Friday, January 29, 2010

Friday Night Riff: Mortality, Wealth 'n Art


Your only obligation is to live and be happy. - Albert Camus

There's that joke about 'if you want to make God laugh, just tell him your plans.' Thought I'd try to give the Ol' Guy a chuckle.

In the year 2010, the average life expectancy in the United States is seventy-eight years old. Seventy-five if you happen to be male. That's AVERAGE. That would give me 20 more years - IF I live an average life span for a US male in 2010. A hundred years ago, I'd be ancient material at 55. Today, through the miracles of medical technology we've managed to extend that span - at all cost, sometimes at a questionable cost of quality. But that's a whole 'nuther conversation about how in the average last year of life, a person in the US will have 10 specialists involved in the care and management of their humble, mortal chassis.

I heard that daunting statistic the other day. Now, being someone who has had daunting statistics before in my doctor's attempts to define my undefinable life, I tend to place statistics out of my reach; they have NOTHING to do with ME - not when you are an Outlier - someone who skews the statistics. Still, average is average, and as non-average as I'd like to believe I am, I also have enough humility intact to know there is nothing special about me. Still, even with irony thrown in to stack the odds, averages prevail. But the complement of 'average' - on the other side of the tracks - is 'Outlier'.

Which brings me to a favorite art piece I saw in the Toronto Art Museum about average mortality statistics. Okay, hang in there with me; this is more elegant than dreary and frightful. In a window like you might see in a jewelry store - a display window - is a velvet-lined case that holds stacks of gold coins; each one representing a month. So 12 months X 78 average years = 936 gold coins TOTAL. Sounds like a lot. It is. Especially when you consider that there are still parts of the world TODAY where you are old at 40. The average life span today in Swaziland is 39 years - or 468 months oF gold coins; exactly half of what we receive in the US.

Each month the artist visits their on-going, ever-changing art piece at the museum; opens the display window case; removes a coin from the neat stack in the blue velvet lined box and drops it onto the ever-growing pile next to the box - another month of their life gone: another gold coin spent. No returns, no do-overs, no exchanges - and perhaps most importantly - NO Complaint Desk; just a gold coin, a token of something much more precious: a month of life - hopefully spent well on things of value.

The artist makes you stop and think about the preciousness - not just in theoretical terms, but in the coins spent, never to be seen again. When I saw this piece, immediately I did the math adding up the 'average' left for myself, if I GET TO have an average US male lifespan of 75 yrs. That's 20 more years X 12 months equaling 240 gold coins of earthly life. A nice amount; a respectable amount; but still, not a HUGE amount. Rather, a FINITE, limited amount, much smaller than the 660 coins spent so far - approximately one quarter of the original total. IF I get to be average. Maybe I have more; maybe less. I could be spending my last gold coin right now and not even know it.

Lucky me! I have a gold coin in my hand today! Lucky you! You have one in yours also! How many more will I get? Where do I want to spend them? How do I want to spend them? With whom do I want to share the wealth with?

It's a precious gold coin in my hands; could be the last one - or maybe there's a dozen or 500 more left. Don't know, but any way you slice it - the one gold coin in my hand right now?: Precious. The only precious one. The rest of the stack is just a 'maybe', 'hopefully', or 'if I'm lucky.'

But luck's a funny, fickle thing. Everybody thinks they want the quantity of a big stack of coins; everyone thinks they want longevity - a hundred years, please. But if there's any chance of my ending up spending those last twelve months with 10 specialist doctors and hundreds of props as the 'average' US citizen with 'artificially induced longevity' will - PLEASE! Let me be mercifully struck by a random, stray bullet to the heart - perhaps while dancing! I'd prefer it.

But then, just as with jokin' on God with MY plans, I imagine my preferences bring a wry grin to the Mysterious One, also.

Bottom line: In the end, it ain't about how much you had in your stack; it's ALL about how you spent it and how much happiness it brought.


Sylvan Woman said...

I hear you! Well said. You and those art museums got a thing goin' on.

kathryn said...

Well said, El Po. Very, very true. See ya next Friday, same bat time, same bat channel!


Sandi said...

Oh, I like this stuff with the coins! I have one in my hand today and I'm pretty sure that I am spending it well. I spent part of it on the words of a friend. Totally worth it! Thanks!

jackie lopez said...

Dear El Po,
What a new and beautiful place! Dear El Po, I hear about the time well spent. I am giving as much love to my family as possible. Quality versus quantity is my gig. Right now my brother is going through a spiritual awakening. Once, he judged me. You see, he is going through sorrow. His sorrow caught up with him. I believe that I am here to help him along. My mother wants to put him in the hospital. She does not know what to do. She says he is crazy. But I ask you, El Po, the sane one who mentally abuses her child. Or the child who thinks differently. I know. I am listening to Bob Dylan right now. My brother just asked me for a cigarette. I am not alone. God is with me. I am okay, El Po. I am not sleepy and there is no place I am going to. You are Mr. Tambourine man to me. I love you.
Love, Ms. Soul, Living Qualitively

el poquito said...

Yep, SW, we do. As Juan said, over in the cabin, in describing museums: "Where time stops and you move around in splendor."

Says it all.

K - Must be Fridays are gonna be playday after mining all week? We'll look for you in the sandbox. And - are you really CatWoman?

Hey Sandi - I KNOW you KNOW about coins well spent: How are those Grandkids? Greetings to everyone o'er yonder who also know about being thrifty and wise with their precious treasure: living.

and Jackie! thanks for dropping by. Quality vs. quantity - yep. Truly the only game in town, seeing as we have no control over the quantity. Even in craziness - I aim for high quality even, or especially, there - finding it hard to believe anyone abusive, mentally or otherwise, could also be sane [with quality]. I hope I'm misunderstanding something here, but rest in hearing you say, "I am okay." I hope so. Hang tight with your brother and the music till the storm blows over. Perhaps then, there are some things to reflect on? Your poetry will help carry you forward: the only direction possible - whether we participate in that consciously or unconsciously.

Personally, I prefer facing my demons head on, face to face - on even ground. But first, one must prepare. But that's me; your way may be entirely different. I trust this all makes some sense. ??

Keep standing strong all. It's officially the end of January. Everybody, please deposit one more gold coin and proceed to February.

Much love all.

Dedalus1947 said...

Shit (this WORD actually started with the letter “F”)! You’re only 55 years old! Fifty-five years old?????

Thanks for giving me a CLUE!!!!

Do I sound angry?

Good!!!! You better believe I’m angry!

Do I sound indignant?

Good!!!! You better believe I’m indignant.

I’m angrier and more indignant than the punctuation limits on this laptop allows!


How dare you be so young! How dare you be so goddamn young!!!!! How dare you be so goddamn young with a wife and children and be looking at the limitations of life?????

You know, I was actually going to try and say something WISE in this blog. Isn’t that what OLDER people on the internet do? Say WISE things. I don’t feel wise right now. I feel angry, and I don’t care. Ed, you are still a young, F------ man! 55 is so incredibly YOUNG!!!!! Don’t fall victim to your body. It will fail – it was going to fail. But your wife is better than the beautiful lass you married years ago! You are a better man than you were years ago. Your children need you around! (My father needed to be around a lot longer than the 50 years he was allotted).

Okay – I’m emotional and angry. Not a good thing to be on the internet. So, I’ll take a minute and just say (without ANY BASIS FOR CERTAINTY) take the next step and move forward. Don’t mind me. In fact, ignore me. This comment was the abberation of an old man struggling with retirement).

Hang in there “Little Bit”, I’m pulling for you.

el poquito said...

guess I got ya thinking of your Pops there, Dedelus. Hope that's all right. Not entirely clear what got ya riled - but hey, guess that's one reason we poke around the internet and read stuff - to stir our own mental gumbo - and evidently yours got stirred.

Yep, It's precious stuff - and believe me I know it. And the family is cool; it's been a ride for everyone, but that's life - full of surprises and curve balls; all depends on how you catch 'em and play 'em. I think life is sharper now for each of them, also.

As for limitations... hmm. that's a loaded one, innit?
I've been fortunate to have known throughout my life many people, young and old with limitations mild to severe. There's been a wide array of teachers there, both on how to face them and how not to. The main thing I've learned from the best is that the only real limitation is in the mind. That's where people become 'handicapped'. And I don't mean mental ability or disability, but attitude, will and persistence. My mind is my best ally when the dogs of limitation are nipping at my heels - and from there, perhaps and hopefully, the body will follow.

I guess one thing folks like me [some who visit by here] know - like KNOW in our cells - is that this is a time limited offer, whether 25, 55 or 95; each coin counts. B.C [before cancer] we took things more for granted - even if we thought we didn't - we did.

Sometimes the preciousness of it all becomes overwhelming. That's not a bad thing, it's just not the way of the world, y'know, not this world where life has become cheapened. So it flows out, spills over, runs across the pages with words or paint - all the same: expression of that 'precious'. And in those moments of creation, there is no pain, there are no limitations, there is no illness or fear or worry. There is freedom.

Like I said, it's not the number; it's how you play 'em. And although I'm only a very young 55, I'm very aware how fortunate I am to have any coins to play at all still. The House decided to cut me a break and tossed me some free bonus ones - so now I REALLY have to play those well - THESE are even more precious.

All I hope to do here is spot a magnifying glass on what too easily gets taken for granted - the very simple things that constitute what's really important when it all gets boiled down: Living Fully and Happily [or as best as one realistically can] regardless of external circumstance.

There's a nahuatl phrase that has carried me for some time : tiahui - meaning Forward with courage.

Tiahui to us all.

Now go find somebody you love and give 'em a squeeze!

; )


lakshmi said...

Oh, Ed, beautiful. Really well said. As usual, both immediate and personal and then reaching out to encompass all of humanity. I loved this.

el poquito said...

Hey La, Nice to see ya! guess work is slowing down enough to allow you a stroll through the cyber countryside, eh? Hope your "Lakshmi Writing Ranch Weekend" went well.

; )

and thanks for the timely comment as i'm staring at that rope bridge over the river I need to cross - from the personal storytelling to the universal. the next bread crumb on the trail....

Gypsy said...

Hey Ed. It's Gypsy/Esther. Been meaning to check out your blog for ages. Just read the first two, I guess that's really the last two, postings. I was just saying to the old gang that to me there's only one statistic -- 50/50. Either something happens or it doesn't. Old age, hmm. Everything is relative. How to spend one's coins? Quality? Am trying to figure that one out. Live from NY, still here.

el poquito said...

Gypsy! Hey! Good to hear ya "live from NY."

I like your statistics. It's the only real one, ain't it? Either it happens or....
yesiree bob - NOT!
50-50: the only realistic one.

So if you read the last two, then you read my little tale of the museum rolling field trip. You there in NY have always been an inspiring one with continuing to 'roll' on and see the world.

Tangoed in Brazil lately? ; )

thanks for coming by to visit. Hi to all back at Camp Sara!

Gypsy said...

Gypsy again. I'm really glad you mentioned the museum one (Fallow Ground) cause I think I scrolled down to fast and the "second" one I read was really the one before (December) and I had missed it. That was a REALLY good one. Wow do I know from writer's block. A friend was saying to me the other day "Oh it's all stirring somewhere in your head." Yeah but for how long. Does that matter? As to the wheelchair, yes, where there's a will there's way. Yes I did take another trip -- Portugal and Spain (very different) -- and sometimes walking was a challenge!!! The hills of Lisbon are REALLY hills and more than once it was really difficult, had to have time outs. In Madrid, if I asked to use the elevator in places they had a guard accompany me walking to the elevator, going up, coming back. I guess stepping off the usual path is suspect. I don't know if wheelchairs are. Fallow ground, hmm. I will read that one a few times!!! Am first starting to write again. In fact, am doing a journal, with photos, of the trip but have been sending via emails. Have to learn to do blogs. La gitana

el poquito said...

Gypsy, thanks for writing back and telling me about Portugal and Spain - Cool! You're my Traveler Inspiration. I've got my arrow aimed; just have to get my bow arm a bit stronger - if that makes any sense. Last winter was a fierce backslide that I've been climbing out of - getting stronger so my back/leg can handle traveling farther. Please tell me if you get some link up to see pics or hear stories and are sharing. Would love to see the fun stuff you've been making real.

ephra said...

Nosta tan mal vato, ..just thught of u and remembered your blog!...Things u say are right on.

el poquito said...

Hey Ephra, hope your keeping safe and warm as this storm slams Louisiana next. [I think that's where you are, yes?] Either way - take care,

til our paths cross again --

tarzan said...

Ah Ed.....Sorry it's taken me this long to comment on this writing. I read it in January and knew I had to give it some thought. On the way home during the trip from hell after surgery, I glanced down at the console in the pickup and there lay a gold coin.... (In reality a car wash token), but it didn't matter, what did matter was the thought that followed....."Did I spend January's coin the way I should have"? More importantly I knew then as I know now, it takes a while to find out. There simply are no instant results in life.

I brought the "token" in the house and laid it beside my turtle card..... yet another reminder of how I interact with life and time.....

Somehow life seems backwards..... If I could have started life with all I now know and have instead of spending most of my life working hard to accumulate it, I would still have to ration it out wouldn't I.....hmmmmm Rather, I started with nothing and only now I'm beginning to realize that I should have spent some of the earlier coins more wisely....

Alas, it has taken time to look back and see the results, and it shall take time to look ahead and plan wise decisions, and today with February's coin still in my hand, I believe it will be best spent just carrying it around with me until I am strong enough to take another ride on the tall ship…

I’m already looking forward to March’s coin, it will be spent on another visit to the shop and yes, another repair job…… Not all expenditures are fun at the time but they may just be good investments for happier times ahead….

el poquito said...

Tarzan, so good to hear you. I was wondering how you're doing 2 wks out from your surgery. You sound good.

You said: "If I could have started life with all I now know" Hah! Tell me about it! But at least we CAN look back and see that we're a little smarter now - on a good day, at least!

Happy for you that your coin from last month feels well spent - despite hospitals and scalpels etc. And the one coming up, although I'm sure you'd rather be doing 100,000 other things more fun - it is an investment into someone worth investing into.

And after the repair work is done, I believe there's a beach waiting for you to walk it with 'Sweet Thang'. It's just around the corner. Good luck with these and the next steps.


オテモヤン said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ephra said...

Hey, hope u doin good too.
On my end for now, i'm recoverin from a bad car accident i had two weeks ago. some how i will make it. you know MALA HIERVA NUNCA MUERE.:D
u take care.