Truth Serum


Daily Prompt Truth Serum You’ve come into possession of one vial of truth serum. Who would you give it to (with the person’s consent, of course) — and what questions would you ask?

This makes me think of jealous men and women who cannot trust their beloved to tell them the truth. For these people, paranoiac imaginings are more “true” than the truth. The truth is not always interesting to these “truth” seekers. What they are seeking is the validation of their illusions, not the truth. Paradoxically, they prefer the confirmation of their worst fears rather than step forward into faith and peace of mind.

Still, I’d like to know what REALLY happened on September 11, 2001, and I’d like to know who REALLY elects the President of the United States, even though I would not be able to do anything to change either the past or the present the knowledge would — in a way — put my mind at rest.

Fiction vs. Non-Fiction? Seriously?

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Daily Prompt The Great Divide When reading for fun, do you usually choose fiction or non-fiction? Do you have an idea why you prefer one over the other?

- Grump, grump, grump.
– Bad prompt again, Lamont?
– I think so.
– You don’t read for fun.
– What does “fun” mean? I used to read novels for recreation — I got lost in them — but that seldom happens any more. I did love Jane Gardam last year, last summer. I didn’t get lost in her work, but I was definitely entertained.

Old Filth_1

Now most of what I read pertains to what I’m writing and I write fiction. At the moment I’m reading a new book on the Swiss Reformation. It’s called The Swiss Reformation. I don’t think that sounds like a very “fun” title, but I’m enjoying the book. The author writes clearly and energetically with real interest in the subject.

– What are your favorite books? Maybe that’s what this prompt is getting at.
– I like Candide best of all — it’s (allegedly) a novel.

Then I like Goethe’s Italian Journey. It’s non-fiction, autobiographical.

I love George Schaller’s Stones of Silence, but a person would have to be interested in goat/antelopes to derive the maximum enjoyment from that.


- That’s a pretty strange combination.
– As I was cleaning out my books before I moved those were three I knew from the get-go I would not part with. One thing tying these three books together is that they are all “picaresque;” Though only one is fiction, they all record discoveries — self and other — made on journeys. The magic of Candide is the ending. The magic of Italian Journey is the resolution with which Goethe began his journey and where that resolution led him. The magic of Stones of Silence is in George Schaller’s writing and in his description of the behavior of wild goats. He makes an eloquent case for the critical importance of individuality to the survival of a herd. Thinking about these books, together they tell a person exactly how to live. Candide — Tend your garden = be happy with the life you have. Italian Journey = pay attention to your surroundings and learn from them. Stones of Silence = Be yourself; in that way you can best help others – and preserve your own life.
– But which do you like better, fiction or non-fiction?
– Dude, get over it. It’s silly to think “fiction vs. non-fiction.” Just like people, books are individual entities with which we form unique relationships.

Daily Prompt, Take Two, Alfred aka Alferd Packer Interview (Take a Bite Outta’ This!)


Daily Prompt Mouths Wide Shut Are you a picky eater? Share some of your favorite food quirks with us (the more exotic, the better!). Omnivores: what’s the one thing you won’t eat?

Mr. Packer, most people draw the line at eating other people. How did you manage to cross that line?

Well, son, if you’re in the high mountains and yer freezin’ and yer’ friends is mostly already froze, and yer’ hungry, what would any sane person do? I mean, yer alive, they’re dead ain’t they just meat after all?

Did you really eat your own finger?

That’s just plain ass dumb talk. Ain’t no meat on a finger. I’m plum amazed sometimes at the ignorance of people.

Yeah, but sir. You don’t even spell your name correctly. It’s AlFRED, not AlFERD.

Don’t make no never mind. Call me for dinner either way, and I’ll come!

-20 on the Quality Prompt Scale

Daily Prompt Mouths Wide Shut Are you a picky eater? Share some of your favorite food quirks with us (the more exotic, the better!). Omnivores: what’s the one thing you won’t eat?

I don’t even care about MY answer to this one.

(For a longer and more responsive response, read this sanguine tale about Alferd Packer)

Too Many Choices


- Sigh.
– What’s wrong, Lamont?
– Another yes/no question, Dude.
– Too many, eh?
– Ha ha. All I can say to this is that back in the early 1980s in the People’s Republic of China one thing we didn’t have “too much” of was choice. Either the things we needed and wanted were available or they weren’t. The market — I mean where the food was — depended totally on the seasons and if my favorite green chilies were out of season, too bad Lamont. It was also an El Niño year so we had only four sunny days all winter. I couldn’t choose to go out or not in the rain. I had to go out. I learned to use an umbrella…
– What does this have to do with the topic?
– Well, when I got back to the US, there were so many choices for everything that I was overwhelmed. But it really isn’t choice. Take tea. There are five or six flavors of black tea and ten brands. That’s not really choice. Same with breakfast cereal — though there are more flavors and more promises than with black tea — many of the choices are duplicates; the “choice” becomes price.
– Choice is good, right?
– Sure, but I think it can be excessive. It was liberating in China to know that I did not have to make decisions between several nearly identical items. I could only buy what was for sale when it was for sale. It really freed up a lot of brain cells to think about other things. I knew this. I needed coffee. I needed milk — powdered was fine. I needed cheese, so we made trips to Hong Kong, returning with bricks of Danish Havarti, coffee (when local coffee wasn’t available) and tinned butter from Australia. Mayonnaise turned out to be important. Tuna. That little cache of basic and rather boring “home” food was enough. Every other thing was there in China, new and different and something to experiment with. If there was fresh milk it was in the form of yogurt. We’d ride our bikes miles to get it and then I’d make more yogurt using one of the little bottles as a culture. Bread, every afternoon at 4 from the college bakery. We rushed over and queued up. I didn’t need a gigantic variety.
– Interesting. So you had more freedom in Communist China?
– Freedom, in one sense, is a day to day thing not a political thing. I had freedom FROM the need to make gratuitous choices. We in the wealthy world — and I’m going to say the US in particular because I never saw such an excess of choices in any European supermarket — have more superficial choices than we need and possibly not enough REAL choices, like in who leads our country…
– I thought the ability to discriminate between things was an important element of human evolution.
– Well, yeah. We do spend a lot of our lives eliminating choices, finding what we like and what we don’t like. I think that’s how “old” people appear to be set in their ways. They’ve made the choices and found what they want, like and what works for them. When we’re young, we revel in the “opportunity” of choices and we anguish over the possibility of making the wrong choices.
– You anguish over that and you’re not young.
– You got me there, Dude. Still, my recent “choice” was vastly simplified by external circumstances like my age and my retirement income. That was liberating because it eliminated “possibilities” showing them to be  IM-possibilities. The thing is, I think we can be distracted from the important choices by the excess of unimportant choices. On what would we exercise our ability to discriminate if we did not have 10 different flavors and 3 different brands of shredded wheat to choose from? I really think about that. The guys that put the first man in space only had ONE kind of shredded wheat on the shelves in their grocery. Anyway, here’s a happy little ditty from Devo that “speaks” to just this question, “Freedom of Choice.”

What Would I Say? Here, I Said It.


Make It Count You’ve been given the opportunity to send one message to one person you wouldn’t normally have access to (for example: the President. Kim Kardasshian. A coffee grower in Ethiopia). Who’s the person you choose, and what’s the message?

Seriously? I don’t really think people listen to me, or maybe, well, read yesterday’s post on that subject. What would I say and to whom would I say it? I would say this to the people of the United States.

1) Do not be distracted from important issues by the media with the political smokescreens of gay marriage, gun rights, and abortion. Those are irrelevant issues used to inflame your emotions and prevent you from seeing more important things such as perhaps the national government has no reason to be involved in your child’s education or perhaps the “War on Terror” is a war for oil rights or perhaps socialism actually is NOT Communist Totalitarianism… Ask questions. Accept nothing. Examine. Scrutinize. Evaluate. Think.

2) Turn off your TVs (and all other simple-minded media) and think for yourselves. Learn the difference between a reaction and a response and replace your reactions with responses.

3) Send your kids overseas for at least a year to study in another country. We live in the world and we are NOT the “best” nation. There is no “best” nation. All the xenophobic knee-jerk reactions from racism to nationalism do nothing but promote ignorance and fear. Stop it.

We Have no “Right” to Our Opinions


Daily Prompt Ready, Set, Done Our free-write is back by popular demand: today, write about anything — but you must write for exactly ten minutes, no more, no less.

I wonder if there is anyone who has used Facebook who has not lost friends there. I did over a really stupid thing — my friend’s fanatical position on male circumcision. I didn’t even disagree with her. The whole thing got ugly over a misunderstood motive in a misunderstood comment…

I have a friend who pretty much alienated everyone she knew because of her passionate and extremely conservative political rants and attacks during Obama’s second bid for President. Her friends are friends she’s had since junior high and with whom she shared many important experiences throughout her adult life. But because they would not agree with her (it wasn’t even see her side; they had to be convinced) that was the end of it. Facebook.

I was her Facebook friend too, back in those days, and I saw the whole ugly thing.

“I have a right to my opinion,” she said.

I thought, “No you don’t. No one does. You have a right to express that opinion, but you have opinions — we all have opinions as involuntarily as breathing. Rights come into play when we open our mouths. The other side of that is that everyone else has a right to ignore or reject our opinions…” A major point of my critical thinking class which stressed the importance of expressing fact-based and objective opinions whenever possible. The question in expressing an opinion is whether it’s going to be useful at all.

Last night we talked about it. She has decided that she doesn’t need to tell everyone what she thinks, that maybe it’s wiser to ask. Then she said, “It’s amazing how much we have in common considering how different our views are.”

I said, “I think you’re talking about politics and you know what, you don’t know my views. You THINK you know what they are but you don’t. What you need to do is ask.”

That flummoxed her and she suddenly saw that it’s not all just about waiting for people to ask HER, it’s about not rushing to a conclusion based on one small bit of something, but asking others for their ideas and opinions. So, she did.

I told her that I thought that politicians are mostly crooked; that by the time they are seeking national office, they’re interested in winning, not interested in serving.

This is what she thinks, too. She was blown away because she had never TOLD me that or TOLD me to think that.

I said that after living in California for a while, with the crowded cities and the numbers of immigrant cultures, that while I believe — in general —  the fewer laws the better, when there are all of those customs rubbing against each other, laws are necessary for clarity and to help people get along.

She’d never thought of that. I said politics is important to me on the local level because the immediate needs of a population are local, not national.

“I need to be assertive,” she said. “I don’t want to be passive. I want people to know what I think because the world is messed up.”

I thought to myself, “It’s not your job to fix the world.” I didn’t say anything. It was very hard for me to understand that point, and it would never sound to anyone the way I mean it.

Having spent a whole career teaching in schools where no one (boss, administration, etc.) ever wanted to know what I thought, after numerous confrontations and ugly moments, I reached an understanding that what I think is not universally important. Anyway, not as important to me as being able to live with myself which was difficult when I’d been angry with someone over a difference of opinion. I could talk myself blue in the face and it would never change anything for the better. None of my bosses cared about my classes or my methods or my beliefs about education or about the problems I was finding with a group of students. All that mattered was that I followed the rules, showed up in the classroom, did a decent job imparting skills and knowledge, did not earn student complaints, kept the class grades down and turned in grades on time. THEIR opinions about teaching mattered; not mine.

But what mattered MOST is that my students learned.

And then there was my brother. For years I held the opinion that he should stop drinking, that he’d realize this and would give it up. I spent most of my adult life working toward that end, pushed by my opinion about what he should and would eventually do. It took a long time to realize that his opinion was different. He thought he SHOULD keep drinking and I should continue to believe he should stop so I would keep supporting him. From him I learned to look at what people do — what I do — more carefully than I listen to what people tell me. I also learned that my relentless efforts to change him were disrespectful of his right to be the person he was, however I felt about it. He wasn’t trying to change me; he was just taking advantage of the benefits of my trying to change him. I was a patsy because of my opinions.

My opinions are best served by my actions in this world.

More than 10 minutes — I took a few to proofread…

IS One Man’s Note Another Man’s Symphony?


Daily Prompt Handle With Care How are you at receiving criticism? Do you prefer that others treat you with kid gloves, or go for brutal honesty?

“Brutal” honesty. That’s an annoying phrase. Honesty — when it is more than an expression of personal taste, emotion or malice — is not brutal. Other things are brutal. Sometimes people will conceal envy, malice, tiredness — almost anything — behind the guise of “constructive criticism” and “brutal honesty.” When someone says, “I’m going to be brutally honest with you,” I know immediately that 1) the person is given to cliches, and 2) they are looking for an excuse to unload on me and, 3) they’re willing to be a brute.

The choice of words is important, too, especially if someone is sincerely offering criticism to help someone avoid a life mistake. If a person says, “I am afraid you might be making a mistake hooking up with that guy,” I may listen. If a person couches their “criticism” in a universal of generalization and a put down, “You never were very smart with men,” I may agree, actually, but I won’t listen. I may perceive that as one-ups-manship, not criticism.

There’s a difference between offering criticism and slamming someone, but I’m not sure everyone knows the difference. Many people take all criticism as being slammed. Someone who offers criticism of my work will usually do that from their own perspective. If that perspective is based on their personal taste and not something concrete and useful, I normally just shine it on. If the criticism is based on something I can use such as “Don’t move the camera when you’re filming a still object or people will need Dramamine to watch your film,” then I’m going to listen very well.

Another problem in our world is the ascendance of “subjectivism,” which insists that everything is relative and that there are no objective standards. It’s true that everyone who writes has an objective of their own, but there is such a thing as good writing and bad writing beyond personal taste. I would not want to make a film that is unwatchable. That is an objective fact above and beyond what my film might be about.

As a teacher I had to be a critic of my students’ work. Some of them loved the fact that their teacher was taking them seriously enough to engage with them directly demonstrating how they could improve. Others hated it. A couple times, girls cried. Boys, on the other hand, usually got angry and then had to come back later to apologize. In the rock-paper-scissors realm of human interaction, anger is always the loser, and the angry person must calm down, must come back, must offer the teacher a second chance. Crying “wins” and the person who cries doesn’t have to come back and offer the teacher a second chance. The crier can go off, lick the wounds, write nasty stuff on Ratemyprofessor and dis the teacher FOREVER. But the point is that if the person offering the criticism has legitimate credentials and can truly help, then that criticism should be accepted gratefully — even when it’s unpleasant. The most common reason my criticism of my students’ work was not accepted was because it required they do more work… Usually, they were not interested enough to want to do more work. They really just wanted a grade (a high grade) and then to move on.

I believe that if a person is serious about what they are doing and sincerely wants to improve that person will seek out qualified critics. That person will know something about his/her weaknesses and will want to find others with complementary skills and abilities. A serious person, a serious writer, artist, whatever, will understand that honest, qualified criticism is a sign of respect on the part of the critic and will feel honored to receive it.

Who Am I?


Daily Prompt Flash Talk You’re about to enter a room full of strangers, where you will have exactly four minutes to tell a story that would convey who you really are. What’s your story?

At least ten times a year I had to walk into rooms of strangers and convey very quickly that I’m 1) serious, 2) funny, 3) competent, 4) interesting and 5) interested. I learned that the best way to do this is not by telling a story, exactly, but by engaging the strangers. Once engaged, they are strangers no more and they know who you are — the best thing you can possibly be; someone who is interested in others.

I called roll first, asking them to correct my pronunciation of their names, remarking on the ethnicity if the name were Irish or Italian (they would be pleased; it’s an ethnic thing for those groups), speak a bit in a brogue or ask if they speak Italian. Nothing provocative, nothing outre, just an opening revealing the human heart behind the teacher persona.

The best speech of this type I know, however, is this one from Bladerunner because – like Roy – ultimately who I am is what I’ve done, seen, felt, believed, been and loved.