Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Some years back, while you were waiting impatiently for puberty to have its way with you, two distractions forced themselves upon you, then led you along a path of discovery and metaphor that has remained constant ever since.

You were still of an age when you poured through books with titles such as One Hundred Things for Boys to Do.  You read these, even though you knew they had nothing to do with a hundred or more things boys who had advanced in puberty would already have discovered, either by watching, asking questions, or experimenting.  You discovered something that struck you as a reasonable, momentary substitute for puberty.  This something was building non-electric radio receivers, otherwise known as crystal radios.

At the time, the necessities for a crystal radio were a pair of earphones, the cardboard roll from either toilet paper or the wider kitchen towel, and a roll of either varnished or cotton covered copper wire.  The key element is called a cat's whisker, a simple non-electric device with a wire "whisker" that can be manipulated to contact a sensitive spot on a lump of galena, from which the name crystal is achieved in crystal radio.

The second distraction was a notice in a neighborhood newspaper, saying in effect that the local radio station, KFAC, known for its 24/7 diet of classical music, had been picked up by a number of ham radio operators and also on crystal sets.

Within a week, you were listening to KFAC on your own crystal radio, picking up its signal as well as you could on an electricity-powered radio.  From that point onward, your interest in building radios grew to the point where, by certain configurations with the copper wire would about the cardboard tube to provide a reception coil, you could get other stations than KFAC.

The radio-building experience got you fixated on the matter of realizing stations were sending forth signals which they hoped were picked up, completing the basic cycle of communication.

People send forth signals.  Some of the larger sea-faring mammals send signals of communication.  Birds chirp territorial songs.  Insects broadcast a variety of signals.

Sometimes you pick up mixed messages or signals from people.  At one time, when coping with Sam, your first cat, you had the mistaken impression that a cat, wagging its tail, was sending the same signal as a dog, when wagging its tail.  Wrong.  But you soon learned.

You rely a great deal on your interpretation of signals you pick up from people because the reception and subsequent interpretation influences your behavior and your wish to increase or decrease social differences,

In effect, you look for signals and are aware how your own behavior sends forth waves of communication.  Although you like to regard yourself as self-sufficient, able to spend (rather than endure) long periods of time by yourself, you are also aware of your wish for companionship, and other more nuanced relationships, not the least of which is teaching, in which signals are exchanged rather than directed on a one-way basis.

You know some of the many feelings associated with not receiving much in the way of encouraging signals from persons with whom you have some significant wish to communicate.  Just this afternoon, someone pointed out to you your notable behavior in the way someone was sending signals your way.

Not long ago, you were at a coffee shop you don't always patronize, waiting for a potential client,  Your attention was called by signals from two individuals, speaking in high-pitched, excited voices as they approached you.  The cause of their excitement and concern had to do with the dog crouched next to you, while you absently scratched his ear while drinking your coffee.  They'd been about to warn you that the dog--their dog--had an unfortunate habit of biting strangers.  Their excitement turned out to be amazement that the dog was not behaving aggressively toward you but was in fact at ease.

You'd obviously sent some signals to the dog and the dog was reciprocating with signals that you could invite it close to you, then touch it in ways that were companionable rather than territorial threats.

There is every possibility you will miss signals, misinterpret others, and ignore yet others, this in direct proportion to the numbers of signals you will miss, misinterpret, or ignore.

There are times when exchanged signals are read and interpreted with accuracy, which can lead to friendship, respect, love, a deepening sense of intimacy.  On other occasions, signals may cause confusion, bewilderment, frustration, the opposite of what was intended.

You knew KFAC was always going to offer classical music, even had one of your favorite programs, the 8-to-10 program sponsored by the Southern California Gas Company.  You respond accordingly.

You think you are always sending out signals that give accurate indications of your intentions, but you also send manuscripts to publishers in the belief that they are complete, accurate representations of your intentions.  What a surprise when you see editor's notes. 

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