Surfer’s Delight

Dear Millicent,

For some reason, I have met a string of olden surfer dudes in their fifties that are wildly successful.  They all look and talk the part of grizzled surfer: long hair, tan, wildly laid back, spacy, garrulous.  And, they are weirdly rich.  One produces documentaries and lives in a glorious house where his mohawked children run around in glee.  The other spends half his year in Hawaii, and overall has a life of leisure.   I asked Mr. Carla Fran how these guys could be so set up with such a strong amount of flakiness in their personas.  His answer was that they had a big lack of fear.  They wanted to be able to surf all the time, set their life up around that, and they didn’t care about what it would look like.  And, so it ended up beautiful.

We also had this conversation after watching four-year-olds run into the ocean and surf like it was as natural as pushing your brother.  It’s the kind of scene that makes you want to have a family because what humans can do seems so good.

I wasn’t even allowed to play paddleball without safety goggles as a child, and doubt that I will ever be able to throw my kid in the ocean without worry of sharp rocks and sharks.  But, as Robbie Coltrane says in the series Cracker, “Nobody is actually afraid of heights.  They’re afraid of themselves, what they might do.”

I like the idea of the fearless jolly surfers.  Of course, one of them also mentioned that he had a real-deal-Tony-Sopranoesque panic attack the other day while in the water. But he even seemed happy about that.



Riding in Airplanes #1: What Makes Us Happy

Dear CF,

In the wake of the Air France disaster, which confirms the quite reasonable conviction that one day airplanes will drop out of the sky just like it always seemed they should, I want to talk about that primitive gut-wrencher, the fear of flying. I’ve spent some time recently talking about anger; you’ve spent some time talking about courage. I’d like, for a moment, to go back to fear. And how we deal with it. And death. And tangentially, you know, happiness.

We’ll begin at the bottom of the ocean, which is where any self-respecting discussion of flight ought to begin, this being a doomed airplane’s final destination as well as the natural habitat of fish and scuba-divers.

My sister just went on her 800th dive. I’m new to scuba-diving culture, but she tells me it’s usual for scuba-divers to dive with a buddy. The Buddy System works thusly: Your buddy keeps tabs on you through frequent eye contact. Communication takes place via a rudimentary set of signs that include “are you okay,” “I’m going up,” and “how much air do you have left?” in addition to “look! a sea turtle” and “shark! shark!” Because you’re underwater and be-bundled and -tubed and near currents that can quickly drive you apart, it’s critical that buddies make frequent eye contact with each other.

You might say that the Buddy System seems an incommensurate answer to the problems of being 40-80 feet underwater, at risk for barotrauma, and in the proximity of (for example) swarms of jellies. And you would be right. My sister, a sensible woman, knows this. Which is lucky because her Buddy, my brother-in-law, is an amiable ditz the moment he’s underwater, off exploring and either forgets or resists confirming that he is indeed okay and that she is too.

She has, as a result, recognized that each time she dives she takes her life into her own two hands, and has serenely concluded that if something happens down there, she’s going to die, and there’s no way she’d rather go.

The same people who came up with the Buddy System wrote the cheerful airplane safety guidelines located in your front seat pocket. Judging from how infrequently those guidelines are read or dramatically reenacted these days aboard commercial airplanes, flight crews have come to more or less the same conclusions as my sister. So have the passengers: Children occupy the exit rows. No one quite remembers whether the air flotation device is the seat cushion or the thing under it. No one minds that the life vests are powered by Slurpee straws. It’s understood that if the oxygen-mask bag doesn’t inflate we’ll fuss a bit, no matter how many times we’ve been assured that oxygen is flowing. We will compare with our neighbors. We will not breathe normally.

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American Idle: How Fear and Anger Drive Us To Our Fallen Work

Dear CF,

[Opening insult framed in sexual terms that broadcasts author’s failure to properly express anger:] Those radio guests can suck my boob.

[Agreement plus fake announcement of topic]: I’m with you: anger and fear, weirdly understood as alienating or paralyzing emotions, are no such thing—if anything, they’re over-activating. Without anger, fear and their cousins discomfort and desire, nothing would ever get done.

[Facile examination of social objectives:] ‘Course, this is a militantly capitalist take on what exactly it is that a society is supposed to do. Conquer nations? Propagate the species? Provide decent transportation? Eastern philosophy interests me in its determinedly unworldly focus: if nirvana is the elimination of desire (o happy goal!), why would anyone build anything?

[Acknowledgment of bias that effectively neuters all that precedes and follows:] (Full disclosure: I’m writing you from my time-share in the Unmotivated, Unfearing and Unangry Doldrums, so I know whereof I speak. But I confess to also vacationing in Unenlightenedland.)

Idleness [a.k.a. Jerry-rigged Transition to Give You a Break and Create a Pleasing If Deceptive Sense of Progress]

Slate has been running a series called “The Idle Parent” celebrating the delights of leisure, especially spontaneous and unforced interactions, for parents and children alike.

[Don’t Be Fooled–Marriage and Kids Will Suck Out Your Soul:] Seems like a sensible approach to child-rearing—one that might soften the apocalyptic overtones of pregnancy and marriage by suggesting that people needn’t subordinate their entire intellectual and emotional selves to the needs of a mewling infant. Which might, in turn, counteract the fear of commitment that plagues the unmarried Mongol hordes who suspect (rightly, insofar as the culture defines these things) that both marriage and parenthood irrevocably castrate the self.

Idleness has a place. An important place. Even—as I’ll get to in a minute—an Edenic place. Milton’s Adam might be the very first Idle Parent.

[The Autobiographical Problem That Motivated This Whole Faux-Philosophical Post:] Read more of this post