I have never been very good at losing, and it is embarrassing to look back and see how I behaved when life did not follow the script I had written for it to follow. For example, when the Boston teams lost, when I was a boy, (and that was quite often, in the early 1960’s, when Boston had abysmal baseball, football and hockey teams), I would stamp around my boyhood bedroom in a royal rage, with such a hollow in the pit of my stomach I nearly was sick. Then, years later, when I’d be fired for telling a boss he didn’t know how to run his business, I tended to retire frowning to a motel unit and sulk until the floor was knee-deep in beer cans. I simply was not a good loser. Or, perhaps, I was very good at loosing, but not the slightest bit able to be reconciled to the situation.
You would think I’d get better at losing, after so much practice, but I seemed to be a slow learner. I had that will-power and dogged determination that refuses to quit, and this tendency, which might be helpful in some situations, often had me charging off to make the exact same mistake all over again. Even when I got sick of being a loser, it was something I couldn’t run away from. You can’t escape yourself, by moving to a new town and starting over. Yourself comes with you.
Now that I’m older I am very familiar with all the things losers say and do, in order to deny the fact they are losers, because I happen to be a writer, and this means I have entire notebooks full of my past justifications for bozo behavior. Some are so old the pages are yellowing, while others are more recent, but all are a morning mirror; IE: They show me when I am not at my best.
Scattered here and there midst all the losses are a few wins, and I can’t say winning made me behave any better. Rather I became horribly arrogant and over-confident. The best word would be “cocky”, because, if you have ever had to deal with a rooster in a farmyard you know such birds have no brains, and will attack things far bigger than they are, (such as a tractor), even though they are bound to lose, and be a winner no more.
Perhaps the most foolish thing to attack would be God, yet, looking back, I think I did that. I had the idea that God did not create man; rather man created God. God was a fairy tale man had invented, like Santa Claus, to make himself feel better. Belief was a self-verifying system wherein one filtered out that which countered belief, and embraced all that supported belief. Therefore, since all was basically man-made and created in the mind, all I needed to do was adjust my attitude this way or that, and that would change life itself.
This idea only works when you stay in your study and scribble into notebooks. Once you step outside it dawns on you that you don’t write the laws. The laws are a reality created by someone else.
For example, take the law of gravity. Did I write that one?
Actually I liked the idea of levitating and walking on water, so I was always trying to figure out a way around the law of gravity. I even had dreams where I’d be floating about, but once awake I couldn’t find the loophole in the law. I had heard the loophole had something to do with “faith”, so, (when no one was looking), I’d whisper to myself “I do believe! I do believe! I do believe!” and step off a dock. Fail. But one never knows whether one can walk on water until one conducts a scientific experiment. And then I actually did an experiment of sorts where my faith was absolute. It involved walking up a staircase in the pitch dark. I had absolute faith a further step was there, and my absolute faith ought have allowed me to step up onto air, but instead I fell flat on my face. Obviously faith alone was not enough.
And that is where my experiments with levitation stand, at this point. I still conduct a few trials (when no one is looking), because I am a very stubborn person. Currently I am trying to fine-tune the “faith” business. Obviously faith alone isn’t enough, but perhaps it works if you have faith in a certain “Thing”. However I do recognize that the law of gravity is a real law, and I didn’t write it.
I also discovered there are other laws I didn’t write, concerning actions and reactions, and various laws engineers learn about. As a boy I learned short nails are not wise to use when building tree houses, and that the roof of an igloo will not remain a roof if you add too many windows. As a teenager I learned other physical laws which involved skidding, trees, crumpled fenders, and also that, at a certain point, the laws trespass beyond the realms of strictly physical science, and enter the strange landscape of social science. For example I learned crashes increase insurance rates, and also that after four crashes your stepfather may be reluctant to loan you his car.
Laws get interesting once they move into what we tend to think of as “social” areas. Such action-and-reaction is called “Karma” in the East, but in Western Religions it is summed up by the simple statement “you reap what you sow.”
I learned about this fairly early, because my mother was a child of the Great Depression, and knew how to pinch a penny. When my friends got a dollar-per-week allowance, I got a nickle, which was the price of a candy bar back then. The cheapest Revell model airplane was 29 cents, which meant I either had to wait six weeks, (and borrow my brother’s glue), or else do some hustling. Starting around age nine I’d go door to door around the neighborhood, asking, “Got any odd jobs you want done?”, accepting whatever they paid me. A snowstorm was a blessing for me, for not only might school (which I hated) be cancelled, but I might make a whole dollar or even two, shoveling walks. By age 12 I had nearly three hundred dollars saved up in the bank.
However by this time (1965) I was starting to learn about other odd social laws, one of which was this strange thing called “inflation.” A candy bar abruptly doubled in price, and then tripled to fifteen cents, but oddly the money in my bank account didn’t double or triple. (The interest in savings accounts went up a bit, to something like 5.75%, but that didn’t keep up with inflation.) I can remember frowning about this, as a young capitalist, and thinking something didn’t smell right.
Having parents who had suffered through the Great Depression tended to mean a little of their experience got hammered into my head, yet at the same time they could be very permissive, as they didn’t want me to experience the meanness that too often went hand in hand with frugality. (It doesn’t have to, and as a rule the poor are more generous with small incomes than the rich are with large ones, but still, meanness can occur.)
The thing about permissiveness is that it can give the recipient the idea that one can reap what they haven’t sown. I tend to feel this idea is a weed that mentally spreads, until one starts to expect what they haven’t sown, and to feel they are entitled to what they haven’t sown. However back when I was a boy the United States was a rich and booming nation, and no one seemed to foresee the welfare-dependency or the inflation that would be caused by government magnanimity . President Johnson launched “The Great Society” in 1964, and American generosity went wild. In fact 1968 marked the highest the poor were ever paid, in term of inflation-adjusted dollars, and from that point on inflation was greater than raises, and the poor gradually became poorer.
Speaking for myself, I noticed a change in my own attitude during my teenaged years in the late 1960’s, partly brought on by the fact my mother remarried and the family suddenly was richer, and partly brought on by the maturation of a generation nurtured by permissiveness. It was a huge generation; a major segment of the population; a majority, all reaching their majority; a political block with the power to lower the voting and drinking ages; all feeling heaven was just over the hill, and getting there was a free ride. In fact to be happy involved no spiritual endeavor at all; one needed only pop a pill; God was apparently our footman, at our beck and call. It was an euphoria.
The problem with such ideas is that one must be reaping what another has sown. Either God actually is showering His compassion and benevolence upon you, and you are reaping God’s mercy, or you are mooching off your parents, (either living in their basement or incarcerated at a college), or you rob banks (in a variety of different ways.)
In order to accept the concept it is possible to reap-without-sowing one must do one of two things. Either one must delude themselves, or one must accept the idea life isn’t fair, and others do the work as you collect their rewards. I wasn’t able to delude myself (although I made some decent attempts), and something in my guts revolted at the idea of ripping others off. (Not that I wasn’t involved in some grand theft, as a teenager.)
The simple fact of the matter is that there are some Laws you can’t truly escape, and reaping-what-you-sow is one of them. You can sit in your study all you want, writing how unfair it is that a highbrow like yourself should do some demeaning job such as plant seeds, but, if don’t do your share, you don’t deserve the harvest, and if you somehow manage to get what you don’t deserve, it means you are robbing someone else, who did do the work.
I think I was lucky that my family went through a spell of poverty, before my mother remarried, because I had a taste of what it means to have to turn out the lights and turn down the heat, because you can’t afford it. It hammered some common sense into my thick skull that stuck with me, even as I attempted to become the next John Lennon, and be paid for sitting around strumming a guitar, thinking deeply, and basically having fun. Common sense turned out to be a handy thing to have, for it turned out I wasn’t the next John Lennon, and nobody was going to pay me for sitting around composing lyrics, singing, thinking deeply, and basically having fun.
Some old-fashioned Puritan ghost of an ancestor evoked the “Puritan Work Ethic” in me, even though my fellow artists all laughed at that idea, and said the “Puritan Work Ethic” was a silly, antiquated concept. Their logic was brilliant, and I always felt a bit of a fool, but I’d just basically state that, in the fable of the Grasshopper and the Ant, I felt the artists were the Grasshoppers, and deserved to starve.
I learned that in the course of history few artists have been as successful as John Lennon, and many artists, if not actually starving, were rather lean.
This occurred because, shortly after my 17th birthday, I was plucked from the joyous, euphoric drug-culture I was involved with, and sent to a rigorous, “Outward Bound” like school in a remote corner of northeast Scotland where drugs were very hard to find. Besides running me around like a marine, and forcing me to play the insane sport called “rugby”, this school, (called Dunrobin), put me through a boot-camp of rigorous mental calisthenics. Someone read the smart-Alex essays I was writing with my John Lennon attitude, and decided my scribbles showed I had some sort of promise, and my work-load should be tripled. I was given six months to to study the English Literature necessary to pass a college level exam, (the “A level”), even though most students studied at least two years. Furthermore, no alternative was offered. I then was plunged into more English Literature than most American colleges teach in four years, and, despite all my griping that I was being bullied, it was a kindly bullying. (How I have wished, in the fifty years since, that some bully would come up to me and make me read Shakespeare and Chaucer and Milton and fifty other authors. Nope. Hasn’t happened.)
At the time I felt deprived. I was getting letters from friends back in the States who bragged how many parties they went to, and how often they got laid. That was college, for them. But when I got back to the United States I discovered they were basically wasted. Not that I seemed to be much better. I might have an “A level” in English, and another “A level” in Economics, but that wasn’t worth a hill of beans in the United States, in 1971.
I had learned, in the process of studying great literature, that great artists very seldom made the big bucks John Lennon made. There was a price to be paid, and even the likes of John Lennon paid it. Of course, in 1971, I did not know what future awaited him, but I knew what Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and Ginger Baker had earned, and tightened my belt, for I knew the price of joy is steep, and “it don’t come easy”.
I spent the next ten years among other artists, and basically lived as a grasshopper among other grasshoppers, in a society of ants. However I was a grasshopper oddly afflicted by the “Puritan Work Ethic” other artists gaily laughed at. I quit drugs and promiscuous sex and was a square. Not that my friends claimed to be well-rounded. Rather they claimed to be odd balls. But they were not square, and I was.
I think they only put up with me because I smoked like a chimney and drank like a fish and also, although I worked much more than they felt artists should, I did get fired on a regular basis, and they found that borderline-acceptable. (Perhaps they only put up with me because having me around proved they were not bigoted. Perhaps I was the “token square”.)
They were true Americans, for they loved freedom. They were free thinkers and irreverent and conducted an experiment that involved as many dying as a small war does. There will likely never be a monument raised in any town square for those irreverent fellows, but they did die for freedom.
I feel I was privileged to be among them, between 1971 and 1981, even though I disagreed with a lot they argued. They had an attitude best described as, “if it feels good, do it”, and were not hypocrites, (who only do what “feels good” on the sly). They sinned with braggadocio, publicly. I warned them, like a preachy wet blanket at a party, that there would be consequences, but they laughed at me and said the joy outweighed the consequences. And for all I know, they could be right, for nearly all have gone away to a place where I can’t interview them.
Between 1971 and 1981 I already could see the consequences, but they were largely psychological rather than physical, and therefore hard to nail down and call “proof”. Most obvious was the way drugs gradually damaged brains. I was confronted by friends, who had once been brilliant, being slowly reduced to trembling and neurotic shreds of what they once were. Some shrank into institutions, some committed suicide, and some just became of the “unwelcome”. I also argued that sexual promiscuity had unhealthy side-effects, though arguing that point tended to get me mocked as a prude. And then, in 1981, AIDS appeared.
As far as I’m concerned, the official numbers, concerning how many died of AIDS in the early 1980’s, are absurd. Far more died than was reported. There was no cure, and many fated to die chose to just quietly die of pneumonia, avoiding the stigma involved. As an outsider looking in all I knew was that old friends stopped writing letters, or were not around, and no one knew where they went. There didn’t seem to me much fanfare or many fond farewells. The primary uproar was in gay newspapers, where various conspiracy theories were ventured, and then the few newspapers I looked at stopped being published. When I tried to hunt people down in gay neighborhoods it seemed entire neighborhoods had became ghost towns.
With the appearance of AIDS a flaming honesty was wiped out. A group of freedom-loving Americans, who may have been unwise in the manner they sought freedom, was erased. A voice went silent. The strangest thing was that it was replaced by a political correctness that forbid saying “you reap what you sow” in the same sentence as “AIDS”.
1981 was also when the supply of cocaine boomed and the price crashed, and it started being refined into “crack”. Though I had been drug-free for a decade I was tempted, because I had read that Robert Louis Stephenson wrote “Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” in 24 hours, while taking cocaine for a fever, and I had the need to write a best seller in 24 hours, for I was broke (as usual). Fortunately I did not like the drug at all; rather than broadening my mind it made my thinking feel narrow and pinched. (Nor did I write a best seller in 24 hours.) There was no huge harvest, and in fact all I did was sit down and reread “Treasure Island” for the first time since my boyhood. It contains this quote:
In any case, I was not attracted to cocaine, and the way my friends relished it seemed idiotic. I agreed with the quote, “Cocaine is God’s way of telling you that you have too much money,” and found myself veering off onto my own path.
I had to think of some way of justifying the deaths of so many of my friends, due to the sex and drugs so many claimed would lead to freedom, back in the late 1960’s, and I finally decided they were like Danial Boone, pioneering a Cumberland Gap, but on the other side of the Gap they walked into a bear, or perhaps a blender. They died, but died advancing the cause of Freedom, and in their death was a lesson for all who followed.
I figured this was a truly liberal idea: The idea that people learn from mistakes and therefore mistakes could be seen in a positive light. Even when mistakes resulted in death, the death could be a lesson that saved others. Death was a bitter harvest, but we should talk in terms of reaping-what-you-sow. However political correctness seemed to forbid it. If you talked about AIDS as being a “consequence” you were a “homophobic sexist” and if you talked about the consequences of crack cocaine you were a “racist”.
I still thought of myself as a liberal democrat, but I think 1981 marks the start of a divorce. Many describe the schism as, “Not leaving the democrat party, but being left by the democrat party.” All I was aware of was that many of my friends had died and I felt very alone. I stopped calling myself an artist and just deemed myself a drifter, though I still wrote and still did a lot of contemplating.
A lot of my contemplating revolved around the idea that there were some laws that had no loopholes. I hadn’t created them, and I might not particularly like them, but there was no way around them. They were how the world was made. I could fight the Law all I wanted, but it always won.
In other words, I benefited from being a loser, because I learned from my mistakes. However it wasn’t charity that helped me. I wasn’t uplifted by welfare. No church helped me. Rather I ran up against the Law.
It was at this time I fled California and basically vanished into the Four-corners area of the American southwest. Therefore I eluded the third great madness of 1981, which was Silicon Valley’s creation of a digital law and a digital yoga. The few friends I had left who weren’t deranged by drugs or destroyed by sex now became demented by a new way of talking called “code”.
“Code” was important because if you sowed seeds there, the harvest in terms of dollars was huge. However in my opinion “Code” was silly, because Truth isn’t digital.
Don’t get me wrong. Once I discovered a word processor involved a thing called “spell check” I thought it was a superb invention, and I swiftly deserted my weathered typewriter and my bottle of “white out”. Also I adored (and adore) the free speech that occurs upon “web”, for it is non-digital. But I didn’t see this until I was given a used computer in 1999.
In 1984 it would be years before I owned my first computer. When I ditched California, I deemed all the focus on speaking “Code” a sort of avoidance and denial. Didn’t anyone see there was a cocaine crisis to deal with? Didn’t anyone see there was an AIDS crisis to deal with? Didn’t anyone see the entire sex-and-drugs philosophy needed reevaluation, and an overhaul? The answer seemed to be apparently, “not”, in California, and so I was the rat deserting that ship.
I applied to an interesting Law school, where people are a bit scornful of political law. The American Southwest holds a unique blend of conquered peoples, and if there is a salient characteristic of such people it is not any great respect for the law imposed upon them, by their conquerors.
You should notice that, in the above paragraph, sometimes I capitalize the word Law, and sometimes I don’t. This is because there is the Law, and then there is the law.
In the Four Corners area the “original” people were various Pueblo tribes such as the Zuni, Hopi, and Acoma, who apparently are leftovers from the Anasazi Civilization, but who befuddle anthropologists by speaking languages so very different it makes the Anasazi look more diverse than the European Union, in a far smaller area. The laws differed from Pueblo to Pueblo, and then around the year 1300 a wave of Athabaskan-speaking people who became the Apache and Navajo appeared. (But do not call them immigrants; they will tell you they arose from the earth between the Four Sacred Mountains). (I would reply that the Yankee arose from Sacred Plymouth Rock.) Then in 1540 the Spaniards appeared. At some point a wave of Spanish Inquisition (1580?) brought increased cruelty, and successive waves finally resulted in the Spanish being driven out in 1680, but they returned in 1692, and ruled until Mexico became independent in 1821. Then a war with the United States made the area part of the United States in 1848, and then no one was certain if they were Union or Confederate during the American Civil War. The Navajo were driven from their land in 1864 and allowed to return in 1868. Geronimo surrendered in 1886 but other Apache fought on as renegades into the 20th century. Pancho Vilas raided the USA in 1916, and the final Calvary-Indian skirmish was the “battle” of Bear Valley in 1918.
Just to give you an idea how this chaos influenced laws, (with a small “L”), slavery was abolished in 1821, re-instituted in 1848, and abolished again in 1864. Who exactly owned the land was also in flux, and I made a friend whose grandfather still held the deed to all of northeast New Mexico, signed by a Spanish king. A fascinating Hopi-Navajo land dispute was going go as I entered the area, and I even got mixed up in a confusing quarrel between Navajo clans, involving an election between “McDonald” and “Zah” for Chairman of the Navajo Tribe. And that was only the start.
To be honest, attempting to figure out the politics of the area was a heck of a lot more fun than learning computer “Code”, but I often tended to throw up my hands and dismiss a lot of the whining as sheer bull. I refused to be politically correct, and found out this was actually appreciated by the local folk.
When I first arrived in the area I was nervous because I hadn’t been able to register my car. It had Maine plates, and for years I had re-registered it long-distance by mail, but a change in Maine law made it impossible, and the last sticker was for 1983 even though the year was 1984. Then I looked around. The Navajo had no use for white man’s laws, and a fair number of vehicles had no plates whatsoever. The police had more serious infractions to attend to than stupid plates. I was able to avoid the bother of plates until I had the time (and money) to attend to such things, which turned out to be 1988.
Driving around the Navajo Reservation with Maine plates often landed me in humorous situations where I was mistaken as a person new to the area and wet behind the ears. I’d see a fellow look at my plates, and then straighten up and make his face adopt a sort of stoic expression I suppose was supposed to be “Indian”, but before he could deliver his pitch (in a low, expressionless voice I suppose was supposed to be “Indian”), I’d crossly state, “Look at the date on those plates.” The fellow would look again, see the date was 1983, and dawn would break over his face, as he realized I’d been around a while. Usually he’d flash a wonderful smile.
The Navajo word for a white man was “Belighana”, (people who we fought) but the word for a young hippy was “Wannabeha”, (want-to-be-a Indian.) They had mixed feelings about such arrivals, who hung on their every word as if they were prophets, for even if these hippies were initially generous, they soon were broke, and also they tended to do good deeds such as close down the uranium mines, where a Navajo could make $28.00/hour, and leave the Navajo with unemployment.
I failed to qualify as a Wannabeha right off the bat, because I was too broke to even be initially generous, and was very short-tempered due to a failed romance. One of my first conversations with a Navajo involved a fellow hitting me with the line, “You stole our land”, and my immediate (and completely politically-incorrect) response was, “Land? Land? What &#@%^ land are you %#$@& talking about? I haven’t got any $%*@# land!!! I’m &#@^^$ sleeping in my &@%$# car!!!” Oddly, though this may be politically incorrect, it apparently is the correct thing to say to a Navajo, of you want to skip all the BS and speak man to man.
I suppose some Anthropologist might be noting that down, and therefore I should hasten to add Navajo ridicule Anthropologists, and how they note things down. I heard some funny tales of the “traditions” they had made up on the spot, and seen Anthropologists note down.
I could write a book, but tonight I should simply state that, while others were learning computer code, I was a drifter in a harsh landscape learning the difference between the politically correct idea of “diversity” and the reality. Without really intending to, I learned the difference between law and Law. My professors were the poor.
What is the difference? It is difficult to be succinct about such a subtlety, but basically it revolves around money. The law, with a small “L”, seems to be all about money these days, but the Law, with a capital “L”, could care less.
In terms of “reaping what you sow”, money is neither the seed that you plant nor the crop that you harvest. Money is a byproduct, the manure you spread in the fields.
Money is not evil, but love-of-money is foolishness, and is like love-of-manure. Money is not called “filthy lucre” without reason. Even as I got my “A-level” in Economics nearly fifty years ago I understood Economics was called “The Dismal Science”, and it was called that because Economics left out that which is most golden about humanity. Economics (in most cases) failed to register that a miser is not merely a man who would rather hug a heap of cold coins than a warm woman; he is a man who would rather hug manure.
Allow me to skip a whole staircase of logic at this point, and to leap to the conclusion that some misers can think they are superior. Because they have cash they think they have intelligence. Because they learned “Code”, and made megabucks during a boom, they think they are at the forefront, and others have been “left behind”.
Because they’re a miser
They think they are wiser.
They call themselves “The Elite”, and feel it is their duty to reeducate the unwashed masses, and turn masses into misers as well. Some even think those who resist should be removed.
I am not persuaded. I am persuaded by something else. I thought I was a minority, but the last election makes me think maybe I’m not.
One thing the desert landscape of the Southwest had seen was a lot of booms and busts. I’ve already mentioned the political changes, but there were Silver Cities that rose and then became ghost towns, and then vanished as local people came by to reuse the lumber. Route 66 was lined with small businesses, and then became a ghost highway when Interstate 40 opened. There was an Indian Jewelry boom, that went bust when facsimile were produced more cheaply in Singapore, and a Navajo Blanket boom that went bust when facsimile were produced more cheaply in Mexico. The transcontinental railway was fueled by Gallup coal mines that went bust when trains switched to diesel. Nuclear power was fueled by uranium mines in Grants until that too busted. Fortunes were made and fortunes were lost, and life went on. No one was made “elite” by any boom, and no one was made “inferior” by any bust.
A boom is a very nice experience, and success is pleasant, and to win is a joy, but one should not become too cocky and behave like a rooster. One should not create a virtual reality, wherein laws ignore Law. One most especially should not allow money to rule, and think bribery and corruption is the way of the world, for even if you make that the law, it is against the Law. And if you ignore the Law you are cruising for a bruising.
The American Republic is based on the premise all men are created equal and no one is “elite”. A faith in the common sense of the ordinary man is involved. Watching the hysterical reactions of some, to the results of the recent election, I suspect some want to veto the common sense of the ordinary man. I’m nervous the so-called “elite” will seek to find some way to cling to a personal boom which they see going bust. Where our forefathers had a trust they own a distrust. However, if such people actually succeed in derailing democracy, they will turn an ordinary transfer of power, (a sort of “bust” for some), into a prolonged, tortuous downfall to those clinging to power, and an unmitigated disaster for the Republic.
If you ignore the Law you are cruising for a bruising.
However rather than concluding with that, I’d like to add a sort of hope. And it is this: Even though I have in many ways been a rebel and outlaw much of my life, and have deserved to be a loser, I’ve seen a strange theme of compassion throughout my losses. To be honest, in retrospect many losses seem to have actually been blessings.
Think back to the start of this post, when I described being shipped off to northern Scotland to be run ragged and forced to study Shakespeare, as my friends wrote me about how they got laid and partied every night. Do you think I felt blessed? No. However when I returned to the states and saw my friends were wasted, and had seemingly been made more stupid by attending college than they were before they went, I had second thoughts about who was luckier.
I was also luckier because I didn’t die even as many of my friends did, during all the experiments involving seeking “freedom” through sex and drugs. But why was I so lucky? It most certainly wasn’t because I was smarter and didn’t do some stupid and shameful things. Rather it is because the Law includes an element that can only be called compassion.
Stand by the Truth, and the Truth will stand by you.