Prismatic Thinking

When I was young, my mother bought iron-on patches to fill the holes I wore in my jeans. Those tough, adhesive-impregnated pieces of denim-like cloth probably extended the useful life of my jeans by a season or a year; I don’t remember just how long my jeans lasted after those fabric-based pieces of life-support were applied to them. Memories of those patches popped up this morning as I thought about the patches I’ve worn on and in my body over the years. I have scars on my chest and my belly and my back from surgeries that saved my life and permitted me to change my bad habits, thereby extending my life by years. I was permitted to change my bad habits; I did not always do it. I stopped smoking after bypass surgery, but I did not otherwise significantly alter my lifestyle. I did not (and do not) get sufficient exercise, nor is my diet suited to keeping my cholesterol nor my weight in check. After the surgery to remove cancer and a lobe from one of my lungs, I made a half-hearted attempt to “get healthy,” but it did not last. My intake of food and booze could be taken as evidence I am trying to die fat, with an abused liver. It’s always possible to change, but like the patches on my childhood jeans, there comes a point at which the patches no longer work; the denim is worn thin in too many places and the rips and tears in the fabric are too numerous to mend. And, besides, jeans go out of style, even for kids; they want to look stylish in chino or linen or corduroy or…whatever. We never know for certain when the patches no longer will hold. As we notice the fabric begin to fray and the patches deteriorate beyond repair, we wish we had taken better care of our clothes.


The superstructure of our society—the skeleton that provides support for the muscles and skin and organs that keep society functioning—is delicate. If any one of a number of “soft spots” were to be badly damaged, society could be injured badly enough that it would be barely able to limp along during its recovery. But if several pieces of cartilage and a number of tendons were torn or inflamed at the same time, society’s skeleton could not remain upright; it could stumble and fall. Its tumble could injure even more critical components, making its recovery questionable at best. It might be unable to regain sufficient strength to stand again. The soft spots today include the economy, the electrical grid, communications—including satellite communications, transportation systems (especially for food), and fresh water supplies and delivery systems.  Severe damage to any one of those systems could cause extreme hardships. Massive damage to several of them would be akin to breaking a hip, a shoulder, some ribs, and a couple of vertebrae. A single major disruption could cause enormous hardships, but we might be able to limp along in a “semi-normal” state until we were on the road to recovery. Multiple disruptions could be far worse; survivable only by those amply prepared for such extraordinary challenges. Preppers, in other words. People who anticipate disruptions to the electrical grid or food supply or water distribution systems or communications infrastructure…or all of them. People who stockpile enough fuel and food and water to last long enough to enable them to jumpstart their own sustainable food supplies (e.g., gardens, livestock) and find (and protect) sources of potable water. People who prepared by getting generators and solar electrical systems and batteries. As a large part of the country suffers with a monstrous—probably deadly—heat wave this week and next, many people are facing the distinct possibility of unreliable water supplies and unreliable electrical grids that could shut off live-sustaining air conditioners. Many of us may think of preppers as paranoid; the more I think about the fragility of the bones that support society’s flesh and blood, I begin to think of them as perhaps paranoid, but also as survivors. A friend encouraged me to think about “getting ready” for major social dislocations, “just in case.” Without doubt, it merits thought; I think it merits action, as well.


My thoughts and opinions often are contradictory. When I look through window panes, I wonder whether how different the view would be if those window panes were prisms, rather than flat sheets of  glass. Perspective can change everything. And, while I am in favor of seeing the world from different perspectives, I will be among the first to admit that looking at situations from different perspectives introduces delay and, often, dispute. Prisms display an almost endless array of colors; two-dimensional black and white becomes restrictive and uninformed.  This issue—the assessment of the world as if seen through a prism versus a flat sheet of glass—is a common theme in my thinking and my writing. And it came to mind as I thought about what I was writing this morning; the idea that past health-related decisions might have put us on an irrevocable path, versus the idea that anticipating and preparing for calamity may be extremely wise. A pessimistic view, versus an optimistic view of dealing with a pessimistic prediction. I wish I were smart enough to weave these competitive ideas into  a logical and understandable theory of living.


Another hard, often sleepless night. Awake at 2:15 for a couple of hours, then asleep for an hour before I finally rose for the day. Perhaps I should try sleeping pills.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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