The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Robert Parker RIP

Robert Parker, creator of Spenser, has died at the age of 77. He died at his word processor, I understand. That's a pretty fine way for a writer to go. I will always love him for Hawk, which character introduced me to the sublime Avery Brooks. Some years ago I was supposed to co-write Avery's autobiography, and had a chance to talk with him extensively about Spenser, and Parker...(and Deep Space Nine, too, but that's beyond the range of this morning's essay). I digress, really. Parker ran into the limits of Spenser many years ago--there is only so much a series character can ever grow without damaging the connection to the readers. So those novels became more perfunctory. The last time I read one, however, Hawk was edging toward being a fully-fleshed human being rather than an iconic aspect of Spenser's own psyche. Didn't matter. Their relationship was always the core of those books, more important even than his relationship with Susan. In my opinion, anyway.

Ah, well. He's gone. That actually stings.


1.2 Million years ago, human beings were almost driven extinct. Only about 18,000 of us on the whole planet, smaller than the breeding population of many "endangered" species.

The question I ask is: could we still have a racial memory of this time? On some deep level, might we remember how close we came to extinction? And might that still be driving many of our behaviors as a species? The drive to increase our population, even as the consensus among environmental scientists solidifies as "we have too many people, and are heading for a cliff"? I wonder.


Certainly, the pain and grief experienced in childhood affects us even as we walk about in adult bodies. I know of no complete human beings raised in love and nurtured without damage, totally loving of self and others. Such a being would be delightful, literally. "A creature of light." The wonder of a child and the mature vision of an adult. In some ways, isn't that what we wish for all our children?

And it's not to late to have that for ourselves, either. Meditation, for me, is being the water. Let me explain: there is an old parable, or demonstration, or something. Sometimes it's said to be about time management:

A teacher stands before his class with a large clear plastic beaker. He fills it with large rocks. "Is the beaker full?" He asks. And the class agrees it is full. He then pours in a bag of pebbles. "Is the beaker full now?" He asks. And the class agrees it is full. He then pours in a bag of gravel. "Is the beaker full now?" he asks. The class begins to grumble. He then pours in a bag of sand. "Is the beaker full now?" A few of them lift their hands, uncertain. He then pours in a beaker of water. "Is the beaker full NOW?"

The class rises as a group, seized the teacher...and when the police arrived two hours later, the beaker was, indeed, finally full...

No. I made that last part up. I just can't manage to be spiritual all the time: I wouldn't recognize myself. Anyway, you get it. This is used to explain why to do "the big things first" because if you start by filling the beaker with sand, you have no room for the big rocks. But there is another lesson.

Our psyches get filled with the psychic scabs from the damage we sustain over the course of our lives. Big and small, the disappointments, phobias, and guilt stuff fills our "beaker" until there is almost no room, and certainly little clarity.

I just got a note from an old friend who is spending more and more time confined to bed, in deep depression. The sum total of a life of disappointments, and an inability to focus upon the moments of grace and wonder.

When I meditate in the morning, oftimes I cannot see through the beaker. Too many rocks, too much gravel and sand. But "I" am not those things. I am the water. Poured into the beaker, the true essence of my existence slips between the chunks big and small. There is always room, if I eliminate my ego. Just for a few moments, every morning, my experiences do not define me. And here is the miracle: water is the greatest solvent on earth. When I slip between the spaces of experience, of thought and emotion, the grains of sand, the gravel, the pebbles and the stones dissolve, leaving only the beaker, shining and transparent to light.

And then, on the very best days, there is only the light.


Anonymous said...

"The drive to increase our population, even as the consensus among environmental scientists solidifies as 'we have too many people, and are heading for a cliff'?"

Human population growth has been levelling off world-wide for the past 20-30 years; current projections are that it'll flatten by 2050 at about 10 billion human beings. That's a lot, but it's not a "cliff". Given sane policies, 10 billion people can not only survive, but survive with style.

--Erich Schwarz

suzanne said...

if ten billion can survive with style
why are we having so much trouble at current levels. . .

Just back from seeing Avatar
of course
I loved it
especially the flora of Pandora
good anti-war anti-corporate greed
but as my dear Berserker friend sayas
they could have made it without any story line
like a NAtional Geographic Special
and it would have been great

and the preview for Tim Burton's Alice
assured that I'll be going to the theatre for that
as well

if you read the Science article
it causes many of those
"aggression against other tribes"
notions to dissipate
I think it more likely that m,any groups never saw anyone
outside their own tribe

Anonymous said...

Habit is a second nature...................................................

Anonymous said...

"if ten billion can survive with style why are we having so much trouble at current levels. . ."

For the same reason everybody isn't already practicing Lifewriting: rationality is feasible, but not yet common. That's not a reason for just giving up, though, or for declaring large quantities of human beings to be "surplus" humans.

--Erich Schwarz

Kevin said...

Enjoying your blog. I all ways like the story about rocks, gravel, pebble, sand, water. I like it best then the teacher pours in a beer instead of water with the moral being that no matter what you are doing/dealing with in life, there is all ways room for a beer.

Steven Barnes said...

Erich: don't expect people in the future to be any saner than they've been in the past. People are just people. Now...if you think 10 billion people can exist on this planet given typical human behavior as it has been displayed over the course of our history...that's an argument I'd love to hear. In all respect, your comment is an example of just the kind of thinking I suspect is connected to the near-dieoff.

suzanne said...

Erich: don't expect people in the future to be any saner than they've been in the past. People are just people.

rationality is not the total answer
compassion is obviously
a matter as much of heart as it is of mind

OT kinda:

today I reached
the fourscore and ten
it's nothing like I expected!
much MUCH pleasanter

I can still put
my ankles behind my neck;
I am in a passionate relationship;
I am tackling new skills;
haven't been to a doctor in at least two decades
(I monitor my own
BP and blood sugar
both of which are "normal to the max)
more than ever
and about to launch into
a major writing project


Ethiopian_Infidel said...

"rationality is not the total answer"

Correct. Reason provides an incomplete and error-prone model of reality. However, to echo Einstein on science, reason furnishes the best judgments and is the most useful and reliable tool for investigating the cosmos and for guiding our personal and collective actions.

"..if ten billion can survive.."

I don't relish an Earth with 10 billion humans. Even if such numbers can life comfortably (i.e. the maintain lifestyles typical of the Western Middle Classes), their consumption, refuse and lebensraum requirements might adversely impact numerous other species. Given that much of the population in crease is occurring in equatorial developing regions, I'm particularly anxious about potential detrimental impacts on delicate ecosystems such as tropical rainforests. My hope is that, as the Third World truly develops, its population growth will start to level off and subsequently decline, as did Europe's after the Industrial Revolution. Also, space transportation developments during the new century may permit the gradual transfer of humans from Earth to elsewhere in the solar system. While Terran Humanity may be destined to reach the 10 billion mark, we need not remain there.

Anonymous said...

My previous hyperlink to John McCarthy's arguments worked fine, so there is no particular reason to "refute" me by psychoanalysis; it would be far more relevant to read the arguments I was citing and then rebut them rationally (if possible).

I've replied at greater length to a more recent post ("Deep Phobic Memory").

--Erich Schwarz

Pagan Topologist said...

Fourscore and ten...Suzanne, are you really ninety years old?