Entries from May 2011 ↓

Men, food, good writing and hanging the moon

Over two nights dreams came of Bob Yutze, Mike Thompson, Penn Dameron and Scott Hollifield, four friends from a time in life when everything was falling apart and everything was coming together. It was a time to fear death and a time to dance with life like I had never danced before. In fact, after a party at Mike’s house, when he was married to my dear friend, Martha, he said, “I would drive 30 miles to watch Pat Jobe dance.”
(Hearing me read this aloud, my son, Luke, said, “30 miles isn’t that far.”)
Fritz Perls tells us our dreams are fragments of ourselves fighting to get back in, so I’m wondering what parts of me are like these four fabulous men, but also feeling ignored or displaced or out of sorts. All four have wonderful senses of humor, enjoy music, love to think about things in creative and engaging ways. Dameron introduced me to “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy,” and the other books in that series by Douglas Adams, some of the funniest and most engaging writing I’ve experienced. Yutze was a favorite teacher to my two oldest sons, Pepper and P.J. and offered a line that often gets repeated, “You can learn something every day if you pay attention, but what a price to pay.” Yutze is also the first Buddhist I knew in real life, a fascinating man to talk with.
Hollifield is the Mark Twain of Marion, N.C., the town were I spent many years with all four of these men. His original songs and newspaper columns would have made a famous man in a fairer world. And of course, Mike Thompson, hung the moon, or I could say that if I had not already told many people that Luke Jobe hung the moon. To avoid creating confusion around the moon hangers, let me just say that Thompson convinced me that academics had value, loved me at a time in my life when I was pretty unlovable; and gave me hope that the world is worth saving despite all evidence to the contrary.
The dreams were about loving writing and wandering the streets of Marion looking for something to eat. At 57, living in a home and office full of books, and spending a lot of my time looking for something to eat, it is not hard to see that these dreams may have come from that nagging question all of us must face from time to time, “What are you doing? Is it enough? Is it the best you can do? If it isn’t the best you can do, what is and how do you get about the business of doing that?”
I ate a delicious breakfast while writing this and thought about four men who live good lives in a world that is hungry for that.

We By Stuff

The sign on the side of the road read, “We By Stuff.” Doubtless it meant, “We Buy Stuff,” but as so often happens with misspellings, a little prophecy bubbled through. “We By Stuff,” spoke of the stuff by which we define ourselves. So many poor people are defined by stuff they stuff into every nook and cranny, not all, but some. So many middle class people are defined by slightly nicer stuff that they hide with more skill than poor people who line every room with boxes and piles of stuff. Middle class people use garages and attics and storage buildings. Do you ever wonder what is in all those storage buildings and what did we do with all that stuff before storage buildings were invented?
Rich people are most certainly defined by an upgrade of stuff, nicer stuff, better looking stuff, certainly stuff that costs more, but still stuff. Rolling stuff, stuff in the mountains and down by the sea, stuff in their airplanes and stuff in the hangers where they keep their airplanes, but still stuff. They would sooner die than line a living room with cardboard boxes, but the really nice stuff in their living rooms came in those boxes that they got rid of so poor people could line their living rooms with those boxes and stacks and bags of stuff.
But the sign by the side of the road struck an even deeper chord. That simple, two-letter word, “by” evokes one of the shortest but most powerful of our historical documents, the Gettysburg Address. Lincoln’s brilliant tribute to the fallen soldiers ended up being a cry for the most basic of democratic urges, that we might end up with government, “Of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Few observers of our current federal shadow boxing can genuinely affirm we are a government by the people. Would the people have given 700 billion to banks which ended up paying many of their disgraced executives million-dollar bonuses? Would the people have borrowed trillions from the Chinese to finance questionable tax breaks for oil companies which make billions in profits? This list could go on and on.
Questionable wars, frauds, manipulations of the process leave those who are not vested in the outcomes of the next elections, those with even a casual distance from the madness, those who read the headlines scratching our heads and affirming that the people would be doing a better job if the people were, in fact, in charge. This might have the sound of hopeless idealism, but surely, surely those with any distance from the mayhem must be saying there has to be a better way.
One way in which we have let ourselves get in an awful, almost unimaginable mess is by stuff. We have stuffed ourselves to the point that obesity may well be the primary factor in most of our cancer and heart disease. We stuff ourselves with chemicals and additives and processed flours and sugars that our grandparents never heard of and certainly never grew in their gardens.
And we stuff our balance sheets with debt. No, don’t look at the national debt. Look at your own debt. Credit card, finance company, pay day lender, and other forms of consumer debt are so rampant that tens of millions of Americans are literally borrowing money to pay for money they borrowed last year, last month, and last week.
George Carlin did a hilarious routine about the boxes we move to carry our stuff around years ago. It’s getting harder to laugh. The phrase “by faith,” used to define practice and principles in a bygone era of better behavior. Our government is no longer by the people. Our religion is no longer by faith. Our lives seem to be more and more to be defined by stuff.
The sign on the side of the road said, “We by stuff.” Yes, it looks as though we are.