Saturday, November 17, 2012

Postcards From My Childhood Part 3: The Iron

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"The child is the father of the man", they say. Surprisingly, I understood this even as a child. And so I sent forward to my elder self some thoughts and images which I knew would be helpful, and which I suspected I'd otherwise forget. As my fiftieth birthday approaches, I'm revisiting them.


When I was shipped off to college, I was given a strange and foreign object: an iron. And since they don't come with instruction manuals, I had no choice but to teach myself to use it. It wasn't long before I discovered the first rule of ironing: you can't iron away a crease. You can reduce it some, but the fabric will always have an inclination to bend there, and there's no changing that, even with the brutest force.

This for some reason fascinated me. I spent time rolling it around my mind. And, eventually, I had an insight, realizing that there is, after all, one - and only one - way to eliminate a crease: flip the garment and then iron to create an opposite crease.

I realized I'd hit upon an essential truth, and have applied it all my life. For example, if you're plagued by nightmares full of scary monsters, the trick is to love the monsters (this was surely the original intent behind giving children teddy bears).

The cure for ennui: make life exciting for others. If you feel you're not getting your due, work to give others their's. If you feel helpless, help others. If no one understands you, show people you understand them. If you're lonely, ease others' loneliness. If you're sad, cheer people up.

Gandhi's entreaty to be the change you seek in the world, Kennedy's appeal to ask what you can do for your country, and Roosevelt's fear of fear all involve the same mental jujitsu.

I learned to never expect payback. That just creates a new crease. You've got to put all attention on the flip itself, keeping the fabric crisp and well-ironed.

One of the easiest, quickest examples: if you're scared, reassure someone. If there's no one around, an imaginary someone will do. (Human beings spend their lives in conflict with imaginary people: mentally rearguing old arguments, worrying about faceless attackers and detractors, reliving bygone humiliations, and generally using our imaginations to make our lives a living hell. That's considered "normal", but using the same faculty in positive ways to help us cope seems, for some reason, childish and loopy. Noticing this, by the way, entailed yet another flip.)

The biggest/greatest flip of all is well-illustrated by the story of the Russian cosmonaut, re: this movie clip I keep linking to:




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