Affairs of the Heart and Soul

I’m once again pondering the mystery of why people have affairs, in the wake of the David Petraeus debacle and the recent “scandal” involving the estrangement of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson, stars of the Twilight movie saga (because of her infidelity).  To me, pondering such mysteries and making any sense out of them is right up there with the mystery of life, the nature of God, the nature of the cosmos, and the mystery of good, evil and death.  In short, the full measure of understanding is beyond our grasp.

People have been having affairs since the dawn of time.  History is full of such relationships.  Many of the ones we know the most about have involved monarchs and famous leaders – Edward VIII of England, Cleopatra, the Caesars, many American and European politicians including presidents:  Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Arnold Schwarzenegger, to name a few.  And there are priests and clergy, and so many of the Hollywood/entertainment set that one couldn’t possibly keep accurate count.  Power and sexual shenanigans seem to go hand in hand.  The evidence suggests this is a fact.  So the Petraeus affair is not a singular occurrence in an historical context.  And, we should realize that this behavior affects many ordinary folk we never hear about – many of our neighbors, co-workers, even members of our extended family.  And those folks are rarely in the news.

And even more mysterious is trying to understand why the general public is so fascinated with these happenings and so willing to weigh in and judge, or defend, one party or the other.  It is the stuff of potluck gatherings, church circles, coffee klatches, dog park encounters and car pools.  We salivate over the scandal rags at the market’s checkout stand.  When a certain type of human behavior repeats over and over and over again with almost predictable regularity, like the cycles of the seasons, or the rising and setting of the sun, why exactly does such activity cause so much interest?  I never hear people talk quite so excitedly about how the sun comes up, the sun goes down, the moon is full, the moon is waning or similar weather and cosmic occurrences, except when there are unusually beautiful sunsets that take your breath away, or eclipses or planetary phenomena that only happen every 4,000 years – those are surely worthy of comment. Continue reading

Walking with Lions

In my earlier essay “Anticipation and Serendipity,” I commented on my anticipation of an African trip.  So now the trip has come and gone, a great eco-tourist safari.  During this trip I had a rare opportunity to view wildlife up close and personal.  It was a journey I never thought I’d take, but then reality often has a way of turning out very differently than our initial expectations and suppositions.  It was a rare opportunity and I will have terrific memories for a very long time.  Luckily, any misgivings I had were for naught and the experience far exceeded any of my preconceived notions.  In fact, it was surreal and magical.

My vacation in Africa covered three countries – Botswana, Zambia and Zimbabwe.  For a “commercial package tour,” this one far surpassed many I’d taken before.  And the setting couldn’t have been more amazing.  The windswept, seemingly desolate Kalahari Desert was bleak only on cursory examination.  But upon a closer look, the majesty of the many unique life forms became evident.  The Okavango Delta is a permanent swamp in Botswana, a jewel of an oasis in the desert, gathering waters that flow down from the plains of northern Africa during the annual flood cycle.  It teems with colorful bird life, insects, lizards and geckos, crocodiles and hippos, lions, Cape buffalo, elephants, impala, kudu, baboons and more.  It is sensory overload on several levels.

A very special optional adventure I took advantage of was a “walk with lions” in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe in an area near the falls themselves.  Here lions are bred in captivity, rehabilitated and then released back into the wild.  The aim is to study the habits of large carnivores and help safeguard the future of the species, whose numbers are shrinking at an alarming rate.  Visitors are allowed to walk alongside young lions and interact with them as they play, learn to hunt and prepare for release.  I had heard about this opportunity from a friend who had taken the same safari trip about six months earlier than mine, and I had seen her photos, walking with a lion and petting one.  I was amazed.  I didn’t know such a thing was possible.  And was it safe?  Apparently so, otherwise, they wouldn’t let so many visitors participate on a daily basis.  Continue reading

Piecing the Broken Story

In my quest to see what other essayists are writing, I peruse various internet sites.  They sometimes offer tips for newish writers.  And there I found this, on a blog by Jeff Goins (

 Great heroes sacrifice themselves, right?  So do just that.  Avoid the parts that make you sound amazing.  Instead, focus on the broken, ugly parts of your story.

Not exactly new advice, and an odd direction to pursue on might think, but it reaffirmed what I read in other places.  That, along with the usual directives to write every day and write what you know.  In another essay, I talked about how our stories unite us.  But I think that in some ways our stories can also divide us, set us apart, make us feel alienated and unique in ways we don’t desire.  Especially if you feel your story is decidedly different than those you see being lived and enacted around you.  I avoided the ugly and broken parts of my story, at least for public consumption, because I didn’t want to make it look like I was wallowing in self pity or trying to capitalize on it.  Over the past year or so, I’ve read more and more tips by other writers and this theme keeps appearing:  be authentic, write about the scars, and the defeats, and the hurts and the failures.  It is liberating say the writing mentors, and freeing and cathartic.  And though I did write about a few things, like my aunt’s schizophrenia, there is more.  There is always more.  Even if you are retelling the same story. you can always tell it in a new way.  There are always more layers, more strata, and more nuances.  You can always hold it up to new light and peer into the cracks.  There is always more in the compost heap of memory to be turned, and unattractive elements to highlight.  

As a child, and a young adult, I envied those other kids, or friends, who seemed to have “ideal families.”  Now that is probably an oxymoron.  I realize that now.  There is no real ideal family, even though some come close, except in books, fairy tales and some sitcoms, like “The Donna Reed Show,” and “Leave it to Beaver.”  Some children are lucky to have pretty nice environments; but even in their lives, there is sibling rivalry, and parental friction, and even divorce.  And perhaps alcoholism or sexual abuse.  Then, as I grew older, I began to see cracks in those very families I envied and I realized they weren’t so ideal after all.  Today, the more enlightened observers of life realize families are often more like “Modern Family.”  Continue reading

The Book of Constance: My Own Apocryphal Book of the Bible

I just saw a play written by Bill Cain titledHow to Write a New Book for the Bible.” The title sounds a bit like something I might have dreamed up.  I mean I wrote essays in which I took on the seven deadly sins and the ten commandments, so why not try to tackle something really big, like the Bible?  After all, the Mormons did something of the sort, and it was successful in launching a new religion.  Maybe mine could be a more modern version of sorts.  And hey, The Book of Mormon was made into a musical.  Maybe mine could be made into a mini series on HBO.

Now I don’t aspire to write a new holy book in its entirety, or to start a new religion.  But I have to say that this started me thinking.  If I were to undertake such a thing, how might I go about it, and what might I include?  Continue reading

Frankenfodder (or, Coming to Terms with My Crystal Ball)

I have to say I love modern technology – that is, when it works like it should.  It just amazes me how much things have changed since I was young.  I still remember telephone party lines, and phone numbers that were less than seven digits.  In our town, you still had to call the operator to make a long distance call in 1966.  And I remember slide rules, that I used for math, physics, and chemistry classes.  And old fashioned typewriters, correction fluid, carbon paper and mimeographed copies.  And 45 RPM records and 8 track tapes.  Well, I’ve certainly dated myself.

Once when I was young and was in love with movies, including watching old movies from the 1930s and 1940s when they were shown on TV, I used to fantasize about being rich and successful enough to have a large grand house with a separate room big enough to have theater seats and a projection room, so I could show movies in my home — when movies were on those big metal film reels. I would be able to invite friends over if I wanted, or watch a movie over and over any time I wished.  This was over 50 years ago, long before the concept of the modern home theater.  And now it is not even a real luxury.  It seems a lot of “just regular folks” can easily afford to have a home theater in a large common room, or a den, playroom or basement.  At least if Best Buy or HGTV is any indication — I see such rooms being designed or remodeled for that purpose often on various design shows.  Models of home theater set-ups are in design centers and big box stores in most malls.

And Dick Tracy’s two-way wrist radio, and Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone — we’re way past that now.  I remember when my mother was still alive in the early 1990s and she asked me what a FAX machine was.  And as I explained that it enabled a person to send copies of documents across a telephone line in just a few minutes, she looked at me with wondrous astonishment, like I had just told her that time travel had been perfected, or that trains were now going to the moon.  And now faxing is almost old technology.  You’ve probably heard that old story about the US Patent Office.  In 1899, so a certain legend goes, the head of the U.S. Patent Office sent his resignation to President McKinley urging the closing of the office because “everything that could be invented has been invented.”  Well it may be just a legend, not truth, but that was the thinking of the time by many back in those days. Continue reading