Back in the 60s there was an interesting word that was used regularly, but at the end of the day failed to make it into the progressive lexicon of subsequent decades. The word was grok, as in "to grok something", or "I grok what you're saying". Grok was a word coined by the author Robert Heinlein for his book Stranger in a Strange Land. The main character of this seminal bit of science fiction, Michael Smith, is an earthling who's returned to Earth after having been raised by Martians following the death of his human parents, the first visitors to Mars-think of him as Tarzan, but this time raised by ethereal beings of the most advanced intelligence rather than apes. He returns to Earth with a grab bag of highly evolved skills. For instance, by simply kissing a woman he triggers orgasmic paroxysms that would make Don Juan seem no more skilled than a 14 year old boy with a mouth full of braces on a first date. His greatest apptitude lies in his ability to "grok". A character in the book describes it thusly, "'Grok' means to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed - to merge, blend, intermarry, lose identity in group experience. It means almost everything that we mean by religion, philosophy, and science - and it means as little to us (because we are from Earth) as color means to a blind man." Smith goes as far as to say that even were he falling to a horrible death from a skyscraper he would continue to grok the whole experience up to and including the instant of body shattering corporeal destruction. I worked very hard as an impressionable teenager to develop my groking skills hoping collateral side effects, especially those relative to kissing, would appear. Sadly they did not, but I did develop a penchant for taking it all in. Which, when I was married, did not always make for pleasant long distant car trips. Unlike many of my fellow males I will ask for directions, however I think my ex found soaking up the scenery was at the expense of paying less attention to her...something which ultimately did not sit well.
So, here I am back stateside groking America, feeling a little like a stranger in a strange land. This past week the actor Richard Belzer, from a bully-pulpit provided by HBO and Bill Maher, condescendingly disparaged the very same young Americans into whose able hands I placed my own life and limb into day after day in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm going to do my dardnest to tell the real story of these kids, but I find it a tad discourageing knowing that our culture has more of an appetite for the Belzers and Joel Steins (author of the LA Times "Warriors and Wusses" article) running rampant across the airways and printed pages of America. In fact, let me apologize for calling them "kids", they're highly competent 18 and 19 year old adults, something as rare in the malls and coffee shops here as life on Mars. Perhaps there in lies the rub, maybe it's just beyond a certain segment of our society, the one dependent on adolescent tastes and buying habits, that anyone under the age of 35 is capable of adulthood, let alone 18 and 19 year olds. There's two wonderful books, Millennials Rising by Neil Howe and William Strauss and Hard America, Soft America by Michael Barone, that do a super job of talking about this rising Best Generation Ever that I heartedly recommend. (See links) In the mean time I'm homesick for my little bungalow in a cozy neighborhood at Camp Fallujah, Hard America. http://www.objectivistcenter.org/ct-941-Hard_America_Soft_America_New_House_Divided.aspx
Tomorrow will mark my official return to the studio. This past week, after checking in off of leave the 17th, was devoted to a variety of administrative tasks. Because of my promotion to warrant officer and new responsiblities there are schools, conferences and training I needed to schedule and lock on for the next year. I also spent hours reviewing my sketchbooks, journal entries, several thousand combat photographs, audio recordings and videos. This is the intial phase of the alchemy that will hopefully result in some good paintings and watercolors.
One last thing, for those of you interested, I'm writing for the New York Times TimesSelect subscription website. The Times invited four milbloggers to contribute our thoughts and experiences about Iraq. I find it very interesting, especially in light of the recent criticism of the MSM, that they would go out of their way to identify and invite us to their forum. From what I can tell they couldn't find a voice negative about the war. This is based on the assumption that if they could have found one they certainly would have used them.