Text:     Dear Friend: —  If I was sure of thee, sure of thy capacity, sure to match my mood with thine, I would never think again of trifles in relation to thy comings and goings.  I am not very wise; my moods are quite attainable; and I respect thy genius; it is to me as yet unfathomed;  yet dare I not presume in thee a perfect intelligence of me, and so thou art to me a delicious torment.  Thine ever or never.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841

In a crass, profane age of advanced species endangerment, global warming, 16% real unemployment and constant threat of economic collapse worldwide, surety is indeed a rare and precious commodity. Paralyzed leadership and dysfunctional government clouds our hope even more.    My best friend tells me this quotation will be unfathomed by at least 90% of the American public; alas, she may be correct — judging from our current cultural mess.  Nineteenth-century prose and syntax puts us off and tries our patience in the digital age.  And yet, who doesn’t still need a friend.

In his essay Emerson cautions the reader that “these fine pains” in regard to friendship are for curiosity, not for life. We should not indulge these high-minded notions lest we “weave cobwebs and not cloth.”  Emerson was an idealist but he knew the place of idealism:  — examining the conduct of life against an ideal. In the Twentieth Century JFK”s New Frontier and Johnson’s War on Poverty come to mind as examples of idealism’s limits. Another contrast is the inspiring rhetoric of JFK contrasted to the plain-spoken realism of Harry Truman.  We are sadly lacking in both these days.

Assuming that sure people make sure leaders, I want surety not only in my leaders but in my friends.  When I see a potential friend approaching, I am immediately cautious, guarded, ready at any moment to withdraw my head back under my shell.  However, I also want to stick my neck out, take a risk with a new acquaintance in the hope that some bond may be built between us. I want surety in my friend

I do not  claim to be all wise. I try not to be dogmatic despite apparent evidence that may challenge my set beliefs. I often fail in this.  My beliefs do not go willingly into doubt and then into renaissance.  As a true liberal I have a little dogma myself, but I am not worthy of liberal mindedness if I don’t try to know my own prejudices.  I’ve got blind spots in my vision as do all men and women.  I must keep an open mind, for example that libertarians and conservatives can be right.  I must at least entertain the possibility that Michelle Bachman can harbor a thought worth considering.  And she and anyone, politician or not, must have the same openness to me — if America is to succeed.  I expect a friend to listen.

Regarding “perfect intelligence” of another, I don’t possess it. I have no radar or sonar that can reveal the truth to me about a potential friend approaching me.  Late at night in the middle of the Pacific when my ship steamed alone in unlimited acres of water, we came across  other ships.  Depending upon whether the blip “closed” us or seemed intent on its own course, we in the radar shack were more or less curious.  At some point we could use  IFF or identification friend or foe.  If the contact responded with the correct code, we were assured of a bogey and not a skunk.   Human beings apply the same technique when they take fine pains.  Trifles indeed can be excellent warnings if they are confirmed.   The more trifling thoughts we can dismiss regarding another, the greater the potential of safe passage or encounter in the darkness. Without this process, we are naive sitting ducks. We must presume in others the same intelligent facility of us.  Thus begins the delicious torment.  The mutual sniffing begins.

Unfortunately we often  refuse even to sniff around, to check each other out, to even participate in trying to understand another person and his opinion.  It is quite unnatural to behave this way.  Animals instiinctively perform this ritual that ends up in coitus, play or battle.

We no longer quite understand genius as the spirit of a person or a place.  We think of it as bright IQ.  Nothing can be more unfathomable to one person than the spirit, largely intangible and powerful, of another.  Truthfully we do not fully understand our own spirit, our own genius, but it remains our essence.  The best we can do with the genius of a friend is to love it, to befriend it without question.  Of course, we must have decided it is a genius worth respecting.  More often than not,  liking a friend will be non-rational if not irrational.

All of this goes on whether we have a personal agenda or not.  So when Emerson says, “Thine ever or never,” he means “I apprehend your genius and I determine that it is good and at least compatible with my own which you must also see in me.  When we do this we cease to make of our friendship “a texture of wine and dreams.”  Instead we weave “the tough fibre of the human heart.”  And he adds, “The laws of friendship are austere and eternal.”

“Twitting” and “friending” on the Internet are nothing more than the sniffing when two dogs meet — assuming we don’t leap into a bad deal.  Children and young kids are incredibly vulnerable to predators because they don’t understand the virtues of coyness, camouflage, watching the back trail, reserve. playing hard to get, checking things out, even those trifling thoughts.

Steadfast and cautious,


David Milliken




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Would Ralph Waldo Emerson Have “Friended” Face Book?

No. And he would have known the transitive verb “befriend.”

Emerson in his Transcendental, philosophical way regarded friendship as sacred — in similar esteem with love in St. Paul’s I Corinthians 13. Emerson would not have trifled with Face book and other abominations. “I hate,” Emerson said, “the prostitution of the name of friendship to signify modish and worldly alliances.” And so do I.

The faceless Face book Team and 600 million aficionados of Face book would not agree and they would scoff at such high-mindedness. Perhaps they would say what is really meant by “friend” is contact, target or even better, mark. Very well, then use these words. I suppose that early on there might have been some credence given to real friendship or at least genuine acquaintance when the purpose of this monolithic engine was to unite groups of people in order to share experiences, opinions and ideas in some tacit personal way. That was before the mania of contacting expanded unto the thirteenth cousin and the infinite generations of contacts. Face book does foment revolutions which requires revolutionary camaraderie.

Before I dropped out of the fad, my circle of people whom I barely new personally came to thirty. Some of them were good and fine acquaintances, none intimate. Eventually the White House got onto my list. In my cyber stumbling I must have authorized a feed. A couple of businesses were continuing to update me. I like the White House and I like the particular businesses and I will go to them when my mower needs care and I need insurance. Until then I don’t need to know about the Toro Open. However, I truly don’t know what to do with the plethora of photos of people gathered round picnic tables, some with obvious physical endowments clutching thermos bottles or swinging a stein in some California bar. Whatever am I to do with an unknown someone waving from the top of the boarding ladder of a Delta jet. Family albums are for families. Period. There seems to be no remote awareness of ecology in cyberspace. Don’t all those pixels take up room in cyberspace? Is there no end to expanding band width? And why can one only hide and not delete posts from his Wall? Tidiness is next to godliness except on the Face book Wall.

I would be posting this on Face book, if I still had my account there. Actually, I still do, but it is inaccessible now, so the world will miss me grinning and waving from out of a social event absolutely no one could care about. I’ve been hacked, the Face book Team told me. Ah, so there are enemies on Face book. Of course, the friendly folks on the Team are so anonymous and totally hidden from the slightest accountability that I could not send back a message. I did receive a reset code, twice, which turned out to be invalid. I sent disgusted messages to the robot anyway after I despaired of getting any help from anyone anywhere — after I had just managed the day before to post my mug on my profile. Pf-ft. My handsome face is hidden. I will never reach the celebrity for which I am destined. Alas and damn, I am only one speck among 500 million. Now, I would sooner talk to the Borg even though I know resistance is futile. I also know what one gets is what he pays for. So I can’t expect much.

In his famous essay Emerson suggests a possible letter that a man might write to all candidates for his friendship. It reads::

Dear Friend: —

If I was sure of thee, sure of thy capacity, sure to match my mood with thine, I should never think again of trifles in relation to thy comings and goings. I am not very wise; my moods are quite attainable; and I respect thy genius; it is to me as yet unfathomed; yet dare I not presume in thee a perfect intelligence of me, and so thou art to me a delicious torment. Thine ever, or never.

Emerson goes on to say that this letter works for intellectual bemusement and distinctly not in the real world of real people. To apply its austerity to real people will make a person very, very lonely, I think; and that’s where love takes over. Nevertheless, I found Face book a very, very dangerous and alien place.

Never again, Face book.

Cautious and steadfast,

The Tortoise




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Think Career: People, Data, Things

Thoughts from The Tortoise

In the early 1980’s my career drifted into the doldrums. My dream of becoming a professor had died in 1973 and then what had been a surprisingly good alternative career in the community college system ended. My position as a public information officer and community education coordinator fell victim to a downturn in post-secondary education in late 1979. The problem was national as the tail end of the Boomers finished college, I was “right-sized,” a sister term to ” let go.” (Both terms are the euphemisms for employers.  My jobs didn’t just pass away either.  They died. ) The college dropped from an enrollment of 7300 to around 4000.

I found some middle-class welfare under the infamous CETA program and became a youth employment trainer at a joint vocational school in the secondary public system. Of course, many in my Republican, white, upper-middle class background regarded CETA as a a boondoggle. In many ways it was and I was not supposed to need the benefits of CETA. But I had just missed by one getting a PR position in a hospital and personal funds were running low. So I took the job, vowing to make the best of it, and hey, maybe I could do some good for some kids who were not “college timber.” During this period, I began to understand that career,  such a seemingly rewarding passion for others as all the motivational gurus , might never be so for me. So, I started to pay more attention to life in the bigger picture. I cherished the hours I was then spending in the forest, with tractor and chain saw, cutting wood to feed my burner at home. I became involved in community affairs and even ran for office in that period. Serendipity happened and life seemed good, despite my fall in status.

The program included actual jobs for young people. The best-laid Federal and Ohio plans anticipated that employers would be partners in acclimating young people to the world of work. Together business person and youth adviser would work on matters of punctuality, attitude, dress and work performance. In short we were to instill the work ethic. In the process we would increase the kids’ employ ability. Back in the vocational school they were taking general education courses plus special training in secretarial services, retail services, cosmetology, agricultural mechanics, small engine repair, electrical technology, masonry, carpentry, etc. Each year the school actually built a home for spring auction. Conceptually the program could not have been better, but then entered human nature, the economy and mis-perceptions. Turning employers into serious mentors was always a problem.They didn’t have or take the time required. Cynically speaking in the worst cases we needed miracles to turn sow’s ears into silk purses. Looking back, I learned much and saw a side of society I had never known. I came to respect highly the dedication of the best vocational teachers. I saw some of them perform miracles with kids who badly needed a miracle.

In my work we used the Ohio Career Information Service. OCIS was a partnership of the bureau of employment services and the department of vocational education. We dialed up a number and then pushed the phone receiver into a plastic device that resembled a double cup holder. Rubber gaskets cut out interference from ambient noise. Once the electronic ears were in place we had contact with a main frame somewhere in Columbus. We could print out miles of job and career descriptions. Youth came to our lab to explore every whim and dream they had ever had. My associate and I shared our worldly wisdom with them.  He was an air force vet and former park ranger. We were advisers and had to avoid calling ourselves counselors. In some cases we tried to encourage a few whims and dreams.

We also had a nifty test that assessed student preferences for working with things, data and people. From my background I knew only that you completed the college track and went on to college where you majored in business and commerce, liberal arts, or science and math and then picked a major in some field — which either stuck through graduation or went through numerous metamorphoses. My partner and I took the test ourselves. He was a former park ranger.

I was thirty-eight, feeling totally unsuccessful, but thoroughly interested in the data generated. Various jobs, of course, entail differing percentages of time proportioned among work with data, things and information. My job as a YETP adviser rewarded the do-gooder in me. The data gave a measurable dimension to the guessing game of “What Do I Want to Be” and I enjoyed the role of teacher and adviser. I decided that common sense, trial and error had pretty much led me into appropriate career choices, although true success in PR required more social interaction than I liked. I also learned how privileged I had been.

And yet the kind of interaction a lawyer has with people would never have worked for me. The professor thing also was entirely appropriate with the possible exception of university and departmental politics. Late thinking about people, data and things truly made me feel that staying in the ordered universe of the Navy would have been good for me — alas.

I still bemuse myself pondering the perfect blend of involvement with people, things and data as if such fine tuning and modulation were possible. Large doses of small talk and hanging out have never been appealing to me. Chatting while sharing work or dining is pleasant; and I particularly like a good discussion over an issue, a book or a movie. Babbling at a bar over lite beer does not wear well past an hour or so. After that I’m ready for a book.

Writing a blog, posting it and then seeing it up there in front of the world and God? That’s cool. I spend hours now in a cellar cave with my computer and a little Internet business. And while this thing at which I stare and punch has its limits, I am mostly rewarded. My dog will show up when it gets muggy upstairs. I look forward always to a spinoff conversation with someone in Minnesota, Florida or Louisiana which happens sometimes by phone — but most folks want to plug data into me and hear it come out from me, input-output. I am an appendage of my Power-Spec PC. Along about six, there’s sometimes a bike ride and always, somewhere in the mix, pleasant times and chats with my better half. I know. I’m needing to get out amongst ’em, though.

Steadfast and cautious,

The Tortoise


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Knowing Yourself, Career and Life: Imagination Is All

Regret cannot be avoided. Dwelling upon it can be.  Regret brings lessons in life;  but along with these lessons, if one is not vigilant, regret can debilitate. Regret and lessons learned are part of knowing the self and therefore must be acknowledged freely and honestly.

In my own case and I have no other laboratory, part of my self-knowledge has meant recognizing that I am a late bloomer. The early bloomer, a better rationalist than I, looks logically at his world. He assesses the facts of his experience and then makes choices. He has a facility to sort wheat from chaff.  For example, I have a friend whom I deeply respect who tried college for a semester.  “Sitting in a philosophy lecture,” he said to me,  “I just decided that higher education was not for me.  I left that college, never returned and never looked back.”  Charley reads good books and has a tolerant spirit for views and ways not his own. He acts quickly on his choices.   His kids have all graduated from college.

I am often envious of people like Charley whose clear reason guides them as  a helmet lamp guides the miner  searching for a rich vein of ore. And they pick away diligently exploiting the promise of reward. I knew several boys in high school who excelled in athletics, the classroom and socially. Both went to college, picked majors that led to conventional careers and financial success.  One chose the law, another the air force and the third became a businessman. As an observer it seems to me that their lives went seamlessly in the conventional way,  owning homes and raising families. One of them reached the pinnacle of corporate success as a multi-millionaire. I do not know if he is happy. If he doesn’t feel successful, he needs a shrink.

But not I.  I wanted the unconventional and I wanted to find, not just a career, but a destiny.  Where this need came from,  I cannot say.  Dad would have said, “From all those novels you read.”  I had to test my notions, all the while expecting a great eureka moment. I examined one possibility after the other. I can count seven distinct career choices.  The problem with this approach is the shortness of life itself and the required time it takes to get established in any field. Although I finally spent thirteen years in the chamber of commerce industry,  I discovered the field too late to advance very far.  Life absolutely demands a certain amount of dues paying.  This is a law of livelihood.

There was also in my class, a friend for a time, who wound up a drunken waste. He attempted a few things and never arrived at any success or any happiness. Kenny was affable enough, but his good spirits masked a troubled mind and soul — as it had his father.  Kenny died young. There was a juvenile delinquent — well at least in those days — in my class.

Chip caroused, laid the girls, drank beer and got thrown in jail. He never went to college, but wound up very wealthy in the real estate business.   The point is, the “successes” all chose and proceeded seemingly without ever questioning or looking back; or perhaps they did, but they gave it up in favor of just shucking setbacks and getting on.

For me career choice was like picking a flavor at Baskin-Robbins and when I finally chose, I tended to long for at least one of the flavors I had eliminated; and yet, had I better observed my actual preference pattern, I was decidedly a man of chocolate taste.  For me the consistent vein of chocolate has always been writing.  While I wrote a lot professionally as a PR person,  I felt the pleasures of writing only as means, not as an end.   Why?  I don’t think I wanted to starve — and that was sensible enough.  However, writng is the only ordeal I cannot leave off. The only pain I love most of the time. I used to read my articles over and over again. And the funny thing is, writing is not a common choice for an INTP.  We INTP’s lack the sensing and feeling normally assigned to artists. I did not when younger appreciate how diverse the writing profession is. I tended to put the novelists and poets on a pedestal.

I once asked a fellow officer aboard my ship, “Tom, why are you staying in the Navy?” I remember his looking over the rail and then back at the stern wake, then forward to the bow wake. He did not look me in the eye, but rather he stared into the water and said, “What else better to do for a history major?”

In contrast there was the gunnery officer, a finance major, a short fellow, prematurely balding who seemed the flibbertigibbet  He walked with mincing step in quick time and giggled a lot. Steve was funny, a stitch actually — a quite lovable little fellow. “You know,” he said, ” I chose the Navy because I couldn’t decide between becoming a stockbroker or a priest.”   Steve and I were good friends. When I left the service, he signed up for five more years of recruiting duty. The next I heard Steve was dead with a mystery surrounding his fate.  No one I looked up would talk to me.

But I’ve said I was a late bloomer, a pursuer of destiny, a destiny I would know when I discovered it. Life has been an odyssey for me. The causes for this elude my total understanding, but I did have a partial insight one day recently when I was reading my own set of those fateful autographs penned into our high school yearbooks.  I could not recall Amanda without her photo. Her message written in the late Fifties took me totally aback. “Good luck to you,” she wrote. “You always thought you were smarter than you are.”

I have pondered this like Poe pondered his raven. Reflection tells me that this sometime acquaintance may have been prescient; or maybe even a would-be friend whom I snubbed in some way. This has been a hard truth of self-knowledge to swallow. Indeed, the explanation  relates to the meaning of “smart.” Obviously this is an intimate matter. Why I share it, even for me, remains mysterious, but I must. It’s an emergent light from the shadows of what other sees in us that we do not.

I was a precocious lad. Ironically I was never among the elite, i.e. consistently an A student. Oh, frequently I rose to an A in physics or algebra — enough that with a lot of application I might have been an engineer.  By some miracle I got a B in trig. There were two or three rabid A getters in my class of forty. I was Beta Club and I held my own, but I never matched Robert, the all-round athlete, lady’s man and scholar. His nerdy brother, a fair jock, was also a genius. Robert always had a cheerleader pressing her cheek against his upper arm. His brother and I? Never.  I was simply afraid of engineering.

I was, however, good in English and heard big or unusual words at home where my stepmother  played the crossword puzzle daily. We played Scrabble together, Judith, Dad and I. She read Time and The New Yorker, completely and regularly. She read the bestsellers on the NYT list. Our coffee table on the breezeway was piled high with eclectic interests: National Geographic, Arizona Highways, Reader’s Digest (for Dad), the journal of the Ohio Historical Society, The Ohio State University Monthly, The National Observer, American Heritage books, Smithsonian magazine plus the latest book of the month.   Oh, and also for Dad a pile of journals from the American Institute of Electrical Engineering.  Even after he became in his own words a “mud magnate” in the clay industry, Dad never forgot his favorite flavor — electrical engineering.  I cannot remember a time when I did not see my stepmother reading or hearing her expostulate from her reading.  Her expostulations always came with her social biases. And as I heard all the time, I was “second generation college.” Judith was also my best friend and two generations removed from me. I still have not fathomed her influence on me.

But I was also the son of the village’s co-manufacturer and I lived in a big house aloof  on a hill where a collie escorted me, morning and afternoons, to and from the school bus. I flaunted those big words on the day in the sixth grade when I asked the music teacher why she never played Moussorgsky in class. “Why do we sing “Polly Wolly Doodle?” I don’t remember how well I pronounced the Russian name. I don’t know how annoying my proclivity was, but analyzing my behavior as an adult, I now believe it was one cause of my isolation or my withdrawal from the circles of friendship.  In effect I was telling the world that I at home listened to symphonies. Because I could not carry a tune and because I was disinclined to join in athletics, I must have exaggerated my verbal skills to compensate. A boy had to have something of his own.

In Monroe Village intelligentsia included schoolteachers, the doctor and ministers who came to their profession by revelation and adult study. I remember two adults who fancied themselves as students of current affairs, a shoe salesman and the barber. I regularly dropped in on the shoe salesman for discussions. The barber and I discussed politics and events of the day. After that there was one English teacher, very reticent about putting her opinions forth, except in the most strict way related to reading, grammar and composition. She had a reputation for being tough and demanding. She read my poem aloud in class and praised my senior paper on the Irish potato famine.  I loved throwing around the term phytophthora infestans instead of “potato blight.”  As far as extra-mural activities of particular interest to me, there were none. There was no debate team and our school paper  cranked out in purple ink was produced by girls in the business courses. I did participate in grade school spelling bees and senior class play. There were 522 citizens in Monroe Village, mostly solid  working people, railroaders, farmers and merchants. For awhile there were a number of productive farms around, topped off by two fruit farms, a few larger dairies, a manufacturer of mining safety equipment and my family’s industry in clay drainage materials.  When the State of Ohio re-routed the highway, Monroe Village died.

Thus, in high school I was mostly bored and overly anxious to board the train for The Ohio State University. My stepmother supported me in a choice to shorten high school by one year. To do so I took tutoring in the summer in junior English, civics and American history. I joined in with the current seniors. Our effort caused two other students to do the same. They were the Yoders of Mennonite background. Susan appeared daily in braided hair and long, print dresses; her brother in bib overalls and flannel shirts. They were polite, laconic, scrubbed, proper students who humbly blew the tops off every test they took. They came to school, studied and went home to chores. Neither of them ever saw a prom. Thus, the three of us advanced, much to the disapproval of many in the community.  Some, I know, believed my early graduation was in terms of social maturity.  Another listless year would have done nothing for my maturity.

I will not say much here about my days at Ohio State, fraternity life and a social experience that both pleased and daunted me. Having been “second generation Buckeye,” gave me confidence to meet the challenges — after all I had two brothers, a stepbrother, a father, mother and stepmother who had preceded me. Besides, I had experienced several football weekends and felt I knew the ropes. And I did, I even dated a Jewish girl and while Ohio State was a veritable cornucopia of new experiences and intellectual awakening, I believe now that an alternative choice might have been better.  Dating the Jewish girl made me feel independent and rebellious.

In one way the decision to matriculate Ohio State early was an alternative to an earlier, briefly considered plan to send me to Western Reserve Academy. In short there was fitful awareness  by myself and in a wiser way by my stepmother that I simply was not getting the particular schooling I needed. My talents lay in English and the liberal arts and they reflected, undervalued,  strong interests — perhaps even inherited persuasions from my real mother, the English major, teacher and ceramic artist of the family. Her father had also been a teacher.  He founded a newspaper.  However, the paternal side dominated as my father was the  engineer, industrialist and model for all things professional. The scientific genius made it clear, almost proudly, that he had flunked French dismally. The notion of intellectual broadening in the arts and humanities was lost on him. I also believe there was a conscious decision not to send me to prep school because I was always to be my stepmother’s “second little boy,” the raising of whom would compensate for her loneliness and sacrifice in leaving the city and taking up her mission in a small, rural, Appalachian village. She was miserable there. In the end there was no prep school. I don’t  know why I didn’t speak up — naivety I suppose,

Regarding the choice of say a Kenyon or Wittenberg for me, Dad said, “Oh, son, I think Ohio State is good enough for you.” And, of course, it certainly was and the problem was resolved — except for the unpopular snobbish behavior of baling out of Monroe Village a little early. Looking back at my own evolution, I do not regret the experience of a large university; however, I often wonder what might have happened for the better if I had experienced the closer attention of a smaller school — especially one which might have channeled me into the humanities earlier. In those days you could still find employment with a humanities major. Unknown to me at the time, I needed a tighter, more disciplined instruction and far fewer choices and interferences. God bless the University, she broadened me.  I came out too liberal for my parent’s liking.

The problem with hindsight is its utter uselessness beyond a mere, momentary comment on a person’s odyssey. The real problem is that the gods, Prometheus in particular, gave us hope instead of foresight.

This conundrum lies at the heart of man’s existential dilemma. In short, there is no reason to believe that my having been an English major and graduate of Kenyon or Wittenberg instead of an international studies major at Ohio State, would have made me one whit more successful or happier than the fate I received — not without a lot of fear, optimism and panic invested — which I ultimately experienced anyway. I might have been more disciplined in humanities study and been successful as a PhD candidate, might have met people who could have shown me how to play the academic game better, might have gained admission to a top graduate school with excellent pedagogy and guidance in the humanities — or not. An exclusive college might have imbued me with the egoistic, vanity it takes to succeed in the arts.

Instead and down the road, I encountered the game of board-executive relations in chamber work.  I just encountered another series of challenges  on a different sea. Once you’ve steamed more than one ocean, the random turbulence and calm is remarkably the same.

I might, for another alternative, have still gone into the Navy and either stayed there or left the service (as I did in life course A). I might have wound up on the USS Iowa and been killed by that magazine that exploded. I might have chosen the infantry instead and wound up dead  during the Tet Offensive. I might have had a long career in the community college system. I might even have been elected county commissioner — then what? I might have … I might have … How absurd!

Instead humans are given hope, not foresight. I happen to believe the poet Shelley in the final stanza of Prometheus Unbound has given us a way to look at all this, perhaps even to sin more boldly: “To love, and bear; to hope, till Hope creates/From its own wreck the thing it contemplates.” We must love, and bear through the illusions and delusions of our hopes and dreams and we must do it like Sisyphus did, over and over again — creating a new “thing” to contemplate for each ascent up the hill in a hilly, even mountainous  existence. We must apply Hope with the big H, i.e. what Shelley would call Imagination, over and over again. We must live in the full knowledge that Imagination in work, career, living and loving — life itself  — requires a special kind of Hope, formulated from our own best notions, modified as best we can by experience, knowledge and art, but still hopes which are as likely to wreck us on shoals as blithely sail us to happiness.

Born alone, not quite as lonely as the tortoise, we die alone hopefully with luck and again, not quite as lonely as the tortoise dies, but we do die by how we choose to hope, see it dashed and then create another hope, then play out our destiny, even in the smallest of ways. That we are captains of our souls and masters of our fate is pure bunk. Perhaps we control our fate for a day, a college term, for four years in college, but then it ends. Give me a day of control  and I am happy and thankful.

So, very well, ye gods, you have given us hope with all its folly, futility, deception, disappointment, and yes, its promise. Let us hope, then, even in defiance if need be, but give our hope Imagination in all we do. Make it Hope, that’s all. May we examine life. criticize life, but bring something of our own to life.

Steadfast and cautious,


D. Taylor Tortoise






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Please Visit an Endangered Website for an Endangered Tortoise.


The Feds want to save $125 per year and 8hrs of work by taking down this site.  Get real! One hundred and twenty-five dollars!  Talk about a tortoise pace to cut trillions, this is it.


Do what you can, if all you do is visit the site.


Steadfast and Cautious,


The Tortoise

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INTERVIEW QUESTION: Where Do You Want to Be in Five Years?

Interview Question: Where do you want to be in five years?

I usually responded, “At the end of five years I want to be working for you here at Utopia, Inc. I anticipate that over five years I will have mastered my tasks and responsibilities and perhaps have been promoted to a position with greater responsibility.”

In a more realistic way I would rather have said, “Well, assuming that I have performed with excellence and Utopia has not been purchased by the French and I have not been right-sized, I would hope to see myself in a long-term situation. On the other hand, if I had an opportunity to go to France, I might take it.” That would have been too cynical or too cheeky, however realistic, for “realistic” business people.

Would you have hired me? Probably not. “This guy’s just out for himself and thinks that in five years France would be more alluring than a future in Keokuk. He might up and go to France in two years. Besides, he may be a closet socialist. We don’t need a socialist. He’s probably looking over there right now.” Remember, in a seller’s market, the seller is looking for a reason not to hire a given applicant — especially since there are 199 waiting in the hallway. Also, would it be smart or stupid in relation to this question to say, “If I am satisfied with my choice and opportunities in five years and things have gone well for both of us I would like to count on a long-term relationship.” Question is, do employers really want to have employees thinking long-term. Employees get expensive over time and employers like the employees also like to keep options open.

I always chose to answer the question in a way that would exhibit diligence, dedication and a desire to find a good situation. I always wanted, after I had been asked the question to ask my own, e.g. “Where would Utopia like to see me in five years?” But I never did. I wanted to tell them what I thought they wanted to hear, so I answered the question and waited for the next. Would a rejoinder have impressed the interviewer(s) with an ability to take control of the interview? Who knows?

Both sides are hoping something. The potential employer whose brain is full of names and faces hopes “this one” will be the last one and will so blow away the competition that he/she hasn’t a doubt in the world about her choice. Yeah, right.

You see, hope is the problem. It was given to us by the gods. Prometheus stole it and gave it to man because even he didn’t want to give lowly creatures the god-like power of foresight.

Steadfast and cautious,


The Tortoise




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I Did It My Way, Frank

Regrets? I’ve had a few,
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.


Like Sinatra I have my regrets and I certainly did not have the talents of Old Blue Eyes. Superstars are born and live in a world unto themselves.


And there’s the rub. In America we say that a free, enterprising person can be whatever he or she wants to be. The key is wanting the right thing for ourselves. While Americans are teased hourly with the star-studded, bright joys of celebrity and mega bucks, America does not promise super stardom to all; and yet who does not imagine what it might be like to have talent on the scale of Sinatra, Magic Johnson, or Elizabeth Taylor.


The trick, and its hardest for the dreamer, is to know one’s niche in the meritocracy. That’s why smart parents expose their children to as many experiences as possible. When I was a kid, my parents rented for me a twelve-bass accordion which I played fitfully. When the band director told them, I needed a 120-bass instrument, they said definitely, “NO!  The kid doesn’t practice on the one he has. Besides he can’t carry a tune.” Later on I went through three or four harmonicas before I myself finally concluded that I can’t carry a tune. I am a listener, not a player.  However, at OCS I could march the hell out of “Anchors Aweigh.”  Knowing early on that one sings flatly or walks like a duck is very important.  Duck walkers don’t win track meets.  Acceptance of truth is another matter. Knowing what one really wants, especially for the average person who has many interests, remains a tough decision.


The gifted tend to open their presents early in life. They play well and practice diligently. A potential novelist will show early talent for inventing stories. The future scientist will wear out his chemistry set. In my case I spent hours pushing toy trucks and road graders around in a dirt pile. I built a kiln twice and tended them like Vulcan — burned my fingers and came back for more.  I loved to tear things apart. Typically I wasn’t as good putting them back together as when I totally dismantled a four-cycle lawn mower engine. The parts sat in a box for years until I pitched the thing, pondering whither had fled aptitude.  And much later, patience began to show. And I learned early to solder and splice wires. I was far more mechanically-minded than I realized. I did not get the message nor patience for trial and error. Knowing what one is good at and what he has no business doing are the sine qua non of career choice. Kids, of course, are not good at self-observation and  realistically accepting one’s weaknesses comes hard. But parents should be constructive critics.


I received good marks in English and wrote pretty well while I was not so good in math — although almost as good. Despite impatience with solving physics problems, I did well. Optics in particular held my curious attention. My father, the brilliant electrical engineer did not encourage me in these directions, primarily, I believe, because I wasn’t a chip off his old genius.   And, of course, he was coming at the issue as an electrical engineer — in those days the equivalent of nuclear engineers.  Civil engineers only build roads and bridges. In the end it was my choice to make and mine alone. And speaking of the tortoise, in math and physics I always got to the same finish line as the adulated kids. It just took me longer. But I was better than some and definitely more interested in composition than most of my friends.  My high school English teacher liked my stuff;  ergo, decision essentially made — the liberal arts for me. Knowing what one wants is the mystery, the hope and the bane.


So, Old Blue Eyes, croon away. I did what I had to do and truthfully, I saw it through.  Other paths? Sure, lots of them.


Steadfast and cautious,


The Tortoise





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