Month: August 2010

Follow Your Bliss

Joseph Campbell was being interviewed by Bill Moyers on the PBS “Power of Myth“ series when I first heard his phrase “follow your bliss”. In his viewpoint this undertaking must happen if a man were to experience fulfillment in his lifetime.

Joseph Campbell was a very wise man, but just what does it mean to follow one’s bliss? Well, in my opinion it means merely to be balanced enough to know your gift and be willing enough to work towards bringing it to fruition.

An artist creating a work.

A business man creating a new business.

A teacher creating wonder and hope in young minds.

A philanthropist in the creative stage of giving.

On an on it goes, different for each individual yet having the same affect on all of them by bringing purpose into their lives. Did you catch the major theme through all this dream following?

Creativity. Being a creative human being is what it’s all about. After all what are we if not creators? Followers.

Now, following is not bad nor necessarily wrong. Without leadership we would be living extremely chaotic lives on this planet, and in all reality would probably have gone extinct some time ago. But there is a balance that must be maintained while following or else you may just deny your gift and ultimately lose yourself in another’s cause.

What’s your dream? (it is normally tied into your gift) Everybody who has not been beaten down or brainwashed by the society he lives in has one. What do you need to do in order to fulfill it?

I would say also that in order to follow your dream you must be realistic in your goals. Otherwise a man will spend his valuable youth chasing after someone else’s dream, be he/she a scholar, a movie star, a musician or a magician, it doesn’t matter.

He will merely be living as a copy cat who will never be as good as what he copies. Why? It’s not his. He is just fantasizing it is. Has anybody ever made Mozart’s music as good as Mozart himself? No, of course not. He may be good enough to copy and be almost equal to Mozart, but never will he surpass him. It’s impossible.

My gift is not in the music field and I know it, yet I still enjoy playing an instrument. Nor am I a painter, yet I enjoy painting a picture. We can do a lot of really cool stuff without activating our gift. Those who excel, the gifted ones who seemingly are heads above the rest of us, these guys are the ones I’m talking about.

I know my gift and when it’s working I am in another place. A place where nothing can touch me, nor harm me, spiritually speaking anyways. When I am in my gift, I am at one with the earth. That’s the best I can explain it. I’m sure Joseph could do better.

I fundamentally believe that each person born into this world has a gift of some sort programmed into his DNA and his goal, in order to be happy, is to find that gift and use it to the betterment of himself as well as his fellows.

The problem I see, at least in this country, is that in order to create anything of value you first must follow a learning curve of dedication, commitment, discipline and practice. All the things that seem to be out of vogue in this “hurry up I want it now!” society we live in.

As a practical matter we need to have a place of quiet solitude where we can meditate upon these questions and resolve them in our own minds before we even begin. Then we need to move forward to practice them.

Thich Nhat Hanh (a Vietnamese Buddhist monk) is a great example of a man following his bliss.

In the midst of the Vietnam War while the Americans were bombing the hell out of his country, he and his organization were busily rebuilding bombed villages, setting up schools and medical clinics, and helping through non violent means all he could to alleviate the plight of the citizens of his country.

For doing that he was ultimately forced out of his country and banned from ever returning. Nothing stopped him however and he remains practicing peace to this day in Plum Village somewhere in France.

Hopefully as/if things get worse for you in this country nothing will stop you either because what takes place on the outside is nothing to be compared to the power within once you find and follow your bliss. . . . Go for it! You’ll be glad that you did.

The Tribe

Eleven o’clock on a summer morning and the place was seemingly deserted, no dogs, nothing. Where’s everybody at? Where’s the kids I thought as I slowly drove past one house after another in the upscale housing development.

I gazed upon one perfectly manicured lawn after another, each bisected by ribbons of clean concrete drives and sidewalks. There probably wasn’t a dandelion in the whole damn allotment.

The carefully designed scene, instead of evoking envy, made me feel a little sad, especially for the chubby kids huddled around their TV’s and computers breathing stale, conditioned air. Kids who’ve never heard of kick the can, or knew the pleasure of playing hide and seek outside after dark. Kids who’ve never danced in the warm summer rain or gotten into a good fist fight. To me, this atmosphere was cold, sterile, and alien.

Day after day, aside from the occasional guy who still mowed his own lawn, or his wife coming and going in her new S.U.V., I rarely saw anyone. The only noise in the neighborhood was the sound of construction around the new over-priced home we were building.

I thought about my own childhood days growing up in the housing project and realized how lucky I’d been. There, in the summer, small dandelion-cluttered yards would be full of bare foot kids playing games in the grass. On the blacktop sidewalks they’d be riding bikes, or skipping ropes while their mothers huddled together on the front porch stoops gabbing amongst themselves.

I remembered the laughter, crying, barking dogs, smells of food cooking, back yards full of clothes hanging on lines while drying in the hot sun. We were a tribe of poor, noisy, blue collar common folk, but we were alive, and we had fun.

No music blared from boom boxes, no guns, gangs, or drugs. That would all come later, after corporate greed, TV, and welfare had taken their toll on the working class and stripped us of our pride.

***

I’ve created a stereotype here to prove the point that as we’ve sought to better ourselves by improving our social position we have also lost the need for each other. We have perverted our natural herding instinct by choosing to live in close proximity to, yet totally separate from, our neighbors. We’ve broken away from the tribe and have decided to go it alone.

These modern developments are a shining example of our separation. We surround ourselves with every modern convenience we can afford, close the doors to our large, self contained homes and spend our days locked within our mini-castles.

Instead of a moat and drawbridge, we have a security system. Instead of Knights in shining armor to protect us, we have a uniformed police force waiting close by to apprehend any neighbor foolish enough to break the thin red line. Have we created a modern version of Camelot and are regressing back to the Middle Ages?

I don’t know, maybe I’m just getting old, but I sure do miss my friends and those lovely, sunny bright medicinal flowers that have become a curse, as have their neighbors, to so many.

My Place Tavern (1970)

When I left Ohio I had my old army duffel bag full of clothes, a few bucks I had borrowed from my friends, and a beat up Ford convertible. Everything else I owned down to the small box of pictures, ribbons, medals, awards etc. I left with my ex-wife who promised to keep them in the attic for when I returned. (Ha! They probably hit the trash can the minute I left.)

A week or so later, with the eight cylinder auto sparking on only seven, I backfired my way across the high desert and into the city of Portland, Oregon. My old friend Tom Yoho who lived in Portland was going to meet me in a SW bar by the state college called My Place Tavern.

It was an easy drive across the river. Soon I found the tavern sandwiched between two larger buildings sitting under a derelict sign bearing it’s name. I parked the banging beater (that I soon thereafter sold for $35.00) and entered through the heavy oak door into an environment much the same as every other neighborhood tavern I had been in.

The typical long bar with simple stools ran down the right side wall, booths ran down the left, a couple pool tables sat in the middle. The smell of smoke and beer permeated everything. The only difference I could recognize was that behind the bar a backdrop of hard liquor bottles was missing. They didn’t serve whiskey in Portland bars at the time.

It was close to noon and the place was almost empty. I called Tom from the public phone in the corner, ordered one of those hot Stewart sandwiches from the friendly bar maid, sat in a booth, and waited for Tom to show up.

It had been a couple years since I’d last seen him, but when he showed up I was shocked. My old tough guy, hell raising buddy had gone Hippie. He burst into the bars quietness all gregarious and charismatic as ever. BUT . . . He’s dressed like the damn Pied Piper. I thought.

“Sid! (everybody from the projects still called me Sid) Wow, man . . . FAR OUT! . . . Wow, Far OUT! . . . Wow . . . Cool . . . Man, this is so . . . Wow, Far out, Cool . . . “ He gave me a big hug (something you never do in the hood)

What the hell happened to this guy? I thought.

His midwestern no nonsense language had completely been replaced by this hippiesque sing song doper lingo that made absolutely no sense to me and he was dressed like a freakin freak. I was taken aback by old Tom for a while, but I soon learned to understand him and in time I even learned to speak and dress the part quite well myself.

We hung out in the tavern the rest of the day, drinking beers and playing pool, all on my dime of course. Some things never change, I thought, as I began to remember why he had left town in the first place. But he was still my all time best buddy. He was the good looking guy who always corralled the girls for the rest of us ugly dopes, so he got lots of slack.

Soon the place began to fill up. Everybody who came in the door knew Tom. He, of course, introduced them to me. We shot some pool, smoked a joint and thus began my two year love affair with My Place Tavern. I give her all the credit for not allowing me to blow my brains out in a particularly depressing time of my life.

I’d say there were at least forty gals and guys who formed the nucleus of this close nit community. We ate together and sometimes slept together. (remember SEX/DRUGS/ROCK and ROLL?) Mostly though, I knew I could walk in the place any time day or night, meet up with some friends and have a good bullshit session, cause there were plenty of things to talk about and plenty of trouble to go around in those days, even for the freedom conscience hippies.

I remember with much nostalgia the long philosophical conversations and arguments about Nixon and government, the war in Vietnam, religion, drugs, sex . . . every subject you can conceivably think of someone was able to talk about and give you their opinion on it.

We had fun also of course, sometimes loud and boisterous, sometimes stoned and subdued. Sometimes I would take the corner booth with a sweety I had just met for a little extra curricular lovey dovie.

We dropped acid and watched the walls breathe while warning about the dangers of shooting smack and crystal meth . . . Speed Kills! was never far from my lips. We nursed runaways and military deserters as well as sucker the guys with money and jobs out of their cash. We were a tribe.

There were people who came into My Place that I had never seen on the outside, didn’t know much at all about them, but inside, while we partook of the magical atmosphere of the Tavern, we were friends.

One day the owners sold the place. The new owners were more interested in making money than having us weirdos hanging all day in their joint taking up space so they began to clean it up. No more dope, no more after hours parties, you wanna hang here you have to spend became the order of the day.

Little by little the old crowd disappeared till one day after I got busted and tired of hiding from my parole officer I decided to hang up my hippie clothes and go back to the doldrums and responsibility of my Ohio life.

The tavern may have remained, but because of the doofus who bought it, all the life and blood had been sucked out of it and it just wasn’t any fun anymore. I really doubt it lasted long though cause you really can’t make a silk purse out of a pigs ear . . . and well, the place was always just a dive to begin with.

A Bunch Of Baboons

I remember watching an experiment involving a family of baboons once on television. The researchers observed and filmed the group of peaceful primates while they spent their days grooming one another and playing in their small clearing. The baboons had plenty of food growing around them and seemed quite content in their environment.

One morning the researchers put five oranges in a clearing within the baboon’s territory. They soon came out of hiding and began to sniff the strange round objects. One baboon began rolling and playing with them. It wasn’t long until the entire family was squabbling and fighting each other over the oranges. A terrible battle ensued, until the researcher chased them away and took back the oranges.

Once the researcher and oranges were gone, the baboons returned to their peaceful ways. It even seemed like they were apologizing to one another for fighting over the fragrant round objects.

***

Men identify with, and judge themselves by three criteria: Power, Position, and Possession. As long as the oranges are fragrant and lovely to look upon, we will struggle amongst ourselves to possess them.

Hopefully, one day the brightness of the sun will turn the fruit to rot. Hopefully, one day we’ll get a whiff of its true nature and realize, once and for all, that Greed is NOT good.

But not this day, so we fight, as we always have, for the right . . . to possess.

The Joy Of Playing Music

I first fell in love with music back in 69 or so when I was living in Portland trying to be a hippie. The affair started one day while I was getting stoned in some girls apartment and I heard an angels voice on the stereo. It was Joan Baez. At that moment I fell in love with her and as a result of her voice I fell in love with music also.

Up until then music was a good backdrop for whatever inanities I found myself doing, but I never really got into it much cause (maybe) in the 50’s projects you got your ass kicked for even thinking of being a musician. Well, I’m much older now, it’s winter and I’m starting to think about playing music again. This is something I’ve done off and on for the last forty years or so ever since I fell in love with Joan.

I have a music area in my library where the two (electric/acoustic) guitars live . . . and the cello . . . and the piano . . . alongside, let’s see, my rebuilt mandolin, two hand made American Indian flutes, a hammered dulcimer, a regular dulcimer, two sets of African bongo drums, a (no shit) digereedoo, a tin whistle, various little things like a kazoo, a jaw harp (the real harp I made I gave away . . . as well as my old fiddle)

Anyways you get the picture, I have lots of instruments on which to play music plus piles of books, sheet music etc. to compliment them. If you were to walk into my library and look around you’d swear I was a damn virtuoso, or a one man band.

Well, I’m a one man band house building machine, but as a musician I suck. I have little natural talent, a voice like a fog horn and I hate to practice. “Forget about Mary Had a Little Lamb. I’ll start out with the Jimi Hendrix version of the Star Spangled banner thank you.”

So, forty years later, I still grab and beat up my guitar the same old way running everybody out of the house with the same old worn out bad-to-begin-with melody following an equally bad out-of-sync base line. Then one day, not long ago . . . I fell in love once again.

It all started at the flea market where I used to peddle my access wood. I walked over to the table of a guy who was setting up late. He was not a regular, had just cleaned out his garage and was gonna sell the stuff he didn’t want. Leaning up against his pickup was an old guitar case. Knowing by the looks of it that it wasn’t one of those Chinese cheapies I asked, “Can I see the guitar”?

“Sure” said he.

He lay the case on the table and opened it up to reveal a lovely little folk guitar that had been made by Fender sometime in the early sixties. He was the original owner. After a bit of small talk I bargained him down to about 100.00 U.S. The remainder of the day I pedaled wood while anticipating the time I could take off to lick and tickle my new love in the privacy of our own home.

Last year I listened to a guy on Utube named Pierre Bensusan teaching and playing his guitar in an alternate tuning called DADGAD. Wow! I grabbed the old folk guitar messed around a bit trying to re tune it till I finally got out my tuner (cause I’m tone deaf) and did it right.

One brush over the strings and I was hooked. It was like playing a dulcimer, kinda mountainy and mysterious. The first (base string) played open can be a drone to a treble melody. . . and it’s all easy as hell, an absolute necessity for me cause I get bored real quick. Later you can improvise to your hearts content using chords, melody lines etc. . . . anything you can do in EADGBE you can do in DADGAD if you play alone like I do.

If you have a guitar and your intercourse is getting boring, give her a different tone and she may just perk up and play you a lively Irish jig . . . or go all soft and mysterious like a deep forest rain. . . all dank, wet, and dripping.

If your heart is strong give DADGAD a try.

Acceptance

We were discussing the problems concerning gays and the marriage thing going on in California the other day on a web forum I hang out in. I noticed first off how everybody in the discussion seemed to be trying to prove their tolerance when it came to the issue, but I personally kinda feared the aftermath of watering down a fundamental institution like marriage by opening the doors to same sex marriage. Maybe cause I’m a builder, but messing with foundations, unless there is a need, bothers me.

Now this is not just me, nor just the religious right (of which I have no doings beings I’m a Zen Taoist) but it seems there are quite a few citizens in this country who, although they have no problem with the gay issue in general, bulk at the thought of opening the marriage gate to them. How come? Well, I can only say this ideal of the perfect marriage between a man and a women has been with us for a very long time and in general people just fear change.

Now, everybody who has been married for any length of time knows the reality of marriage is not so hot, but men keep their grip, and live their somewhat miserable lives on this planet, by holding onto ideals, hope, and faith. . . . not reality.

Living in reality causes too much psychic trauma. So we, in order to preserve our sanity, choose rather to cherish ideals and fantasies and hopes concerning our own peace and happiness as well as the worlds. We patiently, or not so patiently, await the election of the next presidential promise, or the return of Jesus, or perfection, or the rapture . . . whatever.

So changing the ideal of the perfect male/female marriage is a really big deal for a lot of people. For me, it’s not quite such a big deal cause I’m a realist who spends more time creating reasons for not offing myself than worrying about gay people getting to join up in the same box the rest of us are in.

I just say to the gays, “Come on in! The waters fine . . . for a while.” You guys want to give up your freedom? You want to take on the burden of a wife/husband who although you may love dearly, also just about daily aggravates the hell out of you? Welcome to the straight world. You’ll soon enough be kicking each other in your sorry asses for ever wanting to belong in this fantastic fantasytical institution.

If my wife and I lived together (now admittedly children are a deal breaker and IMO the only real reason for marriage in the first place) we would get along far better than we do now. An open relationship causes one not to feel so trapped and the other not so bored. Instinctively, without the lawful bonds, you realize you must treat your other in a proper manner cause as you don’t own them, they might just up and leave after you’ve spent the day drinking beer on the front porch with your buddies. You may even be more inclined to take your love out once in a while for dinner and a movie instead of sitting at home every night snoring and farting in the Lazy Boy.

So, in essence, it seems ‘ownership papers’ disguised as lawful marriage papers are a huge damper on the free and wild relationship the two of you had when you were courting. Does it have to be this way? Of course not, but the divorce rate tells us it pretty much is.

Remember the sex? The long hours at the coffee shop enthralled with what the other was saying? How lovingly you looked into their eyes and considered yourself the luckiest person on the planet to have met such a wonderful mate?

Well, keep your memory and get ready cause once you guys get your marriage wish that’s all going to change. Not over night of course, perhaps not for twenty years, but one day you will wake up and see the ideal of marriage had nothing to do with an institution to begin with. You were friends when you first met and if you are smart you will learn to be friends again after all the ideals have evaporated into a huge cloud of bullshit.

My wife is my best friend. The closest person to me on this planet. That’s how I look at her. She’s not mine. We are just two children of the earth who have decided to hangout together for this go around. She is precious to me beyond all doubt, but the marriage thing? I don’t know man I really think it was a hindrance more than a help.

Sometimes all the complaints and demands make me crazy. I just wanna say, “AHHH! I’m going down to the VFW and play some pool,” and walk out the door. But I know in my heart this will create a huge stumbling block between me and the dinner table when I get back drunk and hungry.

The bottom line in all this is that in my opinion acceptance is a personal issue and the gays are looking for it in the wrong place. You must first accept yourself before you will ever truly accept or be accepted by anybody or society outside of yourself.

Paper work won’t cause it to happen. “They” (society) won’t do it for you. No one else will. You gotta do it yourself by searching within yourself and making the proper choices that will begin the creating processes towards your own freedom and acceptance. You gotta learn to love yourself. Then you won’t feel the need to be accepted by a bigoted society such as this one is in the first place.

And I personally bottom line feel this is where a lot of this gay stuff is actually going . . . the desire to be integrated and accepted as a full fledged member . . . of what? I’m not sure.

Respect is the secret to solving practically every social fray in this country. And respect is seemingly the most difficult thing to get. To all my gay friends (yes I have a couple lesbian friends) I give a hearty welcome to the marriage game, but also a warning to not believe the advertisements cause in the world of reality it ain’t the end to all your lonely problems, it may just be the beginning.

Racism

Since earlier I was talking about fear I was wondering why it is that people are racist to begin with? What are they afraid of?

Obama is black. That’s enough right there to gender a negative emotion in a zillion people. The most of whom would deny having anything at all to do with being racist in the first place. As a matter of fact many of these same people are the politically correct ones who openly preach against racism.

Obama is black. Is he? Is anybody black? He has a white mother from America and a black father from Africa. That makes him a mixed breed African American.

In the real world we are all mixed breed by now anyways, even you pure, lilly white, blue blood Anglo’s have some off-white blood in you. (maybe even Negro blood . . . YIKES!) We’re all a bunch of mutts. Just like the three dogs in my outside pen.

I believe racism began in the caves when men found themselves on a wild, chaotic and violent planet somewhere near the bottom of the food chain and got scared. With nothing more than a large capacity brain and a half assed muscle system to keep them alive, men figured the best way to survive was by herding up much like the other herbivores did and to spend their lives in the caves hiding from the monsters lurking on the plain.

Perhaps as they multiplied and branched out into the vastness of the world they morphed a bit due to the climate differences they chose to live in and the food they chose to eat. Regardless, in time the features of men changed as they acclimatized to their new environment and the separate races were born.

Maybe this whole racist thing got started with religion. Perhaps one group created a mythology that placed them in the center of the earth at the right hand of God, or perhaps even became the Gods themselves. While another tribe did something different, yet having the same results.

Regardless it all started a shit storm of separation and dominion in massive proportions once the game began. This thinking would automatically place each individual tribe above their look alike, though considered savage, neighbors. Maybe it was just the inevitable yin to the herding instinct’s yang . . . or a heavenly test. I don’t know, but it truly sucks, regardless.

Eventually even tribes of the same race began bickering and warring with their neighbors as they tried to get each others stuff . . . and down it went through the eons of time.

Anyway, bringing it to today. It seems at first glance the white Anglo Saxon has pretty much won the race game cause we are, at the moment, the guys on top. Our psyche has been so ingrained with this “elitist” idea that most of us believe the world would be a far better place if we could just dominate humanity and bring all the other cultures into our homogenized form of Capitalistic/Democracy. The way that has served us so well should, in our opinion, spread across the Earth and deliver the less fortunate other races. The religion ideals that have made us Gods chosen must, of course, follow in order to completely deliver the heathen from his own barbaric customs. If only “they “ would follow us and quit resisting the tug of evolution.

We will tolerate them, we will even pretend to love them, but to listen to them and accept them into the club in which we belong? No way. We are their leaders and their teachers. We white Anglo’s are ushering, through the use of science and technology, into the earth a perfect civilization of peace and prosperity. We would magnanimously like to bring them along that’s all, cause well, someones got to make our shoes and stuff.

Obama’s black. What the hell happened? A black president does not fit into the equation. Are we about to be over run by the very slaves who once drew our bath water for us? Holy shit! I’m afraid, are we about to boiled in a pot and eaten by these black savages?

I grew up in a white lower class neighborhood. Don’t remember ever being around black kids until I started to play sports. Basically, us white kids didn’t understand or like the blacks. They played sports too good and they fought too hard.

Then I went into a totally segregated military and had to sleep amongst these guys and train with them. Once overseas half my platoon seemed to be black. I found in spite of all my negative teaching and thought that these guys were a lot of fun to hang out and raise hell with.

I am not a racist any longer because of these experiences. And I have found I have far more in common with a lot of these “different” people than I have or will ever have with those of my own race. Whites are so uptight they make me nervous much of the time. Get together with white guys and all they talk about is inane shit I ain’t in the least bit interested in.

Portfolios and bank accounts and posturing your fat ass around me just puts me to sleep. I want some good old time liquor drinking, jaw jacking and music playing that I used to get from the blacks.

I hope Obama brings a bit of soul to the White House. I even hope they even rename the place. This country needs to lose a whole lot of it’s whiteness IMO. That’s where the fear mongers like Rush Limbaugh come from to begin with.

Personally I would rather spend all my time amongst ALL the races, maybe have dinner one night with a black athlete . . . and a Vietnamese artist . . . and an Arab poet. (leave the religious shit out though cause I’m way sick of that stuff). Wouldn’t that be a lively evening? Wouldn’t that open a whole plethora of really interesting stuff to talk about?

I’m liking a black man in the White House . . . and I ain’t even pretending to like a lot of my white brothers. Did you ever wonder why the whites stole the blacks and made slaves out of them in the first place if they were so damn shiftless and lazy? Hmmmmm. Maybe the industrialist has something to do with that after all.

Those white Wall Street/Politico war mongers, now there’s a race of folks I truly DON’T trust.

Am I My Brothers Keeper?

The other day I heard that a 93 year old veteran froze to death in his house in Cleveland after his utilities were cut off.

WHAT?!

Then, after ringing their hands a bit, the majority of the guys I talked to about it exonerated the utility company for any problems they may have caused the old guy. I mean, after all they are running a business. They need to make a profit. Right? Why hold them responsible? The laws on their side you know.

I mean what the hell, we can’t expect these companies to know all their clients can we? How did they know who lived there? It’s simple, he got a warning and when he failed to comply he got shut down. That’s just business. Good business by damn, by the way.

Well, I’m just dopey enough to ask a really stupid question.

Why couldn’t a company who has this sort of power over you at least be thoughtful enough to come pay you a visit and make sure you are not sick, or old and suffering from dementia, before they arbitrarily shut you down and kill you?

Ok, maybe by law they are not responsible. How about the law of decency? And the law of morality? So what if it’s not cost affective and they have to pay a costumer service guy to do the job?

This a perfect example why this country is broken and a perfect example as to why Obama is going to run dead on into a brick wall when it comes to fixing it. It is also a perfect example as to why you guys out there better quit with the arguing about politics and start thinking about and planning for your personal survival. You don’t want to find yourselves in that old man’s shoes do you?

The bottom line tells me there is no plan or thought in existence that will change this thing until the people and society themselves change by rethinking that old question plaguing humanity from the very beginning . . .

Am I my brothers keeper?

Now, don’t get scared, I’m not going religious on you just cause this phrasing happens to be in the bible. I’m sure it’s in all the others bibles also, perhaps in a different wording, but it’s there. Because this is a basic elementary 101 religious thought. One, by the way, that has been shoved into a corner and covered with a thick coating of more important stuff like dogma and self righteousness.

Am I my brothers keeper?

Now the U.S. has always, at least since the industrial revolution, been business oriented. Profit has always meant more than anything to the stock market and big business. But at the same time I remember in my youth a kinder, gentler nation.

Example . . . I got a job in 70 or so with the East Ohio Gas Company as a meter reader. I walked door to door and read the gas meters of a couple hundred people every day. Many of the meters were in basements, so I either had a key on a large ring stuck to my waist or they left the door open.

I was to enter, read the meter, take a quick look-see in each house as to the smell of gas etc. If I smelled gas around the water heater say, I called service and within the hour a repair guy was on his way. If the owner thought he smelled gas in the middle of the night and called, the repair guy was on the way for a, get this . . . courtesy call (meaning no charge) and a complete gas line check.

If an old person was sick, or alone, or had dementia and he failed to pay his bill, I guarantee his gas would remain on till it got warm or until arrangements could be made for him or others to pay it. The situation concerning this guy would have been checked out by customer service before even thinking about shutting him down.

Now on the other hand, if there were no problems at the home and the guy was just shirking his responsibility to pay for his gas, he may get shut down after a couple warnings, but these episodes were few and far between.

The company may have lost a few bucks for the extra service, but in the long run it was probably good for them as they had a stellar reputation. Working for a utility company was considered a boss job, even if you were only a meter reader.

Course in those days the factories were still in town and jobs paying good wages were plentiful.
Ok, that was a different world and a different time, granted. . . . BUT. . . If this same mind set were in affect these days I wonder if we would be in the mess we are in.

Companies would have stayed in-country if they had given less consideration to profit and more thought to their work force. Mom and Pop would still be owning the local grocery. There would still be a bakery and a shoe repair shop and a local thriving economy like in the fifties.

Industry could have taken the middle class along with it instead of dumping the vast majority over a cliff while they partook in a feeding frenzy of greed, portfolios, and bank accounts.

These same knuckle draggers who have taken over Wall Street and big business have even conned us into glorifying their brand of Capitalism as free market initiative.

Now these same arrogant bastards run in circles shamelessly begging for bail outs because their greed has run this huge well oiled, business machine into the ground. No bail! Go directly to jail and I hope, into Bubba Love Butts loving arms.

Bernie Madoff gets to live in his pent house after he gets caught in a billion dollar Ponzi scheme when he should be water boarded just for fun and thrown into a bamboo cage with a cobra for a cell mate. Why is he not at least in prison?

The guys who are buying private jets? And the dope with the million dollar office remodel? . . .What’s up with that? Even John Gotti had more class and was more honest than these bums.

Reality check: Nothing is going to change in this country regardless of how good the newest initiative package sounds and no matter which side of the isle is promoting it until both sides get real, sit down and think a bit about doing what’s right for the people . . . period.

Bush had no clue as to what was needed . . . Obama does, but he is going to be proved incapable of changing things until at least a vast majority of the movers and shakers, and us, the citizens of this country, can answer in the positive the question that lays before us all . . .

Am I my brothers keeper?

Old Age and Choices

In his book, Lightening Bolt, Hyemeyohsts Storm wrote, “In our youth the river of life flows towards us; in our old age the river flows from us.”

As I pondered upon this passage I began to understand the reason why so many of our elders have been pushed aside. Why, instead of given a place of honor in a family member’s home, they’re shipped off to a nursing facility where they spend their few remaining years in solitude and self-pity.

The river of life that flows from them is stagnant, polluted by many years of spiritual neglect and self-indulgence. Instead of being a vast storehouse of wisdom they have nothing to share except bitterness. No wonder the fear of old age is so prevalent in our society.

I then began to see in my mind’s eye two women. Both were old, wrinkled, and bent from their many years, yet very different.

***

Lillian was sitting in a chair with her head in her hands staring at the floor in despair. As I approached, she raised her eyes to meet mine. Her pupils were black as Pennsylvania coal, seemingly void of all life. Her toothless mouth opened . . . and closed again. Without saying a word it returned to a thin, crooked gash separating the point where her nose almost touched her chin. She slowly lowered her matted head to her hands and returned to her pre-occupation with the floor.

A shiver rushed through my body. I wondered what tragedy had entered her life to cause a woman who was once young, vibrant, and so beautiful her image had adorned the cover of Cosmopolitan Magazine, to turn this ugly. What had life done to Lillian? Or in another sense, what had Lillian done with her life?

***

I watched as the ninety-three year old women walked cautiously down the path towards the TV cameras. It seemed as if a bad hip or something caused her slow gait, but she was smiling as the camera zoomed in upon her leathery face.

The first thing I noticed were her eyes. They were deep and vibrant, within them I saw intelligence, and kindness. This woman, who probably had not been much to look at in her youth, radiated in her old age an inner beauty far beyond the physical. As I examined her wrinkled skin I noticed how all the lines seemed to turn up at their ends. When she smiled I understood why.

I immediately felt drawn to her. Here was a person I would truly enjoy spending time with, one from whom I could glean much wisdom, and plenty of good conversation.

Although I don’t remember her name I’ll call her Joyce, because that’s my wife’s name and I pray that when she gets older, my wife will resemble this woman.

Both women had been born into wealthy families. Each had received the best education and benefits their social position had to offer. Each had made choices throughout their lives . . . and each in their old age were composites of those choices.

As the carefully contrived façade of youthful personality had slipped away, each women revealed to the world their true nature. The choices they had made were etched upon them, easier to read than a Dick and Jane primer for children.

* * *

Lillian had chosen a life of frivolous indulgence. As an only child her parents doted upon her every whim and she quickly became entrenched in the center of her own selfish universe.

While in college, men were awed by her physical beauty and stumbled over each other to get next to her. She was the life of every party. Attention, alcohol, and sex were her main sources of enjoyment. She lived to dance.

After college she married and had two children. Five years later she tired of marriage, divorced her husband, and deserted the kids.

Free once again to do her own thing, the lovely socialite slowly devolved through the years to giving quickies in the parking lot to anybody willing to pay the price of another drink.

Her mind, kidneys, and liver slowly burned out from fighting the ravages of alcohol. Now, her life nearly over, she sat in the nursing home waiting fearfully to take her last dance with the devil.

* * *

Joyce had chosen a life of service. As the cameras rolled, she explained that after graduating from college with a teaching degree, she sought a way to share her wealth and knowledge with underprivileged girls.

Because of her love for nature she purchased the summer camp sitting along a beautiful lake in coastal Maine where she now stood. Here, she took the girls in and taught them to walk a different path, a better one, void of the temptations of inner city life.

She taught them to be in control of their lives. That it didn’t matter where they were born or how much money they had, their lives were in their own hands and they had no one to blame if it went sour except themselves. They created their futures . . . by the individual choices they were making in the present.

She also lent money to any of the girls who wished to go to college. This she would require after graduation to be paid back in full so that it would be available for the next girl. She told the TV camera that in all the years she had been holding the camps and loaning money, only twice had the tuition not been paid back.

She was now retiring and passing the reigns of her camp to her daughter. She would remain in an advisory position, but she wanted to take some time to write a book. Even in her advanced age, she was looking forward to the future.

Here was a woman who, when the time came, would peacefully exit this world without fear or remorse. One who would leave behind nothing but the love and admiration of the grateful many she’d helped during the years she’d walked among them.

It’s all about choices, think of that next time you find yourself behind the eight ball. The next time you’re looking for someone to blame for your circumstances. If you are honest with yourself, you’ll be able to trace your way back to the foolish decision that put you there.

Language

So . . . I finished building a guitar I started fifteen years ago and I absolutely love it!

It’s so old it’s already “almost vintage” (Picture coming) Thing is the instrument plays beautifully. Walnut back and sides with a cedar top. Mahogany neck set just right to accommodate the light strings in DADGAD tuning so I can learn some Celtic tunes.

I also cleaned out my tool shed, moved a bunch of the stuff to the basement and created me a really small 8×12 guitar building shop (this way I must keep it tidy unlike my previous cabinet shop) plus a larger outside area for the few noisy power tools I still possess.

I am going to build one at a time ‘parlor style’ finger picking guitars and, I don’t know, I’m thinking of giving them away to some of the needy kids around here and maybe sell one once in a while after I get really good at it.

I Thought of having an internet write-in contest where a kid could send me a letter about his desires to play and lack of funds etc. then I would pick the one I thought was the best and send him/her a free, very playable guitar. We’ll see. What do you think?

Anyhow I was thinking while I was working in my new building spot about the beauty of all this silence I find myself in. It is so quiet around here in the holler that I can hear the deer barking in the evening and turkeys gobbling on the hillsides early in the morning.

Christ, we live in a paradise . . . even if I did just the other day have to bury one of my dogs. Somehow it all fits, the yin and the yang of life.

The one thing I don’t miss though is people and their constant chatter. Noise bothers me. And human beings are the nosiest animals on this planet bar none. Driving around in motorized monsters, running machinery, loud music, canned laughter, (that make believe stuff people do) talking just to hear themselves, (while having nothing much to say when they think they do) makes me crazy.

Sometimes I just sit and listen to them thinking, everybody, including myself, is so full of shit they ought to just shut up and listen to the birds singing. At least the birds have a sweet refrain.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but man, it sure feels good to run a sharp hand plane down a cedar top and hear the whoosh as it picks up a small amount of wood and curls it into a fragrant ball.

The one noise I do allow into my inner sanctum though is what I consider to be the perfect language . . . music. This language is far more easy for me to understand than the myriad shades of gray involved in that double speak and innuendo that we humans come up with.

I love a certain kind of music in my quiet time though, mostly instrumental, mostly finger picking guitar, some cello. I have an mp3 player full of the stuff. I go to sleep at night listening to good old Irish/Scottish music or some of that New Age stuff. Beautiful.

But as a product of the sixties I also have my Steppinwolf and Creedance Clearwater and (who can forget) Janis Joplin, but that’s for when I feel the need to make some noise . . . cause well, sometimes all this quiet can get overpowering and a little bit of pot smoking and hell raising places a nice minor chord into the melody of this really peaceful existence my wife and I have created for ourselves.

The kids are trying hard to pervert and distort music these days with all the rap and badly played guitars accompanying screamers who should still be in practice mode, but if your quiet for a minute you can still hear Sinatra doing it My Way or Nat King Cole soothing through some Stardust.

The purity of this language may have been ghettoized, but it’s still there in the Memories of our minds waiting . . . like the old cello in the closet for some nimble fingers to stroke it back to life.

It’s nice to be old.