Who Wants to Live to Be 100?

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While surfing the web the other day I ran across an article where some brilliant mind argued that we need to change the health care system from one that gets paid for disease to one that gets paid for keeping people healthy. Not a bad concept on the surface.

He revealed himself to be a one-track thinker with a comment to the effect that if we had such a system, all of us could live to be one hundred. With that statement, he joined the ranks of thousands of figures throughout history who failed to see the bad consequences of a good idea.

Who the hell would want to live to be 100 in this country? Personally, I don’t want to live past 70, for the following reasons:

  • Social Security doesn’t pay much (if anything by then) and “taking control of my future”  left me with a 401(k) that didn’t quite live up to projections due to the three recessions and a financial collapse. I figure if I retire at 65, I have five financially decent years left.
  • After that, I will be poor. Because I will be poor, I will have to work. Age discrimination is rampant in every sector of our society, so odds are that I would have to settle for an embarrassing position at Hot Dog on a Stick where the young people will make fun of the old fart in the silly hat. To get that job I would have to compete with millions of other old farts in search of a humiliating experience. A long shot at best.
  • Although I am quite healthy, statistics say that the older you get, the more medical care you need. Medicare isn’t free and its costs will rise significantly thanks to the federal deficit. In America, old people are seen as burdens to most younger people. That’s because they are burdens. Young people want to travel, dance, sing, go to the ball game, have a nice evening out. They would stay home to take care of grandpa out of obligation, not choice. Family tensions would rise, making for a very uncomfortable living arrangement. It would also be horribly embarrassing to have a family member clean up a mess I made.
  • They might try to shove me in one of those senior communities to regain some freedom, but who will pay the bill? I’ll be broke. The generation to which my children belong have huge student loans and can’t find jobs.  They will certainly have less than I had at the same age, so it wouldn’t be very fair for me to ask them to piss their money away on grandpa. And who will be my neighbors? Even when I become an old fart, I don’t want to live next door to a bunch of old farts whining about their maladies.
  • We may be able to live to 100, but in what condition? Will I still be able to get it up? Will there be a woman who would actually want to do it with me? Will I be able to play alternative rock on my Fender Strat or will my hands become unusable? Even if my hands work, will I remember the chords, the lyrics? Will I have the mobility to go to the places I love? When I look in the mirror, will I want to crawl under a rock so I can hide myself from a society that values superficial beauty?

Solve all of these problems and I’d be more than happy to live to be 100. I love life and I like the people on this planet. But if what I’ve described is all post-70 life has to offer, I will opt for an earlier exit.

 

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Truth and Beauty

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Some time ago I posted a quote from Robert F. Kennedy’s moving address at the University of Kansas:

“The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry, or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile . . . “

Since he spoke those words in 1968, the situation has become worse. The phrase “intelligence of our public debate” and “integrity of our public officials” describe a political culture that vanished years ago. Great artists toil in obscurity as the publishing, film and art industries bring to market only what their marketing demographic studies predict will sell. Educational institutions find themselves marginalized by testing requirements and ill-equipped to deal with a generation that learns differently than what their educational dogma prescribes. Cynicism dominates; imagination is only worth something when it can be transformed into a marketable product or service. Beauty has been defined for us by the media, and the enhanced photographs of attractive models carry very little truth with them.

For some reason (bad genes, mental defect or good old-fashioned stupidity), I still value truth and beauty above all things. If I were to describe the driving force of my existence, it is this pursuit of truth and beauty. When I do find those qualities, whether in honestly-spoken words or in the eyes of a woman experiencing delight or in the sun illuminating the green leaves of  a shade tree in summer, I experience timelessness, awakening and joy.

I have found two things through this endless pursuit. The first is that Keats was right: truth and beauty are one. The second is that the pursuit of beauty and truth can be an alienating experience in a culture that values neither. People in our culture have become almost exclusively transactional, caring little about conversations that do not produce results. This is particularly true for those in our culture who work for a living and are simply too tired to bother with anything that smells of “deep.”

Though many of the people I know find it inconvenient, silly and a little bit weird, I can’t help myself. I will continue to seek truth and beauty regardless of what other people think. It makes me sad that there are so few people with whom I can connect on this subject, but those are the times we live in.

However, I do have to protest when people accuse me of being an idealist. I am not seeking an ideal, I am seeking beauty and truth without a preconceived definition of what it will look like when I find it. The surprise is an essential component in the power of its revelation. What I am constantly seeking is real, tangible and possesses that elusive quality of forever.

‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’

Ringing True Excerpt: Meeting Gwendolyn

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The long white limo dragged itself slowly up the hill and through the brown mist, bound for the Ventura Freeway. Matthias lounged comfortably in the center of the rear bench, legs spread wide, yelling at an accountant over his RAZR phone. Justin sat across the bar on the side bench, experiencing uselessness. Since this was his first trip to the Golden State, he looked forward to seeing something of it on the drive. After forty-five minutes on the 405, he realized his memories of the Golden State would be cars, cars and more cars, relieved occasionally by directional signs and construction cones. There seemed to be nothing for him to do but slide up and down his seat with every brake-and-start and listen to the hip-hop music Matthias had ordered the driver to pipe into the rear compartment.

Justin did not want to be here but once again he had worked himself into a position where there was no way out. After Emmy had miraculously set up the call with Gwendolyn Marks’ business manager, Matthias entered into a series of negotiations that ended with an agreement to meet at the actress’s retreat in a canyon north of L. A. The nonnegotiable condition was that Matthias bring with him the person who wrote The Numbers and that placed Justin firmly on the hook.

“I can’t go,” Justin protested.

“You’re going,” Matthias informed him.

“Look, dickhead, I’ve got a job—”

“Screw your job. This is important. You owe it to the rest of us,” added Matthias, reminding him of Responsibility Two.

“Why can’t Shelby go?” Justin threw out in desperation. “If it wasn’t for her, there wouldn’t be any Numbers. She knows this stuff as well as I do.”

“Because Ms. Marks specifically asked for the person who wrote The Numbers, not the muse who may have inspired The Numbers. It’s a deal-breaker and we need this woman to take us to the next level.”

“I don’t want to go to the next level. I didn’t want to go to this level.”

“Well, you’re here, we’re going, so get off your tight ass and start packing.”

To Justin’s dismay, they had flown first class and a stretch limo was waiting for them at LAX. Now imprisoned by the legendary traffic on the 405 and forced to watch Matthias play Donald Trump in the back of a limousine, Justin found himself stuck on a course that would lead to the home of an overpaid, overrated celebrity who discovered her latest plaything in the form of Ringing True, Inc.

Matthias snapped the cell phone shut and said to Justin, “Have you reviewed the portfolio?”

“Yes,” said Justin in a get-off-my-ass-dad tone of voice.

“Well, read it again. I need you on the top of your game,” said Matthias, tossing a document folder on the seat beside Justin.

Justin sighed and opened the folder to read the bio and background of Gwendolyn Marks for the second time. On top was her IMDb profile:

 

Date of Birth (location)

4 September 1974

Chelsea, London, England, UK

Mini-biography

Gwendolyn Marks has described her acting career (show more)

 

Birth name

Gwendolyn Edith Marks

Nickname

None

Height

5’ 6 1/2” (1.69 m)

Mini biography

 

Gwendolyn Marks has described her acting career as a “never-ending journey of personal discovery.” Daughter of the renowned British director, Peter Marks, she first appeared in a small role in her father’s adaptation of Bleak House at the age of eleven. Seeking to forge her own way, she left Britain at eighteen for New York, ostensibly to study with the avant-garde film actor and playwright Kieran McDougall. A brief courtship resulted in an even briefer marriage and subsequently the young actress found her way to Hollywood.

 

After three years of what Ms. Marks has referred to as her “cave period,” during which she studied film, dance and classical literature, she landed a meaty role as the deranged young housewife in the traditional thriller 229 Black . . .

 

Justin closed the portfolio, bored to tears. He could not have cared less about the history of Gwendolyn Marks or any other celebrity for that matter. He still considered the celebrity culture irrefutable evidence of human insanity and the participants on both sides of the screen distorted, shrunken people. To Justin, celebrity was the ultimate example of self-worship, producing nothing of value and nothing that remotely advanced the human condition. Like many people, he thought it sad that celebrities made obscene amounts of money while so many went hungry and poorly clothed, but thought it even sadder that so many people seemed willing to sacrifice any last scrap of human dignity for a shot at seeing their faces projected into the popular consciousness, if only for a moment.

Ringing True Excerpt: The Great Idea

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Where Shelby First Proposed a New World Religion to a Flabbergasted Justin

They jumped into the Beetle and sputtered over to Capitol Hill. On the way Justin told Shelby more about life at Mega Software. She laughed in pain with him. “Jesus—that sounds awful. I wonder how those people got so damaged.”

“I don’t know and I really don’t care. Try to imagine living your whole life like that.”

“Sounds like S&M without the fun.”

“Yeah, but you wouldn’t want to see any of those people in leather.”

Shelby found a back-in spot on Tenth Avenue and they stumbled over to Caffé Vita. After waiting in line without complaint for two perfectly-executed cappuccinos, they decided to sit downstairs where their conversation wouldn’t disturb the laptop geeks who always seemed to fill the upstairs seating area.

Shelby picked up where she left off.

“It’s hard to describe—something was definitely going on inside. I knew only one thing for sure—I was finally done with learning mode, at least in the traditional sense. And I think the experience on the plane convinced me that what I’d learned in college had been pretty much a waste anyway, so to hell with learning. I wanted to do something!

“Anyway, I don’t know if I ever told you, but when I’m ready to go through major changes, I get this incredible urge to sleep, like my dreams are pulling me inside, demanding that I pay attention. I had tons of dreams in BA. I don’t remember most of them, but there was one that finally cleared the fog from my head.

“It was you and me. We were out on the deck like we used to be but we were surrounded by a film crew—I don’t know why. We were just talking as always, and they’d move in for close-ups on our faces like what we were saying was like the most monumental pronouncements imaginable. Then somehow it became more of an interview format, and I was interviewing you. At first I didn’t know what I was interviewing you about, but I hung in there, confident and smiling, just like those bimbos on the morning shows.”

“How did I do?” Justin asked.

“You sucked,” Shelby laughed.

“Not surprised,” Justin smiled. “Couldn’t even imagine it in a dream.”

“But the dream got me thinking about seeing myself as someone who right now would be impossible for me or for anyone I know to imagine. I liked that.”

“So . . . you’re going to launch a career in broadcast journalism,” Justin snickered.

Years later he would still remember the look that appeared on her face when she looked up from her coffee. Only one word could describe that look: wicked.

“No. Something much better,” Shelby smiled. A wicked smile.

Justin felt himself getting curiously tense. “What?” he said.

“You’re part of it, too,” she smiled.

Justin was now even more uncomfortable, and said nothing.

“Ready?”

Justin took the plunge. “Okay—what?”

“You and I are going to be the founders of a new world religion.”

–From Ringing True

©2010 Robert Morrow. Ringing True is available in e-book, hardcover and paperback formats on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powell’s and many other booksellers. Go to www.ringingtrue.com for a current listing of online retailers.