Pomp and Circumstance

© 2016 by Bob Litton.  All Rights Reserved.

The two theme ideas that have been hounding me lately are quite different from each other, one being the ultimate in the grandiose (“The Idea of God”) and the other so bland as almost to amount to trivia (“Academic Regalia”). Naturally, being the lazy and cowardly person that I am, I opted for the latter.

It all started this way: Last week our hometown university published a notice in the local weekly announcing who the guest speaker at this year’s graduation ceremony would be. There was a fairly lengthy description of the speaker in the paper; but, because he was an alumnus of the same university as I, I wanted to know more; so I used a search engine. Unfortunately but naturally enough, this year’s speaker hadn’t been announced yet when the program was published online. However, serendipitously I happened upon some information that was just as intriguing.

Firstly, I was surprised to see that college administrators can be just as dictatorial as the Misses Grundy’s we encountered our first year in grade school — when they separated us into “blue birds” and “red birds”. Here is how the university organized the commencement (the blue and red highlightings are my addition):

IMPORTANT DOs and DON’Ts for graduates and guests:
• Attend rehearsal at 2 p.m. on Friday, May 13th so you know the marching order.
• Arrive by 9 a.m. on the day of graduation, Saturday, May 14th.  The ceremony will begin at 10:00am.
• Leave valuables with family members during the ceremony.  There is no secure place for your belongings.
• Wear proper academic regalia.
• No selfies, hijinks, or inappropriate behavior as you cross the stage.
• Cell phones should be turned off or placed on silent.
• Students are expected to return to their seats after the on-stage presentation. The last person is just as important as the first.
• Diplomas will be mailed two weeks after commencement.  If you choose to pick up your diploma, please contact the Provost’s office.
• Guests should arrive early as seating is on a first come, first serve basis.
• Use of air horns, noisemakers, or other disruptive items is strictly PROHIBITED.
• Guests are expected to remain in their seats during the ceremony.
• Photos are allowed in the designated area only. To avoid congestion, please limit the number of guests on the venue floor.
• Guests should sit in the designated areas only; seats on the floor are reserved for faculty and graduates only. Do not stand in the aisles.

My, my! I innocently had thought that by the time one graduated from college, he or she would have grown out of pranksterism, but here we are with the graduates being warned not to engage in “hijnks” or any other sort of “inappropriate behavior” as they cross the stage. And I was curious whether anyone during any previous commencement had blown an “airhorn”.  The wording reminded me of our current political caucuses and primaries. Of course, most of the other instructions are moderate and understandable, assuming the exercise is going to exhibit any organization at all.

Well, I said “moderate”, but I don’t know if that is really the true case or not. For, look at the blue-highlighted item: “Wear proper academic regalia.” Elsewhere in the instruction pages the graduates are informed where they can “buy” the caps and gowns — at the campus bookstore — but the cost is not listed. When I was graduated from high school in Dallas in 1958, we didn’t have to buy our caps and gowns; but, then, that was presumed to be the only occasion we were to use them. When one gets into the levels of “higher learning”, there can be multiple occasions for wearing the cap and gown (or the gown at least) unless the graduate changes his/her academic field along the way, the reason being that the gowns are color-coded.

I counted twenty colors in the local university’s regalia, but the number of colors will vary from school to school depending upon how many degree programs at the school; the maximum number is eighty-five, but I don’t know of any university that offers that many degree programs.. We are way beyond the “blue bird”/”red bird” stage, folks! I won’t burden you with all twenty colors and their particular fields, just the few that caught my attention for different reasons.

The first one (on their list and mine as well) is Agriculture with its maize gown. According to its Wikipedia article, the term “maize” can be applied to “a variety of shades, ranging from light yellow to a dark shade that borders on orange”. Of all the colors on the gown list, this color — that of our American corn — best matches the academic field it signifies. Hurray for the farmers and county agents!

The next one I noticed (their third on the list) was Accountancy, Business, Commerce: drab. Now, I realize that business majors are often the butt of campus jokes, but isn’t this carrying the humor a bit too far? Drab? Drab is “a dull, light brown color, the color of undyed wool”. I won’t say any more about it.

The colors for Education (light blue) and Philosophy (dark blue) intrigued me because they are both blues; but is there any significance, other than a limited number of colors to draw upon, in their intensity difference? My imagination hints the answer: “Yes!” For, Education can be a light-hearted field, particularly if the graduates are going into elementary school teaching; while Philosophy, as I discovered too late, is usually way too dark for safe living, especially if you concentrate on Schopenhauer and the Existentialists.

A little further down the list we come upon Journalism (crimson). Being a former journalist, I was naturally curious about that color and why a shade of red was chosen, the color often associated with anger. I would have expected to read “yellow”, not out of any association with cowardice but rather harking back to the historical period of “yellow journalism”. On the other hand, such a choice would have been almost as bad as the drab tacked onto Accountancy, etc.

As for the students having to purchase their caps and gowns, I suppose at least some of them will end up donning them again on a few later occasions, when they earn higher degrees, even honorary ones. And, of course, those who become college professors will have to don theirs at least twice a year for future commencement ceremonies. As for those who entertain no further academic ambitions as such, they can just box their caps and gowns and stow them away in their attics with other memorabilia.

I don’t have any problem with old academic regalia myself, for I did not attend either my bachelor’s or my master’s graduation ceremonies: I had my degrees mailed to me. My memory of that tedious high school graduation with 494 students marching up to the stage at Dallas’ State Fair Music Hall to receive our individual degrees while a band played Sir Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance” was too vivid a memory.

Finis

A Maternal Memorial

thread spool

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Pardon me, folks, but I want to interrupt this extended silence for a  brief while to try and make some amends for the neglect I visited on my mother. She has been dead now for nearly twenty-two years, so of course I cannot justify or redeem myself directly. It’s only if one believes in an afterlife or even that some kind of resonance inheres in lingering cosmic memories that one can accept the following as meaningful to anyone but me. Regardless of the possible unreality of either of those concepts, here are my flowers for Mothers Day 2016. (Oddly, though, Mama was not a floral enthusiast; not that she disliked them, she just didn’t gather blossoms or maintain vases.)

I have written in previous blogs that Mama and I did not communicate well after the onset of my teen years. The problem, as I view it, was not that any sort of major psychological imbalance (such as stood between me and my brother Vernon) or contrary value systems (such as stood between me and my brother Elbert)  hindered our conversations. Our off-moments derived from a much more down-to-Earth dysfunction: I was frequently annoyed and embarrassed by Mama’s lack of tact, of which I have given instances in previous posts. On Mama’s side, she looked askance at my pub-crawling, drifting ways and impracticality; she said to me one day, after I had expressed an interest in majoring in philosophy, “Bobby, I think you live in a dream world. If you are so smart, you ought to be able to make a lot of money.” As usual, I did not utter a rejoinder to that.

Such perceptions, naturally, are not absolute. One morning, while I was seated at her kitchen table, she wanted to discuss Elbert, whose carpet store was in a state of bankruptcy due to the Reagan recession of the late 1980’s. Elbert had not spoken to her for two years because she had persistently tried to dissuade him from getting involved in any more of his former business partner’s get-rich-quick schemes. I did not want to talk about it, because I had opted to stay with Elbert at the store as it was going under very, very slowly and I was losing my house in West Texas in the process; I was in a heavy depression.  While she set a plate of eggs and sausage before me, she asked me to intercede for her with Elbert, whom she said she loved. I did not say anything; the weight of the whole financial disaster was too great. I don’t recall the immediate trigger for her final comment, “You’re a good man and an honest man.”

Mama and I hardly ever discussed serious matters other than those concerning the family. In fact, most of our conversations involved an exchange of something: she would want me to do something for her, like take her to the grocery store; or she would give me odd things she had picked up at flea markets and garage sales, like a lava lamp (when such was an “in-thing” during the 1970’s), a pair of binoculars (I was not a birder), and an antique walking cane (which at the time I did not need but, after three decades, do now). However, those interactions were after my own hair had started to gray.

During childhood, there were more prized moments of sharing. While I was in the Cub Scouts, Mama went with me down to Turtle Creek one Fall day to gather different types of leaves for pasting in a scrap book. And, when I had the part of Santa Claus in an elementary school play, she made a red-and-white costume for me, complete with a hat peaked by a cotton  ball. (No boots, of course.)

I have related how Mama had worked both as a seamstress in a dress factory  and as a steam-presser at a few cleaners. She also made all my shirts and pants during those early years. Naturally, she always had plenty of thread spools (like the one shown at the top of this post). One afternoon, while I was sitting on the front porch step reading a Dick and Jane book, she came outside with a saucer containing a bar of white soap, some water in a glass, and an empty thread spool. Then she showed me how to amass a sufficient quantity of soapy water on one end of the spool and blow through the other end to make bubbles float out onto the air.

And I will never forget the early morning she came to the combination bedroom and living room to wake me up. She went to the window, raised the paper blind, and announced, “Look, Bobby! It snowed last night!” When the day got light enough, Mama gathered some snow in a big pan and made some ice cream out of it. One cannot do that in Dallas anymore for two reasons: it seldom snows there and, even when it does, the snow is too shallow and too polluted to transform into healthy ice cream.

I have no authority to reference for this assertion, but I believe that only a  girl raised on a farm, such as Mama had been, would have known how to capitalize on a thread spool and a mass of fresh fallen snow.

Happy Mothers Day, Mama, wherever you are.

picers_0004

Maurine Emily (Tanberg) Litton b. Feb. 23, 1910, Eau Claire, WI;  d. Dec. 19, 1994, Dallas, TX

Now I can return to my cave.

Finis

Spammers disguised as “Referrers”

Dear “Followers” and any other interested readers —

I had planned to interrupt my “sabbatical” next Sunday for a special “Mothers Day” piece. However, a recent problem with my blog stats page, and the steps a friend took to help me solve it, has engendered in me the impulse to share this solution with those who visit and read my posts.

The problem involves Search Engine Optimizations (SEOs). These are computer geeks around the world who seek to bring search engine entries up to earlier pages in a search engine. They can do this by pretending to be “referrers” on bloggers’ sites. When the blogger, curious about the strange referrer, clicks on the referrer to find out more about him/her, that click bounces back to the spammer’s site and counts as a “hit”, thus multiplying the spammer’s site’s activity record–thus edging it up closer to the search engine’s top page.

This problem occurred on my site a couple of years ago with a spammer called “Semalt”. I wrote a blog post condemning the SEO practice, and shortly thereafter the false referring by Semalt stopped.  Now, however, the wickedness has begun again; only, this time, the name “Semalt” is not used directly; rather, the new names are “key-words-monitoring” and “free-video-tool”. But from what I have learned through reading a few informative sites on Google, I sense that both are really just aliases for Semalt. The blocking methods I found either were too advanced for my blog program and/or were too technical for me to employ, so I called my friend Chris and asked for his help. As usual, he graciously complied.

Then, acting on the supposition that some of my “Followers” might be experiencing the same problem, I decided it might be helpful to forward Chris’ response to them. Here it is:

Hi Bob,

I’m sorry this upsets you so much, but unfortunately neither of these options are relevant for wordpress.com sites like yours.
You are getting your analytics directly through worpdress.com and not Google Analytics, so those instructions won’t help you.
And wordpress.com sites do not allow custom plugins like the one in the other link. Those only work if you have a custom installation of WordPress (often referred to aswordpress.org in contrast to wordpress.com), where you have to pay for web hosting and a domain name.
I found these instructions specifically for wordpress.com, telling you how to mark spammy referrers as such:
That’s the only recourse I’ve been able to discover for your situation.

Chris

 

As I stated above, I will return briefly next Sunday, Mothers Day in the USA.
For now, have a good week.
—BL

Another Sabbatical

Hi, Gentle Readers —

I have become too grumpy…even for me! Need to get away from this blog, this Internet, this writing. So, I’ve resolved to take another sabbatical — hopefully a long, long, long one. I have had poor luck keeping to such a resolve in the past; that’s why I am not declaring a loud and final “GOODBYE!”. So, it is entirely on your shoulders if you want to keep checking back in at The Vanity Mirror. Just don’t be surprised if there is nothing new here.

Your appreciative writer,
Bob Litton

More Shop Talk: Some Pet Peeves

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

It has been slightly more than a year (March 2015) since I wrote my last blog post about language and writing. The writing below differs from that earlier one in that it can be described as simply a column of pet peeves, while the older was an essay concerning problems I have with the nature of my native tongue. Of course, reading an essay is usually more fun than reading a list of gripes, but I hope you readers will continue on and gain something at least enlightening if not entertaining from your perusal.

— BL

* * * * * *

Last Tuesday I joined our “lame-duck” mayor at breakfast in the local diner. (For those who don’t know what “lame-duck” means, the term describes an elected official whose term is approaching its end and who will not be returning to office next term.) During our conversation the mayor mentioned how annoyed he is when someone uses the term “Obamacare” instead of “Affordable Care Act” or its abbreviation “ACA”.
“What are they thinking?” he asked. “Do they see it as a medical benefit set up especially for Obama?”
“I understand your point,” I replied. “Another problem with their phrasing is that it can appear like an edict establishing a healthcare program by fiat instead of a legislative act passed by Congress.”

That conversation got me to reflecting—for the umpteenth time—on all the irritating malapropisms, misplaced words, and nonsensical interpolations I hear over and over again.

One of the chief malapropisms that has become so ingrained in our common discourse that even top echelon journalists run afoul of it is the use of “bathroom” where “restroom” is the accurate term. If it is not already obvious to you, “bathroom” literally refers to a room where a bath can be performed, such as in a tub or in a shower stall. A “restroom” is a place, often hardly larger than a closet (thus the British preference for saying “water closet”) where one can relieve oneself of urine and feces.

One misuse of terms which is not quite as objectionable as those is the substitution of “less” for “fewer”. “‘Fewer’ refers only to number and things that are counted: Fewer cars on the road. There were fewer than sixty present. In Formal usage ‘less’ refers only to amount or quantity and things measured: There was a good less tardiness in the second semester. There was even less hay than the summer before.  ‘Fewer’ seems to be declining in use and ‘less’ often takes its place.” Still, I am among those purists who find the substitution of “less” for “fewer” offensive because it reduces the exactitude and therefore clarity. (I should credit late Professor Porter G. Perrin for much of the above paragraph, including the examples, from whose Writer’s Guide and Index to English I borrowed it.)

Similar to those terms’ confusion is the phrase “one or two” and similar constructions. Particularly surprising instances of this fault are in Henry James’ novel Portrait of a Lady. In Chapter 22, Gilbert Osmond, while nervous in the company of his visitor Madame Merle, “…without looking at Madame Merle, pushed one or two chairs back into their places.” And in Chapter 28, I read where Lord Warburton goes to an opera house to find the “heroine”, Isabel Archer, and her friends; there, “(a)fter scanning two or three tiers of boxes, he perceived in one of the largest of these receptacles a lady whom he easily recognized.” When I see such phrasing in an article or a story or a novel, I almost pull my hair out in exasperation and utter aloud, “Can’t you count even to three, you numbskull?!”  I must be upfront here and acknowledge that I cannot stand Henry James; I think he is one of the most overrated authors and insufferable snobs in American literary history. And Portrait of a Lady is a ridiculously absurd novel filled with other types of flaws which I might elucidate some other time.

In the class of misplaced words I particularly note the word “only”. I remind you that English has evolved (or devolved?) into a mostly uninflected language. That is, we do not use multiple case endings on our nouns and adjectives to indicate their functions in a sentence; our pronouns alone retain that characteristic. Consequently, we determine and infer a word’s function by its place in the sentence; that includes the term “only”. I frequently see this word misplaced in a sentence and its intended meaning thus jeopardized. Disgusting! I could write some sentences to further explain the problem with “only”, but I found in the online Free Dictionary by Farlex as good or probably even better an explanation than I might render, so I copied part of it for use here. Hope they don’t mind; if they do, I will withdraw it and struggle through with my own examples:

Usage Note: The adverb only is notorious for its ability to change the meaning of
a sentence depending on its placement. Consider the difference in meaning in
the following examples: Dictators respect only force; they are not moved by words.  Dictators only respect force; they do not worship it. She picked up the phone only when he entered, not before. She only picked up the phone when he entered; she didn’t dial the number. The surest way to prevent readers from misinterpreting only is to place it next to the word or words it modifies.

The Free Dictionary’s entry for “only” has a few more interesting remarks which I recommend aspiring writers peruse.

Finally, under the heading nonsensical interpolations I include “you know”, the latest substitution for “uh” as a pause gap filler. I hear it frequently on one of my favorite NPR talk shows, On Point, with Tom Ashbrook. I believe it would be safe to claim that at least half of the people Ashbrook talks with on that program—special guests and call-in listeners alike—use “you know” in many of their sentences. It is irritating for three reasons: (1) No, Tom might not know it (whatever it is); (2) if he does know it, then why are they saying it? and (3) the constant repetition of “you know” soon begins to grate.

Well, gentle readers, I hope your eyes have not glazed over from reading this blog post about the more horrific writing…and speaking…crimes.

Finis

 

 

 

Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

© 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.
When a person reaches the 76th year he can develop the notion that, because he has lived through — even studied — much history, he has accumulated a dense patina of knowledge in his brain; yet he also feels afflicted by the suspicion that he does not know how to apply it. I recall in my youth enduring various puzzling illnesses and mechanical problems which, after healing or correcting by learning the causes and applying the proper treatments or techniques, I have said to myself, “There now, in the future when I come across this situation again, I will know what to do!” The only problem with that assumption is that the illness or mechanical failure  seems never to repeat itself. There is always a new puzzle to ponder. Because of a few such episodes in my recent past, the idea of composing this essay flowered in my brain.

Past:

Einstein said that time and space are the same. I take that remark to mean that if I get up from this chair and walk over to my bookcase, about fifteen feet away, I will be walking into the future; and that if I turn around and walk back to my chair, I will be walking into the past, because I am going the same distance, over the same area, over the same period of time, only in reverse — just like the “rewind” device on my VCR. But I don’t feel that to be the case, for I have aged infinitesimally during both transits. (I wonder, to render this example valid, would it be necessary for me to retrace my steps backward rather than doing an about-face and proceeding forward again but in the opposite direction?)

I’m a very time-sensitive person, and the only place I feel that I am delving into the past is in the memory sections of the brain (the pre-frontal lobe [short-term] and the hippocampus [long-term]). Of course there are extant, exterior entities, such as an old photo or a “golden oldie” sound recording, even a scent, that can stir and augment memories.

A strange aspect of some memories is that they have made me imagine that the events which they relate still exist. Those particularly vivid memories, though very transient, are so palpable as to make their events’ extinction seem improbable. When I had such a memory unfold in my mind one day recently, I wondered where I would have to search to recover the event itself; but I quickly shook off that notion after realizing that every event has preceding and subsequent events, and I could not bring back that singular, desirable scene without also summoning its past and future. That enterprise would require a time machine.

Before you summon the guys in white coats, consider a few sentences from an article in last January’s Harper’s magazine. Titled “WHAT CAME BEFORE THE BIG BANG?”, the essay was written by MIT physicist and novelist (what a combination) Alan Lightman. Actually, in the sentences I will quote here, Lightman is referring not to his own cosmological theory but to one being investigated by another MIT scientist, Alan Guth, and California Institute of Technology physicist Sean Carroll. Their hypothesis, known as the “Two-Headed time theory”, according to Lightman, proposes that the order of our universe, then much smaller than an atom, “was at a maximum at the Big Bang; disorder increased both before and after…. (T)he forward direction of time is determined by the movement of order to disorder. Thus the future points away from the Big Bang in two directions. A person living in the contracting phase of the universe sees the Big Bang in her past, just as we do. When she dies, the universe is larger than when she was born, just as it will be for us. ‘When I come to understand that the reason I can remember the past but not the future is ultimately related to conditions at the Big Bang, that was a startling epiphany,’ said Carroll.

Lightman compares the expansion and contraction phases of the universe to that children’s toy, the “Slinky”, which, as he points out, “reaches maximum compression on impact, and then bounces back to larger dimensions. Because of the unavoidable fluctuations required by quantum physics, the contracting universe would not be an exact mirror image of the expanding universe; a physicist named Alan Guth probably did not exist in the contracting phase of our universe.” Still, there is always that wiggle room left by “probably”.

Lightman describes a few of other theories of the “origin” of the universe, none of which allow for the notion of time and therefore do not consider “before” and “after” and therefore are outside the province of my essay here. However, I do want to bring in one more analogy that Lightman uses to characterize the expanding/contracting phases of the universe: a movie of a glass dropped on a tile floor, shattering, then recombining and flying back up to the table top from which it fell. If I think of the glass shards as events in my life, and of the possibility that they are scattered now out there in the vastness of space/time, and that they might someday in the far-off future recombine to become those events again, then my dream, as I related above, of summoning memories is not so absurd as you readers might have judged earlier. Heh?

Present:

We are frequently advised by gurus of various varieties to “live in the moment” in order to be happy. Who am I to argue with that formula? Only it doesn’t work for me. Why?

Well, I think it’s partly a function of Fate: I don’t have any choice but to live in the moment, yet the present seldom smiles on me, definitely not for more than a few hours. The present, in fact, seems like the target on a dart board where missiles are continually bombarding. I keep looking for that day when I can proceed from arising to retiring without some, at the least, irksome or, at the most, catastrophic encounter. I can’t recall the last time I gamboled through such a day, although I feel certain there have been some, quite likely many such. They were just too long ago. (And here, I see, I can’t even write about the present without bringing in the past and the future: depending on one’s definition of “the present”, it seems impossible to separate it from those periods. Is the present this day, this experience, or really just this “moment”? )

Another problem with the “live in the moment” prescription, not just for me but for every adult, I believe, is that even in our most positive moments we have to consider future events: college, career, possibly marriage, elections, and retirement funding. A host of other, smaller concerns requiring decisions are scattered through our lives. As one old humorist expressed it, “Why does any man examine the teeth of a horse he is thinking of buying and yet forgo checking out his prospective bride’s teeth?”

Laying all that aside, just how do I confront the present? That is too big a question. I mean, in this time I cannot ignore the fact that many of the problems I have to face also stand before almost everybody else: crazy politicians rattling their sabers, oncoming weird weather disasters and famines, fanatical gun toters, out-of-control medical and housing prices, etc. I can’t limit all those problems to myself. The conundrum, then, for me is: How can I separate out what affects only me from what affects everybody else? I cannot totally and sensibly demarcate those boundaries. Yes, there are a few somewhat private health issues which I have, but even they, as types, also afflict at least some small portions of the population; how I weary of hearing a “comforting” friend utter, “Oh, that’s just part of getting old!” or “Yeah, that stuff has been going around lately!” Why cannot my current problem be mine…individual…alone?

Future:   

My, how the calendar has shrunk! It used to be the case that when someone reminded me that some event took place last year, I could imagine an expanse of time with body to it. Now “last year” seems like what we once-upon-a-time called “last month”. I’m not sure whether this change is due to aging in me or to a more encompassing phenomenon which Alvin Toffler described as the perception of “too much change in too short a period of time” in his book Future Shock back in 1970. If the latter, then it is really weird how external events can cause one’s notion of a calendar period to shrink. There is now a whole “scientific” field of people — called “futurists” — who gather data from a large array of sources to predict what the future holds. Simple crystal balls and astronomical charts are passé.

When one reaches an age as advanced as my own, he or she is confronted with the reality that their options have greatly shrunk. There is no point in our seeking another academic field or degree, although we might have fun and benefit from taking a “continuing education” course occasionally. And we might look at our overloaded bookshelves, count the books we haven’t read, and resolve for the nth time never again to enter that bookstore a few blocks away. I swear! I must have bought all those books just because they are so decorative! Oh me, oh my!

Nor are we to get married…not sensibly anyway. Oh, if we are very wealthy and are seduced by a beautiful, young “honey-pot” into being her “sugar-daddy”, we might find ourselves wandering down that church aisle or into that Las Vegas drive-thru wedding chapel. Or, if we are much less affluent, we might marry someone nearer our own age just because we each anticipate the other will at least nurse us through our final days. The latter case is a little less contaminated by folly or predatoriness but does retain some of the strategical about it: no hot romantic blood there certainly.

But there are other issues that affect not just me and my ilk but many, many other Americans. The news media daily reminds us that we have several potential, horrifying fates lying in wait for us — climate change disasters; the threat of religious and political radicalisms; dissolution of welfare programs, including Social Security; Alzheimer’s disease; and Donald Trump as president. And those are just the severest ones. Although we should not let them overwhelm us to the extent that we can prevent them from doing so, we still have to pay attention to them in order to prevent, or at least defend ourselves against, them. So, in that very deep sense we are attached to the future.

Finis

 

 

Phobias Revisited

© 2013, 2016 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.

Dear Readers:  Due to several current physical and financial stresses (might as well include “political” in that group), I haven’t the inclination to write up a fresh blog post right now. Yet it has been a week since my last one; and, lest you develop a panic, I thought of resurrecting one of my very early posts (from November 2013). And, since most of my current “followers” were not even reading this blog back then, I believe the piece can actually be seen as a “fresh refresher”.  Moreover, considering the heavy nature of some of my recent posts, it might even be a welcome relief in tone, because it is humorous…mostly. The original title was “A Cornucopia of Phobias”.
Enjoy!
                                                                ◊ ◊ ◊  ◊ ◊  ◊  ◊  ◊

In the small town (Pop. 5,972) where I reside, we have a senior center, where old folks like me can enjoy a generally well-balanced lunch five days a week — excepting federal holidays.

For a few months, a couple of ladies dressed as clowns came to the center’s lunch room once a month to hand out balloon sculptures and josh with the diners. After sitting through a couple of those experiences I quit going to the center on the day the clowns were scheduled to appear.

I stayed away for two reasons: one, I do not like to see elderly folks treated or spoken to as though they are the same as children; and, two, I have had, since early childhood, an aversion to clowns and to absurd appearances or speech in general. When I was six years old, I contracted measles and the small apartment where my mother and I resided was quarantined. Mother bought some 78rpm record albums to entertain me during my isolation. Most of them were very enjoyable, but one — a “Bozo the Clown” album — I could not stand; yet, I did not reveal my distaste to Mother because I knew she had meant only to amuse me.

At the time, naturally, my cognitive powers were not developed enough to connect my aversion to that album with a congenital aversion to clowns as a genus. As the years passed, however, and I showed a similar dislike of stories such as Alice in Wonderland, I began to suspect that my aversion practically amounted to a phobia. My recent emotional experience of clowns at the senior center caused me to face that reality in my psyche.

I characterized my reaction to clowns as “clownphobia” (the psychiatrists’ term for it is “Coulrophobia”); and I also realized that I have perhaps an excessive sensitivity to others touching me (Chiraptophobia, also Haphephobia), whether they are clowns or not: I have a very narrowly circumscribed “comfort zone”.

I wondered if everyone has at least one phobia, so I researched the matter. What I discovered was that the scientists prefer to restrict the term “phobia” and all its combined forms to perceptions that cause a disabling of the body, a paralysis; for the less affecting reactions, the scientists prefer the less clinical terms  “fear” and “aversion”. Also, I read where other persons had asked the same question about how universal phobias could be: the answer was that it is impossible to know absolutely because there are too many people in the world who live in inaccessible places, but that many people, if they do have phobias, do not admit as much. Do they really not have phobias, or do they suffer from fear of phobias (Phobophobia) and therefore deny any phobia’s presence?

Further into my research, I found that there are long lists of phobias, valid or not, on the Internet, and I was astounded at the extreme plenitude and variety of these reactions. I photocopied thirteen pages from one list so that I could study them easier. I did not try to count them, however, because one “phobia” could be denoted by more than one term; for instance, Domatophobia – fear of houses or of being in a house – is also referenced as Eicophobia and Oikophobia.

One of the most surprising aspects of the list I saw was that so many of the phobias related to such basic elements of civilization, Nature, and our own bodies that I could not imagine how people who suffered from them could continue through their daily lives. Consider, as examples, these: Agyrophobia – fear of streets or crossing the street;    Asymmetriphobia – fear of asymmetrical things; Bibliophobia – fear of books;  Chronophobia– fear of time; Dendrophobia– fear of trees; Eosophobia – fear of dawn or daylight; Epistemophobia (and Gnosiophobia) – fear of knowledge; Ergophobia – fear of work;  Heliophobia – fear of the sun; Kathisophobia– fear of sitting down; Lachanophobia – fear of vegetables; Microphobia – fear of small things; Noctiphobia – fear of the night;  Nomatophobia – fear of names; Ombrophobia – fear of rain or being rained on; Phronemophobia – fear of thinking; Euphobia – fear of good news;  Selenophobia – fear of the moon; Sitophobia (also, Cibophobia) – fear of food or eating; Somniphobia – fear of sleeping; Trichopathophobia (also, Chaetophobia, Hypertrichophobia) – fear of hair; Cardiophobia – fear of the heart; Geniophobia – fear of chins; Genuphobia – fear of knees; Ommetaphobia – fear of eyes; and Omphalophobia – fear of belly buttons.

There is a bunch more of those. However, let’s move on to phobias that I would not classify absolutely as “phobias” but, depending on the occasion, as justifiable fears or aversions. Under this heading, we can list: Arsonphobia – fear of fire; Atomosophobia – fear of atomic explosions; Ballistophobia – fear of missiles or bullets; Cnidophobia – fear of stings; Cynophobia –  fear of dogs or rabies; Herpetophobia – fear of reptiles or creepy, crawly things. Hoplophobia – fear of firearms; Iophobia – fear of poison; Lilapsophobia – fear of hurricanes and tornadoes; Acrophobia (also Altophobia) – fear of heights; and let’s not leave out Ephebiphobia – fear of teenagers; and Gynephobia (also Gynophobia) – fear of women.

A few phobias on the list puzzle me because I cannot fathom how anyone could comprehend them enough to feel threatened by them. In this category I include Amnesiphobia – fear of amnesia; Apeirophobia – fear of infinity; Astrophobia – fear of stars or celestial space; Barophobia – fear of gravity; Cometophobia – fear of comets; Dikephobia – fear of justice; Eleutherophobia – fear of freedom; and Kosmikophobia – fear of cosmic phenomena.

There is even a diagnostic for fear of everything: Panophobia (or Pantophobia). O Brother! If you suffered from that one, you’d want to dig a hole in the ground and have some friend cover you….But then you’d go berserk from Bathophobia (fear of depth) and Molysomophobia (fear of dirt) or from both together. That’s a “no win” situation. Let’s hope you don’t contract Panophobia.

Fortunately for me, it is not often that I encounter clowns, and they are usually easy enough to remain clear of. The Chiraptophobia (fear of touch by other people) is a bit more problematic; I don’t even like to shake hands. (Does anybody?) Many people think I am antisocial, which is not the case at all; I just have my “comfort zone” which I allow only adorable women to enter.

Adorable women. Of course.

Finis

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