In the Beginning Was the Word

Today I concluded it’s okay to be a tortoise. It’s okay to lie here in the shade of this poplar tree.  The day is sunny, enhanced by scattered, billowing, white cumulus clouds.  A chilly wind blows.  I am resting my head and chin on an exposed tree root.  The  yard is fenced and if some danger approaches, the yappy terriers will alert me.  The terriers don’t scare me.  They think I’m a rock of peculiar odor.

It’s okay to be slow of movement and ponderous of mind; and yet,  knowing that about myself, I must be extremely careful of  how much I take on and I’ve learned to limit myself.  You see, not only am I lugubrious, but I am easily carried off on tangents, so I can scatter my attention very easily. For example,  I have resolved to spend less time tracking Jim Tressel’s trials.  He and The Ohio State Buckeyes will have to get on with my empathy, not my full attention.  It’s a sad day for old Carmen Ohio. The Bucks will endure and the crisis will pass. And as for Washington the current political carnival will either destroy our government or not.  We have had better people in Congress and I lack empathy and sympathy for the whole lot of them. In any case crazies have the spotlight at the moment.  What amazes me is that so many of them are Republicans. In any case a  tortoise cannot fix that.

Instead, I adamantly pursue an old quest recently renewed.  What exactly is meant by “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.”  Surely this matter ranks as high as the future of big time collegiate football or the rise and fall of the Tea Party.

It all started yesterday as I was applying plastic, electrical tape to the damaged cover of my old KJV, Confirmation Bible.  It fell open to the Book of Genesis and I was reminded of my dropped search. And so I began reading.  Then I turned to John’s gospel and looked up “The Word” in Wikipedia — not the most scholarly or erudite source, but serviceable, especially if I reveal my scholarly laziness right off. It’s too handy not to use.  But to get on, I learned that logos cannot be understood in human terms because the meaning rests in God.  Then I ran into pneuma which relates to breath and breathing which relates to something I don’t know yet — but will. I assume it relates to the breath of life or Spirit, but I hold that conclusion in abeyance. When I read that Augustine of Hippo believed that these two entities became personified, I concluded that I was in the realm of Jesus, the Incarnation and Christ.  I don’t know whether this insight came to Augustine as epiphany or as a scholarly thought — perhaps even derived from some other sequestered student.

In Sunday school I  heard about these,  but no one had ever really told me much beyond the fact that God made the Word real in the Christ.  And then came the admonishment to take it all on faith and believe.  Here is another of  those mysteries little children are supposed to swallow unsolved and move on.  Nope, never could. Grown ups should know better.

As a schooled adult I suspect that some well-intended Sunday school teacher either didn’t know or didn’t want kids to know that this was an idea of  Saint Augustine and others  who had been reading their Plotinus and thinking about Jesus. Perhaps the Pope didn’t want the unwashed poking around in Church history and ancient philosophy.   Of course not, ten-year-olds aren’t ready for Plotinus.  Besides, the elders of my church weren’t thinking about Plotinus either, let alone some Catholic saint.  As for me I’d pretty much concluded that for God, the Word was like “Schazam!” or “Open Sesame!” — some magic-charged imperative that just made stuff appear like “Let there be night, day, the beasts of the field, et cetera.”  I suspect that was good enough for the  elders, too.  And for a long time, the stories worked — especially at Christmas.  And when I grew up I thoroughly enjoyed reliving the sentiment of Christmas celebration.

During  what my stepmother called my religious phase, I answered an altar call.  This didn’t occur at my church which was conservative and fundamental, but not pentecostal.  It happened at another church.   Anyway, as soon as I knelt at the altar, I didn’t feel much except embarrassment over being so conspicuous.  All I wanted to do was get back to my pew and hide in the safety of the congregation.  A friend walked forward with me, but wouldn’t talk about his feelings.

I’m challenged in becoming as a child again — probably because I’m an adult and a little jaded. But I am okay with the idea that a college of smart, scholarly religious men got together and struggled to reconcile ancient Greek and Roman philosophy with the advent of Christianity and the Good News.  In fact it helps.  It doesn’t bother me that they were establishing a Church and that Rome needed a Church. And if the old pagan stuff could be reconciled with the new Christian stuff,  the Church would have a better foundation. I can handle it. I find it interesting that the Gospel of John may have been written between 70 and 100 A.D.  Augustine of Hippo lived from 354 to 400.  I figure John somehow had a mind for Plotinus and lot of ancient Hebrews, too.   I’ll have to look into this and check the dates.  I do not want to start seeing Kierkegaard symbols in the New Testament when it worked the other way.  Maybe I’ll even get to Kierkegaard later on.  I must.

But today  I am reading that St. Augustine said the divine is the eternal Lord which took on flesh in Christ in whom the Logos existed as in no other man.  The Logos is the principle of mediation and handles the interrelationship of Soul, Spirit and the One.  So that’s about where I am at this point.

What I’m trying to do here is important.  I’m the sort of cautions creature who needs to reduce through knowledge and reason, the gap between reason and faith.  If I can narrow that gap a little, a leap of faith will be a little easier and as I say, I have trouble just becoming as a child again.  I believe that the smaller the gap, the better a man’s belief will be.  Thing is, I don’t have forever.

Our situation here on earth seems so absurd in so many ways.  We don’t know why we’re here.  We don’t know why we have to leave this world with so much left undone.  Fundamentally we know that a sixteen-bedroom mansion with a Rolls parked at the old carriage entrance has nothing to do with real happiness.  The screaming wealthy are often as unsatisfied as anyone else.  And we have reason and logic which promises so much and fails in the end.  It’s absurd.

Then there’s  Albert Camus whom I discovered in the Fifties.  For some reason Camus is special to me.  Camus never liked it that Americans saw Existentialism as dark despair.  (Although what else could have come out of the Holocaust and the Occupation, I don’t know.  Despair seems like a pretty reasonable assessment for 1945 Europe). In fact, though, Camus preferred being called an absurdist. Camus believed passionately in the value of human life and creating one’s own meaning in the face of absurdity.  I have read that if the man had not been killed in an auto crash, his next work would have been on love.  If it’s possible, Camus was a devout absurdist.  And didn’t Jesus have just the slightest perception of absurdity when he cried, “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?”  Truthfully I’m not a very good absurdist, because I went to Sunday school.

In any case that’s what I discovered in school today, Mom. I’m as excited about my new quest as anyone could be excited about March Madness, really I am!  I’ve got a lot more to check out.  I’ll have to resume my quest tomorrow.  Ill keep you posted.  For now I lay me down to sleep and ask the Lord my soul to keep — just as you asked me to do, Mom.

Steadfast and cautious,

The Tortoise

 

 

 

 

 

 

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20 Something Conundrum: Regret

Just because this old tortoise has been on the planet for, well, let’s say five decades, doesn’t mean he can’t recall his twenties.  Oh, I can recall them and my thirties, too.  In one of those periods I resolved to never reject a new experience in order that I would never regret a road not taken. That’s how I decided for one summer to work in a German tire factory and hitchhike across Europe, to become a Naval officer, to drop a corporate management training program and go to grad school.

Like Huck Finn I lit out for the “Injun territory.”  In my case it was for Idaho State University and a fellowship which required that I tutor Indians on the Bannock-Shoshone reservation.  I found the flyer on a bulletin board at Cal State Hayward where I was making up an English major.  “Why not?” I said aloud to the empty corridor.

I loved Pocatello, the Gem State, big skies and high elevated desert. On a good day I could see the Lost River Range  — or I thought I could anyway. That’s what really mattered in those days: imagination; and literature studies reinforced my drive. That year in Idaho was the most halcyon time of my life — better than sandboxes and childhood.  It was also the second phase of a rebellion and I did it at the disgust of parents and my first spouse.  When I pulled into Pocatello, “Revolution” was playing on the juke box at the Pizza Hut and I was 27.

But something like regret came later, but not regarding Idaho, the choice of grad school or the post-graduate study. No, it was more like sorrow, yes, that’s it, sorrow after my defeat by the PhD Octopus which conquered this hero. I was sorrowful over realities encountered and truths needed to be understood and then accepted.  Of course, denial and rationalization, even some blaming set in.

My resolution to never hesitate to take a new road was fine.  What I did not take into account, because I could not at that age,  was the infinite number of roads there are.  A man cannot take them all and he must choose. As my stepmother said, “Trim your wicks, add to your talents and get moving.”  That was good advice and I hated her for it. But the denial and the blaming went on and for too long.  I wish my recovery had not taken so long . . . nay I have not totally recovered an earlier state of innocence. I have been changed forever.  One cannot regret such change anymore than an oak  can regret the last year of acorns. To do so is not regret. It is denying life itself and that I will not do.

You see, the gods ensure that we are heroes in youth.  They give us adequate reason and the ability to accumulate ideas, facts and dreams.  They make us fighter pilots and put us like George Custer in front of a cavalry unit with courage and yes, foolhardiness, to attack the  enemy — just enough broiling brine inside to get us in deep trouble.  And that’s it then, isn’t it?  Youth act without much reflection and they’re often very useful in that capacity.  If you should be Keats or Shelley, you produce beautiful, sensuous poetry before you’re thirty.  If you’re as good as those two, you are a kind of god, at least immortal in memory.

But the gods hold something back.  No one gets discernment when he’s young.  Again from my hundred year old Webster’s dictionary, I’m writing about the “power of viewing differences in objects and their relations and tendencies.”  Like the ultimate taste of a fine wine in its time, this power comes with aging. Sorry, it’s a rule.

A young woman or man can view differences in objects and even take notes, but they will be superficial like physical attractiveness in a potential mate, the size of a house, the sportiness of a car, the glamor of career and the titillation of life itself.  Understanding of relations and tendencies of objects starts in the merest apprehension of clues and proceeds onward to comprehension.  How long does it take to learn that the handsome or pretty can mask meanness; and oh so very long to learn that the homely can hide unique beauty.

It’s a cliche, I know — too soon old and too late smart.  On the half-full side of things, can it not be a kind of promise.  Heaven for me would be as when I was a child and could take endless rides on the merry-go-r0und, each round being as exhilarating as the last and as promising as the next.  Why all this unfinished work?  Why all this late life wisdom so boring to youth, if not to go around again.  I believe it.  Nothing is lost in Nature.

Steadfast and cautious,

The Tortoise

 

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Perseverance

Goodness, Lord, what more perfect word could there be to contemplate on Good Friday!  Call it persistence on a course through time, such as a mission or an ordeal — steadfast and undaunting  and not without doubt for even Jesus cried, “Father, why hast thou forsaken me.”  The idea of enduring despite setbacks and pitfalls has to be an essential part of the meaning of perseverance. One must be tested in some way against high standards or great threatening evils.

Theologically speaking, particularly in the Calvinist way, perseverance is the peculiar virtue of the Elect of God, those chosen few who persevere until they are lifted up into Glory.  Well, the Tortoise will not presume to be in such a class or state of Grace, although animals probably have a legitimate claim to the condition — more so than a lot of humans; ah, but that is to judge.  A tortoise should never judge a creature “higher up” on the Great Chain of Being.

Split the word into per– as in “through” and  “severance” and you get the notion of severing one’s self away from something to be arduously avoided, perhaps a Puritan’s mark of scorn — the Scarlet Letter being an extreme. Perhaps the persevering person severs himself from baser behaviors, i.e. sin.  It seems to mean that passage through a mission or ordeal remains essential to the meaning of the word.  Fanatical self-righteousness need not be the  goal of perseverance.

In Ephesians 6:18 , the only reference I find in my Concordance, Paul says, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit; and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”  This comes after Paul has spoken of bearing God’s armor, and “loins girt about with truth” and the “breastplate of righteousness.”  So perseverance is the behavior of convicted veterans or persons pretty well along their way in a faith quest.  Through perseverance one “quenches the fiery darts of the wicked.”  Whether one must have this trait in full or whether he can always be striving for it is not clear to me.  If it’s the former, I’m out of luck. I know for certain that I am not one of the Elect.  I’ll have to stick with “praying always with all prayer” in the hope I’ll come out a better person in my striving. This tortoise  hopes a lot.

Of one thing I am certain, the Man of Good Friday and the Christ of Easter passed the test immaculately and set an example far beyond my poor powers.

Happy Easter!

The Tortoise

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The Trump and the Hare

In Chelonia where I live we don’t see  Trump-like characters.  There’s not a blow hard among us. I mean look at our natures.  We’re built to be wary, inconspicuous, ready at any moment to survive another day by pulling head and limbs into our shells, hoping our camouflage will cause us to be over looked. We’re like the group of cautious Americans David Brooks cited recently (NYT 4-19-11). Billions of net worth does not permit us to offend whomever we choose and with abandon. We have bosses and voters to ingratiate.

Brooks says he would never vote for Trump, but that he would also not want to live in a country without people like Trump.  Well, perhaps, if we could only confine them to Texas.  I suppose Brooks means he wants to live in a place where a Trump can do his entrepreneurial thing with all the promise of trickle down.  Well, yes, we have to have our Vanderbilts and Carnegies, but at least they built railroads and steel mills.   But Trump is a real estate broker, a tycoon of the real estate “industry.”

The Trump is no hare in the sense that he will loose for snoozing while  more methodical, industrious, dull drones pass him by.  However, The Trump epitomizes narcissistic ego that goes amuck regularly.  He’s a man so confident and vain that he knows he can bamboozle the Chinese into submission with tariffs and quotas.

The hare didn’t lose the race because he lacked the savvy, guts and skills to succeed.  He lost the race because of flawed character.  Brooks refers to Trumps’ boyishness.  Agreed, the man is the quintessential boy-man, a particular kind of American archetype.  Trump captures something else peculiarly American — by any means make the sale.  Change the pitch to sell the house regardless of whether your mark can afford it or the block needs your development.  The sale!  Make the sale!

Our country would be the loser without sales people.  We also are the loser when we forget caveat emptor.  That vigilance is the only defense against greed as we forgot when enterprising capitalists pawned away low-interest homes at inflated prices — quite an industry, “real” estate.

We tortoises have our own camouflage and so does The Trump.  Camouflage is a kind of specialized facade for self-protection.  Camouflage deceives for both offense and defense. It covers something up and hides an identity.  No, Donald Trump doesn’t belong in the White House.  He’s not fit for command.

Cautious and steadfast,

The Tortoise

 

 

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You’ve Got to Please Yourself

While life in a ravine provides security, the lack of sunshine in these hollers has its drawbacks; so when a day comes with rich, sunlight beaming through the trees, thirty feet above me on the edge of this declivity, I head upslope.  As I  push forth a tune enters my head .  It’s  Ricky Nelson’s “Garden Party” from back in 1972.  Remember  “You can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself?”

I say aloud to myself in the woods, “No, you can’t be serious, Big Turtle.  Ricky Nelson, a deep thinker?  Hardly.”

I always figured Nelson must have been singing about some girl friend who jilted him, but not so.  According to Wikipedia, Nelson was lamenting negative criticism about a change in his singing style. That made me think of my own career path which was in crisis around the same year. Thus, I decided — well at least for now anyway — that these lyrics capture the single most important lesson I have ever learned.  A man must learn to please himself and learn it early.

You see, in that same 1972 I was one year away from taking the preliminary examination in PhD school.  I was not optimistic for a positive outcome. Oh, the essay part was fine, but I knew, no matter how much I’d hoped, that my mind simply was not prepared for random questions from the 800-year- old canon of English literature.  I wasn’t a walking encyclopedia. That was for folks who bomb GRE and LSAT tests, the quantitative types. Anyway, I was wondering why I was even at that university, why I hadn’t switched to a school of education, why I hadn’t just become a cub reporter somewhere.  Perhaps I could have found something less esoteric than the historical, finer points of English literature. I was in hell and well behind Ernest Hemingway. Truth is, I liked playing around in aesthetics and literary criticism.

All these years later, lumbering up the steep incline to the meadow, I decided I had not been selfish enough back then, perhaps a better steward of my talents — and that would have included honesty about my real mental skills.   I was not selfish about pleasing myself as the best of the Hippies were doing at the time.  I don’t mean selfish like rejecting the Man or the Establishment.  I was never a druggie  and as a kid I was never one to rule the sandbox or hog the ball.  I mean selfishly manifesting my “rabids” as Dad used to call them.  Acutually I was disgustingly cooperative.

To illustrate, in the Fifties I was enthralled by the anthology, television drama “The Big Story”(1949-1957). Everything from the musical theme from “Ein Heldenleben” to the real life heroism of newspaper reporters kept me attentive to the heroic dramas.  Why didn’t that enthrallment stick with me, set me on fire, convict me of a journalism career?  Well, who can know?  To ask the question now is absurd.  I suspect I didn’t want to start at the bottom.  Anyway, why carry this rumination to the meadow and muck it up with soggy, regurgitated might-have-beens?

“Because . . . because,”  I  said into the woods, “the speculation is worth the effort.  There must be some value in hindsight . . . if not for my life, perhaps for someone else’s?”

You see in the Fifties in the time of “The Big Story” and impressions being made on me, my mother had been dying.  Helen was the mystery parent, the one I  never knew.  She was not there to tell me that her father, my grandfather, had actually started a newspaper.  He had also taught school, been a farmer,  cattle dealer and businessman. I would like to have known him, my maternal grandfather.  The paternal grandfather, the entrepreneurial industrialist, had the stronger sway in family heritage.

I mumbled into the grass at chin level, “I wonder what might have happened in my life if someone had told me I had  a grandfather who was a newspaperman.  But Helen died in 1951, just a  year into the TV drama series,  and I was nine.  And I don’t want to blame anyone for not telling me.  I don’t know, maybe someone did. My dad was busy just dealing with his business and the loss of our Helen. And an electrical engineer wouldn’t have thought of any career coming out of a literary leanings. Hell, I might have been the second James Reston.

A couple years later the big, black Buick four-holer ascended the drive.  The barge bore our new stepmother.  She was in her fifties, lonely, and like my dad bereft of her husband, an eye specialist.  Like Helen, he had died of  cancer.  My father, Helen and Judith had gone to high school together.  Later on Helen and Judith attended the same university.  They were even in the same sorority. Both were liberal arts majors.  “Your mother,” she said once, “was pretty with plump cheeks.  She was kind and gentle, quiet and shy, but slow in many ways. ”  That is the only full sentence I ever heard from anyone, including my father, about my mother.  She has always been a spectre, an enigma in my life. And  yet, I feel her presence now as I recall her picture on my desk.  She was all those things Judith described — a little turtle.  I look at her dimpled picture and all I remember is her once covering me with newspaper on a chilly evening on the porch.  We were moving and the blankets were stuffed in a barrel somewhere.  Oh, and I hear a voice, not a distinctive one, singing “Maresy Doats.”  She has her back to me as I sit at a table.  She is washing dishes and glancing out the window.

So, for certain, I was not born alone like a tortoise buried in the sand on some dark beach. That’s where they come alive, you know,  with not a creature in attendance.  I suppose, when and if they have a long life, its due to hard, lonely survival and luck of health.

After a boy loses a mother without a trace, not to mention a paucity of  anecdotes,  he’s free to invent his own Helen.  This would be a Helen who  had none of the shortcomings, weaknesses and faults of his father and stepmother, himself or any other human contact.  What a nice opportunity afforded the boy! By inference he could create a character  from all the ways his brothers and he himself seem not to match his father and that composite will become his mother, a creature of omissions.  And, of course, whatever pleasing behavior, he doesn;t see in the stepmother will be attributed to Helen.  She will then be a perfect image of someone and an imaginary influence in his life which, if she had survived would have made all things good and happy.

I’ve reached the meadow now.  The sun indeed is out and the day warms. What a blessing to be able to invent your own mother.  A man must please himself and so must a tortoise.

Steadfast and cautious,

The Tortoise

 

 

 

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For His Stepmother

No tortoise grows wise by not thinkin’ nuthin’.  Male or female the tortoise who would be wise learns sumthin’ ’bout history, geography, biology and algebra.  Well, I was a nerd in that way — though I still enjoy Art Garfunkel’s “It’s a Wonderful World.”  I dearly enjoyed school, even Mr. Vernon who made us memorize a whole page of key dates in history.  I recall 1453 which marked the fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire and in 1066 the Normans came to England. The Brits blew the Spanish armada out of the water in 1588 and the Big Revolution, the French one,  started in 1789, the year the US Constitution was written.  The date for Hammurabi’s Law slips me. Events and dates have always been handy as guideposts for placing the right event in the right century at least.  A man must keep his historical bearings. Since the Emancipation Proclamation happened in 1863, I know that the Founding Fathers did not fight to free the slaves.  These picky things matter and serve as insurance against foot in mouth disease.

On the other hand, one man’s wisdom can be another’s folly.  Proof of wisdom lies in argument, universality and the test of time.  Just because a man lives four decades, it doesn’t make him wise.  Tortoises that old just look wise, but they sure have seen a lot.

My stepmother saw a lot.  She road in a horse and buggy next to  her father, the judge, and she saw the moon shot.  She was privileged to have steamed abroad on both the Queen Mary and the Elizabeth. And she finally boarded an airplane.  Despite the two generations that separated me from this Victorian personage, she was wise in many ways.  At a crisis in my life, she advised, “Trim your wicks, add to your talents and get going.”

I got her letter in 1968 and resented it.  At that point I felt I had been doing just that, trying to find my way.  There she was speaking to me from the distance of two generations. Her good values were Victorian: earnestness, duty, will,  reputation and the Puritan ethic. I appreciate all of them now.  Later on, I became a student of the Victorian man of letters Matthew Arnold (“Dover Beach” and “Culture and Anarchy”).  She believed people should stay married, regardless of their misery and regardless of their destiny. It’s not nice to fool with destiny, she would have said. She was not a churchgoer except in Florida where she loved the Sunday ritual of breakfast out, New York Times thrown on the backseat and the glistening Sarasota Bay as she drove the causeway — truly a picturesque place to pray and praise.  Why this rock-ribbed Republican loved the NYT, I could never quite understand.  Robert Taft, the GOP, Standard Oil and GM could absolutely do no wrong.

In her estimation I was a dilly-dallier, especially as a professional student.  She didn’t know that I knew and appreciated the sacrifice of her generation, especially my father’s.  They made the human potential movement possible.  They created the world depicted in “The Graduate.”  I totally identified with Benjamin Braddock. As a Pre-Boomer I never had to worry about a material thing.  Vocationally speaking, I was a shopper.  I don’t know why we see twenty-somethings as strange these days — except for the abysmal economy they endure.  The ritual is ancient.  Whether prescribed by elders or self-inflicted by the young, we (or at least many of us) must go through it.  Searchers are a type. If we don’t do it when we’re twenty-something, we’re likely to do it when we’re forty something or maybe at both times — or more.  The red convertible has many guises and sneaks into the driveway unannounced. I’ve got to hand it to the Victorians.  They knew how to control their libido — or did they just express it in imperialism.  See Freud.

But she was right  in a sense.  What if a man’s destiny is to dilly-dally for God only knows what reason.  Perhaps, like Ulysses, some can only see their “career” through a rear view mirror when they return into Penelope’s arms and look back to see where they have been.  Well, Mom, there was a pattern. There were themes. I slayed a beast or two — nothing big, mind you.  I can see them now. I hope you’re somewhere where you can, too.  I’d like that.

Keep on truckin’,

The Tortoise

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Being and Becoming

Now this subject can become deep and/or hairy, but I’m not going that far. I’ve read my Sartre who knew about being and nothingness.  Camus was a popular, celebrated Algerian Existentialist, writer and playwright.  I could grasp Camus at least and I thought it would be cool to be like him, but then I was only a college sophomore at the time and thought it would be groovy to be a French poet, too.  Sophomores are invincible. Camus’ The Stranger remains high on my list of the greatest books ever written.  Albert Camus died in an auto crash. That didn’t seem so cool.

I am only a tortoise and like all animals, The Tortoise knows that she is what she is. We’re like trees in that sense.  There’s a final form into which we grow, have our being and then depart — well, not really.  Being organic, we ultimately contribute to the next round of  being, be it animal or vegetable.  We’re all content with that, we Chelonians — probably because we do not know discontent.  In a way we do.  We just can’t utter a  word on the feeling.

But you Homo Sapiens, you do have your burdens. You’re saddled with intellect, knowledge, hopefully wisdom, hope, expectation, drive, folly et cetera. If you’re Camus you believe in human solidarity and you act like it.  There’s no escape from action. A Camusian must choose to act and suicide is not one of the choices. Like my species you and Camus need food and shelter, but you also need skivvies, bras, tuxedoes, uniforms, et cetera. For some of you these things must be fashionable and alluring, not just serviceable. You get my drift.  I needn’t go on.

Some want to be something else, hence the absurdity of  my being a French poet.  A tortoise cannot become a gazelle, however much she longs for grace and swiftness.  You’re supposed to learn this stuff in fables and fairy tales.  The point is that Broderick Crawford couldn’t have won a handsome contest over Tab Hunter.  Younger folks won’t get that.  It’s the beauty and beast thing. Broderick Crawford was a fine man and played a great highway patrolman.  Now, there’s a way humans can salve their discontent.  You can act, well, some are better than others.

You know what I think?  I think you’re all growing into some final form that’s programmed in your eggs as altered by your sperm.  You’re not going to be strong as an oak, well, except as a metaphor.  So you’re not so different or superior to a tortoise.  Someday each of you will look back, see your career and say “Aw nuts!” or “Not so bad, considering.”

Anyway, I have to go. I promised the wife a long ride in the old Studebaker.

The Tortoise

 

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“Don’t Force Things, Son”

After  difficulty trying too hard to write a scintillating blog,  I took a break and clawed out  from under my rock. Then I resumed  a backyard edging project between our patio  and yard.  Staring at the stone retaining wall,  I  recalled “Snake,” a poem by D. H. Lawrence.  The narrator encounters a reptile slithering from his earth-wall.  Eventually the narrator throws a pitcher at the creature and suffers remorse over his mindless pettiness.  This territory is all familiar to me, especially the human vilification of my close relative; nevertheless I do feel  blessed that humans have never reviled me as they have the snake.  I’m not a venomous threat after all. Perhaps I am just cuter.

As I  shoved my dull  edging tool into the hard clay where grass  had encroached on concrete paving brick,  basket-woven, three abreast. I soon felt the same old tug to drop what I was doing at the moment in favor of something different.  Boredom, the sin Kierkegaard clarified for me, was creeping upon me. I thought of other things I might be doing, especially the writing I’d left in my cellar cave; and yet truly there was no better break than digging around in the shrubbery bed — or more productive. Boredom had plagued my career for years,  a lingering,  chronic childish habit. I paused and switched to scraping the thin layer of sod from the bricks.  I paused again and looked along the  line that was beginning to redefine patio, wall and graveled shrubbery bed.  My yard work pursued an end. I saw the ultimate end which would give me pleasure in the end — having unearthed the gray pavers that traced a serpentine path across the yard. Red-blooming Japanese quince once more contrasted with gray brick and brown sandstone in the wall.   In my mind’s eye I could see the final result  and that sufficed. There was really nothing else I wanted to do more.  When I paid attention to a vision of attainment,  I started enjoying myself.  Besides, patience is an effort, not a state.

From this and the snake my thoughts meandered to something Dad always told me.  “Don’t force things, son.”  My father, the electrical engineer, had infinite patience.  Oh, he could display quite impressive anger, but Dad perfectly controlled details as in his beautiful cursive script and block printing. I saw a sheet of his formulas once — a masterpiece.  What Dad had in mind, being the engineer and a tinkerer too, was simply knowing that if you tear something apart, the parts including replacements will fit again.  I had recently dismantled an old four-cycle engine.  It lay in parts for months until I finally trashed it.  “Well, Dad, I’d have welcomed a little help, you know. I might even have become an engineer.  Who knows?”

I never practiced hour after hour at pitching a basefall or swinging a bat.  Even the most casual observer knows I couldn’t dribble a basketball and chew gum at the same time.   I loved to march, though, and pumping a bike up Appalachian hills. Time has marched on into my late, late blooming.

What I practiced  best was reading, writing and rumination.   Folks always liked my letters and some even answered.   Careerwise I made a mistake though — just one, you know.  I believed that having an interest in writing  and thinking would one day make me a university professor with all its tenured prestige.  How we do cherish our face book!  Ah, but I ignored the prophecy of the Oracle at ETS (Educational Testing Service).  I ignored the profound truth of  my insufficient quantitative retention.  I thought I could just hold my pencil tighter.  The LSAT also corroborated this curse from the gods.  “Force or no force, Dad, sometimes things make a hard fit.”

So I forced things.  In spite of many good alternatives like the college of education or journalism I enrolled in a less discriminating PhD school.  Unfortunately  I didn’t know that my maternal grandfather had started a newspaper.  Knowing that might have  squelched a Fifties shibboleth that journalists are a bunch of pinko liberals.  Grandfather was a Democrat, however.   In any case he or David Brooks could have been my hero as well as anyone else — not to imply their quantitative retention was deficient. I was not an early steward of my own gut feelings — too, too influenced by the “right” thing to do and a bag of outmoded Victorian precepts.

And how late can a man bloom?  I’ll keep you posted.  You see, the books and my buddies in those books at Nameless U are still my friends and counselors. Semper Fi. In the end and notwithstanding the Oracle at ETS,  I have discovered how rewarding it can be to create something, perhaps a seminar paper, an event, a program, even a garden pathway — if not original then at least innovative for a particular  place and time.  And that in a sketchy way is how an English major,  grad school dropout and PR man found his way  — nothing like ballyhoo, a good event and a good poem, eh?  Eventually I discovered that my masters from Idaho State and insightful Professor Larry Rice,  had given me all the research skills I needed. After all, as John Barth’s Goat-Boy discovered. “The university is a collection of books.”  Nothing has ever interfered with my love of books.

Happy reading,

The Tortoise

 

 

 

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Your Favorite Motivational Guru

Thoughts from The Tortoise

I’ve come across leadfrdheart.com, a blog on success, which lists ten top success and motivation coaches. They are Anthony Robbins, Bryan Tracy, Robert Kiyasaki, Deepak Chopra, Suze Orman,  Stephen Covey, Jim Rohn, Zig Zeglar, Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen.  The blog asks for comments on each of them, so if you wish, please go there.

As I crawled from my hide this morning I recalled actually seeing Zeglar in person and I may have seen Canfield, but I can’t recall.  Chopra and Orman I have seen on PBS.  I heard Colin Powell and came away filled with a renewed faith in
good sense, discipline and quiet ardor.  I like that in a man or woman.

I’ve reached the brook beside babbling water where I can lie on pebbles and feel the water cooling my under plate. It gets really hot sometimes, dragging this shell across the ground. I am curious about something, though.  Who might be some of the lesser but still worthy lights?  Surely, there must be someone out there who struggled hard to start a hardware store — some unassuming person who has something to say about uncelebrated success which is what most of us will have — if we have success. I know, these folks wouldn’t be very flashy; on the other hand maybe not so. My Uncle Papa and my grandfather started a factory in the auspicious year of 1929.  Grand Dad was a farmer and superintendent in a sewer pipe plant before he struck out on his own to make drain tile and block out of dirt.  I’ve always stood in awe of their enterprise. The plant thrives today.  I did not know  Uncle Papa well nor Grand Dad at all. I wish I had.

I marvel still at fortunes and misfortunes of the success drive; still, after some four decades on the planet, I can say that succeed or fail, I think a creature needs to appreciate cool water on his belly on a hot day — especially if he’s a little envious of Colin Powell and his grandfather.

The Tortoise

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Is There a Career that Sticks?

Thoughts from The Tortoise

I pondered long to find the right words to describe the purpose of thetortoisefactor.com.  I like “perseverance” for its strength and virtue, but I had trouble deciding between “work” and “career.” The choice has been personal.  I’ve been totally incapable of deciding to be something final.  I could not, or more perversely, would not stuff myself into a mold. That bugbear has made life difficult and problematic to say the least.  I am, however, still alive and able to discern some “career” in my rear view mirror. Such an attitude makes for surprises in one’s life.  And like all humankind that fell in Eden, I have had to work.

My  incapacity or stubbornness  frustrated and worried my parents.  Dad knew he wanted to be an engineer when he was eleven and accomplished his goal. One fine brother wanted to be a successful businessman and has done so.  Another became an accomplished lawyer.  So far as I was ever able to discern, my stepmother (and effective mother),  wanted to be a member of the “carriage trade” and I guess she made it by first marrying a doctor and then my father.  I, still moving about on my checkerboard, am still a work in progress.

I think about twenty and thirty-somethings I know.  One, carrying $100,000 in student loans will be adding another $150.ooo — and all of it before he has earned $1.00 from his professional career.  When I was a twenty-something, a man could land a good job in business with an English major. You could do OJT and build a career.  In those days companies were not firing people when they began using their medical insurance; and they were not dumping fifty-somethings and moving off shore. No one lived in this great and glorious, oligarchic global economy.  We actually had medical insurance companies who paid.

No, actually these days career is finding a sticking place for the work, any work that a person can do — not withstanding an MBA or PhD.  These days, perhaps as always before, we are just workers longing for Eden.

The Tortoise

 

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