Archive for July, 2016

Sweeping the Footprints off Granny’s Moon

Posted in Uncategorized on July 19, 2016 by michaelcogdill

My grandmother lived a far-out wisdom.  Heavenly in her own way.  Educated in the dirt-road classrooms of human nature — the ones that run through a sound mind’s good sense to believe people the first time when they show you who they are.

She was smart and kind, my Granny. She knew how to grow a strawberry patch and knew the folly of harvesting grievances against people who wronged her. Her intellect can still teach plenty to me.

And yet my grandmother didn’t believe a man walked on the moon.

I suppose she feared the thought we’d left our tracks up there. Maybe God, as she imagined Him, might take umbrage at our making a mess where we didn’t belong. My Grandmother did not want to believe we’d done something so audacious. She couldn’t imagine the reasons we even wanted to sling ourselves so far out, expecting to find our way home. So, in my wise grandmother’s mind, we never did.

This is motivated reasoning. Hers, mine, yours.

Motivated reasoning means we want certain things to be true or untrue. We want our truths so much, we will run from evidence to the contrary faster than a Kardashian escaping a Dollar General. Humans have, at our very essence, a fight or flight response. If we hate snakes and see one, we try to kill it, or break a tibia trying to get away from it. The same with matters of the heart, and the mind. Eugene O’Neil in the Iceman Cometh dabbled in the ideals of men. Yes, they were drunks, not wanting their illusions to shatter. Once they shattered in his world of the play, not even the booze worked anymore to make life feel just okay again.

The point is we have to push ourselves. Step or jump from the boat of contented illusion into the seas of how things really are. Only then do we reach shores of our betterment. Only by daring to believe what others could not, or would not, did we, yes, reach the moon.

Google motivated reasoning. Filter your thoughts, beliefs, illusions through this truth of ourselves. It’s not a merit. Motivated reasoning is our weakness. One of our many. My loving, well-meaning grandmother, despite her wisdom, displayed it plenty. She used to interpret the Bible as forbidding heart surgery. She thought God frowned upon that. I suppose to so pragmatic a mind, it just seemed indecent, human hands touching such a tender place. She and I never talked about scapegoating, but I wish we had. That notion that draws from Biblical myth and mis-translation. People not terribly unlike you and me believed, at one time, a goat could carry away the sins of a people into the wilderness. Thankfully, now goats just eat kudzu, give milk and celebrate their females wearing a beard.

My grandmother would be around 105 years old by now. She died before we had an internet, widespread cell phones and people mesmerized by Pokemon. The elastic of her lovely mind might have tried to bend itself away from believing in such a future on the day she died. Her reasoning found motivation in wanting simpler times and ways.

But I wish she had lived to see all this before us now. The images of the Hubble Telescope. The miracles of stem cells and routine heart transplantation. I wish she had lived to see what my father’s belief in me did for my education, my career, my prosperity, thank God. Perhaps if she had, that tender yet iron-worn matriarch might caution us all: Be careful what you want to believe, or don’t. Take it from a lady who’s watched many seasons come and go. Beware of the tricks your own mind will play.

Even as I write this, I like to imagine her voice on the words, “Pass me that moon rock, son. Let me shatter an illusion or three right out of you, too.”


Thanks, Mr. Faulkner, for Coughing Up that Flem

Posted in Uncategorized on July 12, 2016 by michaelcogdill

William Faulkner gave the world a conniving, grifting misguided Southern genius scoundrel, and named him Flem.  Yes, that’s the spelling of the man’s very being.  The name could easily come out Phlegm, or Flim Flam.  Mr. Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for reasons that can save us all some grief.

Faulkner and his Flem gave us all a timeless warning about a humanity we can never fix.  As true today as it was in the fiction of the Snopes home place in Yoknapatawpha County.   You know  you’re big — and onto something — when you invent such a place, and the online dictionaries know how to spell it 54 years after you died.

Flem Snopes represents a low, thieving caste of humanity we must not deny.  I’ve watched the world through a philanthropic lens most of my life.  But time has sharpened that lens.  Ground it down so that I can see a stratum of humankind I don’t like or understand.  I should have known better than wear those dull rose-color glasses.  I have, in some corners of my family, been related to what Mr. Snopes signifies.  Now, rather than deny it or make excuses for it, I simply acknowledge that bloodline, and understand it as follows.

Some people will steal from you.  Rob you on the quiet highways of  your being.  They will take your things, your peace, and your very life, then come for more money, and a sofa, and maybe an area rug for the basement they’re living in now. They seem nearly to come from the womb with a hand out, smashing with their wailing tears and grabbing at everything they can get.  Not even ticks have such long arms.  These people will lie, connive, conspire, sneak, creep, martyr, lie again, paint a brilliant light on their gloom, and convince us all they mean us no harm at all.  After the harm, they will convince us they have not harmed us, nor ever would.  Persuade us that they live as mere victims of a Universe that bore them into disadvantages they simply cannot whip.  Not by work or will or learning — nor by all the praying in the world — can they seem to spray paint over that wicked streak that snaps from their lives like a wet towel against the backside of the rest of us trying to better ourselves from our own failures and frailties.  They expect us to better ourselves and them at once.  In their minds, we owe them.  We owe them our very selves.

This is no commentary on social welfare systems, oh no.  This is a commentary on the very nature of what Mr. Faulkner knew would, like the legitimately poor, always be with us. This is about a low human nature walking upright and malignant with misery and victimhood among us.  This is about what I see now, finally apart from my codependency, as a solution, and a safeguard.

My father’s brother, Alf, was gifted.  He could manage to avoid work, drink, commit highway crimes, shamelessly turn himself parasitic to his brother, my hard-working dad, and yet manage to avoid starvation, long-term jail and absolute family shunning.  That latter part is as troubling as the rest.  I believe had the family repented of him, cast him off as humanly hopeless and impossible, then God might have done the impossible with him.  Who knows?  He’s right now napping in his old and lonesome grave, where he arrived very early from a world of self-inflicted trouble.  Intriguing that a grifter can outsmart the world of humanity, but not his own pancreas, or liver.  The body tends to have the last laugh, and the final nap, never minding that the soul wants to live, and differently.

I have concluded there is but one cure for Flem Snopes.  The Varners and the others of Mr. Faulkner’s fiction were not the truth of what Flem called for.  The cure for that stratum of us is a complete surrender to God.  I have witnessed this.  The addiction counselors and law officers and prosecutors of the world know this well — if the so-called sober among us live the best lives we can, the worst among us have a chance at pulling themselves up by the very garment of Divinity.   Those of us who are not God must stop acting as gods who think they can fix such humanity.  It is not our calling to become victims of the Snopesian crimes of body and heart.  It is, instead, our mandate to live beyond them, hold them accountable, yes, even love them, forgive them, but take ourselves out of reach of their pick pocketing way with life.  Turn the other cheek so that cheek can not be hit.  That, by the way, is the original meaning of that passage.

Mr. Faulkner, thank you for the warning. No, I’ll never fully understand the genesis of it, anymore than you did, I suppose.  Maybe God allows some people to rise and fall from the gutters of Flem to remind us or our own mortality.  We are not to judge, nor are we to fall chin-first, bloodied and exhausted after them into that trench.  Only if we leave them doomed to wallow down there will they learn the true way upward.  Only fallen can they fully rise.

Yes, to all of us this applies.  There’s some Flem Snopes in every woman and man, I suppose.  One, at least, in every family.   Time we saw them fully.  No, we’ll never fully understand them.  But to see them, and know they’re out there, sharing our very DNA, is a major leap toward the solution.  That being step away from the gutter.  Step back. Jump away.  Turn and run.  Only then can we catch glimpse of God running the other way, after that Flem, by any other name.