finger to retaliate against a rogue country who infected the world with a plague that ‘ruined’ his presidency. (And whaddaya know, there I go, imputing my beliefs in a way to make them sound true!) Yet we currently have quite a few questions as to where this disease’s viral vectors come from. I personally like Occam’s Razor: the most likely answer is the one which, in the presence of available facts, is the simplest. It is easier to believe that a region of the globe which routinely infects the rest of the world with diseases caused by this region’s combination of culinary predilections, health standards, graft, and preponderance of disease-carrying bats and several other incubators of pestilence, had once again allowed a virus to leap species and infect us to bad effect.

We–those of us who believe in True Facts and presumed to be True Facts–need to accept and meet people like my second friend. We need to argue Occam’s Razor-style with them. We need to accept the plausibility of their arguments, but we need to keep in mind the implications of accepting their points of view. (Accepting in August of 2020 that China’s lab let the disease out, and that China did a haphazard job in figuring that out, just would have fed a whole lot of crazy to no good effect.)

And short of considering deprogramming, we need to ignore and isolate the true crazies, the idiots from the rest of us. Give them short shrift. See extinction theory. They believe in Crazy Facts and those have no place in determining the course of action for any communal group of humans. This topic and thread will be continued.

to me in lieu of everyone

“You say why can’t we

Get along? Compromise? Yet

Uncompromisingly ask all to

Get along with you.”

My coffee tastes better

Sipped far from others.

Does not the day

Dawn everywhere?

Do not birds sing,

Breezes blow, waters

Lap shores, babies cry?

Why is it so easy to

Get along with others

When they do not

Grace us with their presence?

reader beware

Yep.

Of course any English major knows that writers, perhaps because of their beleaguered early years, have nothing up on car salesmen, realtors, or grain dealers in terms of ethical behavior.

Harrison, Jim. The English Major (p. 156).

Just like a ‘Democratic Party majority’…

…there has been compromise…lots and lots of compromise. (BTW if you’re reading this outside of the USA, sorry, but I will make many allusions to life here, and it is fully understood that this is a singular life experienced pretty much nowhere else on Planet Earth.)

I’m still not sure how this will go, but I do know that this site is now structured with an acquiescence to the reality of WordPress, blog software, and the Internet in general. I still feel thwarted and ‘funneled’ by technology. (Geez, can’t wait for the AI cars! ‘I’m sorry, Ken, I can’t turn right here.’ Me: ‘You idiotic piece of bad programming! This intersection now HAS a right turn! Turn the fucking car!’)

Thwarted by technology again

I’ve been in absentia almost as soon as I started this site (khpilcher.com) because I immediately ran into problems making the site match my vision for it: sections on poetry/prose, general essays, religion and philosophy, and a chattier blog that meanders on about beer, writing, friends, music, photography, and anything else that might once have gone on Facebook (may it crash in flames or at least be broken apart as the monopoly that it is).

This is not possible with WordPress.com and a survey of other sites seems to indicate that it can’t be done with WordPress.org either. I’m having to rethink what I will do. My prime purpose for this site is to publish my writing and secondarily, to share my thoughts on objective truth versus subjective desires. A jumbled mess of all the above categories would indeed live up the name of the site: it would be a roomful of voices vying for attention with no focus. This seems undesirable. I’ve got one work-around in mind, but it would be cumbersome and additionally would raise the question, “Why are you paying for a domain and premium services?”

Until that solution is enacted, I’ll drop one or two things in here, but not much. Until then…

They Built This Marriage

(on the 50th anniversary of my parents)

They built this marriage as one
They sensed a need, they searched,
They found each other. Said,
“We’ll build on solid rock,
Full in the teeth of storms
That Life will hurl at us.
Where winds of public pressure
Howl–demanding that we bend–
We shall stand unbending.”

They placed love-stone on love-stone
With care-full hearts. They built
For strength by leaning in,
Encircling their love with walls
That have no end. They topped
This edifice of love with
One Central Light.
Transparently they prismed out
This Light: two directions,
One purpose, guiding,
Enlightening by being.

They tend this monument
That it may never crumble.
We can’t conceive its non-
Existence; surely it
Has always been there. We
Thank them, though we know
They did not build for us:
Their love’s completeness
Stands before us.

(My parents celebrated their 50th on 26 July, 2002. Ten years later they celebrated the 60th. My father passed away the next year, but well after 61st. I’m not totally satisfied with it, but I don’t think it becomes better after almost 20 years…unless it’s rewritten entirely. I’m having a bit of frustration trying to get WordPress to do what I want. I want the poem to be in the center of the page, but to be left-justified for instance. And one of the lines is supposed to be broken across two physical lines, a la Shakespeare, but WP takes out the spaces I put in to make it so.)