On the Nature of Rules

rules

On the season’s first day of 60 degree sunshine, I take a leisurely stroll along our old suburban streets and ponder the notion of rules – those guidelines for human behavior. Something I read yesterday about “rules” comes to mind:

Someone once said: “Rules are for the guidance of wise men and the obedience of fools.” Rules replace thought. If you know the rules, you always know what to do. Rules are comfortable. If you know the rules, you never have to stretch too far. Rules are safe. You probably won’t get in trouble for following the rules. Unfortunately, you probably won’t make much progress either.

Because there are no sidewalks, I follow the rule and trod along the left side of the road so that I can see oncoming traffic. It seems that most rules are made for health or safety reasons: cross at the green and not in between; don’t eat yellow snow; beware the guard dog; don’t pick your nose. We tend to follow rules if they make sense to us, if they benefit us in some way. And we often ignore rules that don’t seem to have major consequences: keep off the grass; don’t pick your nose; no loitering. (Unless, these days, you are a person of color. There seem to be different consequences for people of color. But that’s a rant for another day.)

Laws are rules that require stricter observance. We obey laws because if we don’t, we get punished. (Unless you are rich and have powerful friends. But that’s also a rant for another day.)

And then there are customs, which, are not really rules but we tend to obey them so that we aren’t frowned up by our peers. For example: eat with a fork, don’t burp in public, wear your gang’s colors. (Unless, of course, you are in some other part of the world where those customs don’t apply. But then others do.)

Down the street, two teenage couples with skateboards are walking in the middle of the road. An oncoming car defers to their flaunting of the rule and drives around them. Young people often ignore rules. I’ve been reading lately that it has something to do with their frontal lobes, which are still developing. That’s the part of the brain that analyzes and confronts consequences.

As I stroll along, my frontal lobe notices that I am not following the rules for correct, healthy walking, and so I adjust my stride – heel to toe, butt tucked in, shoulders relaxed – better for my joints and muscles. I follow the rules that benefit me.

It occurs to me as I turn the corner toward home that the world is wrapped in the demands and expectations of all manner of laws, rules, customs, and instructions. A loss of freedoms is the downside of living in a civilized society, I guess.

Hammurabi had 242. Moses had ten. It is always those in power who make the rules and set the consequences. It’s a top-down thing. And, historically, it has been mostly men who are at the top. (And that’s another rant for another day.)

It makes me wonder what society would be like if rules – especially the hard-and-fast laws – evolved, organically, based on the needs, desires, and insistence of the people they most directly affect. Actually, I think that’s how it’s supposed to work in a democracy. Maybe it can only work in a very small one, like a tribe.

All in all, it seems to me that the only guidelines for human behavior we really need are the rules we learned in Kindergarten: don’t hit, punch, kick, or hurt anyone; share and enjoy; don’t make a mess but if you do, clean up after yourself.

Back in the Saddle

It’s been about 25 years since I did my last public poetry reading, but I’m gathering up my courage and doing one tomorrow at the Springfield Library. Believing that you “have to get them at ‘Hello!'” I’m going to start with this one. (I just hope that I can pull it off.)

An Old Lady Raps Back

you don’t see me
not really
with my edges
grown soft and my
curves gone
to middle thick.

I see that your eyes
don’t stick on my face
laced with time’s
weary tricks.

I’m invisible in your world
of constant noise and sullen bluster,
all the anger you an muster.

I know you got it tough
rough — never enough.

You think that’s new?
I grew my thick skin
long before your tiny hide
slid into snide and sin.

Oh, I know your words —
I was talking hard
long before your sorry ass
passed its first gas.

But I make a choice of voice
to mold a tighter tone
to pose a clearer tune

And then I stand and roar
more than you even think
to know.

when I was 20

I am looking through my pages of poetry, some written when I was in grade school, but I’ll spare you those. I wrote this when I had just turned twenty and was home from college during a part of the summer. It’s not great poetry, but it’s a great thought, I think.

on the boatbwhen I am old
I will not care for
rock ‘n roll
slopping
and jazz
bongos drums
beat poetry and
Kafka
Kerouac
Jake Trussell and
lifeguards with
sea-burnished hair
and convertibles.
but now I am young
and I know that all of these
will one day be
the cushions
on the couch of memories
on which I will repose
when I am old.

The Slop was a dance from the fifties. I had to google Jake Trussell and I still don’t remember why he was important to me back then. But I still like rock ‘n roll. And convertibles. And I’m still known to ogle lifeguards.

I want to have fun with the trappings of aging.

I keep wondering if the biased attitude of the larger world against “old people” (can’t hear well, can’t see sell, can’t walk or count money fast) is because that’s the most obvious things they notice when we are out in public. And we often don’t look like getting old is much fun. (Granted, if you are in pain, it’s not.)

But what if you are like me and don’t mind getting old and want the world to see me as having fun while it lasts? What if the first things they notice about an older female is not that she’s old, but rather than she’s having fun with the trappings of getting old?

Well, you could do it by dressing like these stylish elders. If you live in New York City, or Paris, or London — and if you have occasion to dress more elaborately than the usual pants and sweater (or, if you’re like me, jeans and a t-shirt) — the notices you would get, no doubt, would be positive. But I’m not sure that small town living calls for that kind level of creative dressing. And what I’m more concerned with is turning our frailties into fun.

funkyglassesOK. So, I have to wear glasses. I go online, find a pair of funky oversized frames for $35 and have my prescription put in them. When I get noticed, it’s not because I’m old. It’s because I’m being old with a flair. And, instead of strangers glowering at me because I am in their way, they comment on my glasses when I look them in the eye and smile. (It’s also very important to look them in the eye and smile.)

Now, what I wish is that the folks who are experimenting with these glasses/hearing aids would actually mass-produce them and include some funky frames.

But for now, I have to wear hearing aids. So, to make wearing them a fashion statement, I just sent for a pair of these. If I decide I like them, I might order a set of hearing aid charms from the same entrepreneurial young woman who makes and sells them. (Hearing impaired little kids seem to love them. Check out these photos!)

Now, we are down to the shoes. As we get older, our feet often become a real problem from the wear and tear of all of those years supporting our weight. (And if you subjected yourself to high heeled pumps, then the problems are even worse.)

I have blogged before about my addiction to sneakers. The reason I am able to wear funky sneakers (even though I have a tendency toward plantar fasciitis and years of ballroom dancing in high heels have taken their toll) is that I invested in really good orthotics. You can fit orthotics into almost any shoes, but you have to try the shoes on with the orthotics in them (because you need a longer and wider size than usual, and not all shoes will work). The smart thing to do is to go to a specialist who makes orthotics for dancers and athletes. Almost very city has one. If the orthotics are prescribed, Medicare should pay for them (minus co-pay). I have been using the same ones for 25 years.

Fashionable_walking_canesFinally, we come to canes (which I don’t need — yet). But, for those who do, catalogs and drug stores carry all kinds of colorful ones. If you have to use one, flaunt it.

I’m wondering what other ways we might be able to encourage those impatient “others,” as we move through the public world, to actually “see” us elders as being more than just a necessary nuisance.

[Addendum: My friend Ronni Bennet at Time Goes By has written about wearing hats to put flair over thinning hair. I’m not a hat person, so I’m looking for other possibilities (other than a wig).]

my secular blue America

Every once in a while I post something of substance. Eight years ago I posted two pieces that, unfortunately, are just as relevant today. Two years ago, I re-posted them (with some parts missing as a result of changing blog designs).

Today, I link to those old posts in case someone winds up here by searching for terms like
“the roots of American democracy”
“Christian Puritans as persecutors”
“Founding Fathers on mixing government and religion”
“Iroquois Confederacy and our Constitution”

In reverse order (because that made more sense) those old posts are:

My Blue America: Our Secular America (Part 2)

Our Securlar America: The Truth is Out There (Part 1)

And so it goes.

a family tradition of “orphan ornaments”

My daughter just won an Amazon gift card for submitting this true story to some website that was having a contest. I thought it is worth posting here.

My father had a tradition every Christmas — he’d “rescue” a new “orphan ornament” from some store. He’d hunt for these strange, oddly made ones that looked like mistakes (like one riding a hobby horse, but the horse was actually impaled through the little wooden elf body) and otherwise would be rejected or left behind. Like the Island of Misfit Toys. He’d get one or a few and add them to the tree. I lost my father a few years back quite suddenly and unexpectedly — the orphan ornaments came home with me and we hang them with our own son, now ten, each year — in memory of “Pa”. We honor him, and a lesson (albeit maybe accidental) on acceptance, tolerance and reaching out a hand to those who might otherwise be overlooked. Even now, as we begin our search for a family dog at different rescues, our son gravitates towards those that are listed as “still waiting” or “overlooked” for some reason, wanting to give them what they need. It’s silly, it’s sweet, and it instilled in us a way of thinking that was probably unintentional as far as his reason for getting the ornaments, but that had an effect on us nonetheless.

life reaches

Some 25 years ago, a friend gave me a clipping from her Wandering Jew plant that she had grown from a clipping a friend had given her.

I have moved this plant with me through a half-dozen moves since then, and it continues to grow in several pots around this house. It’s a survivor, thriving on minimum care. And periodically a tendril emerges (sometimes after years of compact dormancy) to reach for light and something to hold onto.

I think of it as having an “old soul” and a “young heart.”

Ronni Bennett, my elderblogger friend over at Time Goes By would disagree with my using the phrase “young heart. But I am partial to metaphors.

And my spring-reaching houseplant is an inspirational one for me.

a box of books

Every time I move, I get rid of a bunch of books by donating them to the local library. There’s a box of books, however, that I keep hauling around with me.

As I’m rummaging around in my stored stuff looking for memorabilia for my college reunion website, I unearth that old box.

One of the books it contains is actually two copies of the same book: a translation of the Tao Te Ching by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. It’s been years since I’ve looked through either of them. There is one section that I memorized because it is so meaningful to me. I open the book, and there it is:

EIGHT
The highest good is like water.
Water gives life to the ten thousand things and does not strive.
It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.

In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go keep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech be true.
In ruling, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.

No fight: No blame.

Good advice.