Sunday, September 22, 2013

Adventures via GPS

My new abode is in a challenging location. That's why, with my new-used car, I was happy to receive a GPS device for Christmas last year. I use it often. The GPS itself is sometimes challenged by my directions, but usually it gives me a good trip anyway.

In the last couple of days I've needed it. I had to run some errands in Kingston Thursday, so I set the GPS for the first address, out on Flatbush Road. Flatbush Road? Up here it is not a boulevard, as it it in Brooklyn, but it a road that goes on and on. The voice on the GPS went silent after a while and I decided maybe she had given up on me. I gave up on her because all I saw was signs to Rhinebeck and I did not want to go to Rhinebeck, so I began making turns...GPS found me and began directing me back to the route I had left, and to my ultimate destination. I got there and found it was not the place of business I needed, but got human directions there and headed to the right place at last.

It was a little print shop called "The Copy Hut," where I found a most helpful staffer who said they'd happily print a poster for my novel, and all I had to do was go home and email him the files. I said, "If this costs over $100, I'm not going to do it, and he said it would be more like $19, so we're in business. This is fun for me, working with printers, posters, and old-fashioned promotions like that. I've done it for years, sometimes in French. It's well in my comfort area--and by the end of the week I should have a poster to mail to the bookstore to help them promote That Was Tomorrow.

I have it in the back of my mind that I'm househunting. I love the condo I'm renting, and when my lease is up in January I'm going to offer to buy it, but if I can't I may well buy something else. There is the possibility something suitable will come up in this complex, and I'm looking at that. But I do check out houses from time to time on Craigs List. A couple of them came up that I thought I'd explore yesterday. One was said to be in New Paltz but an address I didn't recognize on a street I'd never heard of. I checked out the route and it's not that far from this address. So I programmed my GPS and took off for it yesterday afternoon. I was well past the time of the open house, and only intended give the exterior of the house a gander.

The drive was extraordinarily beautiful. A few turns, a number of hills, dozens of old-fashioned, elegant houses, through lanes and bosky dells whose trees showed early touches of autumn color--and I was in heaven on earth. The deeper I drove the more convinced I was that I would never be interested in owning this house, buried so far from civilization. I pictured the snowdrifts and ice that are sure to come in a few months, making my attractive drive not perhaps less beautiful, but certainly all but inaccessible for days at a time. And a house--I do not need to worry about the upkeep of a country house at this point in my life. But I can dream, can't I?

I took a different, non-GPS-guided route home, passing a huge farm with a gorgeous red barn, rolling hills with sheep and horses--breathtaking!

Thanks to GPS I'm more independent than ever, and can take drives with no particular purpose other than exploring my new neighborhood. I'm looking forward to more days like that one.

Friday, September 20, 2013

New Hope in New Paltz

Some six years ago I wrote a blog called "Finding Fair Hope" from the little town of Fairhope, Alabama.  I deliberately split the name of the town into two components, to expand my reach beyond just writing about the town itself, and in order to write sometimes of fairness and sometimes of hope as well.

I loved the scope of that blog, and kept site meters active in searching the whereabouts of my readers and the words they chose that led them to my postings. I was especially taken aback when, according to my tracker, someone typed this phrase into Google “please give me hope that god is fair” and was directed to the Fair Hope blog.

The person who typed that desperate phrase was not sent to the posts I had made on the nature of God, the soul, and the relationship of man to the universe. You probably know that a search engine’s spider can zero in on a word or group of words and locate any number of ephemeral or peripheral mentions of the word or words you want to search. Thus, some seeking hope that God or anything else be fair, might be sent to a blog called "Finding Fair Hope."

The person with this poignant wish came to this blog on a day when I was rhapsodizing about the weather and even the opportunities for romance at sunset and didn’t stay long enough to check out the many opinions voiced here about whether there is hope that God is fair.

For the record I shall try to answer that question now. In my opinion there is some kind of force that I am not uncomfortable calling god, with or without the capital letter. This force needs a name, and long ago man gave it the name “god” and I don’t think even with all that baggage that identity has accumulated that we have come up with anything better. The problem is that the name is so old, it has literally grown a beard, as we used to say about old stories in the newspaper game. It carries with it a human picture. “God” appears to be a man, although, as Margaret Atwood has pointed out, never in the Bible does the image appear as a man – it appears as a burning bush, or in any number of guises, not including a male human being. But when Leonardo and others wanted to paint a picture, they referred to the old pictures of the god of gods--Zeus--who dwelt in the clouds and carried a handful of lightning bolts for added impact, as if that were needed. That guy also had a long white beard.

Today when we want to be iconoclastic, we say, “I don’t believe in an old man in the clouds with a long white beard,” but that is not the concept of a higher power anyway. There are people to whom those old paintings reveal the face of God, but to deny that we are moved by them is not to deny the existence of God – or even to prove that we are deep thinkers. It’s simply Step One in the process of examining the question. This is what I do not believe. What do I believe?

Do I believe that “god is fair”? I’m afraid I have to answer no to that one. I assume the question comes from someone who wants a specific thing from life, and has observed that less deserving people seem to get all they want. If there is a god, why does “he” do things this way?

Some say that he gives us the lessons we need. I think even that is too pat an answer. There are far too many people who never get any lessons at all, or appear not to. All too often, they are the ones with all the stuff. We don’t know what is happening in their life, but we know they have done bad things to acquire what they have, and we tell ourselves that “what goes around comes around.” Unfortunately, I haven’t seen this to be true either.

I read a wonderful book review today by Margaret Atwood, who, to my mind is one of the most refreshing women in the world today.  I think I could say I'd like to be her when I grow up. Reading her words about Stephen King's latest novel reminded me of this post on the "Fair Hope" blog. About that time she was discussing faith and reason with Bill Moyers. There is no better person alive to make those topics come to life--in a novel, a poem, a television interview, or in my livingroom if she would just drop in for a visit.

She claimed to be a committed agnostic, and made the statement that atheism is a religion. Ha ha. I love that, and agree with her. Ha ha, because those I know who claim to be atheists would hate that characterization -- but Atwood says, it is a belief, therefore it is a religion. As a committed agnostic, she admits the possibility that God may or may not exist, and that her commitment allows discussion of the matter. She says we believe what we are comfortable believing, and that that is a choice we make because it works for us. An atheist believes--because he demands proof--in a negative. An agnostic simply wonders and investigates, not looking for proof so much as for belief. And a believer is happy with his choice -- there is something he just knows is there. I think that's what she said, but I was half asleep as I watched. It may just have been my own conclusion.

Where is the hope, then? It’s inside you, if you are a human being. It is hope that is making you ask the question. Through the power of organized religion and traditional upbringing, many of us are conflicted by even having doubts that what we were told is true. We expect that guy in the clouds to release the lightning bolts our way.

If the person who asked the Internet about fairness ever came back to the blog, I never knew of it. I tried to keep an open, healthy discussion of the question going. For now, let this be my answer: There are times in life when a re-examination of one’s expectations is required. There are times when we all feel hopeless and hurt. It is part of the condition of life on this human plane, which no amount of examination can adequately define. We are created to ask and not get answers. But in the Pandora’s box there is also that last element, all too often left behind. We are also, as human beings, endowed with hope.