Spending Time

02-13-2019

During my undergraduate days, I wasn’t a very good economics student. I took two classes only because they were required, and I think I got a C in both classes. In retrospect, the grades were probably given out of pity. I vaguely remember something called marginal propensity to consume and a bit more about the idea of unlimited wants and limited resources. And to agree with the Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want.

So I find myself now at a stage of life where I can no longer say I’m in mid-life. Were that to be an honest statement, I would have to assume I’m going to live 142 years. Even in my best days, I find that highly doubtful. So it’s safe to say if I’m considering time as a resource, then it’s certainly getting to more and more a limited resource.

So how do I face the undeniable fact that the clock is ticking and it can’t be unplugged? I wake up early (Too damned early) and I start the day in the same way I started it yesterday, the day before, blah blah, blah. I pee, I let my dogs out to pee, I make coffee and I grab my i-pad. Check the weather, check USA Today online, check my e-mail, check Facebook, and then spend 30 or 40 minutes playing Words With Friends. I drink two cups of coffee during this ritual and then take off my robe, put on clothes and go have two more cups of coffee at the local coffee shop.

I often say to people, I have only two commitments in my week. I volunteer once a week and I go to my writers group once a week. 168 hours a week and I’m only responsible for 9 or 10 of those hours.

I’m reminded of something I read some time back. It went something like this, “I want to be a writer, I just don’t like to write.” And so I think to myself something in the same manner. I want to be thinner, I just don’t want to eat less. I’d like to be a runner, but I don’t like to run. I’d like to be a painter, I just don’t like to paint. And so at night when I first go to bed, I think, what did I do today? What did I accomplish? How did I spend my time? The answer usually screams back at me. “NOTHING!” That voice isn’t exactly honest, I shop, I sometimes take a walk, wash the dishes. You know real exciting stuff.

So to the end of this whining, What prevents me from taking some of my free time (No, I’m aware it’s a resource, it’s not free) to pause, to consider what I want to do, what would make my life more joyful, content, productive? And if I get some answers, what stops me from spending my time doing those things. Yes, I’m aware that Haagen Dazs Butter Pecan ice cream is more addictive than cocaine, and that’s part of the reason I buy large shirts instead of mediums. I don’t expect any real answers to these questions, they will probably be with me until that last day. The good news is, I have one more thing to add to my morning routine. Waste 10 minutes thinking about not wasting any more of that precious resource called time. The reality most likely is, I’d like to not be a time waster, I just don’t want to stop wasting time.

I’d add a clever quote about wasting time by some famous person, but right now I’m off to go check my e-mail, my Facebook account and to have another cup of coffee.

Go well, David

Langston Hughes at my Dinner Party

2-5-2019

I’ve been thinking about having a dinner party and trying to decide who to invite. It needs to be somewhat intimate, lively and entertaining. I wouldn’t generally have thought of a poet but I was recently reacquainted with Langston Hughes and I knew he had to be on the list.

There is no doubt he would have something to add to the after dinner conversation. Having written more than thirty-six books on topics ranging from poetry, fiction, humor, biographies, anthologies and books for young people, I think he could add to any discussion.

I would ask him first to recite this poem. “Still Here”

I’ve been scared and battered.

My hopes the wind done scattered.

Snow has friz me, sun has baked me.

Looks like between ’em

They done tried to make me

Stop laughin’, stop lovin, stop livin’ –

But I don’t care!

I’m still here!

I would ask Mr. Hughes to explain to all of us sitting around how this country feels to him now, in 2019 as compared to 1957 when he wrote that poem. How has America changed for the black man in sixty-two years? Does he still feel scared and battered? Are his hopes still scattered?

I can imagine hearing him saying that maybe the mood needs to be lightened a bit. His diction precise and his smile infectious. So he will recite something a bit more humorous.

“Bad Morning”

Here I sit

With my shoes mismated.

Lawdy-mercy!

I’s frustrated!

It’s getting late and we have things to do tomorrow. So one last request of Mr. Hughes, please tell us a little about Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. Tell us how you remember it.

“Beale Street”

The Dream is vague

And all confused

With dice and women

and jazz and booze.

The dream is vague,

Without a name,

Yet warm and wavering

And sharp as flame.

The loss

Of the dream

Leaves nothing

The same.

The evenings come to an end and we say our good nights. It’s been a good time and I regret it’s ending. Mr. Hughes puts on his coat to leave and I watch his face and wonder. What has really changed in the U S since this man was born 117 years ago? I hopes it’s a better place. Good night Langston.

Listening

1-31-2019

I understand. The world is a busy place and we have many important things to do. Jobs to work, kids to raise, money to be earned and bills to pay. I’ll slow down later, I’ll listen later, there’s no time for that now.

Up front, I’ll admit that the author Cormac McCarthy is a hero of mine. Not a hero in the way that Superman is a hero; then again, maybe he’s that kind of hero too. He is hero because of his writing. Like Superman, he can knock me over with the lightest touch of words beautifully crafted into a sentence. Preciseness and writing bravery go a long way in my mind. For me, McCarthy is nearly a perfect writer. What could make him better? I have no idea.

My hero worship is not the reason I mention this author. I recently finished reading his play The Stonemason and was just finishing the book when McCarthy sprung his literary trap. I was caught. Three lines set my mind reeling. The sentences didn’t direct my thoughts, they opened a door and said “Come on in.”

Why could he not see the worth of that which he had put aside and the poverty of all he hungered for?” Then a few pages later, “Yet even before any of this, I had a dream and this dream was a cautionary dream and a dream I did not heed.”
And on the next to last page of the book, these words, “We do not know what is required of us, and we have nothing to sustain us but the counsel of our fathers.”

Perhaps this was just three random sentences taken from that play. This is the message the words gave to me. Today is the last day of January 2019, and I question where we are going. What will this planet look like in twenty years, fifty or in one hundred years? My grandchildren and my not yet born great grandchildren will be alive to witness those years. What will it look like? Will we have put aside “the worth” to gain and lust after, “the poverty hungered for?”

Will we heed that “cautionary dream” that plagues us at night; the whisper that will become a roar should we maintain our current trajectory?

Will we hear the words that clearly tell us what is required of us? Will we be guided by and sustained with, “the counsel of our fathers?”

I live in the Sonoran Desert and watch the encroachment of mankind. An encroachment that demands more and more and more. I wonder if we will ever believe we have taken enough? Will we ever get our fill? Will we ever say I’m satisfied? It seems to me that the only animal species that takes, or perhaps demands more than needed, is that of humans.

“The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed.”

Mahatma Gandhi

Go well, David

Everyone needs a mountain and a book

1-26-2018 When I was working as a therapist, I often heard people say, “When this happens, then I will …. ” (fill in the blank). I will be happy, or I will be content, or I will be better off financially. I used to call them When Then People. My point is, they were waiting for something to change before they could be what they wanted to be. And in full disclosure, I have had my share of personal “When Then” moments.

As I’ve grown older and hopefully a little wiser, my life has settled a bit more into living in the now moment. I try to practice what Buddhist call “Mindfulness.” I’m not always successful, there are many nights I go to bed and one of my first thoughts is, “How did this day pass so quickly?” I’m retired and that obviously allows more time to ponder these sorts of questions. I can say with all honestly that I’ve never pondered my navel. With retirement, there has come more free time. Not more time, but more leisure time. Retirement has also allowed a lot of time for the question of, “What now?”

For me, the what now is based on three principal considerations or questions. What can I create today? What can I contribute today? and, How shall I relax and enjoy this day?

The first question is usually about writing. Writing has become a challenge, a joy and a quest. The contribute question generally is about volunteering at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, picking up a bit of trash that’s been carelessly thrown out a car window and sometimes a kind word to a troubled friend. The relaxation/enjoyment question is clearly the most fun.I did have many years of promotion seeking, money making, bigger house living and Porsche wanting. I admit my heart still goes pity-patter when a new Porsche Boxster blows past my sedate family truckster. I digress. What brings the most joy to my life today are far more simple things. A four hour drive to Pinos Altos, NM and a few days of quiet in the mountain air. It is a simple small cabin, free of CNN/FOX News screaming, free of constant Facebook checking and freedom from “I’m bored.” I never get bored in the mountains. I get alive!

One other thing adds to this pleasure, a good book. I never had the chance to chat with John Steinbeck, Charles Dickins or Lin Yutang; but I have gotten a chance to know them. I’ve told John that I loved reading Sweet Thursday. I’ve marveled at my joy in seeing Dickens create Em’ly  as the charming young girl in David Copperfield.   I’ve laughed at Yutang’s gentle ribbing of the Americans inability to slow down and just enjoy life.

One last thought. I read a question a few days back. It asked this, “What do you wish you could teach your younger self?”  My answer is simple. Don’t be a When Then person, be a Right Now person. Go find that mountain, pick up a book and live.

Kinder Than Necessary

In this modern age where it’s easy to have thousands of photographs on a smart phone or an iPad, I have two that are significant to me. One is of the tombstone of my mother. It contains only two words and two dates. Genita Davis 1927-1958. She was thirty-one when she died, I was ten. I have very little memory of her.

The second photograph is also that of a tombstone. This one is of my maternal grandmother. Annie Riddlespurger Close 1892-1995. She was one hundred and three when she died. I have many memories of her. Each of those memories are as positive about a human being as one can have. Granny Annie was without doubt the most kind, gracious and loving human I’ve ever known.

I Recently read a story about a teacher telling his class to always be a little kinder than was necessary. My grandmother lived that lesson every day of the forty-seven years I knew her. After my mother died, I lived two years with my grandmother. She was sixty-six years old then, and had no indoor bathroom and received what was called commodities (pre-food stamp food assistance) in those days. She loved me with what can only be called the highest level of unconditional love.

I can’t say for sure what guided her. She went to church but never talked of religion. She lived in a house that couldn’t have been more than 700 square feet and It was taken away by a tornado when she was in her eighties. Never did she utter a word of anger. She outlived her husband by forty-three years and outlived five of her children. Never did she mention a word about the unfairness of life. She was grateful for and satisfied with what she had. Somehow at some time she must have decided to be content with her life. Somehow at some point she must have learned that complaining didn’t change anything. Somehow at some point she must have learned that kindness is better than bitterness and hatred. She was always kinder than necessary.

And so I sit here at 5:30 a.m., thinking about my grandmother and of her grace and beauty. I dare not look at the newspaper headlines for fear of seeing more stories of war, division, hatred , greed and poverty. Kindness is such a simple word and yet it carries such deep and powerful impact. I believe should we learn the lessons of that teacher who told his class to be kinder than was necessary; should we emulate the life of my grandmother, this world would instantly be a far better place.

A quote from the XIV Dali Lama

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Go well, David

Why Write ?

I’ve been thinking about why I write. Some of my writing friends say they write because they have to. Somehow that sounds like they might perish if they didn’t put word to paper. I’d like to think that about myself, but it wouldn’t be honest. The thought of “why?” comes up mostly when I’m at a loss as to what to write. It’s not writers block ( I don’t think), because basically I don’t believe there is such a thing. Many others who are smarter than me would probably disagree with that last sentence.

I write because it’s an outlet for my meandering thoughts and it makes me dig a little deeper into those thoughts. An example: This morning I found another blogger that had written about thirty questions ranging from what city or country would best represent me to what lesson would I tell my younger self? The answers were to be sent to her and she might pick the person who wrote them for a guest blog interview. I answered them because they were intriguing questions to answer and it made me think.

My most important reason for writing is simple, it’s fun and it allows me to create something tangible. I was a social worker and a therapist for many years. I enjoyed my work and generally thought I was pretty good at it, yet it never left me with anything tangible at the end of the day. I’d not built a house, sold a sofa or raised a crop. What I’d generally done was talk to people and listen to them. I hope I benefited peoples lives, but there were times I wanted to just know I’d accomplished something. I know that when I write. I can hold my two books and say these thousands of words came from me. Good, bad or indifferent, they are every one, my words.

There are two other reasons I write. I hope to bridge a gap that is always there between people. It’s the same reason I read, I want to connect with another human, perhaps today, next month or in ten years. I hope my written words do that. I also write with the hope and effort that what I write tomorrow will be better than what I wrote yesterday. Sometimes I feel I succeed and sometimes I know I didn’t. I write not because I have to, I write because I love to.

Two last quotes:

“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; not characters. A character is a caricature.” Ernest Hemingway

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word… the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening.” Mark Twain

Go well, David

Sundown Town – “Possible”

Having recently seen the movie The Green BookI started thinking back nearly fifty-five year years. I went to high school in a small town in the panhandle of Texas. My memory has grown a bit cloudy after so many years, yet I am almost certain there was not one African-American student in my high school.

I have two very vivid memories regarding those times. My first memory is one of working at a gas station. In those days an attendant (me) pumped gas for customers. Late one afternoon a car pulled in to fill up and a middle-aged African-American man got out of the car. The rest of his family remained in the auto. As best I can remember, here are his words. “We’ve been traveling all day, can you tell me how to get to the colored part of town so we can spend the night?”  I had no idea what to say to the man, so I said nothing in response. I’d not seen a black family in that town in four years. I remember he looked at me and then again spoke. “I understand, we’ll keep driving.” I stood filled with shame and embarrassment and watched them drive away.

A year after high my school graduation, I was working in a hospital about fifty miles away from where I’d gone to school. An African-American nurse and I became friends. When she found out were I’d lived, she told me a story. She said when she was a young girl, she and her family had to pass through that town while on their way to Colorado to visit her grandparents. She said there were signs posted on each end of town that proclaimed, “N….., don’t let the sun set with you still in ……”

I’ve attempted to find information that would deny or confirm if that town was indeed a Sundown Town. The only information I can find lists it as possible. I was a military brat, my early years were formed by living with all people – white, brown, black, purple, it didn’t matter. Color never seemed an issue as best that I can recall.

There were indeed good people in my high school town. Many hard-working, church going people. People that loved their children, those proud of their country and served in the military. I don’t know much beyond that. I don’t want to believe that kind of hateful racism lurked in that town, although my gut says it probably did. I’ve not been back in many decades, so I have no measure of how it looks today. I do know that this country has moved somewhat past those days in the 60s, but I also know the ugliness that was overt and blatant in our history, still remains. Perhaps to a lesser degree, perhaps more covert, but it remains. And I still feel shame and embarrassment.