Ninety-one

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.

So this is spring. Patiently waiting for summer.

Ninety

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.”

Eighty-nine

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.

Me and Santa at The Enchanted Forest

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.

Father’s Building

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.

I’ll save it for another time.

Eighty-eight

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w13xtvb6

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.

All bioregions have carrying capacities.

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.

Eighty-seven

“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.

Eighty-six

I enjoyed reading a blog post by an old friend, Michael Lewis. Michael and I met around 1989 on a listserve dedicated to Edward Abbey. Michael was well versed in Ed’s ideas and works. I was a new comer, searching for answers to many questions in life. I’d become deeply interested in the natural world and in environmentalism, having instinctively come to the conclusion something was badly wrong with human society.

Abbey was one of the first people to write about the effect of growth capitalism on the natural world. He’s well known for both his fiction and non-fiction, but I more closely connected with his essays. That’s where he connected all the dots and hit the proverbial nail on the head. Basically, capitalistic growth, the need for constant growth, is our core problem. Capitalism’s ruthless commodification of life, its constant opening of new markets, non-stop development and the use of increasing amounts of fossil fuels is the problem that must be addressed. But that’s not happening. What is happening is the production and shipment of more Amazon boxes, more planes, more deforestation and more recently, increased mining of rare earth metals to produce electric cars.

Never is there any serious discussion about using less. Driving less. Fewer trips by plane. Reducing the amount of cheap plastic shit we buy from China and insisting it hit our door step within two days. Instead, our hubris is leading us down another dangerous path, one where we falsely hope technology will save us. Well, as Michael used to say, “There’s no free lunch. Mother Nature always bats last.” And another Lewis favorite, “‘Twas ever thus.”

I’m very pessimistic about our chances. I believe we’ve allowed climate change to go too far, and we can’t stop it, because most people don’t even understand the problem, much less know how to solve it. The notion that capitalist growth is the core issue is confined to a small set of academics and writers and their followers. They bravely wrote the truth, caring more about truth and finding solutions than making a best seller list. Anything that challenges growth capitalism is met with an immediate and forceful obloquy. You’re a commie. A Marxist. You hate America. People cannot imagine or tolerate the behavioral changes that are necessary for humans to survive on earth. And they certainly can’t handle the thought that their portfolios may need to take a hit.

What to do? Joel Kovel put forth some brilliant ideas in his work, The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World? It’s a well thought out framework for eco-socialism, where the economic system is bound and ultimately regulated by the laws of the natural world. A “steady state” economy where we live within limits. But Kovel’s ideas where so remote and not fully understandable by the masses. He was 100% right, but in order for that system to work, you’d have to have a fair number of powerful politicos to bring those ideas into the mainstream, make it easy to understand and then enact policies to make it possible. The only way to get anything done in America is via codification into law, because it’s the codification of law that makes everything, including wealth building, possible.

But Kovel was always suspicious about working within the system, and truth be told, those ideas are a bridge too far for Americans. Which makes me believe the only hope for meaningful change is via collapse, so Americans (and others) are forced to change. That’s not something I like to say, because it will involve untold human suffering. No one wants that, but I believe we’re like drug addicts and only a near death experience can force us to change.

All addiction programs begin with a simple premise. First, you have to admit there’s a problem. Only then can you begin to heal.

Eighty-Five

Fred had hoped to return home early from the party. He had to teach Sunday School the next morning and had not yet pressed his shirt. But that night, Judith had other ideas. She’d had enough of being good. Always being on time. Being gracious and dutiful. And she didn’t give a damn about what Barbara and the Bridge Club thought. She was seduced by the possibility of scandal, and Fred was powerless to stop it.

Eighty-Four

I never realized I had so much in common with Leo Tolstoy until I read “A Confession,” which details his journey through spirituality, science, philosophy and despair. The main difference between us is that he’s a legendary writer, one of the greatest in human history, and I’m an unknown blogger. Pretty big difference, but that’s not the point here.

We both had an early journey through Christianity but later came to reject it. Then we had professional lives where we were nearly entirely devoted to our families and securing the best life for them possible, but simultaneously feeling guilty that we had so many blessings while others suffered.

Then came the period of outright despair, where we both came to the conclusion there was no meaning in life, and that all that awaited us was annihilation. We searched for answers to life’s meaning in science and philosophy, found none and seriously contemplated suicide as a way to escape the despair. We both found that life had become “impossible,” and that the only viable solution was just to “hang on” before finally coming to a new conclusion about the existence of god.

That is, a metaphysical interpretation in which god can be defined as the connectedness of all things. Our atoms and molecules moving into different forms of existence but continuing on for eternity. And perhaps there is some cosmic form of intelligence and order we’re unaware of or have yet to fully describe or understand.

I’m willing to go a little further than Tolstoy and say there are some scientific and rational proofs for this notion of “god.” The first is The Principle of Sufficient Reason is one and basically states that every effect has a cause and nothing that exists in the physical world can be the cause of its own existence. Every cause of a given effect requires a cause and every subsequent cause requires a cause. If this becomes an infinite series, then nothing could have come into existence. There must be an uncaused cause that does not need a cause. This first cause can therefore begin the sequence of causes. This is god. 

The there’s the Golden Ratio, which is seen throughout nature, art and architecture and finally, the Law of Thermodynamics. It seems to me there is tremendous order in the universe, so much so that it could not have come across by pure chance. I believe there is something there. But what?

I still attend church, semi-regularly, but identify more closely with paganism and pantheistic beliefs, as the best evidence I’ve ever seen for a god is in the natural world, not some man made cathedral. I need this belief in order to not fall completely into despair. Like Tolstoy, it keeps my hand away from the gun. Or in his case, a nearby rope that could easily be slung over a beam in his house.

I hope for a goddess. Would gladly serve a goddess.

Skol.

Eighty-three

I spent two days in New Orleans this week for business, topped off by a fun dinner with my son and daughter-in-law. It’s an old romantic city, steeped in French culture and influences, known worldwide for its food and festive spirit. Its neighborhoods are walkable and feel European in that there’s a sensible mix of residential and retail businesses that make the communities walkable. It’s how cities should be built. As a person that loves all things French, New Orleans suits me well.

But like Memphis, my home town, there’s vast poverty, hopelessness and crime. It’s a city that has known more than its share of pain, yet an esprit de corps amongst its people always rises to the top. Despite its setbacks, people are proud of their city and love to live there.

Climate change and the erosion of its wetlands are bringing unique challenges to south Louisiana and its people. So is rising income inequity and the long term forecast is not promising. I have a personal stake in the outcome, as I’m now joined to Louisiana via the marriage of my son to a wonderful Louisiana lady and her sweet family who are residents. My business interests are largely located in Louisiana.

When I was at the lowest point of my career, people in Louisiana literally saved me and gave me new life. I feel as much camaraderie and kinship with the people of Louisiana as with my home state of Tennessee. Perhaps more.

On Wednesday, I took the time to visit St. Louis cathedral on Jackson Square. It was quiet and cool in the church, a magnificent building adorned with statues, including one of my favorite saint, Joan of Arc. Sitting in the pew, I pulled down the kneeler and decided to pray. I prayed for all of my family members, each by name and always including the pets. All of my extended family, the nieces and nephews, brothers and sisters and cousins. For my business partners and all of our co-workers. For friends that have meant so much to me over the years. I prayed for strength and for wisdom so I could be a better leader. To be more generous and kind and not be so quick to anger and judgement. I prayed for the ability to deal with my shortcomings which are many.

Is God there? Is anyone listening? No one truly knows the answer to that question, but it’s difficult to comprehend the complexity of the universe coming together by chance. I’m exploring ideas that support this, scientific, philosophical and mathematical. It’s a long shot for my limited intellect, but it at least helps keep the mind sharp. But even if I’m wrong, it doesn’t matter. Prayer is a form of meditation, and it’s good to sit or kneel quietly and say the names of the people you love and to contemplate your hopes for them.

Au revoir New Orleans. Que Dieu source de la paix, soit avec vous. Amen. (Goodbye, New Orleans. The God of peace be with you.)

Eighty-two

I haven’t been here in a few months. I was mostly focused on a creative writing course at UCLA that was, in my view, a complete failure. I wrote a few new pieces, reworked some older ones and left the class completely unmotivated.

I drifted around for a few weeks bored out of my mind. A close friend moved away, a non-profit I founded collapsed, and I found myself struggling to connect with other friends. All first world problems of course.

Then something strange happened. I started attending Mass again. Yes, Catholic Mass. It’s strange, because I’d left the church in disgust twenty years ago and had become mostly agnostic and Taoist in my world views. But something was missing. Community maybe, or maybe I was just bored.

But I was always fascinated by the iconography and symbolism in the church. The saints, the prayers, Mary, confessionals. Mafia. The old buildings held a particular allure. I could never go back to believing a dead Jew rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, but I did enjoy the communal aspects of faith. The history, old buildings with creaky wooden floors. Children’s choirs.

I rediscovered prayer as a meditative experience. I enjoyed being on the kneeler and saying the names of the people I loved and cared about. It made me feel somehow more deeply connected to them. I call it vibing.

Not so sure about going to confession, though. You’re supposed to go at least once a year, but after reading a listing of the sins in the Roman Missal, I think it might take a year to confess everything. Plus, I’m not sure I’m sorry for much of it. Maybe I should do it just to see if the priest faints.