Posts Tagged ‘truth’

The Simple Truth?

May 4, 2020

 

TRUTH-ELLIPSE-FLAT.jpgIn mainstream and social media, truth is frequently distorted or labeled ‘fake news’ and propagated by those with shadowy ulterior political and/or financial motives who view our well-being as an inconvenient roadblock to those motives. In 1994, I wrote this little story for my ‘Visual Fiction’ column in The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that now seems naive, yet strangely relevant…

Everything Midas Moodle touched turned to gold.

Well, not literally; that’s just what the financial media gleefully trumpeted since the software entrepreneur was the most successful man in Wall Street history. Everyone wanted to be his friend and though he was nothing to look at, he suffered no lack of beautiful women. When he wasn’t attending board meetings or scanning spreadsheets, Midas indulged in fits of arcane software coding, ‘just for fun’ he told himself. Of course, he knew these electronic forays always became mega money-makers. Yet the King of CrabApple Computers was profoundly unhappy.

One day, in his office, as he scuffled despondently down the information highway, he heard something crunch beneath his mousepad. Cautiously lifting its corner, he discovered a half-eaten fortune cookie, its fortune still intact. Brushing away the crumbs, he read the simple words that would change his life forever: “Seek The Truth.”  

“Hmmph.” he muttered, then sat back and munched the cookie for a moment. Moodily, he reflected that as his empire had grown, the truth had quietly disappeared from his life. Midas had long ceased to worry about it as lies and unkept promises became the coin of his realm. Would my legendary ‘golden touch’ have survived otherwise?” he wondered. Impulsively, he decided to find out. Pouncing on the escape key, he veered off the internet and headed home.

Creeping impatiently through rush-hour traffic, Midas made up his mind to follow the cookie’s advice. Speeding up the labyrinthine driveway to his palatial estate, he headed for his home office where he sealed the slip of paper into a plastic amulet which he placed around his neck. He packed a small valise, then arranged to distribute his worldly goods to worthy causes. Finally, without a backward glance, he set out to scour the four corners of the earth, leaving no city, town or village unturned in his search of the ‘truth’.

Then, in the seventh month of the seventh year since he’d left home, he heard about a cave in a distant mountain where a strange old woman and her companion had lived for longer than anyone  could remember.

Laboring up the mountain towards a grassy plateau, Midas was unprepared for the chilling sight of a ghost-like figure that seemed to float towards him enveloped in an odd but compelling fragrance. Involuntarily, he shivered, then gazed curiously up at a tall, gaunt woman in a shabby grey tunic beneath a colorful, intricately patterned shawl. Bright azure eyes shone from a wizened face scored by a thousand wrinkles and framed by long, wispy white hair. The entrepreneur listened awestruck as her nearly toothless mouth parted to release a clear musical voice that welcomed him to her humble home.

Because Midas Moodle hadn’t a clue as to whether ‘truth’ was something tangible or merely an idea, he introduced himself and humbly stated the purpose of his quest. The strange old woman glanced shrewdly at his fortune cookie amulet with an inward smile and settled delicately onto a throne-like rock.

“Mr. Moodle, I am Truth”, she began. You simply didn’t recognize me because I left you years ago. You had no need of me as I appeared, naked as Eve in Eden without her fig leaf. At first, my plainspoken manner frightened and annoyed you. Later, as your lies grew more fanciful, I tried to embarrass and scandalize you but to no avail. You pretended that I didn’t exist, condemning me to a lonely eternal life. Midas cringed with guilt.

“Then one day,” she went on, “as I wandered sadly down an alley, I was nearly knocked over by an elegantly dressed fellow whose name turned out to be Parable. He apologized profusely. Then, noticing my wrinkled birthday suit and miserable slouch, he abruptly frowned, “Is there something I can do for you?” he asked solicitously. Sunk in self-pity, I wiped away a tear and moaned, “Oh, I’ve become so old and grungy that no one wants anything to do with me!”

“No kidding,” he sniffed delicately. “Forgive me for saying so, but your breath smells rather like a sewer, too. Anyway, listen; no one cares if you’re old! Look at me,” he preened. “I’m just as old as you are. Why, the older I get, the more attractive and interesting I become! Want to know my secret?”

I nodded half-heartedly.

“Well,” said Parable, “I’ve found that people just can’t handle a naked, truthful idea, but they’ll always entertain one that’s dressed up and smells good!” “Here, I have something for you.” From a deep pocket in his fine velvet cape, he drew out a packet that held a beautiful shawl and an atomizer of Eau de Mystique. “Here you go,” he patted my bony shoulder and turned around so I could try on his gifts. “Ah, that’s much better!” he smiled approvingly.  He then offered me his company and ever since, Parable and I now travel everywhere together! You see,” she continued, “When a truth cannot be told or accepted, we work our magic to make it easier to tell and a bit less painful to accept.”

“Will I ever see you again?” Midas asked hopefully. Truth laughed a lovely musical trill. She had divined that the entrepreneur, having lived without her for so long, wasn’t really sure he wanted her back. “That all depends on you,”  she answered. “We travel as a team, so you can summon us whenever you wish! By the way,” she added, “Don’t worry about your ‘golden touch’. When you employ our services, it will probably glow brighter than ever!” Sighing with relief, Midas admitted, “I’m so tired of living my life in virtual reality; lying and making promises I can’t keep!” “I know,” Truth nodded gently. Then she turned and chirped sweetly at the cave entrance.

An ancient man in an Elizabethan doublet and a russet velvet cape emerged. His deep green eyes and smile were those of a wise child as he quizzically regarded his companion and their visitor. With obvious affection, Truth introduced Parable and explained the nature of Midas’ quest. Parable tilted his head sympathetically and offered a taste of his own wisdom…

“Once you believed that lies were the only coin of your realm,” Parable said, “but you’ve forgotten that your coin really has two sides; truth and lies. Each side can be useful if the coin is flipped with good intentions! The choice was always yours to make!” “But,” he winked, “from now on, when you must tell a lie, remember that it will only be convincing if you mix in a little truth with it!”

Midas stood quietly for a long moment. Then, with a dawning sense of déjà vu, he understood that truth and lies had always been folded inside of him, rather like the fortune in the cookie.

At last, Truth and Parable said to their guest, ” Well, Mr. Moodle,  have we been of help in your quest?”

“Oh, yes!” Midas enthused, feeling reborn. He cordially thanked his hosts and promised to engage their services regularly. As he prepared for the long journey home, a worried expression creased the entrepreneur’s high forehead. He turned to Truth and Parable. ” I was a very wealthy man once,” he said, but thanks to you both,  I’ll be rich again soon enough. Is there anything I can do for you in return?”

Truth pursed her thin lips thoughtfully, shaking her head. But Parable, whose face crinkled mischievously, leaned over to whisper something in his companion’s ear.

Finally, her eyes glittering, the old woman answered, “Oh, okay. You can do just one thing for us. When you speak of us to your friends, tell them that we are as young and beautiful as a god and goddess!”

 

 

Evolutionary Amnesia?

April 9, 2020

BY our own estimates, human evolution has made vast progress over the millennia in our dominance of Earth as a species; particularly in the development, capacity and intuitive functionality of our brains. Which leads me to question, why, as clever and technologically astute as we have become, even in the face of historically evident patterns, can we not learn from our mistakes?

Inevitably, I have more questions than answers.

Driven by our good and evil inclinations, we repeatedly experience periods of war or peace as we veer between prosperity and paucity. Although we are now engaged in battling a global pandemic, this is not a traditional theater of war with a clearly visible, organized enemy; unless you have access to a scanning electron microscope and a fully equipped lab to make sense of it.

However, our conflicting responses to it make me wonder about that ancient argument of free will vs. determinism. Given my penchant for science fiction, are we ‘pre-programmed’ to behave this way by some incomprehensible ‘entity’? And might that ‘entity possess a dual nature that encompasses both good and evil that eternally vie for dominion over us?

Perhaps we were created to evolve with a ‘bug’ in our neural coding; ostensibly to help us navigate our way through life’s physical environment, develop civilizations and address the bombardment of misleading or insufficient information in each generation? For lack of a scientific term, have we dubbed this ‘bug’ ‘free will’?

Or, perhaps our overactive imaginations are merely a random side effect of our physical evolution? Since I have no philosophical or scientific creds to bolster technical arguments for either idea, my curiosity and incessant reading habits of both secular and religious literature will have to do.

I suppose that my religious beliefs urge me towards determinism but depending on the circumstance, I occasionally waver between the two ideas. And here is why:

In each go-round, we are presented with chains of man-made and/or environmental events that soon result in reduced populations, prejudiced political dogma and sometimes polemic leadership. The latter rises by promising that life will surely improve going forward under their watch (which it may briefly do). Still, when negative situations arise, our response remains confined to predictably static phases: denial, then outrage and finally, surrender to performing damage control while bemoaning our fate.

For centuries, historians have documented this cycle of events with their often tragic denouements yet offered only theoretical remedies for them.  Such remedies, beholden to hindsight rather than foresight leave us trapped in the disasters we’ve created through our complaisance, economic manipulation and deadly political mischief.

It would seem that while we have dramatically evolved physically from our knuckle-dragging forbears, we have remained psychologically frozen as teenagers; prone to impatience, addicted to excitement and often intolerant towards others.

Holocaust denial may be one of the most cited examples of this idea despite the copious historical evidence and heartfelt efforts of the few remaining victims of its atrocities. Nevertheless, in succeeding generations, individuals arise with a superficial understanding of Nazi culture and its role in these horrific events yet they know enough to twist the facts or form groups of like-minded acolytes in order to activate its worst malevolent characteristics.

Many years ago, this idea struck home when I was commissioned to draw caricatures by a local department store (remember those?) during the holiday shopping season. Taking a break, I was watching the zombified shoppers wander through the glittering aisles, when a young teenaged boy approached my table asking if I would draw him. Sure, I said. Then I noticed that he had inked the sign of a swastika on his hand. Not wishing to provoke a confrontation, I asked innocently as my eyes narrowed involuntarily. “What’s that?” Without hesitation he explained proudly that it was a sign worn by a group of his ‘friends’. “Oh,” I said. Never one to let a teaching opportunity pass, I further inquired, ” Do you know what it means?” “Not really,” he shrugged. ” I just did it because they said it would be cool.” “Uh-huh” I nodded, then proceeded to give him a brief but graphic history of the Holocaust. As I explained, I watched his face drain of color and without a word, he raced to the men’s room. Upon his return, he waved his hand in my face. “See?” he crowed, I scrubbed it off! I think I need to find some new friends!” In common social media parlance, SMH.

So, considering our long, fraught history (the ‘woke’ teenager notwithstanding) , to what extent does free will ‘bug’ exist, if it does? Do we not learn from our mistakes because in order for evolution to continue its mysterious trajectory, each iteration of humanity must be doomed to make its own mistakes? And could this be why ancestral wisdom gets poorly translated and/or misinterpreted in succeeding generations? Or, in simple street terms, does sh*t just happen?

I realize that this essay opens a pungent can of worms, but it’s just my opinion and I’m truly curious as to what you think…?

 

Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation

July 26, 2017

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You know the old adage, “Time passes quickly when you’re having fun” ? Well, this sentiment truly described the years between 2007 and the present when I began thinking about snails. Now, why on earth would anyone care about snails except as a purportedly (I say ‘purportedly’ because these creatures are among those forbidden to me by religious doctrine) tasty dish served with garlic butter?  Because I actually find them fascinating since I am able to look at them objectively for their natural beauty and metaphoric value without planning how to cook them.

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These musings slowly inspired a series of eighteen drawings on several species of snail (a.k.a mollusca/gastropoda). Some of them appeared along with my thoughts/poems about them over those years in several blog posts here.* Later, during this project’s development, a friend loaned me an eye-opening book that proved very inspiring and that I now recommend to you: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey (2010). http://amzn.to/2w18Zpc

My drawings are not strictly scientific but an amalgam of fact and fancy. Each tells its own story, inviting questions and second glances. At first, not knowing whether these drawings should become a book or simply a portfolio collection, I put out a query on social media.  Though enthusiastic early feedback suggested a book, I still liked the idea of a portfolio collection and decided to publish a ‘bookfolio’ (a portfolio in book form) as a sort of compromise.

In this light, I considered writing more thought/poems like those in earlier posts. However, I soon determined that haiku (seventeen-syllable non-rhyming Japanese poems), with their economy of language would better complement the nature of my drawings.  Slyme-TextGrid-8x10.jpg

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Now, I am happy to announce the release of Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation. This 44-page ‘bookfolio‘ includes an introduction and has just been released from Imaginarius Editions in an initial small press run.

You can preview and purchase it (US$30) at my online gallery: http://bit.ly/2vzsSTM

Codex Gastropoda will soon be available at Amazon but for now you can also find it at my Etsy Shop: etsy.com/shop/Imaginarius

Given the experiences that inspired it, my goal for Codex Gastropoda: A Visual Meditation became to raise awareness of the wondrous details that inform Creation and their consequences for our world. I hope this visual journey and spare prose will also inspire you to appreciate our complex existence and perhaps add your own words and ideas to the continuum of human creativity.  

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* https://wordpress.com/post/imaginarius13.wordpress.com/754 https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/the-snail-queens-soliloquy/  

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/postscript-for-the-new-year-a-divination-of-snails/ 

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/codex-gastropoda-4athe-time-snails/ 

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/codex-gastropoda-2-the-snails-song/ 

The Un-Wronging Of Handwriting

January 23, 2017

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Pendemonium: An Original Alphabet ©2017 Ilene Winn-Lederer


Once upon a time
, whatever news appeared in print or was presented by television or radio newscasters was taken as the veritable truth. It was disseminated and acted upon as if it personally affected everyone in this country, which of course it did in varying degree.
The news, which is an acronym for ‘north, south, east, west’ was a force that galvanized and united us in our quest to uphold our national identity and position of strength and democracy in the world.bostonraremaps-globe

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In these deeply unsettling times, politicians and pundits air their hopes, grievances and manifestos with ever coarser, less articulate language, often distorting truths and provoking our knee-jerk emotional responses rather than inspiring our better natures and actions.

But tempting as it is, I’m not going to rant here about the plague of fake news that has gone viral so to speak. Enough ink (traditional and digital) has been devoted to it to satisfy every news glutton and social media addict. Instead, I’ve been thinking about how our written and spoken communication has dramatically eroded in the last few decades and why that is so. 

Historically, the erosion began as the telephone gradually replaced the need to write letters and notes to friends, colleagues and relatives in favor of quicker responses. Now, unsurprisingly, the most obvious symptoms of the decay of communication are found in text messaging and spoken media. Texting encourages immediate gratification though its efficiency is often characterized by lack of punctuation and fragmented sentences. With the ability to ‘text’ attachments, it is also replacing email as well. In spoken media, soundbites have become the takeaway from our information sources, relieving us of the personal responsibility for closer analysis and comprehension of what we are told. And as we viralize those more easily digestible soundbites, we dilute the true value of reasoned public discourse. 

Though I don’t see any of these communication lifestyles changing any time soon, we might be overlooking a possible way to keep them in perspective; by reclaiming our abilities to communicate in writing and emphasizing the importance of teaching those skills to our children.

In my post of May 5, 2013, ‘The Demise Of Handwriting’,I responded to a New York Times article that questioned the value of teaching classical cursive handwriting to schoolchildren in an era when easily accessible technology has mostly rendered it a vestigial skill.

I now realize that the desire of some in the education industry to end the once compulsory teaching of well-crafted handwriting has only exacerbated the downward spiral of quality in our written and verbal communication. The beauty, details and nuances of language, qualities that once defined great writing and oratory, are greatly in danger of becoming cultural artifacts. This is not to say that the revival of handwriting in our education system will cure the metastasizing mediocrity in communication. Still, doing so might reduce our dependence on word processing tools such as auto-correct software and re-instill the importance of careful thought and craftsmanship in self-expression, thereby helping the restoration of self-confidence in our contributions to that public discourse. 

This notion is evident to me each day as I read the newspaper. I am frequently and unpleasantly distracted by numerous spelling and grammatical errors throughout the texts. Books exhibit the same lack of craftsmanship with multiple errors in texts or within indexes to those texts when I am directed to an incorrect location of a specific topic or page. Even as I question how mainstream publishers, who have traditionally employed a staff of professional editors and proofreaders, could allow such carelessness to pass unnoticed into the public eye, I am aware that from a practical and financial perspective, automation technology has relieved publishers of the need to hire them. Nevertheless, given the current imperfect state of artificial intelligence, this development can easily result in an inferior product. As an author with books published both in the mainstream publishing industry and the growing  on-demand publishing market, I’ve noticed the growing emphasis on quick profit before quality and when preparing books for the latter, I must remind myself to very carefully edit my own manuscripts for errors before submission and printing. 

So, for those of us that bemoan the deterioration of our own handwriting, I would like this post to be a reminder that it’s not too late to refresh and restore those skills.ilenealphabet-copy Getting started may be as simple as forming letters of the alphabet as a telephone doodle, penning the few lines of a thank you note for a gift you received or to the host/hostess of a social event you attended. When you begin, don’t worry about your initial efforts being judged on the calligraphic quality of what you write. With practice this will improve.  Instead, focus on its clarity and intent because ultimately that scrap of paper, not the mercurial texts or e-mails on your digital device, will be evidence of who you are. Or, in future, of who you were.

*https://imaginarius13.wordpress.com/2013/05/05/the-demise-of-handwriting/

*Map shown above is a Mnemonical Globe/Wm. Stokes,1879 (Boston Rare Maps: http://bostonraremaps.com/inventory/a-capital-globe-indeed/)

Blessings Both Hidden And Revealed

December 15, 2013

ImageAt first glance, the blessing traditionally recited prior to reading the Torah appears to be merely a formal expression of respect for this foundational document of Judaism. But it’s much more. I’m including it in An Illumination Of Blessings because it is a way we can express our gratitude to the Source of Life for the opportunity of partaking in this sweet and savory feast for our minds, bodies and souls.

With this blessing, we honor the moment when Moses descended Mt Sinai with the divine gift of our ‘spiritual DNA’; a gift of timeless and inestimable value. I like to think about this gift in the metaphoric terms of information science, where data is transmitted to its destination via virtual electronic ‘packets’. Similarly, the Torah can be seen as a compilation of concise ‘packets’ of instructions for how to live and steward our planet embedded with the assurance that the Source of Life would bless us always; if and when we accepted them.

Extending this idea, we can think of each encounter with Torah as akin to meeting a person for the first time. Although we recognize that Hebrew is the language of Torah and that a person’s physical features define them as human, how do we account for our immediate physical and/or emotional reactions to them? It may be that Information and impressions are transmitted between individuals in virtual packets via a delivery method we do not yet understand or control. Only thought and time spent with that individual allow us to ‘unfold’ these ‘packets’ to understand our initial reactions and determine the character of that relationship. In the same way, the Torah reveals her meanings to us gradually through time and thoughtful study as we learn to see between her lines.

Perhaps the oddly-named scholar and convert to Judaism, Ben BagBag, quoted in Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) said it best: “Turn the Torah over and over for everything is in it. Look into it, grow old and worn over it, and never move away from it, for you will find no better portion than it.”

The Torah is masterwork of infinite, unfathomable depth; a virtual blueprint of Creation. Though we cannot fully decode its mysteries, it will always be there to keep our curiosity and questions alive and to help us maintain our dialogue with the Source of Life. Indeed, my five and a half year experience with Between Heaven & Earth: An Illuminated Torah Commentary (Pomegranate, 2009) was an exercise in humility, for I realized how very much there is yet to learn…