Posts Tagged ‘Human Nature’

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Ice Storm

January 6, 2014

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As 2014 gets settled in, winter is slapping it in the face pretty good around here. First was the snow, lots of snow. Now it is the freezing rain on top of the snow. It should be a fun commute this morning. I have to admit, the backyard looks wonderfully eerie in the glow of the outside floodlights. It occurred to me, we have much to learn from ice storm. Of course, the lessons we learn often depends on where you are in life.

When we are young, the lesson is direct, “be careful as ice is slippery.” We learn that mostly by ignoring our mothers and playing on the ice. Hopefully, the only proof of such a lesson is a bruised knee or fanny. While the direct lesson is useful, a secondary lesson begins to take root, the advice of others has value.

When somewhat older, we no long see ice storm as forms of amusement. At some point, our parents stop warning us of the danger of slipping and limiting our exposure to it. Instead, they send us out to chip away the danger from sidewalks and driveways. Of course, while still warning us of the danger of slipping. This too has its lessons. We learn that we must deal with our problems with and, from time to time, not on our schedule. Chances are we relearn the original lesson that ice is slippery too during this process. While we learn to deal with problems, this time, the secondary lesson is we have responsibilities in life that go beyond ourselves. How we learn the latter will define our character.

Now, as a fully functional adult, I suit up in long johns, layers of shirts, insulated boots, two pair of gloves, earmuffs, hat and a coat worthy of Nanook of the North. I head out and chip ice without direction. I chip and shovel and sweep away the danger to sidewalk and drive. I no longer have lessons to learn from ice storms. I know them, I know that we live our lives and we learn. We learn from others, Mother Nature and ourselves. So, as I head out to do my chore, having learned all the lessons an ice storm can possibly teach, I step out onto the landing, slip, land on my ass and start the learning process all over again.

 

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On why I pay attention to what so-called “nuts” have to say

January 5, 2014

CopernicSystem[1]Just because we believe something true, does not  make it so.  Even a deeply held belief can  be found to be false.  Copernicus, Keller and Galileo (among others) dared to question the truth of the earth being the center of the universe.  They did not change what was true, they simply uncovered it.   Keep this in mind when you so quickly dismiss questions from some nut about what you “know” to be true.

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A New Year’s Manifesto

January 1, 2013

 dharmachakra-200I woke up this morning thinking I needed to make a resolution for the New Year.  The more I thought about it, I began to understand I needed much more than that.   No in years past, resolutions were made and resolutions were put aside, often before the end of the day’s football games.  It’s not that resolutions are necessarily hard to keep, more the opposite really.   The problem is they required nothing much off me, they were too small.  I need something requiring commitment and dedication.  I need a manifesto to challenge me to not take on the mundane conventions of life.  Accepting, as true, Emerson’s quote, “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.[i]Now, I am not talking about writing something mind-numbing and rambling that Ted Kaczynski would be proud of, or something to give Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto a run for its money.  In the first, I am simply not that crazy; in the second, making some brash rhetorical political statement serves no one, especially me.  My manifesto needs to be a hard kick to my rear and knock some common sense back into my head.  It needs to be something I can read, over and over, to serve as a reminder to make life what I want it to be rather than what I assume is expected of me.

Our brains are often compared to computers.  While a simplistic comparison, I do see the point.  Still, we have a complexity of understanding computer scientists only dream of designing into their next Cray or IBM Big Blue offering. I think it is that ability to understand complex ideas and concepts that drove Emerson to his conclusions on self-reliance.  I mean, why leave to others to figure out what is best for us, as individuals, when we have a brain of our own?  We simply must use our brains and have confidence in our conclusions.

That is the tricky part though, making sure they are “our conclusions” and not some tailored and perverted idea pushed upon us by some media outlet.  An outlet, by the way, that has an agenda having nothing to do with the free exchange of ideas, quite the opposite.  Here is how I will make sure I am making up my own mind:

  1. Question everything.  Especially things I accept as true.
  2. Find out who “they” is.  Any idea worth accepting as true is worth knowing whose idea it is.  Anytime someone presents me with a statement whose source is “They said”, “Many believe” or “I heard” suspect it from the get-go. Know whose ideas I accept as true before I accept it as true.
  3. Look for ideas that differ from my own.  Even if I know my ideas are sound, I will seek out the ideas of others.  Remember the axiom “no one of us is as smart as all of us.”   I just may find my ideas where not all that sound after all.  At the very least, any sound idea will stand the scrutiny of others.
  4. Accept as true what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, or even today.  Life is dynamic; life’s answers are dynamic too.  I will not hold an old idea that worked as the best idea now by default.  Again, question everything, especially what I accept as true.
  5. Nobody likes a know-it-all.  Just because I may be right on a point and someone else may be wrong does not obligate me to point it out.  I can, of course, but often there is no point as many people have minds of steel.  Hard and rigid.  I will judge what is gained against what is lost.
  6. In all things I do I will have passion and compassion.  If I cannot muster up these two items, I will not do the thing in the first place.
  7. Lastly, never be afraid to tell the emperor he has on no clothes.   Even emperors can be wrong from time to time.

 Ok, so there is my manifesto for the New Year.  Pretty simple stuff really, just need to be consistent in performing it.  See, consistency is the tricky part and consistency does not negate nonconformity.  Emerson never said consistency is a bad thing, he said foolish consistency is bad.  To quote again, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”[ii] 

I will keep an open mind.  I will not accept things at their face value. In a great sense, I have suffered from the little mind Emerson wrote.  My mind has been little for far too long.  Now, this year, this very day, that ends.

 


[i] Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Essays [1st and 2d Ser.], Self-Reliance. [Reading, Pa.]: Spencer, 1936.  Print.

[ii] Ibid.

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Jack Kerouac is a Friend of Mine

March 14, 2012

I made reference the other day to Jack Kerouac being important to me,  it did not take long for curious readers to inquire as to why.  I’ve dusted off some old thoughts on it and post them in response.

Jack Kerouac was a friend of mine.  OK, OK so I never knew the guy, we are kindred spirits nonetheless.   Hell, we even share the same birthday.  I have been told I am the last of the true bohemians.  That may or may nor be true.  If I am a bohemian, it would be out of character for me to say, either way.

So many people think it romantic in some fashion to live a life of reckless abandon.  Other’s feel it is just plain stupid.  I don’t accept that I am doing that.  I live true to my own self and make no apologies for it.  I am a poet at heart; it defines the very core of me. I take life in, allow it to affect me, to change me, and then write about it.  Not all poets change the world, as Jack did, but we do start the quiver in the snow that leads to the avalanche of change.  That is enough for me.

Jack and I differ on one point, being self-destructive.  I am not sure he understood that his life was self-destructive.  Moreover, I am not sure he would have cared – it simply was who he was.  As for me, my only vice is coffee (flirting with women is not a vice).  I drink it by the gallon.  Black is best but I will take some cream if I have to drink the swill from Starbucks.  Unlike Jack, my influences from the world take time, his happened in a thunder-clap. Being self-destructive seemed to be part of that; it just goes against my nature.

Jack shook the world with mighty jolts, his time called for that.  His writings challenge us to look at things with a different prospective.  How boring would life be if we were all stuck in “Ward and June Cleaver” mode?  We have Jack, and all the bohemians of his day, to thank for it not being so.  They opened the door that would lead to free-spirited sixties.

As a poet, I seek the smaller patches of snow to turn loose, the ones that live high on the mountain, the ones that take time and great effort to reach.  You see, my mind is more singular in nature; my poetry is about the smaller things in life.   For me, it’s about seeing the world in a single flake of snow.  Jack saw a world full of complexities and railed against it.  We both see the need for change.

It is for certain the world needs change, to always change.  That is what bohemians understand.  I don’t want to change the entire world in a day; I just want change to start.  I am grateful to Jack for all he did. I’m not sure without him; I could live the life I do.  Even if you disagree with the choices he made, you have to admit he did change how we see the world – in this way; he will always be a kindred spirit and a mentor. This is I say Jack is a friend.

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Thought for the day

February 16, 2012

So very often we go through our day and fail to realize our own words and actions determine its outcome.  Buddhism focuses on the realism of self and an individual’s power over destiny.  It is up to us to determine if that destiny will add or diminish grace.  It is up to us to determine if we give or take from the world.

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Mr. Murphy and the Problem of Size

October 13, 2010

Even in life’s sad and most trying moments, humor finds its way in, not the Abbot and Costello “Who’s on First” humor, but the little things we did not see coming.  Maybe it is a way for humans to deal with heavy emotion; perhaps it is more luck.  Regardless, even years later, it is the lighthearted moments we often recall.  Soon after my father passed away, just such a moment occurred.

A few days before, I had to face the fact Daddy was dying.  He had cancer and that is not a pleasant way to go.  I can sure understand how people, who are touched by this evil, feel drug companies are more interested in prolonging treatment for profit than earnestly seeking a cure.  Still, this was the situation we were in and the family was gathering as families do at times like this.

For me, I took a leave of absence from work and headed home.  One night, I was awoken by a phone call and by sunup, I had thrown a mixed bag of clothing together and was on the road.  I lived in North Carolina at the time and home, St Simons Island, was about a six-hour drive.  Perhaps it was my haste in packing, or maybe I just did not accept my father was dying and had my mind elsewhere, but for whatever reason – I did not pack a suit.  Basically, I had toiletries, jeans, and shirts, not much more.  Strangely, I did pack my dress shoes.  Since then, I’ve asked myself a thousand times how I could pack the shoes and not the suit to go with them.  I guess some questions in life never get an answer.

Coming home during a time like this is bittersweet.  The last thing my dad needed was a bunch of family members sitting around crying and feeling sorry about things.  It was enough to know we were there for a reason and enjoy the time left.  Besides, contrary to common thought, it is a very busy time; at least it was for me.  Every day some little project needed attention.  Being busy was a blessing of sorts as it kept my mind off the inevitable.

That is the way with things inevitable – they happen whether we want them to or not.  When dad passed away, all the emotion held inside found its way out and seemed to make up for lost time.  I have always handled stress, but this time, stress handled me.  Stress took me to a surreal world where seconds lasted hours and days seemed beyond measure.  Still, there was a lot to do so I marched on, it is what my father would have wanted, and the family needed everyone rowing in the same direction.

During this time, where my hour-long-seconds had control, a small seed took root.  It was more a feeling than something I knew but I was absolutely sure I had forgotten something.  As the time past, and my seedling grew into a mighty oak, the harder I tried to remember, the deeper in fog the issue slipped.  It slipped, that is, until late in the afternoon the day before my father’s funeral and the fog cleared and I understood what that oak tree had been trying to tell me all along – I had no suit to wear.

While it’s true the fashion police would certainly let me off with a warning, I was not about to show up to my own father’s funeral in a worn pair of jeans and a Crab Shack tee-shirt.  It’s not like the tee-shirt had holes in it or anything.  OK – the jeans might have had holes, but not the tee-shirt.  Still, having “Where the elite eat in their bare feet,” scrawled across my chest somehow just did not seem right.  So, off to town I went, surely I could find something “off the rack,” as it were.

Now, I’m as fair-minded as the next guy, but who gave this Murphy fellow permission to go around making laws to begin with?  Regardless of how I feel about Mr. Murphy, I discovered there is really no way around his law “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”  First store – closed.  Second store – everything required tailoring.  The drama went on and on, at each store, something stood between me and a proper suit of clothes.  All I purchased for my trouble was more stress on an already stressful day.

Finally, I went to Belks.  I figured I would throw myself on the mercy of the clerk and hope for the best.  There he was, the slim, well-dressed salesman with effeminate features and manners.  I have all the style sense God gave a bowling ball, so I was really happy to have someone other than a teenager with strange colored hair to help me.  Mr. Murphy must have been asleep on that point.

Within a few minutes, there were several jackets laid out.  We, well the salesman, decided I should go with a jacket and slacks rather than a suit as we could find pants that did not require hemming.  Still feeling stressed, I relied on his judgment completely.  Then it happened, we were selecting pants and he asked “what size?”  Guys tend to think of things like clothing size as if it were some sort of quantum physics, understanding it is just beyond most humans.  I would be happy if everything was small, medium, or large.

There I was, trying to figure out what size pants I wear.  Normally, I think it would have been an easy question to answer.  Certainly, I understood it.  Finally, after what seemed many more of my hour-long seconds, I knew I had to say something; I blurted out 32.  The salesman placed his hand on his hip, gave me that knowing kind of frown, and said, “Oh please, I’ll bring the 36s.”  I laughed and laughed.  I literally laughed until I cried.  I laughed so much the salesman started laughing with me.  There we stood, in Belk’s Department Store, laughing like two hyenas.

You see, as much as Murphy would like to control things, perhaps divine providence uses him to set our lives up where something small and silly, like the salesman’s comment, is just the cure for horribly stressful situations.  In my case, it returned my mind to a sense of normalcy and allowed me to face the following day’s events.  I took my jacket and proper fitting 36s and went home.

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Remembering Blanche’s Courtyard

September 13, 2010

Now that I am quickly, all too quickly, approaching fifty-years old, I guess it’s natural for me to look around for reminders of my youth.  Having been away from St. Simons for a number of years much has changed and there are certainly more people, but reminders are around; I only had to look.

There are the obvious reminders, Fort Frederica, the lighthouse, Christ Church, and all the wonderful old live oaks.  They remind me of summer days running barefoot with a freedom children just do not have today.  Of course, East Beach is there and each walk reminds me of my teenage days chasing the girls from Macon and Atlanta, down for the summer, and trying to talk them into going to the Saturday night dances at Sea Island.  Those reminders are nice.  Still, they only remind me of life in general, I had to look a little deeper for something that held a bit more meaning for me.

Our old house at Gould’s Inlet is gone, replaced by something large and modern that already looks in disrepair.  If you’ve lived here a good while, you will remember it as the “Pizza Hut” house.  It was pure joy waking up each morning to watch the sunrise.  While progress does make changes, I was sure sad to see my old home replaced with something that has less character.  Just being where the house once stood was enough to remind me where we grow up is like a member of the family, no matter how long you are apart, you’re still connected.  I know I will always be connected to that beach.

It was hard to find any comfort with a house that was so important to me being replaced, but at least I know that new families will build new memories of growing up on that special spot of beach.  Maybe that’s why visiting the old family business was so hard for me, it is  hard to see it, with the wonder it once held, in its current state.  The business, of course, was Blanche’s Courtyard.  Kirk Watson of Hodnett Cooper Real Estate was kind enough to let me look over her boarded-up remains, as the building has been dormant for some time now and only hints suggest her former glory.  Standing there, it was that former glory that came to mind.

I had the advantage of growing up in a family where the parents divorced before I really remember.  The result being four wonderful adults to guide me.  Blanche’s was a labor of love for my father and step-mother, Pat.  Of course, the most asked question regarding the restaurant was “Where is Blanche?”  To answer that requires going back to the beginning.  When Pat and Dad decided to open a restaurant, they knew better than to dive in to something without proper assistance, so they looked for a partner.  That partner was a man named Bill.  If you’ve lived on St. Simons for a very long time, you might remember him.  He owned Bill’s Pit Barbeque. This is back in the day when Brogan’s was Higdon’s Bait and Tackle Shop and Maxwell’s department store sold hot Spanish peanuts.  You could get a bag and a small Coke for about a quarter.

Anyway, back to Bill; his wife was Blanche. The original plan was for her to do the cooking.  Now, I was pretty young so I don’t really know the details but Bill and Blanche decided to end the partnership leaving the restaurant without a cook for its grand opening.  Having survived the opening, Pat was in New Orleans and found that wonderful picture that lived behind the bar, the lady’s name happened to be Blanche.  Be it luck or fate, she became the Blanche of Blanche’s Courtyard.  It became a running joke when “guests with reservations” we seemed to have lost, swore they made them with Blanche or they are good friends with her and not sure she would put up with that sort of thing.

There I was, standing on the basket weave brick floor where the Good Ol’ Boys Band played every Friday and Saturday night.  The bar now sits where the bandstand was but the old Victorian porch we used for it is now the bar’s ceiling.  Looking out one of the few places not covered with plywood, the courtyard bricks reminded me of a time when my brother Stephen and I spent days and days placing our share of the 250,000 bricks it took to complete.

Gone are the wonderful smells of dinners being prepared and the ever-present din of kitchen activity.  Now, the air is moist, dank and moldy from neglect and silence fills the air.  I should not expect a bank to really care about the history of the place; they simply want to sell it for whatever end someone wants.  Given the damage, there might be little hope the building will survive at all.  Still, for me it was sad to see the old girl rundown so.  Yet, the glimpses are there, the etched-glass window saying “Blanches,” old doors from an island hotel, and the decorative brick on the wall where the bathtub full of goldfish use to be.

When I think of all the work and effort to convert that old auto garage with a dirt floor into a restaurant, it really was nothing more than a barn when we started, it’s more a wonder it ever had success and not met this end years before.  Blanches was a success through the efforts of Pat, my dad, Jack Pommerening, Mr. Goodman, Cepheus Walker, Sue Anderson and countless staff over the years.  While the physical walls might be worse for ware, the memories of the life these people breathed into Blanches will never diminish.

As for Pat and Dad, Daddy passed away several years ago but Pat is still going strong.  She still operates the place they restored in Blue Mountain Lake, NY.  In the off-season, she volunteers as a paramedic making 911 calls.  The Energizer bunny has nothing on her.  For me, I’m happy to be back on the island and look forward to my next walk down the beach I love.

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