Friday, April 25, 2014

The Paperless Age?

I remember during my early years of using a computer - the early '80's - how I printed out copies of my emails and other documents gleaned off the internet to file away in the same way I did before computers. One day It occurred to me that due to the volume of all this paper, I would soon need to install a new file cabinet to hold all this paper, which is the very thing a computer was supposed to eliminate. Well, as anyone will tell you, the digital age has not even come close to eliminating paper but it has changed the way we think of storage, file retrieval and simply looking something up.

At one time I had a library. Four walls full of books, and more. The answer is no. I did not read them all but I knew them all and could look up anything I desired - in a book. I have lightened my book load somewhat since then but there are still several thick and tall volumes down on a dusty bottom shelf waiting for my inquiry. I haven't touched one of those things in years. I do what you do: I Google it.

Here's the thing: the computer age came along because it was time and it could be done. It's almost a fairytale kind of story. It was supposed to eliminate the use of paper in all our transactions, communications and even storage. The people saying all this were engineers. That's important. Engineers are good at engineering. If they find that they can do something they do it. It's what engineers do. In their minds that is progress. Sometimes they are right. When it came to paper, they were wrong. Nobody asked me if I wanted to give up paper. I didn't.

I write something every day. After I started using a computer, everything I wrote started out with a pencil and a notebook. I have stacks of those old journals and notebooks. I would "finish" up on the computer, of course, specially if someone else had to read what I wrote or I wanted to email it or just mail it. It was a two tiered system.

As time moved along I found I could think as well while typing as I could with a pencil and pad. (What "thinking well" actually means is a whole other story). This was a revelation to me. I felt guilty about abandoning a life long passion for scribbling with a pencil on paper. I mean, history was on my side. I nurtured this romantic idea that the "Muse" would be more available in the wee hours by candle light on a bare table with a clean sheet of paper and a pencil or a pen dipped in real ink. What a croc...

I also read all the time. I am a member of the Freeport Community Library and have a couple of their books on my night stand constantly. It's all about paper, clean typefaces and the tactile communication with a familiar medium. Yeah, I also like the smell.

I have recently acquired a Nook device on which I read "E" books. This is a recent addition to my digital life, and one that I really didn't plan on. I said things like, "I'll never do that", and, "Give me a real book any day".

I now read about a third of what I read digitally. I even have a Nook App and a Kindle App on my iPhone. And yes, I have read a couple dozen books on my phone. It works. Now as phones are getting bigger screens, the difference between the phone experience and the actual book size reader will become clouded. I have several books in my shirt pocket all the time for that moment when I have time to read but don't have an actual paper book in my bag.

I have witnessed amazing developments in personal computing in the past 30 years. If that is any indication of what's to be expected in the next 30 years, I am simply unable to imagine it. One thing seems certain: words on paper will diminish while words on a digital device will increase. But, of course, that's been said before.

While you are reading this piece, some young engineers in a college dorm will decide to make the next new thing that they are sure will further transform our lives. They could be right. They could be wrong. Either way, they're going to do it. We'll read about it in the paper. The digital version, of course.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


I have, on occasion, sought to touch the truth stone, to find that condition, that place, that formula that opened a special portal into the realm of peace, insight, enlightenment.

I have used various means to do this, from expensive weekend experiences at some mountain top retreat, to the many books of the blessed.  For a little while I would feel something, but I was always feeling something.  I think that was an unaddressed issue for me.  But workshops, retreats and the books of the blessed are signs that the desire is present, not evidence of the condition unfortunately, or we would have enlightenment for a price.

I grew up in a tradition that put great store in burning bushes, parting waters, blinding lights and the transmogrification of water.  There was always something good going to happen to me tonight. Hope was a palpable element in my life.  My maternal grandfather, we called him Shug, had a way of demystifying things.  He used to say, "Hope in one hand and spit in the other and see which one fills up first."  He wasn't much for religion and would not claim enlightenment, but he had a clue.

Sometimes I think enlightenment is opening one's eyes and seeing what's there.  Of course, that means not seeing what's not there.  That's the hard part.  Western religions took a faith born in the desert east and organized and corporatized it until the simplicity of it became obscured in dogma, professionalism and flashy robes.

I am moved by the stark simplicity of Buddhism.  But one thing seems to stand out for me and it is this: enlightenment in that part of the world seems to be a minimalist idea. As in the flame of a single candle, the monotony of a simple mantra, being without things or "being" with an empty mind, or at least a mind focused on one thing at a time.  It would seem that it's difficulty lies in it's simplicity.  Its product is supposed to be simple kindness, compassion and peace.  You would think that would be the aim of all religions. You would think.  

After all these years, a few drops seem to have distilled out of all the confusion that help me, on a personal level, to deal with the imponderables.

First and foremost, I believe that truth does not carry a brand.

Secondly, if you believe that you are right and everybody else is wrong, there's medicine for that.  Get help.

The competitiveness and exclusiveness seen in much of modern religion is itself evidence of having missed the point - in my opinion. 

Yet, I'm not doing much better.  Here I am wandering around in the darkness with my little MagLight running on petered out batteries.  I keep thinking that other than the natural world, there is just us folks out here who need each other more than we ever imagined.  Now there are those who threaten to dissolve the world order in an ocean of blood all in the name of religion in a kind of "My god can whip your god" version of the search for enlightenment and peace.  It blows my mind.

The truly tall souls of our day are saying that whatever the truth is, its vessel is compassion.  If there is no compassion, there is no truth.  I wish I could point to my life as an example of this.  I can not.  But I know it when I see it, and I know it when I feel it.  We all do.

Compassion is the Holy Grail.  Drink from that cup and there is hope.  It seems so easy.  Yet it eludes me too much of the time.  First, it seems to me that I have to lay down my sword and shield, and I love my sword and shield.  I'm pretty sure nothing much will happen until I am disarmed.  

I have heard the words, "Be ye kind one to another", all my life.  Could that be  the light that shines in the darkness?  Could that be the hope of the world?  Could that simple dictum be the answer?  Could that be all the theology anyone ever needs to know?

Monday, April 7, 2014


I think a lot about aging.  Probably too much.  This really began to happen a few years ago, when I retired,  I began to see the attitude others had toward me take an interesting turn.  It was as though there was a collection of assumptions about my life that automatically became a part of my reality.  It almost seemed like  patronization.  Society was taking care of me whether I wanted it or not.  A new definition was attached to my life and I was given special names to make sure I was "marked".  Senior Citizen.  Retiree.  Or just a simple "Old Guy".  My input was not solicited.  I just got old.  At that point the system kicked in and I became - Mr. Senior Citizen.  This may all be in my mind.  So what - that's a real place.  It can't be ignored.  Just today I got a letter from my gastroenterologist.  I am, it seems, too old to have a regular colonoscopy, my favorite invasive examination.  I suppose if I have a budding colon cancer somewhere in there, I just don't have enough time left to make treatment cost effective.  The actuarialists are running the world.  

I don't mind being old.  As a matter of fact, I rather enjoy it.  However, it takes some rather intensive adjusting - not only to being old, but also to the subtile little shifts in attitude the world now has toward me and my contemporaries.  I didn't see it coming.  More accurately, I didn't want to see it coming.  One day I found that I had moved into this alternate universe: the world of being an old person, a retiree, a person with a major history.  I began to feel marginalized.  A different set of rules now apply to me and I don't like it one damned bit.

To be marginalized is to be socially excluded, treated as unnecessary, unneeded, past tense - was, rather than is.  Growing old is by definition a kind of marginalization in itself.  Age, at some point, for all of us, brings with it a collection of diminishing abilities.  We just ain't what we used to be.  In this sense, aging is itself a degenerative condition.   The situation is amplified by a seemingly growing list of famous-name degenerative conditions such as, arthritis, Alzheimer's, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ( my current favorite ), diabetes,  Parkinson's, atherosclerosis, heart disease, inflammatory bowel, prostatitis, osteoporosis and, of course, everyone's favorite: cancer - just to name a few, several of which I am coming to terms with.  All of these common accompaniments to aging tend to become agents of marginalization.  Guess what?  It's unavoidable.

For most of us, should we be so lucky as to live long, we will be gifted with one or more of the above conditions and because of that will no longer be able to run fast, jump high, lift heavy or step lightly.  Just dealing with that reality is what aging is all about.  It's making do with marginalization.  It's adjusting and being happy about what is possible and not spending the late night hours pining away in despair over lost stamina, Superman/Wonder Woman strength, a movie star profile or the pleasure, often unrealized at the time, of planning a long life.  It's a learned skill. There isn't as much stamina or strength, and God knows the profile is history, but it is what it is and not what it's not.  

It seems to me that that's the lesson of aging.  I deal with it every day.  I'm sure we all to to varying degrees.  It's tempting to focus on the past.  There is so much of it.  For me the key is to make some plans.  Do something.  It's about making one's self necessary.   It really doesn't matter much what it is, just be with what you're doing.  Cut the grass.  Plant those peas.  Fix something.  Help someone.  And, for the good of us all, stay in touch.  Hanging out at the margins of life is someone else's idea.

Jerry Henderson