Archive for June, 2022


“I want my Daddy!” dreamtime-me cries out to whatever enclosure encapsulates this happenstance.  It doesn’t answer, the only response a reverberation.  Night terrors are interesting bedfellows but do not substitute for the real people we miss, want, even need, to revisit.  I am desperate to write about that larger than life man but procrastinate with every excuse imaginable.  My stories resist telling about his shadow side, not that it ever wished me ill nor purposefully caused me harm.  Why then do I put this off, scribing snippets of the whimsical father at home, sharing family fun, tutoring daughter determined to walk in his steps, later nobly caring for aging mother?  That is easier than explaining how he forgot to divorce my own mother before he married, one after another, five other women, all while Mommy and I lived destitute.  She was stuck with a child to support, and no marketable skills beyond poetry and piano playing.  I was twisted into a love/hate conflict with a Daddy who was gone—long gone—fodder for night terrors.

But daytime memories are different: I open my front door and moan, “Just look at this mess.  There’s no way I’ll ever get it set to rights.  It’s impossible!”  That’s a lie we tell ourselves all too often when presented with a formidable task.  Of course a large and complex assignment is daunting.  Big jobs are like that.  They challenge; they intimidate; they terrorize— but they all have a secret weakness that is waiting to be exploited.  They can be subdivided into accessible units.  I learned this gem of wisdom from my genius inventor father, when during one joint endeavor I quailed at the prospect of turning a complex electronic schematic into a printed circuit board etch pattern.  “I’m not that smart,” I protested.  “It’s too complicated.”

“You’re smart enough,” Daddy insisted.  Anyway, you don’t have to be smart—just tricky.  He slid a pen from his always-at-the-ready pocket protector and began laying lines on the drawing.  When he was finished, the fraught circuit was understandable as several simpler, much less intimidating ones.  He labeled them for me so I could visualize how they interacted: Power Supply, Splitter, Invertor, Oscillator, Amplifier.  Suddenly I perceived the job as something doable.  Divide and conquer is more than an art of war; it can organize energy to accomplish otherwise impossible tasks.

Back to the mess, detritus of a human family doing what it does so well.  As I dealt with the inherent mayhem of parenting three small children, I often reached back to access practical guidance remembered growing up in a tech-savvy family.  Daddy analyzed everything; only then would he proceed with what must be done, but he always gave it his own special twist. 

A typical example was fly-catching in the Martin household.  When the annoying drone of the buzzing invaders reached exasperation level, Kelsey Martin fly-tracker beyond compare donned his safari hat, plugged in the Hoover Vacuum with its extra-long extension tube and set out on a small-game safari.  He delighted in this creative play, experiencing the thrill of the hunt, the suspense of creeping up on an oblivious prey, and the final denouement of the kill, one more dastardly house-fly sucked into oblivion.  He would crow with triumph at every winged trophy sucked into the tube, through the hose, into the dust bag of history, consigned to non-existence as an entity that had lived for the sole purpose of annoying Kelsey Martin.

This escapade always attracted a following.  As Daddy prosecuted his war on flies, we kids trailed behind, a rowdy retinue, cheering, jeering, getting in the way, tripping over power cord and vacuum hose, wanting only to be part of this Pied Piper’s parade.  It didn’t matter that there was only one vacuum cleaner; and that it was only Daddy who wore the cool hat; our merry band followed, laughing all the way.

Any task that Daddy despised, he redefined.  He turned boring into fun.  Perhaps most memorable and long reaching was putting on his pants.  I would have learned the best way to insert legs into trousers long before I was fifteen had I not been living with my aunt and uncle in Texas.  Soon after arriving at my new Long Island home, Daddy enlightened me with respect to the art of drawing on lower garments creatively.  “It’s an improved method,” he explained, “More efficient, easier on the low back, and fun to boot.”  He demonstrated: Sitting on the edge of the bed, positioning trousers waist agape, he folded knees to chest and leaned far, far back, as pants sailed aloft, he thrust both feet into their proper garment legs.  When he rolled forward into starting posture, his pants were as good as on.  All that was needed was to stand, draw them up, button, zip, and buckle.  “There,” he exclaimed, patting the buckle for effect.  “That’s how it’s done.  It works the same for under-drawers or panties.  Leaning forward, while you’re lifting legs one at a time, can strain your back.”

OK.  I got the picture.  During the ensuing years, I have, every morning, put on my panties, bloomers, leggings, jeans, shorts, or slacks, legs in tandem.  It’s impossible to daily reenact this bit of whimsy without a smile, as I remember my dad earnestly explaining to a wide-eyed adolescent; how taking a creative approach to even the mundane chores of life can be the birthright of even a lost-and-found daughter.

All these many years later, I still despise housecleaning.  It’s boring.  It has to be done over and over again day after day after day—a quotidian quagmire.  No-one asks you to take a bow for how well you scrubbed the floor or stacked folded diapers.  It’s a thankless task and not the least bit fun.  But then I invented “The Housecleaning Game.”  It changed everything.  Since it was a game, I convinced my children to play it with me, Tom Sawyer style.  That contrived to assure their cooperation, and it was easier and faster with extra hands.  I had learned from my Dad that work ought to be fun.  Any way a job can be structured to achieve that goal is worth any amount of up-front creative sweat effort.

So—I drew a floor plan layout of the entire house including furniture, and superimposed a grid over it.  Next, I labelled each grid square.  Those labels, I dulicated onto paper squares, and loaded them into a tall, pottery jug, along with additional whimsical assignments such as: Eat five M&M’s; Take a 30 minute nap; Mop the kitchen floor; Sing a song; Run around the house twice; Have a spot of tea; Share three of your many blessings with somebody you love a lot.

So far so good.  Each player must choose, eyes closed, a slip of paper from the dark interior of the jug.  There’s the possibility of being instructed to munch sweets or perform calisthenics.  More likely it will be a grid square number.  This is the point at which the player feel the weight of the impossible task lift from shoulders.  The player must address what is in that grid square and only that.  No work may be accomplished outside of that square.  Like an observant Jew savoring Sabbath rest, a player is relieved of the guilt that naturally accrues to not performing the whole impossible task.  Even God rested on the seventh day.  Must we humans do more?  I remember the fun of carefully making up the lower right quadrant of the bed, carefully eschewing the remaining three quadrants, which must, in the benevolent order of things, await their turn.

Like Daddy repeatedly said, “Most things aren’t impossible, only lacking imagination, an ingredient which is always in generous supply.”  But having an endless source of vision can be daunting, as night after night’s dreaming attests and revisits.  My job is to integrate both fathers—the one in my dreams, and the one in my nightmares—into what is right and real.  Then he can indeed rest in peace, and so can I.  Memorializing my father can surely be accomplished as long as I tell his story one complicated chapter at a time, and be sure to have fun doing it.

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A Taste of Salt

Here we are again.  Sleeping.  Dreaming.  Getting ready for who knows what.  Nobody is saying, but here we are.  Mary, my long dead mother is central to whatever is underway.  Not as if she is calling shots or knows the strategy involved, but she is determined to be there, and do it there in my dream.  Water is a player.  It does what water always does, buoys, supports, lubricates, terrifies.  Then it provides a common denominator that cannot be denied.  It is the obverse of salt.

Suddenly I am in the water, sinking, fearing lack of breath.  Mary is already there, abandoned to the depths.  I must save her.  I find a fruited kelp on the seabed and put it to her lips.  She tastes of the salt, and that makes the difference.  With that sentient taste of truth, she knows that she can breathe the water.  All that is needed is to inhale and have faith.

With that knowledge in tow I dive, pluck my own salty fruit, bite it with loving abandon and breathe.  Then I understand that I too have died.  That’s all that was needed—to know that death was the salt that answered my prayer and gave permission to draw a different kind of breath.  My mother is helping me to make that frightening transition, and this repeating dream is rehearsal for what is sure to come and soon.

But then I woke to another day—a real day—showered off the sleep, and pointed my 2009 Equinox to the rising sun.  My wheels and I set off to stage a visit with my eldest son, the rural mail carrier in “Almost Heaven” West Virginia.  State Route 32 didn’t disappoint.  The eighteen-wheelers who have finally discovered its quiet charms mostly behaved, and the drive was pleasant, even shared with the roaring behemoths and their necessary loads.  Dale seemed pleased to greet my safe arrival, and the Memorial Day weekend began apace. 

His big surprise was his new toy, a monster he called a “side-by-side.”  I later found out that it had a proper name, being Kawasaki TERYX 1000.  Google hacked it up, and there it was, mimicking the real thing.  The mechanism seemed almost totally given over to suspension, with each wheel totally isolated and on its own to sort out gravity.  No matter how uneven the terrain, all four wheels maintain ground contact and traction.  He backed it out of its garage and didn’t ask if I was up to a ride.  He just said, “Climb in.”

I did.  There was even a seatbelt.  Country folk don’t believe in helmets, so I committed to the necessary reality of wind parting hair. Dale translated into the skeletal velocipede, and the savvy suspension dealt with the startling differential between our body weights.  No problem.  Then my head snapped back to impact the high seat-back, and it was full speed ahead—up, down, and around wherever pointed and gassed.  We were a noisy blur of Kawasaki green and black that went by fast—like come and gone. It was fun and more than exhilarating, but then he said, “I want to show you something.”  We clamber-rolled straight at a near vertical eight foot embankment and crunched to a stop with the beast’s nose poking right at the grassy wall.

“So?  Now what?” I croaked.

“Watch!” he said and flashed me a Dale grin.  A change of gear and it was straight up the bank.  No grinding,  hesitating, or slipping.  Just up, up, up, over, and away.  Then he charged into the woods at speed, whipping in and out between trees, scaling forested hills with no concession to the vagaries of terrain, skirting the edges of cliffs as we assaulted the pristine beauty of the Appalachian woodland.  That was when I caught a passing enlightenment.  I didn’t want to die.  I wasn’t ready.  Not yet.

“Be careful!” I squalled.  “I’m too young to die!”  I had thought that I had had enough of this getting old stuff, and any morning I didn’t wake up would be just fine.  But now I know better.  When rocking along the edge of a cliff-side aerie and facing the possibility of immanent extinction, I’m not ready.  There’s too much on my do-list.  A trip to Dale’s mountain hideaway is always good for putting things into perspective.  Breathing salt water with my sainted mother’s ghost will have to wait.  I’ve got a lot more living to do.

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I was on top of the world.  At least that’s what it felt like, having gone as high as I could go in my chosen career field without more impressive credentials.  I poured myself a cup of engineering room brew, filled a chair in the Project Manager’s office, and settled down for a chat.

“Am I smart?” I muttered—a query more floated on the air than asked.  Jack Cherne, our grand old man, chief engineer of the NBCRS (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical Reconnaissance System) was the object of my question.  TRW (Thompson Ramo Wooldridge) had just successfully completed the DOD (Department of Defense) top secret program, and we were heady with success.  He shot me a smirk, leaned back, hands cradling the nape of his fuzzy old neck, and crossed his ankles.  Comfort arranged and assured, he proceeded to pontificate.

“Not bull-dozer intelligent—but clever.  I’ll grant you that.  A clever girl you are.”  He elaborated his contention, but I wasn’t listening.  I was busy fuming.  It was the kind of sexist, ageist, grandfatherly benevolent statement I should have expected, but given all that had so recently occurred, I had hoped for more.  Jack had seen it all, knew it all, and helped our team get through it all.  If I could get a straight answer from anybody, it would be from him.  I was forty-seven, hardly a girl, and more of me had adhered to development of the NBCRS sampler concept than any other program participant.  But I was a long way from being sure of myself.  I wouldn’t be arguing with Jack that day—or any day.

NBCRS as it relates to me, a very small fish in that pond, started with announcement of the program, to be proposed as a bid package to the US Army’s Tank and Automotive Command (TACOM).  When Bill King our department manager announced the proposal, everyone was jazzed.  He framed it as a design contest.  Any and all of us were welcome to submit ideas.  The task was to gut and refurbish an M-113 APC (Armored Personnel Carrier) so as to render it capable of entering a contaminated environment, collect samples, test them, and mark safe routes through any suspected death zone.

A well-connected whiz-bang design engineer, Colin Hart, had been posted to our team, with the assumption he would control the concept phase of the work.  But even so, King assured all of us that our input was solicited and would be given the credence it deserved.  Our group, always responsible for hardware design, caught the cresting wave of his excitement.  We departed the meeting deep in thought.  The next few weeks went by with several preliminary layouts rising to a level of interest but eventually set aside.  I thought a lot about the problem, spending many hours digesting the customer specification from TACOM.  That tome, even just paper bound, weighed nearly four pounds on the mail-room scale.  With all those requirements and parameters swimming in my brain, any possibility that fit seemed too complicated.  I futzed with the problem but scribed not a single line.  Some guys drew up a storm but were disqualified because they hadn’t read the spec.

Colin jumped right onto a computer terminal and began his layout, making the most of our CADAM (Computer Augmented Design and Manufacturing) system.  His layout took shape, looked impressive, and eventually usurped a table in the design bay— a full scale prototype.  I watched him assemble what seemed to be coming together as a Rube Goldberg joke, with way too many parts, that relied way too much on what produces falling apples.  This machine was to traverse a battlefield environment.  Gravity was not assured to be ever on our side in a conflict.  Finally a simpler better solution began to swim into my “clever girl” cranium.

On the day of our PDR (preliminary design review), I woke up early, buzzing with an idea that seemed like it could do the job and would leave nothing to the vagaries of falling fruit.  It was not yet committed to paper, but I was full to bursting with “possible.”  The breakfast meeting started on time.  I scored a seat next to the old man.  Getting the ear of such a power broker was something that didn’t happen to me—to people like me—a woman.  Maybe I gave luck an assist, grabbing that chair before somebody else beat me to it.  I don’t even remember.  But there I was; there all of us were.  The meeting played itself out.  We ate our eggs and Canadian bacon, drank a good many cups of Hyatt coffee, and commenced listening to a litany of endless tech-speak.  Surrounded by colleagues, I defended my well-positioned seat, and my eyes did not glaze over.  During the entire presentation, I was hard at work.

My breakfast napkin, flattened and smoothed, served as a platen for a coalescing concept.  A Hyatt logo pen sketched this graphic:  Two gear-rotated garage door style springs, mounted at the rear of the M-113, drag through a dirty battlefield.   Two flexible smooth silicone rubber ropes pass through the springs protruding to acquire contaminants while sliding along suspect terrain.  When one spring is up, presenting its sample to the on-board spectrophotometer for on-the-move analysis, the other spring is down, trailing along possibly contaminated ground.  The cycle assures that one spring or the other is always down, guaranteeing that no opportunity to sample contamination is missed.  The rubber rope is fed from two pre-wound cassettes, unrolling from their pockets recessed in the floor of the vehicle, played out continuously through the two reciprocating-arc spring arms.  After each sample is processed, an automatic cutoff severs that length of rope and jettisons it.  The entire cycle is automated under on-board command and control.

Satisfied with my sketch, I tapped Mr. Cherne’s shoulder and pointed to my busy napkin.  He glanced down, raised eyebrows, leaned in, and began puzzling it out.  He took the napkin and spread it flat between our two breakfast plates.  Nobody seemed to notice our quiet whispers.  Then he nodded, pocketed the napkin, and went back to following the blow-by-blow of the PDR.  I had no idea what he was thinking but he seemed mellow as he sat there smoothing his beard hairs.

The prepared PDR mostly described the plan to place a soldier in survival gear on his belly and working with gloved hands that protruded from the back of the unit, manually sampling what was passing below.  It seemed a cumbersome even dangerous  way to do the job, and I hoped they would stir about for something more elegant.

I sat, mentally castigating myself for being so late to the table of bright ideas.  Colin was all set to present his layout, and I was literally nowhere.  After several more managers had their say, it was Jack’s turn, as Program Manager, to make a summation.  He rose and bounded up to the speaker’s platform, his gait belying any assumption he might be operating past his prime.  He pulled the inked napkin out of his suit coat pocket and announced what was going to happen next.  His eyes sparkling, he waved my scribbled napkin and told a story of a girl with an idea—one he called amazing.  What he described was what we had just whispered about over bacon, eggs, and hash browns.  Had he called me a woman instead of a girl, I would have been ecstatic. 

The Bird Colonel, who was the planned recipient of all this information, seemed to enjoy the nerdy irony of it all, and approved the change of plan.  Poor Colin never even got to mount the stage.  His clunker disappeared and was never heard from again.  I was left to suffer with my guilt for having disadvantaged a good engineer who simply had a bad day, as well as delighting in my glee from selling my own bright idea.  Things are never simple.

The entire program was similarly and delightfully fraught.  It was concept development of the sort inventors dream about.  Every problem encountered was but an opportunity for another wild ride.  One of many examples was handling flag emplacement from within the sealed interior environment while dressed in Mop IV Gear (ie. sort of like a space suit.)  My gadget presented a single flag staff directly into the gloved hand of the operator so he could then poke that staff into a cleverly constituted base that when deployed would hopefully self-right onto rough terrain.  The flag shaft slid through the phallus-shaped shaft of my clever flag-staff presentation device and became an excuse for much ribald humor.

It’s interesting how often sexual ideation enters production of creative hardware design.  Male and female screw threads have ever been the subject of lascivious palaver.  I don’t know if this is a universal.  I can only attest to my own odd proclivity to grasp the connection and suffer attendant embarrassment.  My introduction to such inappropriate confabulation started in a 1968 organic chemistry class at the University of Dallas.  The professor insisted on investing every atom with a male or female gender identity depending on its plus or minus charge status.  He then would describe in prurient detail just what happened during the subject exchange.  I cringe in remembrance.

The NBCRS Surface Sampler was detailed precisely from my coffee-stained napkin sketch, which I quickly turned into a complete CADAM scale layout.  It was an education for me, a designer who was used to managing development of my inventions personally.  Working in support of production always had offered opportunities for building bright ideas into hardware while shepherding the entire project through completion and implementation.  NBCRS was my first time stepping into design of actual product, not just tooling, for the military industrial complex.  I had to move over and share clout.  It wasn’t my baby—only my invention.

It was a different world.  Every item no matter how inconsequential had to be documented, specified, enumerated, sequenced, and controlled, as part of the system of military specification.  I had no idea how complex this was to be.  When my Dad and I had worked an idea, we just drew it, built it, tested it, and let ‘er rip.  This was something else entirely.

Every system, every assembly, every component, no matter how small, had its own drawing and number that defined and controlled it, positioning it in the overarching tree of military/industrial graphics.  Such stringent detail wasn’t my cup of tea.  TRW knew it; I knew it.  I didn’t complain when they gave me a quiet corner for dreaming up new ideas, more exciting stuff to prototype.  I was happy.  Some days I didn’t lay a single line—just stared down a blinking screen.  They were OK, as long as those wildebeest kept stampeding across my river.  Bill King let me change my schedule, coming in at six AM while the city slept, and I made the trip from Orange County to Redondo Beach and Space Park in a mere thirty-seven minutes.  The security guard got to know me as the lady who just couldn’t wait to get to work every morning. 

I soon understood the drill.  I was to produce scale layouts of concepts.  The detail drafting was swiftly assigned to drawing experts who had been generating military specs since first they hired on as career drafters.  They were amazing!  They grabbed my sampler machine scale layout and ran with it.  I, on the other hand, accepted the obvious: TRW was willing to let me do what I do.  I began managing the sampling piece of the NBCRS program.  Being involved at that level opened the way to a string of afterthoughts.  CADAM and I drew them up, and they were soon prototypes. I was having more fun than a human being should be allowed to have.  At 2:30 every afternoon I got to leave for the day.  Life was very, very good.

It was too good to last forever.  We turned s completed NBCRS prototype over to the Army.  I would never know how it fared on the field of battle.  Just because the Sampler was my baby doesn’t mean I should be allowed to monitor its career.  My Top Secret clearance wasn’t enough.  “Need to Know” was also a requirement.  I had absolutely no need to keep up with its exploits on the modern battlefield.  I dutifully filled out the Invention Disclosure form, relinquishing forever whatever perceived interest I may have had in the machine, and that was that.

Other programs came and went.  For a while I had to figure out why the doors fell off the Peacekeeper missile every time it was fired.  It involved digging deep into controlling documents, analyzing the hardware they described, generating a CAD scale layout that proved how parts were failing to properly interact.  The U S of A cannot have the doors falling off its missile deployments.  I ended up with a box of drawing copies and an answer.  A letter to my department manager finalized the assignment, and I was on to the next thing.

Proposals were the best.  A group of creatives were chosen, isolated under security detail, and given budget and time to dream up a proposed design.  Proposal assignment was opening a door to possibility.  It was undefined.  That was understood.  A customer specification controlled, but it said what it must do, not how.  That was up to us.  We hashed that out among ourselves.  Each team member was expected to bring a certain area of expertise to the endeavor, but that didn’t confer any power or assign any territorial imperitive.  The strength of any idea was inherent.  I hung my concepts on the wall, in the spot designated for my part of the effort.  Once every day, the entire cohort “walked the walls.”  Anyone could ask questions; Anyone could answer them.  Anyone could suggest changes or explain why something might be a problem or how it might be done better.  I, a mere BS, could take to task a PhD or any level of manager if I could marshal my facts.

I will never forget the specter of a proposal manager consoling a BSEE (Bachelor of Science Electrical Engineering) as she sobbed and wiped her eyes following a walking of the walls.  She was irate that I had prevailed in my unique concept for an electrical network.  I had no right, certainly no electrical creds, but my concept was better.  I won.  It’s too bad that this work was so often a zero-sum-game, identifying a winner and a loser.  There ought to be a way to define it as just progress.  Even though I complain, we should celebrate such an altercation between two assertive educated women on such a once forbidden platform.  In spite of ourselves, we remained friends.

What goes up must come down.  A concept well accepted in aerospace.  Politics change.  Money disappears.  RFP’s (Requests for Proposal) dry up, and people like Bill King must spend their days conjuring make-work to keep their people busy.  Erstwhile program managers are spied pushing brooms down hallways.  I was given stacks of drawings to be itemized as alpha-numeric lists on computers also being kept machine-busy and budget-justified.  It’s hard to be patient with make-work, even harder to be grateful, since it was a sign they wanted to retain—not lay off.  Weeks might go by while I drew my full salary but did essentially nothing to earn it.  And I wasn’t learning a thing.  That was the hardest part. 

If I had been smart, I would have hung in there, been patient, where they liked my work and were willing to let me be more than a bit eccentric.  But, like Jack Cherne maintained, I wasn’t smart, just clever.  After only five years at TRW, I decided to throw it all up and buy a book store—another adventure entirely.

******** THE END *******

TRW Inc. was an American corporation involved in a variety of businesses, mainly aerospace, automotive, and credit reporting.  It was a pioneer in multiple fields including electronic components, integrated circuits, computers, software and systems engineering. TRW built many spacecraft, including Pioneer 1, Pioneer 10, and several space-based observatories.

The company was founded in 1901 and it lasted for more than a century until being acquired by Northrop Grumman in 2002.  It spawned a variety of corporations, including Pacific Semiconductors, the Aerospace Corporation, Bunker-Ramo, Experian, and TRW Automotive, which is now part of ZF Friedrichshafen. TRW veterans were instrumental in the founding of corporations like SpaceX.

In 1953, the company was recruited to lead the development of the United States’ first ICBM.  Starting with the initial design by Convair, the multi-corporate team launched Atlas in 1957. It flew its full range in 1958 and was then adapted to fly the Mercury astronauts into orbit. TRW also led development of the Titan missile, which was later adapted to fly the Gemini missions. (Wikipedia)

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I, Eye, Aye

The gaze between persons is powerful.  I have watched it work as human persons process the possibilities of relating.  Because my mother taught me well how to read her eyes and face, I am adept at reading others’ faces.  I look at you and see you looking at me.  There is a lock.  I read your feelings, as I feel my feelings, now the products of our interactive gaze.  You read my feelings.  I read you, reading me, reading you, reading me—all the way to infinity.  There is bottomless depth in a gaze, like two mirrors reflecting between each other in endless imaging.  I am changed by what I see in your eyes.  I see that you perceive me to be an interesting, perhaps even capable, person.  I am inspired to become an even more interesting and more capable person.  You read my feelings of happiness and interest and appreciation and decide to like me.  I see that you read me, and I feel even happier.  You see my happiness and I see yours.  We are pregnant with each other’s happiness.  There is mutuality.  That’s how strangers become friends.

Beyond acknowledgement of gaze is its analysis.  Gaze is a combination of eyes plus surround.  A naked eye is only a stare.  Humans are revolted by stare.  They feel assaulted—visually raped.  A stare is looking without any softening hint of expression.  Nothing is as repulsive as an eyeball extracted from its socket and positioned on a neutral surface poised to watch—watch you.  It is a metaphor of perfect irony.  It sees nothing; in seeing nothing it sees everything. Contemplation of a naked eyeball makes it easy to understand how it’s the surround that defines nuance.  The soft texture of the face is a subtle canvas that offers as much to human apperception as does the rainbow of smell to the articulate nose of a dog.

What can be read in a face is mostly about the shape shifting of soft tissue, which explains why humans are so repulsed by the less-than-loving gaze of an insect.  The Praying Mantis is a favorite due to its fortuitous posture, not its soulful expression.  The common housefly, so universally hated, carries a cap of many eyes that see in all directions, wary of incipient swatters and wanting only to evade the precipitous denouement of the splat.  There is no facial nuance to accompany its approach to survival.  It’s all live; let-live is immaterial.

Bare skin is best constituted to convey expression.  Tender thin tissue that surrounds the eye most closely is associated with the gentle tension of “concern.”  It is there, waiting to be accessed by observing eyes—eyes that “want to know.”  The eyelids are less subtle but equally articulate.  They tighten with suspicion and report wariness.  While a dog, with its whole body covering of hair, excepting the occasion of raised hackles, is more circumspect about tissue tension projecting concern, the movement of human eyelids is near central for all to see and interpret.  Brows, whether bare or hirsute, contribute much to expression.  It’s easy to read “suspicion” in canine brow elevation.  It might even be underscored by a not-so-friendly growl.  Elevating both brows evinces surprise, while one brow lifted suggests a question is brewing at the center of things.  Our hoity-toity word “supercilious,” i.e. above the hair, speaks to a single brow raised in suggested irony.

Moving outward from the windows of the soul, nose sniffs ambient air and offers backup to lid and brow statements.  An odd odor twitches the nose while a cheek might lift to suggest something is perhaps amiss.  Even the chin gives a little jump to underscore the supposition.  If an odor is approachable but still ill-defined, the nares will expand; an indication that what is smelled is not wonderful but is not totally repulsive.  A deeper inhalation might resolve the thing entire.  All this activity is there to interpret for watchers who have eyes to see.

Mouth is second only to eyes as great communicator.  Not only does it conjure endless auditory signals but modifies its very shape to indicate whatever feeling accompanies what is being said.  So much is it utilized that its physical shape is literally formed by a lifetime of function.  Drawing lips back baring teeth advertises aggression as readily as it expresses sheer happiness.  No wonder mammals are confused in their communication.  Lips that self-posture in a petulant purse are seldom asked to express generosity of feeling.  Odd labial arrangements, such as the confusion of the Trump mouth, forever memorialized on Saturday Night Live, are excellent examples of this description.  The mouth is being used to advertise openness, while its corners are drawn up, completely at cross-purposes to what is portrayed, while the jaw, usually relaxed as an indicator of open honesty, in the Trump jaw is firmly clenched.  Who could believe any word that escapes from such a mouth? 

Even beyond the head, the entire body acts as a surround for the eyes, as meaning is conveyed—eloquently in some cases—not so much in others.  A speaker juggling the need to move on and dodge annoying questions, often conveys more than intended as hands paint an irrefutable picture of ”just wanting to move on—for God’s sake—why are you bothering me?”  Hands can say even as much as eyes and mouth.  They are supremely articulate, especially when the presenter is intelligent, sensitive, and insightful.  That makes a spectacular triumvirate of expression. 

Otherwise brilliant politicians sometimes suffer when their great policy ideas are derailed by wacky arm and hand gesticulations, waved amid calls for voter support not likely to be achieved.  Eyes that don’t give in to even an occasional blink are suspected of being just a bit too crazed to lead men.  Listeners who overdo eye-contact to the extent that the orator is put off by their gaze do a disservice to the orator.  Speakers do best heard by quiet balanced audiences who evidence interest in the subject but exhibit no involvement in the presenter as individual.  But politics is crazy; that’s a given.  I adore Elizabeth Warren as a policy wonk but fear giving her my vote.  Nowhere is reading of eyes and faces as important as in electoral politics.  How else are we to decide whom to elect?

Mankind has always feared the evil eye, inspiring cultish need to fight its power, never to express fervor of devotion.  There is no religion boasting of devotees dedicated to the eye’s worship and adoration, yet there is no protective fetish more ubiquitous than the one that promises to ward off its evil.  Traveling throughout Turkey, I saw everywhere items for sale warranted to protect the owner from its gaze.  A favorite fabric pattern displays a field of endless eyes—a universe of seeing.  These items are so well-accepted that they are an intrinsic part of the culture, bought and sold as near-currency.

Reading people’s eyes and faces can be discomfiting to subjects of such scrutiny.  Assuming we know what another is feeling is the ultimate arrogance.  Others pass through their days expecting to be fairly circumspect behind natural defenses.  Maybe blind would be better.  I am juggling several nasty ophthalmological diagnoses.  Maybe one of them could make me into a nicer person.  Who knows?

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