I go out less these days. The traffic, noise and crass behavior of humans is too much. Instead, I spend more time in my garden, watching the birds, talking to my dog and cat. They’re great listeners.
I often contemplate the folly of humans. Our profound ignorance. But I also consider the simple genius of the Sioux, moving as environmental and seasonal conditions changed. Moving south in the winters, north in the summers. A better lifeway.
And what do we do? We build enormous cities and golf courses in deserts and destroy the delicate balance of ecosystems systems. It’s because we have a ravenous appetite for development and profits. Money lust.
Black Elk aptly described our money lust when he first encountered white men, Wasichu, on the Madison Fork during the gold rush. He described gold as “yellow metal that they worship and that makes them crazy.”
Life offers us simple pleasures like clean, cotton sheets. They’re so wonderful when you climb into your bed after a long day. Even better is when you were a kid and your mother fluffed the sheets over you like a tent canopy before your bedtime story.
If I had to choose between saving the life of a rattlesnake or the governor of Florida, I’d choose the snake. Both are merciless, but the rattler at least serves a purpose central to life. The snake doesn’t go out of its way to commit random acts of violence or to hurt people. It eats its share, procreates and attempts to avoid confrontation. It gives reasonable warning. The governor, on the other hand, goes out of his way to hurt people. He’s boastful. Proud of his acts. I’d prefer the snake as a neighbor.
I never wanted a job. Jobs always struck me a type of prison, being beholden to a hierarchy, always chasing money and inevitably, more things. But I got one and never escaped. As I entered the business world in the 1980’s, the Depeche Mode song Everything Counts constantly played in my brain.
The grabbing hands grab all they can All for themselves, after all The grabbing hands grab all they can All for themselves, after all It’s a competitive world Everything counts in large amounts
I married young, had children and needed a steady income to support my family, so off to work I went taking my place amongst the corporate toadies in a sick, sick world.
What I really wanted to be was a surfer. I spent a lot of time on beaches in college and instantly fell in love with what I perceived as a life way. Man in nature, seeking zen like bliss as the mighty ocean carried you with its great power to shore.
For me, surfing was never about conquering the ocean or the wave. It was about finding unity with it.
In those days, I imagined living in my Japhy Ryder hut near the beach. Futon, small table and a wall of books. I’d also be a poet. I’d have an old record player and all sorts of albums. Miles Davis, old tiki and surf tunes. Depeche. An old Volvo wagon with a surf rack. A beautiful, carefree girlfriend with mocha colored skin and sparkling, loving eyes. She could never imagine life with me and the ocean. Waina, mushrooms, sex. An adequate, simple life, uncomplicated by the ceaseless demands of an otherwise sick society.
To make ends meet, I’d rent chairs and umbrellas on the beach and hopefully sell some poems. One day I’d be a widely published writer signing books filled with nature poems for throngs of adoring fans, mostly women, of course. It was all mapped out, at least in my hopelessly romantic brain.
But as John Lennon said, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans. I suppose you could say I made a choice for a different life, and that is true. But I was always bound to responsibility, especially to the people I love, so I gave up the dream, cut my hair, got a suit and opted for decades of corporate torture.
I had a brief period in the 1990’s where I started an outdoor oriented venture. I was heavy into backpacking and Edward Abbey in those days and was fortunate to spend a of time hiking and backpacking in the Appalachians. Likely the best years of my adult life. The plan was to lead corporate types on backpacking trips in an effort to help them recapture their souls. Unfortunately, the money was poor for so many nights lying on the dirt, so I kicked the idea to the curb. I also came to believe that most corporate types were beyond redemption. They might have a few days of loving nature, but they’d almost all go back to their drudgery.
But unlike me, they’d like it. The wealth building. Gradually buying bigger houses and joining exclusive country clubs. There’d be second homes. And almost always at the expense of the natural world and on the backs of employees that make a fraction of what they made. You just can’t build financial wealth without hurting something in the process. It’s not possible.
So I went back to my own corporate life and ushered in the most depressing years of my life. Business issues forced us out of East Tennessee and its lush mountains and back to the place of my birth in the Upper Mississippi Delta. Memphis. A place known for its high murder rate, terrible infant mortality rate, failing schools and racial tension. I made more money than at any period in my life doing tech work and was ceaselessly unhappy.
My wife decided it was time for an intervention and invited my aunt, a medical doctor and a personal hero of mine, to our home to confront me. The solution was pills. It was abnormal for me to not be happy living in a highly violent city with no mountains, desert or beach. I should be happy in this concrete hell hawking technology and paying taxes. The suburbs were magnificent! All I needed were some pills to dull my senses and beat back the normal tendency of my brain which was me this place sucks and to get out.
After that, I decided to keep my feelings to myself and use writing as an outlet. I joined a writers group and took some courses in creative writing at UCLA. It was a much needed salve and outlet for my frustration and provided me with a way to cope. Truth be told, I’m not very good at it. At least not good enough to sell books. I got A’s at UCLA, but a man has to know his limitations.
Last week, I returned to the beach with my family and grandchildren. The weather was poor, but that meant the surf was high. All the old memories came flooding back as I watched the warm, green Florida surf pound the beach. I was 20 again. My blonde hair had returned and was down to my shoulders. I’d just caught a glassy left and sailed through the tube like a missile, eventually riding the white water back to the sugary beach. The powerful Florida sun blazed across my back tanning my skin to a deep, dark brown. And yes, this is a fantasy, because there are rarely “tubes” in Florida. It’s just 3-4 foot choppy surf that might keep you up on the board for a few brief seconds and last week, the water was brown thanks to the storms and prodigious amount of Sargassum seaweed. It’s not great for postcards but is great for marine life, especially young sea turtles.
As I day dreamed, my charming three year old grandson woke me and took my hand. As he guided me to the water he said,
“Hey Pop, let’s play!”
At that moment, everything felt as if it had come full circle. Perhaps all that corporate suffering had lead me to this point, because it’s doubtful I would have had my children and this special moment outside of that path.
Everything was ok. Ua ola loko i kealoha (loves gives life within)
Sometimes you only have to step 3 feet to the left and the whole insane machine goes roaring by.–Lew Welch
Back to poetry. It was always my first love, something I discovered early in high school. It’s why I chose English as a second major. The only problem was skill. I sucked at poetry.
Eventually, I discovered the Beat poets, and they opened up a whole new world for me. The rigidity of meter and rhyme (what Lew Welch called “terrible academic dry-ball non-sense”) seemed broken and the language of the streets ruled. Lew Welch was my favorite, of course. He was probably the darkest of the Beats and died of suicide, much like Sylvia Plath, another favorite. It’s disturbing that I’m drawn to such people.
But I deeply connected to that Northern California group of writers, including the much older Robinson Jeffers. I always felt I had found “my people.” Then I fell away. Started writing personal essays, rants and whatnot. Too afraid of the hard work that it takes to be a poet and deeply disturbed by rejection, I stopped.
Funny thing, though, as I rearranged some things on my bookshelves, Lew’s work, “How I Write as a Poet & Other Essays” fell from shelf as if a ghost of my former self had tossed it upon the floor, forcing me to look. I looked, and those pathways reopened.
As I struggled through the first two lines, instead of becoming discouraged, I thought “this is how it’s supposed to be.” I’m not Sylvia Plath (few come close to her genius), and I’m not Lew Welch. But if Lew were alive, he’d likely tell me to just keep going, to just let it flow.
It’s kinda like my garden. I bought a new house late last year, and I had no idea what would emerge in the spring. I had to be patient and wait. Something would blossom and be a thing of beauty.
Valentine’s Day doesn’t rank high on the favorite holiday’s list with most men. It’s more of a pain in the ass than a pleasure, a minor holiday that can cause major problems if you’re in a relationship with someone that cares about it and forget to play your part.
It originated as a Christian feast day, but in modern times has evolved into a feast of capitalism. It’s a Hallmark holiday where you’ll find thousands of desperate men roaming the card and flower sections of grocery stores striving for that perfect, but minimal, last minute symbol of affection for their beloved.
If you’re in love, it’s a fine day, but if you have no one in your life, I suppose it can be painful or just nothing at all.
I actually have fond memories of Valentine’s Day. It always struck me as a cheerful holiday whereas Easter was about some poor dude getting nailed to a cross. At Christmas, you could get coal in your stocking. Halloween was about ghouls, but I did have a strange fascination with darkness. I can remember sitting in elementary school making Valentine’s, pasting white doilies to red and pink pieces of paper and writing messages to imaginary people. Or mom. I recall making them for my mother, although I’m sure she took little notice of them.
And therein lies the roots of my lifelong obsession with love and romance. Goddamn mother issues. Rejected by mum, I decided to pursue women with great fervor and kept myself surrounded by girls and later, women. I wrote my first love letter in second grade to a girl named Gail Hilliard who quickly rejected my advances in favor of some kid named Kirk Christian. Odd that I still remember their names. I remember running into her at a college party and reminding her I had written that letter. For the rest of the party I remember her looking terrified and not straying far from a protective circle of friends.
I followed up second grade with my first official girlfriend, Cynthia. I doubt she remembers me, but I remember her and her straw colored blonde hair like it was yesterday. Good thing I had a wonderful, patient teacher, Mrs. McRae, because I’m sure she knew I wasn’t the least bit interested in actual schoolwork. It was a pattern that would continue unabated until my senior year when I all of the sudden had a moment of clarity and realized I better focus less on girls and more on books.
The torrid love affairs began high school. Well, mostly lust driven relationships, as I was a quite randy young man. Patricia was my first. A buxom blonde that was sweet as a Keat’s sonnet. I lost my virginity with her in the backseat of a ’77 Oldsmobile at the MidSouth Fair while wearing a cast on lower right leg. It was a bit of challenge getting my Levi’s down my leg, but my determination was sufficient. Deep love didn’t happen until college, with my Irish lust goddess Erin, and while the relationship ended in heartbreak for me, I realized in later years I had dodged a bullet with Erin. She was a beautiful, supremely intelligent young woman, but her life took some very dark turns.
But the roots of my lifelong quest for love are rooted in being rejected by my mother. No little boy needed a mom’s love more than me, but I never had it. She handed me off to my grandmother, a saint of a woman, but it’s never like being loved by your own mother. So I went on a quest, a conquest actually, for the love of women.
I needed a lot of them. They became a salve of sorts, healing my old wounds. Prodigious numbers were needed to convince me I wasn’t damaged goods. I collected women like baseball cards. Some were of great value, while others were little more than stock variety, sacrifices to my relentless ego and insane sex drive. Nothing meant as much to me as being cradled in the arms of a naked woman.
Then one day, I finally figured out what true love really is. It wasn’t a passionate embrace in an art gallery. Kissing in the Parisian rain. Writing a love poem or making love in the desert. Love is best described, in the words of Robert Heinlein, “that condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.”
I become attached to places. Some are easy to understand, like my grandmother’s house where we always had Christmas Eve dinner. I drive by it this time of year and reflect on those times, especially the coconut cake and home made custard she’d make for dessert. But other places, like my father’s office building, require some explanation. After all, what sort of kid forms an attachment to an office building?
The building was a high rise in downtown Memphis, and my father was there during a period of prosperity for our family. Most of the time we weren’t particularly prosperous, so I’m sure that has something to do with it. It was a rare, good period for us as a family, and the building stood as a symbol of those years. In fact, all of downtown Memphis reminds of me of those years, from 1966 to 1969. Memphis had a wonderful downtown with shopping and restaurants, a grand Christmas parade on Main and was the place to be.
Then, in the 1970’s, the population shifted eastward, Main Street was turned into a walking mall no one knew what to do with and downtown died.
But in the 60’s, things were so alive. Goldsmith’s downtown department store, another long standing place attachment, was full of shoppers and had the locally well-known Enchanted Forest. The Forest had snowmen, reindeer and penguins all living in a fantasy world of snow and igloos. It twisted and turned beneath a sparkling roof of ice and snow and ended with the line to Santa Claus.
Father’s building, at the time known as the First National Bank Building, was tall and silver and had its own version of the Enchanted Forest in the lobby. My dad took me one December day in his gold 1969 Chrysler New Yorker. I was probably seven years old and vividly remember its electric windows and fancy seats. This was real luxury, and I remember feeling much more important and regal in it than I’d felt in our previous car, a Plymouth Valiant.
Once inside the building, he took me over to the Christmas display and then up the elevator to the top floors so I could look out the windows. I was in awe. I thought I could see the whole world from there, despite the building only being 25 floors in height.
The car is long gone, and my father died last year. The building remains. They don’t do the Christmas display anymore, but every time I see that building my mind drifts back to that day when I thought my father and I were kings of the universe.
Place is important to us, because it plays a major role in defining who we are. The land, its flora and fauna and its culture all shape us. Our stories, traditions and little moments in time. It’s where our memories are made. Places serve as points of recall, of events that can be good or bad. I have some of both. Some places we want to remember. Others we’d soon forget.
I’ve always appreciated good architecture, buildings that are built so they can stand the test of time. I tend to believe most of our architecture today is loathsome, but not because of their modern design. I love the evolution of design. It’s the materials that bother me. These days, we build buildings to maximize profit, so developers put the cheapest materials they can find into a project. The problem is in twenty-five years time they will be uninviting, warped and crumbling eyesores.
Lucky for me, so many places of my youth remain. Goldsmith’s is gone, but the well crafted building that housed it remains and is renovated. Even my parents first apartment building in Midtown Memphis remains, because it was made of brick and quality materials. So does my mother’s childhood home, which was also my childhood home. They’ll all outlive me, as they should.
As for the memories, I suppose their lifespan depends on my ability as a storyteller. If I tell them well, perhaps my children will keep them alive for a few more decades. After that, it becomes a bit dicey. I remember stories my grandmother told me of her father, especially the one about the Bolesheviks stealing his cotton shipment in port. My children know that one. You should, too.
Are there too many people? How significant is population growth as it relates to climate change and overuse of global resources? From a scientific standpoint, the people debating this question are way over my pay grade, but at a very basic level, it makes sense that overpopulation plays a role in the overuse of global resources. The world has finite resources and carrying capacity, so you can’t have infinite growth in a world of finite resources.
Interestingly, the countries with the greatest population growth use far fewer resources than major industrial nations with lower rates of population growth. It appears that reducing the population will have some net positive effect on the environment, but once again, the primary issue appears to be unfettered growth capitalism.
Americans burn fuel and use resources like there’s no tomorrow. Daily Amazon deliveries, vacations to exotic places, millions of soft drinks shipped all over the country. Massive homes that require prodigious amounts of energy to heat and cool. Even data centers to house the enormous amounts of data we’re producing, including this blog post.
But hey, I’m grateful the “infallible” Pope has weighed in on the subject. Here we have a man that’s decided to not have children (and supposedly never had sex) telling people they are wrong to make similar decisions in their own lives. He also makes a point to tell people they shouldn’t practice birth control and is the head of a male dominated misogynist organization that somehow believes it’s qualified to dictate what women can do with their bodies. Go figure.
I found the linked podcast interesting, especially the accusation that its white dominated western industrial nations pointing their fingers at mostly non-white nations despite the fact the mostly non-white nations use far less energy. They don’t want to be told how many children they should have by the nations causing the problem. I get that, but that argument doesn’t take into account many of those nations face food shortages and relief is typically supplied by planes and planes need fuel. Population is a critical factor in arid areas of the planet.
Perhaps western nations should lead by example and be the first ones to sensibly address overpopulation. The Pope’s ideas notwithstanding.
“Today is the first of August. It is hot, steamy and wet. It is raining. I am tempted to write a poem. But I remember what it said on one rejection slip: ‘After a heavy rainfall, poems titled ‘Rain’ pour in from across the nation.’ Sylvia Plath
It’s not August, and it’s not hot or steamy. It’s cold, but not cold to snow. Instead, we have drenching December rains in the Upper Mississippi Delta. In my view, the worst of all possible combinations, temps in the 40’s to 50’s and rain. Now, if I lived in the desert, I would welcome any and all rains, but I live in a low lying land with an abundance of water. Enough already!
I’d prefer colder temps and six-inches of snow, but will take what Ma Nature gives me. But if it’s going to be rain, I’d prefer to be in Paris. C’est bon. Au revoir.