Life is an oscillator

We felt the need to stretch our legs so walked the rail trail, north from Waterville. The afternoon was accompanied by a few broken clouds and the waning sunlight was sufficient to illuminate a number of Sycamores which formed a promenade along a low point in the riparian slope. Water reflected a number of trunks such that they, along with their seconds, formed something of a tunnel leading toward the Pine Creek Gorge. As I look at this image I get a real sense of movement. Of circles. And, given the time of year, perhaps that is appropriate. Though the Solstice is upon us, I will not discuss the tilt of the earth, the cycles of the seasons, or cycles of birth and death. How about my old hobby-horse which argues, Life is an Oscillator? I don’t know whether the saying is unique to me but I do know that the adage is universally experienced if not universally stated using just these words. I have always observed that one would be seriously mistaken to assume that our lives should mirror those of characters depicted in the movies. Have you ever noticed that those folks never go shopping, never have the need for a plumber’s helper, and never get flat tires or splinters? Life in the movies is replete with luxury cars, paid rent, beautiful teeth, and deep pockets. The real lives of real people aren’t anything like that for real life includes, for many of us, cars in need of repair, overdue rent, root canals, and maxed-out credit cards. Real life, as it is experienced by most of us has ups and downs. The ups are wonderful, to be sure. The fact which is lost to most folks however, is that the downs are every bit as expected. And here is where one of many problems with pop culture may lie. Most think that negative oscillations are not right, abnormal, or otherwise indicative of the fact that you’ve not tried hard enough or have done something wrong. Surely, no one likes the negative oscillations of life but, I repeat, they should be every bit as expected as the much-anticipated positive ones. And, perhaps, overcoming negative oscillations is the only way to experience the good life, in its best sense. I think it is fair to hope that in the long haul, and on all time scales, our lives will be a break-even proposition or, in the best of lucky circumstances, slightly above that axis defined by Positive – Negative = 0. Maintaining or even exceeding that breakeven, over extended periods, is difficult work but those in possession of personalities which are capable of turning negatives into positives are that much more likely to reach that upper, right-hand, quadrant.


37 thoughts on “Life is an oscillator

  1. This image is so beautiful, it almost hurts! Kahlil Gibran thought life was an oscillator too … a saying that I often repeat to myself when things are oscillating more than I’d like is by him: “The selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.” Basically, you can only feel happiness if you’ve previously known sadness, and vice versa.

  2. I have carried this saying of yours with me since my days at LHU. I haven’t thought about it in quite sometime! Thank you for the reminder. Turning negatives into positives is more important than ever as I try to embrace the emotional roller coaster which my life has become. Only a small handful of experiences in my life thus far can hold a candle to the highs and lows of motherhood. The image is stunning, by the way. Thanks again. Hope you and yours are doing well. Let’s catch up soon.

    • Wow! What a wonderful, wonderful, treat to see your name in my comments section. It made my day (for real). Although I have never been a mother, I am a father and I have lived with a mother for more than 27 years. I can say, from first-hand knowledge then, that what you are experiencing is entirely normal. Kids do change the equation – there’s absolutely no doubt. And, if you had told me otherwise, I would not have believed you. Your life before N had oscillations, but perhaps they were of smaller amplitude. This new life will oscillate with somewhat larger amplitude. No worries though, you and J are the best people and will smooth the tops off those low points and enjoy the highs, together with N, in such a way that will make them even more memorable. Hang in there and take lots and lots of pictures. N will grow faster than you will want her to, and 27 years from now you will wonder whether she was ever, in fact, the size she is now. Enjoy it all, and be well. Please keep in touch. D

  3. At one point, I had an oscilloscope when I was a ham radio operator. I am no longer sure what it did or how it would relate to this post. 🙂 I have to say, in defense of film, that I have seen many movies where the characters had a worse time of it than I … think Oliver Twist, for instance … although that turned out well in the end. But I know what you mean and agree completely. Coincidentally, I posted something similar on Facebook today … not mine, but something I saw and shared. More related to the idea that people get all worked up and sit in line at midnight two days before the new iPhone comes out or for Black Friday, but can’t find a moment to vote or go to a PTA meeting. Stuff is KING in society, not just here but all over and, like a heavy meal, the more we have the less observant and drowsy we become to what is real and what is hiding reality from us. Some people think that is intentional and a conspiracy. I doubt that things will be better any time soon … or ever. Ooops … there I go being the life of the party again. I like you image very much. It seems very familiar … like a scene I could have witnessed nearby sometime. It makes stick season look pretty.

    • I remember a wonderful t-shirt I saw some time ago. It showed a person sitting in a living room filled to the ceiling with things. The caption was ‘I want more stuff.’ I still say that the only thing we can do is to lead by example, in the hope that some may find our outlook and approach reasonable. What else can we do? I hope your back is a bit better today. D

      • Indeed … that is all there is for most of us. At one time, there was the possibility that a charismatic leader could get things on the right track, but those days are gone … besides, I’m pretty busy at the moment. 🙂 Thanks, yes the back is feeling much better. I had to sacrifice several shooting days, including the snow storm. So I am feeling well … just in time to return to work.

        • Don’t throw in the towel yet. Perhaps the future will be good to the eccentric among us! There’s always hope. I’m glad the back is back on track. Watch out for ice though. We’ve got some forming overnight.

          • We will have some frozen mix overnight, but it warms up and becomes rain for tomorrow. Nah, I don’t give up. I must say though that there are times when finding a nice cozy cave somewhere starts to sound attractive. 🙂

            • My ‘someday house’ sits atop a mountain … plunk in the very center of 1000 acres. Joanna has long wanted a gate at the bottom of the drive. What a pair!

              • 🙂 If I could, I would have a hobbit house on the top of a mountainside. Most mountain tops are rock, so that probably won’t happen. Although … a nearby mountain top has a Dr. Strangelove-type bunker that was to be a bomb shelter for the govamint should a nuclear attack happen back in the good ole days. Now, I believe, it is a bunker for bank records. I doubt that it will be available any time soon.

  4. You really struck it on its head, haven’t you? I remember, as a child, bringing home exams where I may have achieved as much as 20 or 30 per cent higher than the next highest grade in my class, but unless I got 100%, there was always displeasure and lectures about how I could do better. Never felt good, and the underlying message was that unless I could learn to jump from one high point to another – skipping the lows, the failures, and the learning process entirely – I was as good as ruined. I took heart in learning from other people that resilience was a much greater gift than perfection. I am currently rooting around in all the mess that has collected around my ideas of professional work, creativity and education/training. I’m still working out the process of allowing the oscillation to happen without feeling panic every time it slides down … this was much easier when I was doing work that others expected me to do. It feels a bit tangled and risky, doing work that I chose for myself. Glad you posted your thoughts here; they have the wonderful effect of reminding me to keep at it, to be accountable for cultivating patience and a resilient attitude for myself!

    • Glad this struck a chord M. For as long as I can remember our motto has been Patience and Perseverance. I think Joanna and I learned, early on, that nothing comes easy … period. All good things worth having must be earned through hard work and patience. Showing resilience in the face of all sorts of setbacks is one of those skills that takes time to learn well. And there’s nothing wrong with saying that you’ve learned to be resilient in the face of those setbacks. Did you see Elke’s Taleb quote … The reason schools fail to replicate real life is that they try to teach kids how to succeed, instead of helping them work with failure. Also, perhaps I am taking the phrase out-of-context or reading it incorrectly, but I liked rooting around in all the mess that has collected. I read it as an attempt to sort the details and contexts of our individual histories which have the result which is us. I like to think that, from time to time, I try to do the same … it’s difficult work. D

  5. I believe dealing with so-called negative aspects of life or so-called failure is perhaps a better predictor of success than anything else, like talent or perseverance. Or maybe perseverance is a consequence resulting from such resilience. Maybe even “talent” is.

    Nassim Taleb, master of the aphorism, tweeted yesterday: “The reason schools fail to replicate real life is that they try to teach kids how to succeed, instead of helping them work with failure.”

    • I’m sorry my message got lost among all the words Julie. I was trying to get across the idea that life has ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ and that although the ‘ups’ are delightful the ‘downs’ are just as normal and are simply a part of life. We just hope, over the course of our lifetime, that the ‘ups’ outnumber the ‘downs.’ Have a great day. D

  6. Oscillating – it’s like the balance between success and failure. We have to teach our kids that to truly enjoy success they must learn to fail graciously. There’s too much wrapping them up in cotton wool (just like your little wispy cloud) these days that we are creating generations of disappointments.

    • I cannot remember where Joanna heard the story, but it told of an entire generation (or two) of kids who grew up insulated from the world, in general, and failure in particular. As adults these ‘kids’ expect perfection and success without much effort (because they became used to perfection … or at least having been told that they were so). Apparently the trend began after the Tylenol scare of 1981 … do you remember it? Apparently we (not you and I, of course) became overprotective parents, in part, as a result of the social response to that event. In any case, learning how to deal with failure is one of those important life lessons. For how can one expect to navigate life without encountering failure? It’s as natural as success. The real winners among us accept the successes graciously and learn to deal with failures in constructive ways. D

      • Ah yes, those two generations exist. Four years ago I had the unhappy experience of teaching summer school at a local college. The classes were remedial, designed for students the college had accepted provisionally, the provision being that the students remedy deficiencies in basic algebra. I found that most of the students knew almost nothing, even about arithmetic, and had an expectation of being passed along the way they had always been in elementary and secondary school. One girl who failed the first couple of tests by a wide margin and who wasn’t doing much homework sent me an email saying she was sure she could still get an A. Talk about being disconnected from reality. My unhappy experience had me wanting to shout, “Reality to student, where are you? Come in please. Do you read me?”

  7. Gorgeous color and clarity. Aren’t blue and orange opposites on the color wheel? Great contrast. I can see the circular imagery you describe. I also see the bank of trees on the left and their reflection in the water … the positive and the negative with the embankment in the middle … the break-even point you describe. A wise patient of mine told me that we should wish for an ordinary life filled with extraordinary people. I think you’re on the way! Just finished off the pecan pie. June is asleep (we are babysitting overnight to give S/J 24 hours off!). Time for a nice hot shower and to bed!

      • You are quite right. Everything is good in my world when I see that little ray of sunshine. They stopped by my office yesterday to drop off some reprints and the minute J saw me she broke into a huge smile and reached out to hug me. Pure joy. And yes. The fit pitching has already happened. We took her into a store at the mall for a quick purchase and I let her hold/touch a bunch of breakable holiday ornaments. When I decided that we’d better leave while nothing was broken she pitched her fit. No matter. She is still easy enough to scoop up and make for a hasty retreat!! 🙂

    • Hey there Charlie … I really liked it too. You know there are times, when looking through that viewfinder, when you think Hmm, just another mundane image. And then there are times, when you look through that same viewfinder, that you’re able to think to yourself, This one is going to be a keeper, for sure. This was one of those times. We had broken clouds and the valley I was in was only illuminated when the clouds passed to let the sun in. All the while I was looking through the finder, playing with exposure, playing with composition, and adjusting the position of my tripod … I was aware of small fluctuations in the amount of ambient light. I kept praying that it would stay bright just long enough to get a shot I was happy with. I recorded 49 separate images of the same scene and this was one of them. I’m so glad that you agree that this was a nice shot. D

    • OMG … don’t forget those weeks, months, and … even years. One can only hope that the period (as opposed to frequency) of oscillations with negative amplitude are of short duration. D PS: You and I have discussed this metaphor so often that it occurs to me that perhaps I should have mentioned you are co-discoverer.

      • Oh no, I could never take any credit at all for that! I presumed that you guys had developed that philosophy years before I came along. At most, I was a convert and another source of data 🙂

  8. Dave, there must be a wormhole between NL and PA because your thoughts jive so much with my own today. I suppose some would call it “balance” and maybe others would even steer it around to the whole idea of karma. Not me; although I do feel that since we’re all free agents in the wonderful silly circus we know as life, we do have some control over the outcome; that is, wise, skillful actions do tend to have the desired outcome (but not always ’cause sometimes life’s a bi*ch, as we know. My buddy Alf puts it best, I think. He noted to me once that we should act like we always have two buckets, one called “good” and one called “bad.” Each time we take something from the first we also need to take an equal amount from the second. Sometimes, if we fail to do it, life has a way of just dumping #2 right over us (I hope you enjoy the play on words here, as it’s intentional). Loved the post (as you can tell) and am – as always – mesmerized with your image. Cheers!

    • I uploaded the image a couple of days ago and spent some time writing yesterday. [Isn’t it interesting that it requires a mere fraction of a section to capture the image and, often, hours constructing the prose which accompany it.] This morning, after Holiday guests had departed, I looked over what I had and asked Joanna if I should simply punch the ‘delete’ key and say something simple like … Took a walk yesterday. It was surely a fine day. … and be done with it. She said, No, it’s a blog … say what’s on your mind. So I did. I’m glad the sentiments struck a chord for they surely do with me. My assuredness however is tempered by that proverbial double-edged sword for I know, when things aren’t going well, that time will surely bring brighter fortunes .. but I also find myself looking over my shoulder each time I find myself enjoying something or feeling lucky or fortunate. It seems that I haven’t yet figured out how to be happy for any extended period. Down times are dark … and good times are clouded by the expectation of negative oscillation. Perhaps I am simply a pessimist? I am so glad you enjoyed the text and the image … makes this blog well worth the investment in it. D

        • Yup. Truth-be-told … I do manage a good laugh every now and again … and have even been known to think (to myself, of course) that ‘Life is good.’ Perhaps there is hope for me yet.

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