LOCAL VIEW –A Burr’s Blessing–

One gift my parents gave me was a sort of idealism that doesn’t seem like a gift. It can seem like a burr stuck in your hair, as this old world can be hard on idealists. Not only do others disappoint us, but we can disappoint ourselves. For this reason many who started out idealists become cynics; the softhearted become hardhearted; optimists become pessimists; the faithful become faithless.

To me such a response always seemed a weakness, and even a sort of sell-out. What sort of idealist quits just because the going gets tough? One should persevere, and have high hopes:

Of course, being so hopeful and optimistic, even in the face of proof such behavior is unwise, did make me a bit of a sucker and a chump. But my parents again set an example, for even when their idealism went down in flames (in the form of their intensely acrimonious divorce), the same stubborn unwillingness-to-compromise (which perhaps led to the divorce) made them stubbornly unwilling to compromise on their idealism after their divorce. Even in the smoking wreckage of a crashed marriage they stubbornly persisted with their views and insisted they were correct, which I found very embarrassing, as a teenager, but which I also respected as a powerful reality, even though I didn’t understand it. Therefore it is only logical that I would follow in their footsteps, and remain true to the dual-idealism I inherited, despite all evidence idealism was unwise.

For example, most bosses initially felt lucky, when they hired me. I possessed the so-called, “Puritan Work Ethic”, and had high standards for my self, and was an athlete and enjoyed working hard. But bosses discovered I also had high standards regarding the behavior of bosses, which made them feel less lucky and made me look less desirable. Eventually, (and quite often so swiftly my rise and fall was like a yo-yo’s), our employer-employee compromise would become untenable, and divorce (IE: Getting fired or quitting) became unavoidable. As a consequence I worked over a hundred jobs, and have great experience concerning bosses, and have acquired reams of knowledge about all quirks and foibles bosses may have. I also have no pension, for I never found a boss worth a compromise of longer than two years, let alone the soul-selling duration-of-decades required for a pension. As far as I’m concerned, any person collecting a pension is either very lucky or very weak. They are lucky, if they lucked into a worthy boss, and they are weak, if they stayed working all those years for an unworthy boss.

Eventually I discovered self-reliance mattered, and the best boss was my foolish self, and I became “self-employed.”  Of course, once you are “self-employed” you still have bosses, but they are called “customers”. So you have to add another hundred bosses to the total I have worked for. I may not have a pension, but I do know a thing or two about bossy people. In fact I know much more than the fellow collecting a pension, for he compromised and worked for the same boring boss for thirty years, whereas I have worked for two hundred bosses. I deserve some sort of master’s degree. The irony is that the fellow with no experience gets a pension, as I, with all my wisdom, get little respect and no money.

What have I gained? It is a difference traced by the poet William Blake, which led him to call a first book, “Songs Of Innocence“, and a second, “Songs Of Experience.” It is a product of the pain of a burr, like the irritation of a grain of sand in an oyster’s tender places producing a pearl. In effect, it is proof hardship has meaning, and that you are getting something deeply significant out of life’s struggles, other than filthy lucre. It suggests the meaning of life, and of spiritual progress, and of real “gain”, is not measured by money.

One sad thing I’ve seen in those who retire, (in some cases far younger than I), is that despite one [or two or even three] fat pensions, they are often dead within a year or two of retiring. There are of course many exceptions to this rule, but such deaths happen frequently enough to be concerning. It as if such retirees realize they compromised too much, and worked their entire lives for emptiness, and the disillusionment kills them.

I don’t know much about this disillusionment, because I failed to live such a compromised life longer than two years, (and loathed those two years, during which time I joined a union, and discovered I then had two bosses at the same time). However I can speak with authority about how to get fired or quit, and how to never get a pension.

This seemed a totally useless authority to speak with, and a worthless wisdom to own, when I was a not-so-young, penniless man of 37, and still unmarried, and quite lonely. Where others bragged about increases in income, I could only brag about getting by on less and less (so I did so, for a man must brag about something). Even those who liked me tended to laugh at my idealistic attitudes, deeming me a mere mad poet. Therefore they were alarmed when I abruptly announced I was about to marry, and not marry a single woman either, but rather marry a woman with three small children.

To be honest, I saw no evidence even my closest friends thought the marriage was a good idea, or would last as long as a year. To some the idea of a person like myself being even a tenth as responsible as a husband and father has to be was not laughable, because it was too painfully embarrassing to even consider. After all, if I couldn’t even work for a boss, how could I possibly work for a wife?

Fortunately I had met a woman who on some level was as idealistic as I was, and who also didn’t care about money. Not that she didn’t enjoy the good life, when it was possible, but when the good life retreated from the present tense far into the foreseeable future, she was strangely unperturbed. What did she care for more than money? She cared about children and family, and she’d been through hard times that taught her that you can have the delights of children and family without a cent to your name. Consequently money had slipped downwards, in terms of importance, on her inward “list”.

As we talked we discovered we were on the same page, in a way impossible to describe to those who measure with money. We agreed a beer sipped in love was far superior to champagne without love, and agreed about fifty other things, and all that agreeable agreement occurred during the first hour of our first date. This hour astonished me, for usually I found dates painful, and the talk so stilted and ludicrous that I usually wanted to escape the woman more than I wanted to seduce her. But this woman was different. As I recall, we talked non-stop for a solid week, every chance we could, and, rather than wanting to escape, I wanted more.

We eventually agreed that love is so important it deserves a capital “L”, and this “Love” can also be called “God”, and that, compared to God, money doesn’t matter. We also decided to marry, after only a week. But we knew people would think we were crazy for deciding so swiftly, so we didn’t tell anyone else. We waited a whole three more weeks before announcing our decision. Most people still thought we were crazy.

It is one thing to talk the talk, but another to walk the walk. I have a sense my more cynical friends, (and at this point maybe I should demote them to “acquaintances”,) were sitting back amused, awaiting my humbling, as “the shit hit the fan”. And, to be honest, I myself was afraid of the same, for I’d been through humbling and embarrassing infatuations before. But this relationship was different. We deeply disappointed the prophets of doom. Then, as if it wasn’t a big enough challenge to provide for three children, God gifted us with a fourth, and then a fifth.

At this point I should probably answer the question, “If I couldn’t even work for a boss, how could I possibly work for a wife?” The answer was that we were “Pluggers”. We just kept plugging, never sure we’d come up with the next month’s mortgage or even the cash for groceries. Always the work appeared and the money was earned, often at the last possible moment, which was what we expected, and had faith would happen.

In the eyes of some acquaintances our attitude was irresponsible.  It required a faith they lacked. They suffered from a “burr under the saddle” called “insecurity”, and felt that all responsible people should compromise greatly to be “secure”. They stayed with deplorable bosses for “the health insurance”, and for the “pension”, and for other “benefits”, but we were free of such chains and quicksand. Our security was Love with a capital “L”, and while Love may not have given us lemonade when we only needed clean water, we seldom truly suffered, and usually blithely breezed through reefs and shoals, somewhat to the annoyance of those who suffered awful jobs they longed to quit, and who dourly predicted (and perhaps even secretly desired) our certain shipwreck, because we didn’t stick to the jobs they were glued to.

This is not to say we sat back very much at all. Pluggers must plug, and that involves hard work, even when the work does not pay very well. Faith involves far more sweat than sloth does.

I think this is actually a very American attitude, perhaps derived from the experiences of settlers, who horrified the Native Americans by arriving in destitute droves to farm (and destroy) their hunting grounds. America’s “Homestead Act” merely made official a phenomenon that was ongoing.

But such settlers often failed. They were expected to live for five years on their “free” land in order for the government to officially deem their ownership “legal”, and government statistics show roughly half of such settlers could not complete the five years. One sees little material success in characters such as “Pa” in the “Little House On The Prairie” books, as they move from failed homestead to failed homestead.  What impresses me more than success is the amazing lack of security such settlers faced, uprooting themselves from former lives to face American wilderness, and conditions of extreme hardship.

American settlers had great (and often unrealistic) faith in their own ability to produce a lush, bumper crop from, in some cases, semi-arid wastelands. Their attitude was in some ways the opposite of those modern men, many of whom are meekly ensconced in the modern welfare state. Many modern men apparently trust cringing, and distrust daring. But what was this thing I call “a settler’s attitude”?

An “attitude” is often a difficult thing to intellectually describe, and this is especially true because “Pluggers” don’t tend to be intellectual. However that which you cannot say in words can sometimes speak in songs, and the spirit of American settlers echoes in their music, and in their song’s humorous attitude towards misfortune.

For example, In “So long,  It’s Been Good To Know You“, Woody Guthrie sings,

The churches was jammed, and the churches was packed,
An’ that dusty old dust storm blowed so black
Preacher could not read a word of his text,
An’ he folded his specs,

an’ he took up collection,
Said:

So long, it’s been good to know yuh;
So long, it’s been good to know yuh;
So long, it’s been good to know yuh.
This dusty old dust is a-gettin’ my home,
And I got to be driftin’ along.

In the older ballad “Sweet Betsy From Pike,” a verse croons,

Well they soon reached the desert where Betsy gave out 
And down in the sand she lay rollin’ about 
While Ike in great tears looked on in surprise 
Sayin’, “Betsy get up; you’ll get sand in your eyes.”

Singin’, Too-rally-too-rally-too-rally-ray… 

But one song that (to me) best encapsulates the attitude of settlers springs from the unlikely root of a priest of the Church of England, George Herbert (1593-1633). Among other things he collected proverbs from other lands (“outlandish”), and seven years after he died his collection was published, and we derive from it some sayings we still use, such as “His bark is worse than his bite.” One saying we no longer use is, “To him that will, ways are not wanting,” because it morphed into, “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” which first appeared in the English publication “The New Monthly Magazine” in 1823. It was then picked up by the humorist singer-songwriter “Handsome Harry Clifton” (1832-1872) and became a song heard in English music halls in the mid 1860’s, and then crossed the Atlantic and moved with settlers out into the prairies, after the American Civil War.

This life is a difficult riddle
For how many people we see
With faces as long as a fiddle
That ought to be shining with glee.
I am sure in this world there are plenty
Of good things enough for us all
And yet there’s not one out of the twenty
But thinks that his share is too small.

Chorus:
Then what is the use of repining,
For where there’s a will there’s a way,
And tomorrow the sun may be shining
Although it is cloudy today.

Do you ever hear tell of the spider
That tried up the wall hard to climb?
If not, just take that as a guider;
You’ll find it will serve you in time.
Nine times it tried hard to be mounting
And every time it stuck fast
But it tried hard again without counting
And of course it succeeded at last

Chorus

Do you think that by sitting and sighing
You’ll ever obtain all you want?
It’s cowards alone that are crying
And foolishly saying “I can’t”
It’s only by plodding and striving
And laboring up the steep hill
Of life that you’ll ever be thriving
Which you’ll do if you’ve only the will.

Then what is the use of repining,
For where there’s a will there’s a way,
And tomorrow the sun may be shining
Although it is cloudy today.

Laura Ingalls Wilder  (of “Little House On The Prairie” fame), used the above song to happily conclude her most harrowing book, which described a railway-town’s near brush with starvation when blizzards and deep drifts cut the town off from trains, from January until May, during a particularly brutal Dakota winter.

But what is fascinating about the attitude Wilder describes is that it was not the typically American, Horatio Alger (1832-1899), concept of “rags to riches”, epitomized by Alger’s best-seller “Ragged Dick” (1868). Rather it was opposed to such ideals of material success, for “The Long Winter” basically describes an entire town of fugal, moral individuals reduced from riches to rags. Their reward was not a fortune, nor a pension, but merely to survive to see another spring. And what do they do in that springtime? They sing.

This Plugger’s-response resembles the “Whos of Whoville”, in Theodor Seuss Geisel’s (1904-1991) best-seller “How The Grinch Stole Christmas.” (1957). After the “Grinch” had stolen every materialistic proof of Christmas, the Who’s still gathered to sing. I can remember sitting in my father’s lap on Christmas morning in 1957 and having that brand-new tale read to me. Over a decade later, as a teenager, I’d argue (only partially in jest) that Geisel (AKA “Dr. Seuss”) was a great American poet, whereas most of my fellow poets, in our snide groups at snide colleges, sucked the split lips of our artificial suffering with a moribund mentality that produced only snivel. Dr. Seuss, despite the genuine suffering of his own life (his chronically-ill wife eventually committed suicide) produced a bright, cheerful children’s poem that influenced America. Why did it have such influence? Because it described what Laura Ingalls Wilder also described in her best-selling children’s book, “The Long Winter”.

And what is that?

It is that there is something worth singing about in simply surviving to see another day. Life is beautiful and precious, in and of itself, irregardless of whether you succeed or fail. In fact the burr of suffering seems strangely beneficial, for it proves that Life persists in spite of adversity, and that Life is indomitable and unquenchable and independent.

Laura Ingalls Wilder left the third verse of Handsome Harry Clifton’s song out, when she quoted it to end “The Long Winter.” The third verse goes:

Some grumble because they’re not married,
And cannot procure a good wife;
Whilst others they wish they had tarried
And long for a bachelor’s life.
To me it is very bewild’ring,
Some grumble, (it must be in fun),
Because they have too many children,
And others because they have none.

Then what is the use of repining,
For where there’s a will there’s a way,
And tomorrow the sun may be shining
Although it is cloudy today.

The fact of the matter is that there is always a reason to complain, if you look for it, but if you take that road you may miss many reasons to smile. On the Path one faces a choice between complaining or entertaining. In a sense it is a situation that reminds me of a Junior High School dance, (which were gruesome experiences, for me).

I would stand on one side of the gym, with lots and lots of beautiful young woman on the other side, and be miserable. Lord! If you could put this old man’s mind back in that boy’s body, I would have skipped across that gym happily and asked girl after girl to dance. Sadly, I instead found reasons to complain. In fact I was so miserable I often wondered why in the world I ever went to such events.

Usually, because I was prone towards being a one-woman-man, I ignored all sorts of opportunity, because there was a particular girl I was fixated on, and she usually was already dancing with some far taller boy who actually grew peach-fuzz on his upper lip, and had grown above five feet tall. I was four-foot-ten, which put me at a disadvantage, [except in “slow dances”, when my face would have been buried between young woman’s breasts.] [Man, Oh Man! If I could put my old man’s mind back in that boy’s body, I don’t think I would have called being-short a “disadvantage!”]

Probably I should leave this subject, before I get myself in trouble. I only bring up dances because in a way it is like looking for a job. Just as I hung back in the Junior High dances, finding reasons to complain despite the lovely girls across the gym, I found reasons, when young, to avoid even attempting to look for work.

Rather than a particular girl across a gym I was infatuated by, who made all other girls worth disdaining, there was a certain job I was infatuated by, that made all other jobs worth disdaining. And what was that job? It was “poet.”

Now the funny thing is that, when you are looking for work, you never see employers looking for a “poet” in the Want Ads. A poet wants to express himself, but that is his work, and not another’s. Others have other work, different from “self-expression.” Therefore, if a poet expects a paycheck, he had better learn to sing while washing dishes.

This was something I learned before I got married. However I would be remiss if I didn’t say I was thirty-seven before I became so wise. Earlier it was agony to push myself out and apply for a job. It was like crossing the gym and asking the most undesirable girl in the universe to dance, and to be honest I sometimes couldn’t do it. I’d rather be homeless and sleep in my car.

How odd it seems that I later found it fun to apply for jobs. I didn’t care if I got the job or not; I just found it fun to fill out the job application in a poetic way, and then watch the face of the fellow considering me as he glanced over the form, interviewing me. Even if I wasn’t the man for the job, the interviewer had fun rejecting me. We’d laugh and tell stories, and I like to think the interviewer never had so much fun rejecting an applicant, before he met me.

I learned this art the one time in my life I was on unemployment, in 1985. I’d only receive $32.00 a week, (or nine hours of pay, at minimum wage, $3.35/hour at that time), and in order to receive this paltry amount I had to provide proof, to the government of New Mexico, that I had looked for work in three places the prior week.

I never actually applied for the job of brain surgeon at the local hospital, but I did apply at other absurdly impossible places, and discovered it can be fun to ask, even if rejection is inevitable.

This was a revelation to me. It was like discovering it is good fun to cross the gym and ask a glorious girl who would never dance with a shrimp like you for a dance, and finding out, even though she will not dance, that you can talk and laugh and learn, all the same. And rarely, (but often enough to lift your spirits), the girl will decide, what the heck, she will dance, just one dance. In like manner, some employers will sometimes hire you, if only for just one day.

“Just one day of work” is not enough to satisfy a person who feels insecure without a pension and other benefits, but it is a bonanza for a drifter living hand-to-mouth. The person who wants “security” and “certainty” misses the bonanzas the insecure understand. As odd as it sounds, the people who are “secure” and “have it made” are missing bonanza after bonanza after bonanza. Blessed are the poor.

Most “Pluggers” don’t intentionally seek to live “on the edge.” They simply were born into childhoods without a silver spoon in sight, and things such as “security” and “certainty” have not been their lot in life. They may hope for the perks of the privileged, the same way many hope they will win the lottery, but such things are like an apple dangled in front of a donkey to keep it plodding forward. Most Pluggers doubt they’ll ever really reach and taste that apple, and therefore the real reason they have the strength to keep plodding on can’t be from the apple they never reach, but rather from the bonanzas they experience, which the “privileged” know little or nothing about. Blessed are the poor.

There is something counter-intuitive about the statement “Blessed are the poor”, for we tend to associate the word “blessing” with wealth, bounty, riches. Wrong.

This is difficult to say, and will sound clumsy as I write it, but it has been my experience that the poor are richer than the rich. Why? Because nothing matters more than contact with the One who blessings come from. In fact blessings themselves have no worth, compared to the One who gives them.

In other words, the Plugger has a heightened sense of what constitutes a “blessing”, due to living so close to the edge. One doesn’t truly appreciate a glass of water until one has been parched by the desert sun. Therefore a person with “security” has a dulled awareness, whereas a Plugger has his awareness heightened. Not that some Pluggers can’t become so discouraged that they become bitter people, but many experience “coincidences” and develop what the “privileged” deem superstition, but which the Plugger feels, often in an unspoken way,  is a communion with the One from whom all blessings flow.

I should probably leave this subject, before I get myself in trouble. I only bring it up to explain the difference between putting your faith in a pension, and putting your faith in something far better, something besides money, something I vaguely called “freedom”, waving my arms inarticulately to the west and pointing at a cloud.

Most Pluggers have a hard time intellectually stating their stance. After all, most are responding to circumstances beyond their control. To people who have a cushion of wealth, and the leisure to construct a stance, a Plugger seems like a person who can’t take a stand or even make a point. A Plugger points like a weather vane, constantly shifting. For a Plugger does not think man controls the climate; he responds to it. He is like the captains of the sailing ships of yore, very respectful-of and responsive-to the wind, whereas the man with money and security and a pension thinks he has a stink-pot cabin-cruiser which can plow straight upwind and ignore all weathers.

Now, if you capitalize the words “wind” and “weathers” in the above paragraph, you can perhaps glimpse how a Plugger might be responding to their Creator, in a manner which might be inarticulate and even unconscious, but which the Creator might notice. And, if you were a Creator whose nature was love, who would you respond to? The Plugger responding to You, or the wealthy with all their attention away on their portfolio, counting the stocks and bonds in their pension like a miser counts cold coins?

This is not to say Pluggers don’t long for comfort, and a life of ease, but they can sing and dance even with such gratification indefinitely postponed.

 

This brings me back to the early days days of my marriage, which I now fondly recall, but which were not so easy to struggle through, at the time. What is good to recall is the amazing faith my wife and I had that we would “get by”, and how that faith was not misplaced, for we did “get by”, (though I should perhaps use the words “squeaked by.”)

Now that I am older and wiser I look back and roll my eyes. I say rude things, like, “What the fuck were we thinking?” Yet we sailed through situations like an elderly woman on a tricycle passing through a terrible ten-car-pile-up on a major downtown intersection without a hair in her bun jarred out of place. In retrospect one cannot look at such history without mentioning unscientific things such as “guardian angels” or “the grace of God” or even, “Manifest Destiny”. However, somewhat amazingly, we each thought we were very practical, and the impractical one was our beloved spouse.

In retrospect our quarrels were delightful, (for our reconciliations created two delightful babies), but, moving on to the specifics, our quarrels were about very interesting stuff, although I don’t imagine the elite really think about such stuff. Unless you have ever faced an empty refrigerator, you cannot deem groceries a topic worth much attention, but I and my young wife had a yearly quarrel, which I will dub the “Harvest Quarrel.”

During the summer we had too much work: I, as a landscaper, and my wife, as the small town “Recreation Director” of the local playground and swimming pool. As winter approached her work vanished, as did mine, (after I made a final bundle raking leaves). We were shifting from having plenty of groceries for our three, then four, then five children, to having none. The stress of this situation resulted in the yearly “Harvest Quarrel.”

The quarrel had two fascinating steps, wherein at first my my wife displayed a flippant disregard for groceries, and then I myself displayed the flippant disregard.

The first step involved the fact that, even after working in the gardens of others all day, I always found time to have a garden of my own. Besides producing a paycheck, I produced actual food.  I would proudly dump dirty produce in my wife’s clean kitchen, and she wasn’t always appreciative. Some of my fresh produce went into delicious dinners, but a shocking (to me) amount seemed to barely pause in the house before heading out to the compost pile.

I had an old-fashioned belief that my wife should be like my mother and grandmother, who had Great-Depression-aversions to seeing even a scrap of food wasted. My grandmother was especially good at making the labor involved look easy, like something she was doing on the side with her little finger, while focused on a more interesting conversation, either with a person working with her, or on the radio. She preserved food while berating the Red Sox for losing again, her work deft yet unconscious, like a taxi driver manipulating through intense city traffic while discussing politics.

During summer’s surplus, when food was cheap, my grandmother canned vegetables in glass jars, or pickled them, or made a sugary jams of fruits. Refrigeration was not necessary. She knew all the old tricks for preserving food, such as corning beef or turning cabbage to sauerkraut, and where to store onions as opposed to where to store potatoes, and had various pantries and cellars delegated for the storage of food. By the time winter rolled around she was ready.  Children were incorporated into this bustle, and I don’t recall grumbling much about it, and at times enjoyed it. My mother might stop at a farmer’s market and score a bargain on a big basket of past-prime shell beans, and this meant I’d sit with my siblings on the back porch shelling them, separating the bad beans from the good, talking about whatever, watching the twittering chimney swifts soar overhead as summer clouds built in the sky.

If there was any grumbling involved, it was about wasting food. Woe unto the child who didn’t finish their dinner. Garbage went to the pig, (or, if you had no pig, to the pig farmer, who made money on the side picking up your garbage), and when the pig was slaughtered  “everything was used but the squeal.”

So much was this constant activity part of my grandmother’s make-up that even when she was old and my grandfather had saved enough to allow her to be a lady of leisure, she could become restless. When the herring were swimming upstream in the spring she seemed a bit offended no men brought her pails of silver fish for her to salt down in big crock-pots.

My wife was not the same. If I plunked a pail of fish down in her kitchen she did not look the slightest bit delighted. The same went for heaps of grubby carrots or dirty potatoes. Only occasionally would she make some jellies or jams, seemingly more for amusement than out of any sense of necessity, and when I brought baskets of red and green tomatoes in before the first fall freeze they sat around on just about every downstairs windowsill, ripening and sometimes rotting, on their way to salads or sauces or the compost pile, but never to canning jars.

This rubbed my fur the wrong way at times. Call it my Yankee heritage if you will, but I just felt winter was a danger we should prepare for, and always was very busy splitting and stacking wood in the fall. My wife could make me a little crazy, for she wouldn’t even rush out to shop before a major winter storm. She preferred to shop right after the storm, and the one time I accompanied her I could see her point; after a storm the store was wonderfully quiet and there were no lines at the register. I could also see her point about tomato sauce; it was much easier to pick up a jar at the market than to can it yourself. All the same, it just didn’t seem right.

I got my revenge by rubbing her fur the wrong way, in my own manner. This occurred when my landscaping was officially ended by the first fall of snow. Even if there were still leaves on lawns, they were buried by white, so I’d put my rakes away and sit by the warm fire, and gaze dreamily out the window, working on a poem about falling snow. After months of hard work it felt good to just compose, but it drove my wife crazy. We had no income, and I was just sitting there, nibbling an eraser. She’d interrupt my composing with some inane question, such as, “What about groceries?” I’d say, “I thought you just bought groceries yesterday.” She’d respond, “But what about next week?” I’d heave a deep sigh, for I knew it was time for our yearly Harvest Quarrel.

It did no good to say “calm down”, for those two words never work, and indeed often have a strangely opposite effect. It also did no good to point out that if she had canned like my grandmother she’s have no worries about groceries because she’d have months of food on the shelves, because if I said that she’d just point out that if I was like my grandfather I’d have a job that lasted through the winter. Neither did it do any good to wax spiritual and preach that we should have faith in God, because she would open her Bible to “Proverbs” and quote, “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man“. Lastly, it was equally unhelpful to suggest that if I was left alone to complete my poem about falling snow the result might be a one-hit-wonder that would make us rich, for she would just say I had already written a hundred wonders, and I should be out selling them.

She gave me no peace, and became a complete burr-under-the-saddle. My Dad advised me women look better if you “make them lively”, and I was succeeding in making her lively. (She became especially lively if I used the word “harangue.”) What I actually wanted to do is write about the peace of falling snow, and find a rhyme for the word “silver”, but it was always obvious that only way I was going to get the peace and quiet necessary was if I went out into the snow and drove through it. That was always the conclusion to the Harvest Quarrel.

What then happened always amazed me. I’d very soon come clumping back into the house with snowy boots, shoot my wife a smug look, and say, “I start work at six tomorrow morning. Happy now?” Then I’d go back to the fire, pick up my uncompleted poem about falling snow, and again begin nibbling my eraser, well aware my wife was itching with curiosity.

What amazed me was the ease with which I found work. There had been other times in my life work wasn’t to be had, and I’d roll my eyes to God wondering what He expected me to do.  Other times I rolled my eyes to heaven with a different, happier expression, when I found work with amazing ease, and these were those other times: I’d look down a heartless street steeling my nerve to go to business after business, expecting to experiencing painful rejection after painful rejection, but the very first place would hire me. It happened with surprising frequency, and always felt like the part of a cartoon where someone charges a locked door, lowering their shoulder to smash it down, and just as they reach the door someone opens it.

Not that the jobs were good ones, but I’d lived on the edge so long that heights no longer bothered me. Where some fret about a pension thirty years in the future, I was more concerned about today, and more willing to let tomorrow take care of itself. Also I was less sensitive about rejection, less prone to burst into tears when a job wasn’t available (although that might be an interesting tactic), and less willing to morbidly dwell upon the offence of being refused. I was more curious about other people and midst this curiosity was more able to utterly forget myself and my own problems. Perhaps I was like a sailor who has seen his ship can come through a storm unscathed, and who no longer feels he can only sail in sunny weather.

In fact, when I looked in the mirror, I realized I had changed. When I walked into a business my demeanor was different, switched from overly sensitive and doubtful to cheerful and confident. Nor was it an act. I definitely had in some way matured, and in some ways I now got jobs too swiftly; I now liked job interviews, and, when I had been happily contemplating a couple weeks of interesting discussions with managers over coffee, it could be disappointing to only experience one interview, before getting hired.

It did puff my ego a little to be able to assuage my wife’s worry about groceries so quickly, but it was hard to be too swelled up, as the pay was usually so minuscule that it took some adroit budgeting to make it to spring. We’d have to run up a tab until April, wherever we could. Also, when I sat and thought about it, I really couldn’t take much credit for changing. The “School Of Hard Knocks” had matured me.

But who was the professor? This question seemed more interesting to contemplate than my poem about falling snow, and the page of the notebook in front of me filled with stray doodles, and the scribbled numbers of sketched budgets and altered schedules.

Such a silent guide You are that I never
Knew it was You leading me to follow
Your lead. But black sheep are not so clever
As they believe. When my heart grew hollow
I turned away, and thought I was leading
Myself, but who is really the professor
When slings and arrows leave students bleeding
In life’s School Of Hard Knocks? Yet how tender
You are; how patient, as with the pace of snails
I learned. I called my guide, “my own Free Will”,
But captains are not the ones who fill sails
Like fat bellies. I blundered on until
My free will finally learned how to dance.
Your silent love is what leads this romance.

I should probably stop there, but need to add a coda to finalize the theme about “burrs”.

I think that one thing that makes the attitude of a Plugger so much more upbeat than that of a worrier, (who frets at a threat to a pension far in the future), is a Plugger’s  simple discovery that good things come in bad packages. A Navajo friend once wrote, “Boot camp is a very good thing to have happen only once in your life,” which is an essay in only fifteen words; IE: Certain discipline may be as palatable as cod-liver-oil, but turns out to make you feel better in the end. The pains, bad tastes, foul smells, and itchy burrs are the curriculum of the School Of Hard Knocks, whether or not you believe there is a Professor in charge of how such discipline is dispensed.

Once you have been through such burrs even once, and see that you more than survived, but were actually strangely matured, then burrs in your future seem less repugnant. You are made able to face situations, which once filled you with dread, without fear, or with far less fear. Not that you don’t know enough to come in out of the rain, but if you must stay out you are singing in the rain.

When I walked into a business my demeanor was utterly different when I was forty, completely changed from an overly sensitive and doubtful 18-year-old’s. Some jobs were demeaning, such as folding and collating pages of inane pamphlets containing bosh and humbug, but I could sing in such rain. My fellow workers tended to be “temps” (short for “Temporary Contract Labor”) who worked for less than the regular workers, without benefits, and the regular workers tended to resent temps. But temps were interesting people to talk to, for they tended to be down on their luck, and usually there is a good story behind a downfall. However despite their downfall, and despite being exploited by bosses and disdained by regular workers, temps didn’t retreat in self-pity, nor expect welfare and charity, but rather were the sort who would work a rotten job to claw their way out of their poverty. They were true Pluggers, and I saw a hidden benefit in jobs that had no benefits, for I got to interrogate and interview interesting Pluggers I otherwise would have only a slight chance of ever meeting. The odd thing was some of these people had no idea anyone might find them worth interrogating and interviewing; my interest was something that lit them up; they blossomed under the feeble sunshine of my innocent, simpleton queries. Such a flowering, under the dingy light of forty watt bulbs, made me look over my shoulder, for I knew I’m not so bright, and I wondered why their faces lit up. From whence came the light? It intrigued me, yet, even as this intriguing stuff occurred, all we were doing was folding and collating pamphlets of guff.

This is not to say I didn’t yearn to be out in the falling snow like a boy yearns to escape Algebra class, but so did the other temps; you could see it in the longing light in their eyes as they passed a window. We were all in it together, and there was a sort of camaraderie reminiscent of that seen in soldiers in deplorable circumstances, which led Wilfred Owen to write, “I too have seen God through mud.”

This brings me back to what I stated earlier, which was, (in case you have forgotten), “There is something worth singing about in simply surviving to see another day. Life is beautiful and precious, in and of itself, irregardless of whether you succeed or fail. In fact the burr of suffering seems strangely beneficial, for it proves that Life persists in spite of adversity, and that Life is indomitable and unquenchable and independent.”

The problem with such a realization is that it robs you of some motivation. Once you realize you already have what is most valuable, namely Life, what more do you need? Why even get a job, let alone a pension? Beethoven proved beautiful music doesn’t even require the ability to hear. Nothing is necessary for happiness but Life.

Fortunately Life does contain burrs, which direct us. Your beloved will bring you a concern which, if you have a heart, you will respond to.

Just as my young wife brought up concerns, disturbing my content as I sat by the fire contemplating falling snow, she could disturb my content as I enjoyed folding and collating pamphlets of guff, by urging me to get a better job. Even when minimum wages were raised from $3.35/hour when we met to $4.25/hour when she was first pregnant, it wasn’t enough.  It wasn’t that we were greedy; we were running-up-a-tab at the market, and on our utility bills, even with me working full-time. Running-up-a-tab was a parachute that slowed our decent, enabling us to survive until spring,  (when I’d make $10.00/hour landscaping). But if you made too little in the winter your parachute would be too small, and when you hit spring you’d be up to your neck.

Therefore I, (and indeed most “temps”), required “overtime” to get by. Once you worked over 40 hours your pay would be “time-and-a-half”, (shifting from 4.25/hour to 6.38/hour.) I freely confessed this requirement when I was first hired, during the initial job-interview, not minding much if being so demanding meant I wouldn’t be hired. Yet sometimes it was what got me hired. The boss had some job he urgently needed done in a big hurry, and he desired people who would work overtime, but his regular employees not only might be unwilling to work extra hours, but might have the “benefit” of an earned vacation coming up. In such situations “temps” stepped in to save the day, but, once the day was saved, “temps” would be promptly laid-off. Unemployment may seem a cruel reward for a job-well-done, but I could only fold and collate so long before the work got stale, and I tended to depart such jobs whistling, and looking ahead eagerly to the next chapter.

If I was in the mood to complain then looking for work would have been a burr, and getting laid-off would have been a burr, and my wife’s concern would have been a burr, and I could have been very sour. And I confess there were times I was sour, usually first thing on Monday morning. However I did notice my mood was mysteriously better by Monday’s midday, and a hundred times better at age forty than it had been at age eighteen. Furthermore, being in a better mood about burrs seemed to bring benefits hard to explain. It made sense that an employer might be more likely to hire a cheerful person than a person who radiated shyness and fear, but I seemed to sense a more amazing aspect was involved.

Call it a superstition if you wish, but I felt the “burrs” were actually the prodding of a Good Shepherd’s crook.

It is said God can be hard as steel and soft as butter. The earlier times in my life, when I couldn’t find work no matter how hard I tried, seemed a sort of hard-as-steel time of tough love, as I was educated by the School Of Hard Knocks. For some reason it didn’t make me feel angry at God, but rather utterly dependent, like a small child wearing pajamas with feet. However I also felt that was the normal state of the cruel world. I didn’t expect any soft-as-butter stuff, and was deeply mystified when I went through a time when I was hired wherever I applied.

One autumn, after my wife and I had been through our typical Autumnal Quarrel, it occurred to me, as I stomped out the front door, that it would make life easier if I got a job within walking distance of my house. Both my truck and my wife’s van were old clunkers, and it seemed likely I could save both on gas-money, and on the bother of dealing with break-downs, if I didn’t commute. The problem was that I lived in a small town with few businesses, and the economy was poor. But a friend had told me I might try one place that hired temps for the Christmas Rush. It was a New-Agey place I wouldn’t ordinarily consider, a business that bought herbs and spices in bulk quantities, and broke them down into small packets and jars to sell to retailers.

I figured I’d test my luck; if I was on a streak of getting hired the first place I applied, I might as well try a place roughly a half mile from my front door.  I walked in and filled out an application there. My luck held. I had barely walked back into my house when the phone rang, and the owner asked if I could walk back for an interview. It was a bit of a drag to have to make a U-turn and walk back when I was planning to sit by the fire, but burrs are burrs.

I got the job, of course, but the interview struck me as wonderfully bizarre. The first question I was asked was, “Did you know a mad poet from Harvard named X?”

It just so happened I did know X, and for a time had considered myself a close friend of X’s, over a quarter century in the past when I associated with such crazies, and wasn’t a responsible father of five. I had been a senior in high school and X was a senior at Harvard, and we associated with pot-smoking intellectuals and had amazing conversations about wildly speculative things that one doesn’t usually bring up, at a job interview. To be honest, the question seemed a trick question, and I became very guarded. But honesty compelled me to answer, “Yes, I knew X”.

The second question was, “Do you know what happened to him?”

X was one of those flamboyant people who you may not want to partner with, but who dares things you don’t dare, and goes places you don’t go, and therefore, even though you don’t want to join them, you want to know where their flamboyance led them. I too was very curious, (and secretly fearful X had died in the horrible AIDs epidemic of the 1980’s), but could only answer my future boss with, “I don’t know. I last saw him in 1976, and our last phone-call was in 1984. Later I heard from a friend that he had headed south to join the Sufis of Washington D.C., around 1985, but in the decade since I’ve heard nothing.”

My future boss looked very disappointed, but hired me and told me show up at nine the next morning to learn the ropes of the herbs and spice business. He arose, and I arose, and it seemed the interview was over, but then, as if to explain something, he hesitated, and then added, “X told me you were the greatest poet since Shakespeare.” Throttled by astonishment, I couldn’t think of how to reply. I’m not sure what I said. Likely it was something dismissive. Then I walked home through the snow.

That was a strange walk, in the falling snow. I mean, how many job interviews do you walk into, for some simple job such as packing herbs and spices, without any sort of recommendation, where you get an unasked-for recommendation from someone you lost contact with over a decade in the past, who might even be dead? Not that the recommendation that I was “the greatest poet since Shakespeare” had anything to do with packing herbs and spices. I’d long ago learned poetry had little to do with feeding yourself, let alone feeding a wife and five children.

I’ll confess the strange interview did stir a hope in me that our interview was one of those “chance meetings” you read about in the lives of authors and poets, wherein they are “discovered”, and rise “from rags to riches” overnight, publishing some sort of “one-hit-wonder”.  But this was not the case. We never spoke of X or of poetry again. However there was a strange, unspoken understanding: We had shared-roots in a wild past when mad poets were especially free, and didn’t need to work Real Jobs.

We did have some interesting talks, but I was far more interested in him than he was in me. I learned that when young he had a vision of learning of herbs and spices that could be wonder drugs, perhaps even finding a herb which cured cancer, and that he had labored long and hard, studying botany at Harvard and even travelling to the Amazon, seeking herbal mysteries, but that when push came to shove, and he had a wife and daughter to support, such study didn’t pay the bills. The herbs and spices that paid the bills tended to be mundane things like powdered Cinnamon and Garlic. To make a living he imported bulk quantities of things not locally grown, to sell to people who required smaller amounts.

Someday I’ll hopefully do a better job of describing what a wonderful job I lucked into, because I was too lazy to fix my limping truck and become an ordinary commuter. But for now I’ll give a couple examples of how wonderful the job was.

One of his best sellers was cinnamon. He sold several types, and four-inch-sticks and three-inch-sticks, but most people wanted the powdered stuff. It came in two-hundred pound barrels.  Most households, when they buy powdered cinnamon, want to buy one or two ounces. A restaurant will desire perhaps a pound, and a busy doughnut shop ten, and even a frantic bakery will desire at most twenty-five. No one wants to pay the price of two-hundred pounds, even though the wholesaler basically doubles the price, selling to the retailer. My job as a muscular poet was to man-handle barrels most cooks can ‘t budge, and then break-down the contents to smaller packages.

The second example is bay leaves. All cooks understand the positive effect a leaf or two of bay can have on a soup or stew. However bay does not arrive from Turkey a leaf or two at a time. It arrives in huge, fragrant bales, weighing at least fifty pounds.

My first job, my first day of work, was to manhandle a huge bale of bay-leaves, and then break it down, and amidst the sweet, rustling aroma of this occupation I did not think of the customer, who would receive tiny packets, but rather I was transported to Turkey. Perhaps it was only because I, as a landscaper and farmer, was aware a lot of hard work went into picking and drying and baling and exporting the leaves, but the scent as I worked was evocative of a landscape I had never seen and of people I had never met. Images drifted through my imagination. It was much better than folding and collating pamphlets.

My family approved when I came home smelling of bay, but I was less popular when I had to deal with enormous amounts of garlic powder. For the most part my work involved around twenty everyday herbs, which likely produced around ninety-five percent of the business’s profit. But besides those twenty barrels of herbs there were perhaps a hundred others, holding mysterious herbs I had never heard of. When I filled orders I was swift to learn where to go to find Cinnamon, but sometimes at the bottom of the order there would be an item I had never heard of. Then I would have to search through the barrels in the back of the warehouse for a pound of some such thing as, “Saint John’s Wort”.

My boss’s wife was a bit scornful of such items, because “turnover” was so slow. If you bought a bale of some obscure herb it might be five or even ten years before it was sold, but my boss would not listen to his wife, and would reorder. He seemed to like being an herb-and-spice-place that had the items other places lacked. Also his insistence seemed to be like my own poetry; a thing he did even if it wasn’t profitable; a thing connected to his original reason for focusing on herbs and spices.

I could sense, my first day on the job, that I should be careful when bringing up a question such as, “What is Saint Johns Wort good for”? My boss’s wife would snap, “Absolutely nothing,”  and my boss would look meek, and button his lip. It was obvious she was a burr to him, just as my wife was a burr to me when I wrote poems about falling snow rather than looking for work. And he was a burr to her, by insisting on restocking, just as I was a burr to my wife by insisting on writing poems.

I think it was during the first week that I discovered that, among the obscure items he had in the barrels in the back of his warehouse, he had burrs. Or not the burrs, but the root of the plant that made the burrs, called “Burdock”.

As a landscaper I tended to see Burdock as a rank and obnoxious weed. This was not only because, when my daughters happened to get burrs in their hair, tears resulted, but also because the plant could spring up with amazing vigor, with a tap root which made carrots seem small, and leaves nearly as fat and wide as Rhubarb’s. Here is a Burdock jumping up between my garden’s Rhubarb and Asparagus:

It is hard to be fond of such a rank and persistent weed. My Asparagus and Rhubarb have strong roots which are perennial; there are cases where grandchildren have fed off the plants their grandfather planted fifty years earlier, but burdock is a plant that can invade such a long-standing patch and, with roots equally vigorous, weaken the desired crop. It is hard to see such a burr as desirable.

Yet my new boss was making a small profit selling such roots. This of course piqued my interest, but unfortunately I asked my question when his wife was in earshot, and heard the brusque reply, “Absolutely nothing is good about Burdock.”

I already had concluded that, but was trying to escape my prejudice. My escape occurred soon, due to the fact the warehouse had a tiny “retail shop” in the front of the warehouse. It produced less than 1% of the business’s profit, but I had the feeling my new boss liked talking to people about herbs and spices, and the “retail shop” was more of an excuse to talk than it was a way to make money. However he was out, and I happened to be the only person available, so I had to deal with a customer though I knew next to nothing about herbs and spices.

The customer was a lady from Japan, where burdock root is often used in their cuisine. However she was not looking for fresh and tender roots, suitable for cuisine, but dried roots, for a tea that she claimed had amazing benefits. I became her student, as she praised burdock, but I became her professor, when I told her it didn’t need to be imported from Japan.  After I sold her a pound of the dried root, we stepped outside and I pointed out a few examples of the invasive weed.

Some businessmen might think this a bad policy, for she would have no need to buy dried roots, if she knew she might harvest them from her own yard. All I can say is she did return, from time to time, over the next five years. For that is how long I lasted at this job as a “temp.” It was not a steady job, but one I could count on being steady before Christmas.

As I stated before, it would take another post to tell the tales of this on-again-off-again job. But this post is about the benefits of burrs.

Now it is twenty-four years later, and I am running a Childcare, and part of our haphazard curriculum is a course on “the benefits of Burdock”. Usually I am not officially on duty when this class is taught, but kids find the sight of an old man working in the garden more interesting than what my staff has planned, and they often come drifting over to pester me.  Because my hard-working staff can use a break, I often involve the children in my work, (at times having them cheerfully make mincemeat of child-labor-laws, for example when I have to move a hundred bricks). Other times, for example when I am weeding, I weed less, and create a spontaneous curriculum involving what weeds are very poisonous, such as buttercups, and what weeds are edible, such as chickweed. At some point I always seem to involve them in digging burdock from the garden, and saving the roots.

These roots must be washed:

And then, (after trouble which always occurs when small boys have control of a hose), I show the children how to remove the bitter outer bark of burdock root from the slightly-sweet inner root:

Then they munch. I have a rule, regarding wild foods, which states that they are allowed to spit out anything they don’t like, which is a freedom they seem to enjoy. (Also I become very stern, and put on my most ferocious glower, regarding eating any wild thing without first asking me if it is edible.)

I’ve learned there is no accounting for children’s taste. The most fussy eater may demonstrate a peculiar fondness for some odd plant like Burdock, while the most voracious child may detest the same plant. Also a child who initially spits out a plant may, after watching his small peers munch away and ask me for second helpings, be seen surreptitiously picking up the root he cast away and giving it another chance, or, if he can’t find it, may whine to me for a second helping. Lastly I’ve discovered a sure-fire way to get kids interested is to tell them they won’t like the plant, because “only grown-ups like it.”

I don’t talk much about the medicinal benefits of a plant like Burdock, that I first heard about from the lady from Japan. For one thing, our society seems too focused on pharmaceuticals, and for another thing, the ownership of such knowledge seems a gift to me, and I am not particularly gifted in that regard.

I’ve known people who have an uncanny and often unconscious ability to prepare salads and stews that make people feel better, and cause the recipients to state “you are a natural chef” or “you put love in your cooking”, without thinking the cook is an herbalist or some sort of witch-doctor. But I sense a gift in such people. I think the gift likely has ancient origins, dating from when we were a nomadic people living off the land. Unfortunately the gift, like all gifts, can be misused, (in which case it may be withdrawn), and there are also fraudsters who lack the gift but are gifted in selling snake-oil. During the time I was involved with selling herbs and spices I met some New Age types who managed to make the entire topic of herbs repellent and downright disgusting, because their poorly-hidden desires seemed to be all about orgasms and hallucinations. Just as I like poetry yet avoid poet-societies, I’m interested in herbs but generally avoid herbalists.

Because I lack the true gift, I tend to be more pedantic and scientific, and conduct secret experiments, involving only myself. For example, my son might visit, and notice a glass of greenish sludge by my coffee cup at my computer. Wrinkling his brow, he’ll ask me, “What the heck is that stuff, Dad?” A bit evasively I’ll reply, “boiled Burdock root.” A bit of a smile will cross his face, and he’ll be unable to resist asking, “And?”

There’s no way around it, and I have to confess the secret: While wandering the web and reading about Burdock root I chanced upon a claim it “stimulates the hair follicles of the scalp.” My old follicles could use some stimulation, in my humble opinion, so I decided to conduct an experiment, keeping it secret because I don’t want people to know I am vain. I told my son that so far I had noticed nothing, which is a good thing, because such experiments can backfire and cause immediate baldness. He chuckled and walked away shaking his head slightly.

I sat back and contemplated the blessing of burrs. Even if my thin, gray hair doesn’t start to explosively grow, (making me look like a large dandelion gone to silver seed), it seems the weeds of my life later are revealed to have actually been herbs, and the burrs that made me uncomfortable moved me to my benefit.

Life is far more complicated than our puny minds can grasp, even when we attempt to control it and to guarantee ourselves fat pensions. Repercussions cause repercussion’s repercussions, with events clicking like complicated shots in a game of billiards, with complications clicking onward even years later. When I talked with the mad Harvard poet X at age sixteen, who could foresee it would land me a job at age forty, or that the job would result in me teaching little children about Burdock root, at age sixty-six?

As I thought about it, it seemed those who fixate upon control miss a lot. They miss bonanza after bonanza after bonanza. It seemed better to be a Plugger, leaving control in the hands of the only Mind that sees all repercussions.

As for me, I just do what comes next, and what came next was to start writing something titled, “A Burr’s Blessing.”

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THE DENT THAT PAID THE RENT

Perhaps it is because I’m getting old, and the closest I get to adventure is paying my taxes, or having some body-part such as a tooth or kidney removed, that I have developed a strange longing for the trouble I used to get into as a young man. Back then, (especially just after various women had the good sense to not marry me), I had no reason to settle down, and was able to take despair (and freedom from responsibility) and use it to become a sort of desparado.

Because I liked to write, I was a sort of prissy desparado, as desparadoes go, but there can be no denying I lived life on the edge, and occasionally fell off.  I was very downwardly mobile, and not the sort of person many would think was a “good prospect”, and one thing I learned was how badly one can want love. I was too proud too beg, and therefore seldom saw the human charity of spare change clinking into my cap, and instead expected nothing but shunning from my fellow man. To win a smile from someone made my day. But, even when I didn’t deserve a smile, and none were forthcoming from my fellow man, I had a sense God was with me.

Not that I didn’t grumble, but if you read the poetry (psalms) of King David you see he too grumbled a fair amount. I believe such grumbling counts as prayer, and also believe such prayer is answered. True, when you are in a run of bad luck, cruising for a bruising in a way where you deserve your bruises, you don’t catch many breaks. If you sow thistles you will reap a crop of thorns, and therefore your life may not look like an answered prayer. But when you are actually in those shoes the smallest thing can be a blessing, like a warm beam of sunshine finding its way through storm clouds to your shoulders.

That is what I want to capture, if I write about my days as a drifter. But I recognize a danger, as I go through my notes and play with rough drafts. The danger is I may create a “pity-party”, or a smudge of resentment, or even glorify something I should be a little embarrassed about. I want to avoid all that, and instead to show that there was truly glory in the hardship, but it sure wasn’t me. It was a sense that even when life is at its loneliest, you do not walk alone.

Jesus actually stated he did not come for people who had their act together. He came for the people down on their luck, and perhaps that is why the people down on their luck seem to meet Him more than millionaires.  (Also perhaps that is why some millionaires become so decadent, so they too can fall into the gutter and discover the kindness of God.)

Not that I’m in any hurry to get back to the gutter. What I desire is the sense of glory that strangely goes along with having nothing, perhaps because one inadvertently and unintentionally is renouncing the world,  “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

Last summer I wearied of a church that seemed dulled by complacency. That church seemed a place where no one had any problems, (or pretended that.) Outside its doors there was a serious drug problem, but people didn’t really want “that sort” coming in the doors. Church was a hide-out, a safe sanctuary where people escaped such problems. So I headed out the doors, more interested in places where people had problems, and were facing the issues of “detox” and “rehab” (two words that were not in the English dictionary not all that long ago.)

People who go through “detox” and “rehab” face something called “recidivism”, which in the old days we called “backsliding” or “falling off the wagon.”   In fact some addicts and drunkards use shelters and halfway houses as a way to get back in shape, to regain their health so they can go on another bender. This is very discouraging to those who want to help people escape addiction and become “useful members of society.” However it was noticed that the recidivism rate was much lower at halfway houses that employed God. This is discouraging to atheists. In fact I recently heard a person joke, “The only people who are Christians are perverts, addicts, and Republicans.”  God may have gotten a chuckle out of that, but cynicism doesn’t seem to stop Him.

In any case, I far prefer going to a church full of street people,  who are going through hard times and are down on their luck. They may not wear Sunday suits, nor look like people whose prayers are answered, but they know what I was talking about when I wrote, “the smallest thing can be a blessing, like a warm beam of sunshine finding its way through storm clouds to your shoulders.” Their faces light up, as they talk of mercies from lives few envy.

You hear unexpected bits of wisdom, as you listen. For example, In my life I’ve met people who prayed for something, drummed their fingers impatiently, and then, when the prayer was not answered, stated it was irrefutable proof God does not exist. So I expect such a response from people. Yet I recently heard a person explain the phenomenon roughly like this, “It had been a long, long time since I talked to God. He really liked it when I came back, but He knew, if He answered my prayer, I’d forget all about Him in a big hurry, all over again.  So He kept me talking.”

Another recovering addict told a tale that made me chuckle. He had been working very hard to arise from the ashes and get his life back on track, but his financial situation was in complete ruins, and various bill-collectors were in no mood to be merciful. He (with his wife’s support), had done all the right things, taking more than one embarrassing, menial job and going to the bill-collectors and attempting to arrange payment plans to get back on track, but, even working two jobs, the pay wasn’t enough. Therefore he pushed himself further, and attempted to get a good job despite his criminal record, honestly explaining his situation and offering to take drug tests. He deemed it an example of God’s mercy shining through a human being when he actually landed a good job, for twice as much pay as he had ever earned before, but the job would not start for two weeks and then he’d have to go two weeks before he got his first check. That was too long for his landlord to wait. Although the recovering addict and his wife had paid the current rent he still owed back rent from months before, and had only managed to make a few ten and twenty dollar payments on that back rent, and still owed $1,200.00. The landlord had been patient for months, and served an eviction notice: “Pay up in ten days or move out.”

This dropped the recovering addict to his knees, but as he was praying he heard a crash outside. The old man next door had backed into his wife’s car,  and she had no insurance, nor the money to fix it. The former addict fought off the temptation to use the misfortune as an excuse to get high, and bent the fender back out enough for his wife to use the car. Then he went to work at his two menial jobs, wondering where his wife and he were going to move, as he awaited the start of his better job.

After hanging on in this agonized manner for the ten allotted days his landlord had given him to come up with the rent, the old man next door came up and handed him a check for $1,200. The neighbor did have insurance, and that was how much the insurance company had paid to repair the dent. But the man’s wife said, “The car drives just fine. Let’s use the money to pay the rent.”

And that is the tale of the dent that paid the rent.  It shows the mysterious ways in which God may answer prayers better than any sermon.

LOCAL VIEW –Addict In The Family–

Whenever I stop posting my “Local View” posts you can be fairly certain that there is something going on in my life that I don’t want to talk about. I like Local View posts to have a Norman Rockwellian character, and to reflect my belief that God is in everything and everyone. Even when I gripe and grouch, I like to do so in a manner that makes people smile. I want to cheer people up, not bring people down. Unfortunately a wrench gets thrown into the machinery of cranking out optimism, from time to time, and then I go silent.

What stuffed a sock in my mouth most recently was an addiction in the family, involving a daughter’s ne’er-do-well boyfriend.  He kept his distance from the family, and seemed to want my daughter to do the same, and while there were signs all wasn’t well, the family respected their right to live life as they chose.

Andy Capp 13088c42432632cdf79aa504522aa793

Unlike the cartoon character Andy Capp, (which is an English, drop-the-“h”, play on “handycap”) the boyfriend couldn’t maintain a “working addiction”, and the family had to step in and help, especially after my daughter had a baby. Initially addiction was suspected, but vehemently denied.  And…..so it began.

I don’t feel as much shame is attached to such misfortune as there used to be, but addiction certainly is not a problem people smile fondly at, or an event that Norman Rockwell portrayed on the covers of the old Saturday Evening Post. It is a level above boozing, and no laughing matter.

The only reason shame is not as involved as it once was is because addiction has become all too commonplace. In truth it is indeed shameful, because it involves the humiliation of the human spirit. Not only is the addict far less than they might be, but all those closely connected are dragged down as well. Vast amounts of time and money are frittered away on a sidetrack which produces nothing but grief, exasperation and rage.

The only true escape from the shame involves a compassion that feels unnatural, for it is not soft and mushy and sweet, but hard as iron. Call it “tough Love”, if you will. It seems ambiguous to us, for we equate understanding and mercy with gentle people, with the kind nurse who tucks us in and allows us to stay in bed. Escaping addiction is more like the snarling sergeant who boots us out.

The escape is also ambiguous because it involves accepting even while refusing to accept.  In many cases the hardest part of dealing with a problem lies in admitting you have one.

In order to feel compassion towards addicts it is helpful to confess that we too have shortcomings. All but the greatest saints have things they don’t want to give up. People who feel they are well balanced, and who are too smug about it, run a risk of seeing fate come along and stagger them. We are well balanced until we are abruptly fired, or robbed, or the stock market crashes, or there is an earthquake or hurricane.  All sorts of things can knock us off balance. Our kindly family doctor has to do it to people all the time, with the word, “cancer.”

It is hard to feel  compassion towards an addict because they qualify as one of the things, (one of the earthquakes or hurricanes), that come into the pleasantness of life and disturbs the peace. We stroll into the living room to watch the TV, and discover they stole it.  Then they lie, and claim they didn’t do it. Rather than compassion, we want to strangle.

It is hard to have pity, but the fact is that an addict is living in a state of constant earthquake. If they don’t get the next fix, the walls come crashing down. Even if they go to rehab, and get through the initial physical withdrawal, and are “clean”, the urge to backslide is constantly prowling around like a roaring lion living in their back yard. Is that not pitiable?

Many former addicts say they never truly escape addiction. They are still an addict even when they have gone without drugs for decades. That is not merely pitiable, but, in the case of those who escape the tyrant, it is heroic. Sadly, it is also unnecessary, and could have been avoided, by never starting in the first place.

One addiction I have personal experience with, which is less destructive in the short term than others, involves tobacco. One is able to be a so-called “working addict” in such cases, and one seldom steals TV’s for the next fix. However, when one runs out of cigarettes, I know, from personal experience, it is no problem at all to drive through a howling blizzard to buy the next pack. (Or to smoke the stubs of filthy butts from an ashtray.)

In the case of a “working addict” the dependency can even become part of ones ego, like a fancy hat one wears which all  identify with being “you”. FDR had his long cigarette holder, and Winston Churchill his cigar. People (or most people) didn’t scowl at them and sneer, “addict.” However they  were. I have wondered what efforts had to be made, in wartime situations, to get them their next fix. Were flights diverted to bring Churchill his cigars?

Churchill so identified with his cigar that one time, when 45 seconds were scheduled in his frantic wartime day for a propaganda photo, he made sure to have a cigar clamped in his bulldog mouth. The photographer was ushered into the room to take the picture, and felt an immediate dislike of the cigar, and had the audacity to snatch it from the great leader’s mouth. Churchill looked at the photographer with an expression of incredulous fury, and the photographer snapped the picture. What a great shot! “You don’t mess around with Jim.”

 

In essence, to confront an addict is to mess around with Jim. It is to snatch the cigar from Winston Churchill’s mouth. It is to cause an earthquake in the life of another, and when you do such a thing it is a declaration of war, and you are a fool if you do not expect an earthquake in return.

Churchill karsh_churchill

In such situations it pays to ask a simple question, “Is it worth it?” In the case of Winston Churchill, it paid to put up with the stink of his cigar, (except in the case of one photographer who got a great picture). Cigars made The Last Lion content, allowed him to not only concentrate on greatness, but pay all his bills and live to be over ninety years old . Importantly, he likely spent less than 0.1% of his time thinking about his next cigar. (Speaking for myself, I can say that when I was most busy writing I could smoke an entire carton of cigarettes without even thinking about smoking).

In the case of addictions like heroin the equation is very different. Few are able to maintain the precarious balance of a “working addict” for very long. The “monkey on their shoulder” gradually grows into a gorilla. It is not a very gentle giant, either. It demands feeding before all else. A crying baby comes second. To snatch the cigar from the mouth of such an ogre is downright dangerous.

Not that addiction shows its true face, at first. At first addiction gives you the smile a police officer sees, for whether you like it or not you are the “gestapo”, and the addict is of the “underground”.  Your honesty makes you “oppressive”, while their deceit makes them “noble”.  Just as there is honor among thieves there is a bizarre, back-stabbing brotherhood among addicts, wherein a person who tells the truth is a “rat”, “an informer”, or some other astonishingly unflattering term for “an honest person.”

An addict is largely a liar, and the person they fool most is themselves. I know all about such self-deception, because for forty-five years I promised I’d quit cigarettes “soon.” However it still came as something as a surprise to be lied to so sincerely, so frequently, and so fluently,  as I was lied to this summer.

Fortunately I don’t expect much of my fellow man, after so many years, and rather than the lying making me irate, the lying just made me double down. This occurred because the lies were expressed in the form of excuses: “Why I can’t pay the rent”, “Why I can’t get a job”, “Why I can’t get up in the morning”.  The answer to all such questions is, “Because I am a druggie”, but that is the last thing any addict wants to admit. It is far easier to blame society, and blather on and on about an unjust or perverted third grade teacher, than it is to face the fact you yourself are the slave of a lousy, little chemical.

What I did was to supply solutions, when I heard “catch 22” logic such as, “I can’t get a job because I don’t have a car, and can’t get a car because I don’t have job.” Faced with the comfortably convenient couch of such snug helplessness, I got the young man a job, and I supplied the ride to work. When he couldn’t get up in the morning, I could, and drove to his place at 4:45 AM, and rousted him out of bed like a drill  sergeant. It took me a lot of time and effort, but had some slight benefits. Rather than pasty-skinned, he developed a tan; also he developed an appetite and put on some muscle. Rather than needing to wheedle for money he felt the self-esteem of a pay-check. So far, so good.

However an addict and his money are soon parted, ( I have heard it said that “cocaine is God’s way of telling you that you have too much money.”) Rather than a paycheck solving problems, it suddenly makes it harder to get out of bed, harder to get to work, and harder to keep the job. Also he couldn’t pay bills despite the paycheck. Explaining this strange twist of affairs drives an addict to concoct an entire new network of lies, in the form of new excuses, which tend to point the blame away from the self to others.

This strategy can only work if the “others” don’t compare notes. If you can keep them from talking to one another, or find a sole person you can trick and bully into being your “enabler”, such excuse-making can prolong your miserable deceit, but if you are dealing with a healthy, cheerful and honest family who all are out to help you, they do compare notes, and your deceit is doomed. With the innocence of children questions get asked, excuses don’t add up, and the walls come closing in, as a thing called “accountability” starts to expose your lies, one by one.

Many addicts have been through this downfall a number of times. When their deceits are exposed, plan A has failed and they move to plan B. They move on to tearfully confessing their addiction, and even going through the motions of attending AA meetings or rehab groups, but sometimes even such emotion is little more than grandiose drama and a cynical ploy. Some know the routine so well they could even run the rehab groups. It is just one more lie. Even when they promise to enter a detox, it may be an act.

It is when you get them to the door of the detox center that all the smiling and nodding, all the tears and all the the tugging of heart strings, all bluster and all blame,and all the other make-believes of lying may abruptly cease, and you may suddenly find yourself face to face with the big, ugly gorilla that rules the addict’s mind. No way are they going to step through that door. No way are they going to face the agony of withdrawal. No way are they going to honestly face their problem.

It is then they are at long last honest. They tell you exactly what they think of you, and also of all your lame, prissy, holy-rolling efforts to help them. Then they storm off in a huff.

Let them go. I once stormed off like that, and no one heard much of me for years, and during those years I cleaned up my act. True, I wasn’t addicted to anything terribly unforgiving, but it did seem necessary to get away from my past to learn what I needed to learn, and I’m thankful I lived in a free country that allowed me to do it.

The problem with addicts is that they often don’t stay away very long; they often call home quite soon, from jail, repentant and asking for bail. Again they are telling the lies, tugging the heart strings, (or perhaps, if they are a spouse or lover,  even blustering, and threatening to tell some intimate secrets you’ve foolishly shared with them.) It is as if they want to employ the line from Robert Frost’s “Death Of A Hired Hand“: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Don’t take them in. Don’t be taken.  Tell them, “Detox or no talks.”

Not that detox helps, in and of itself. For many addicts Detox is a warm bed in January, three squares a day, and a place to regain strength and stamina before the next binge. Even the detox places, who are prone to inflating their success rates, confess terrible rates of recidivism. The typical rate of relapse given is between 60% and 70%.

At this point it is important to draw a distinction between the secular and the religious. The secular detox places get all the government funding, and can be amazingly ineffective, while the religious places are far more effective, and are not allowed to get any government funding. (It is just a glaring example of the government perversely funding what doesn’t work.) In the case of some inner city Detox centers, involving the more vicious addictions such as heroin, a pathetic 2% of the addicts actually stay off the drug when they depart, whereas the Christian “Teen Challenge” Detox centers sees over 60% succeed in staying “clean”.

(In terms of gathering statistics, the secular groups always include “all” centers when stating success-rates, while the religious centers make sure to exclude secular center’s rates, when stating their success rates. Go figure.)

When attempting to explain why the religious groups did better, the secular centers noticed the religious groups involved confession and soul-searching. Talk seemed important, and the secular centers got the idea that, besides “Detox”, “Rehab” was important. And indeed there was an improvement in success rates, once tax-payers were hit upon to fund further time for addicts in warm shelters and half-way houses. However the statistics still showed the religious Rehabs did better than the secular Rehabs.

This annoys people who feel God should be banned from government. However it does suggest that that there is something about an addict turning to the sky, during the screaming agony and nausea of withdrawal, and pleading to the heavens for help, that draws some sort of mysterious healing down. Of course, God likely knows the mention of his name causes some to break out in a rash, and therefore it is likely better to substitute the word “Truth” for “God”.

Truth is the opposite of a lie, and, as addicts are such consummate liars, Truth is a sort of antidote to what is poisoning them. Or that is the best I can do to explain why Bible-thumping holy rollers succeed, where highly educated doctors and psychologists and social workers and billions of dollars fail.

Not that a truly ingenious addict cannot milk the religious organizations just as effectively as they leech from everyone else. Just as they know the right things to say to a degree where they can run a Rehab group, there have been addicts who have been pastors. But such liars eventually falter;  there is something about the hell of addiction that is corrosive to the sense of hope that keeps humans going, and eventually the lies drag every addict to rock bottom, where the options are either suicide or the honesty of a desperate cry for help.

That honesty is not a thing you can make an addict do. You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. The drinking involves the despairing torment of burning thirst. It is a state a person must find for themselves, but those who have fallen so low often speak of remarkable events, and of experiencing unexpected, inexplicable compassion.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
    listen, that you may live…”     (From the start of chapter 55, the Book of Isaiah)

It is a truly remarkable thing to witness a soul step over the threshold from a dark landscape of lies into the broad, open vistas of Truth.  In essence, it strikes one as impossible. A complete skumbag? Become a rose? Fat chance. But then you see it happen. You see this fellow who formerly would pawn his grandmother’s teeth cheerfully scrubbing the floors in a soup kitchen. And then, when you see this, you simply have to wonder, “What the heck happened to you?” Sometimes they might tell you, but sometimes they keep it to themselves, because they don’t want to sound weird.

Catholics are big on confession, and there does seem to be some element of confession involved in stepping over the threshold. When you are living a lie, a way to kill the lie is to confess, which is why such stress is put on this part of the first chapter of 1 John:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

Of course, because the addict tends to see you as a narc and as the gestapo, he doesn’t have much of an urge to confess. Pressed in that direction, he will fight like a cat fights a bath. He may despise you, and look at you with eyes of unabashed hatred. That may well be your reward for trying to help. You can lead a cat to water, but you cannot make it bathe.

But what is the alternative?  Pretending you don’t see through the lies? Pretending you can trust when you cannot? Pretending a person can ever honor his own word when his only obedience is to a gorilla?

Sometimes your only choice is to throw the bum out. Perhaps you are not the one who will uplift. Perhaps the cat has its own way of washing, and doesn’t need your bathtub. Perhaps the addict will clean up on his own. However you do not help an addict by enabling the addict to continue his deception. Sometimes by pushing a person towards a crisis in the gutter you are pushing them towards the threshold of salvation.

And in the end that is how things ended this summer. The young man told me in no uncertain terms that I am a meddlesome jerk, a spiritual hypocrite, and a home wrecker. (Addicts seldom blame themselves.)  It was up to my daughter to chose whether to follow him or not, and she chose not to.  Next thing I heard the fellow was in jail. Not a happy ending, at this point.

And that is why there have been so few “Local View” posts. I have been busy totally wasting my time on a young man who doesn’t seem worth the time of day. And I wonder how much other time has been wasted in other lives, by the stupidity of addiction. Drugs seem a weapon used by our enemy to weaken us. Every day I hear about drug deaths, even in our quaint and rural landscape.

But I cannot end a Local View in such a depressing manner. But what can I say? It would take a genius to make a cartoon out the way that addiction is turning good, intelligent people into beasts.

 

Well I’ll be.  America has already been given that genius, and has had a great symbol of how vices turn people into jackasses, ever since 1940. There is no mystery in it, for we’ve known for 76 years. Why then does the entire nation seem so determined to turn itself into a jackass?

Perhaps it is a sort of payback for the fact some Americans once got wealthy sailing clipper ships and selling opium to China. What goes around comes around. Or perhaps it is a trial that will make us a better people in the long run. There can be little doubt that those who survive addiction have an awareness of human frailty and of evil far greater than those who haven’t been through the hell. They know when compassion merely enables and when compassion is life-changing. Perhaps, if the drug epidemic doesn’t destroy us as a nation, it will result in a core group of solid people who know all the wiles of liars, are seldom fooled, and who love the Truth.

 

 

 

 

ATTENTION SURPLUS DISORDER — PART TWO

Four_colors_of_pills

ATTENTION SURPLUS DISORDER — PART TWO

Back on January 17, when just beginning this blog, I wrote a piece called “Attention Surplus Disorder,” thinking I was witty to come up with the name. However lots of people thought up the name before me, as I found out when I ran a search on “Attention Surplus Disorder.”

Yesterday Rush Limbaugh apparently used the phrase, and when someone with that many listeners uses a phrase like that people use their search engines, and I can get an accidental hit on my old story. Then I get curious about what made the person do such a thing.

Apparently it was due to a story in the Wall Street Journal, suggesting drugging boys doesn’t improve their grades.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323368704578593660384362292.html

I am such a cynic!  My immediate thought was that some pharmaceutical company didn’t donate enough to Obama, or else the government is worried about paying for four million children on drugs. Otherwise such news would be suppressed.

To me drugging children has always been appalling. If it is such a crime to spank a fanny, how can it be good to spank a brain?

I’m fairly certain I would have been put on those drugs, as a boy.  The mental gifts God gave me are a two-edged-sword, and often are a flaw.  However this seems to be a rule with gifts. They are our best and our worst.

My brain likes to leap from topic to topic.  This is called “range” and “scope,” and it can be a good thing when it brings several topics together in a way that works.  When it doesn’t work, my mind just jumps to a new topic, and no one can see how I made the jump.

For example, when I was a boy the curve on the number “5” reminded me of the curve on a fat stomach.  Math teachers were not interested, and did not want to hear how “fives are fat.” They wanted to know where the heck my homework was.

I pity teachers who have to control twenty or thirty kids.  However drugging active boys is not the way to go.

Boys need, and often don’t get,

A.)   Lots and lots of exercise.

B.)    Proper nutrition

C.)    At least eight and likely ten hours of sleep.

D.)   Time away from TV and video games.

E.)    A basic framework in life that is stable; IE less moving from town to town; less divorce and switching parents.

F.)    Within such stability, boys need “wild time.” IE Unsupervised sports; Time in fields and woods rather than groomed gardens and parks.

G.) I can’t believe I left this until last. Boys need a Dad.

Just do that, and a lot of the problems vanish.  As I’ve described in two posts:

https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/attention-surplus-disorder/

And the first two parts of:

https://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2013/06/09/dazzling-baffling/

DAZZLING BAFFLING

my-little-chickadee-w-c-fields-1940

DAZZLING BAFFLING

Or

CLIMATE SCIENCE WITHOUT MATH

            W.C. Fields is said to have been the first to say, “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit,” and I have to admit that, while it may not be the most altruistic of statements, it does describe the way humans respond when they find themselves cornered in any sort of debate.

Kids do it all the time, when caught breaking rules at the Childcare on our farm.  I can hardly blame them; for many of the rules are State Laws made up by people who want to bubble-wrap childhood.  For example, any toy higher than the height of my knee must have a six-inch bed of woodchips beneath it.

That is a rule begging to be broken, because children love to climb. I too attempt to circumvent the rule, because I have no desire to buy or shovel woodchips.  Therefore I seek to avoid the State Law by purchasing very short toys, however the kids still manage to break the law by stacking the toys up into teetering towers and then climbing them. This forces me to be one of the frowning teachers who, in my own boyhood, we rudely called, “The Gestapo.”

Of course, there are a whole bunch of other State Laws that force me to be a rather prissy Gestapo, as Gestapi go.  I can’t treat kids the way teacher’s treated me.

I’m old enough to remember when teachers were allowed to haul you down to the principal’s office by your ear.  One teacher, (who had the wonderful name of “Mr. Lynch,”) was said to have grabbed a misbehaving boy, dangled him upside-down by his ankles, and lowered him into the wastepaper basket.  I never actually saw him do this; he’d done it once in the distant past, and word spread from boy to boy across time until it reached me, and I did not want to test the man’s reputation: I behaved remarkably well, for a small hooligan, in Mr. Lynch’s class.

Nowadays, of course, Mr. Lynch would be swiftly fired.  I am asked to care for children in a kinder, gentler fashion.  For example, word recently dribbled down from on high that so-called “Time Outs” were no longer an acceptable response to a misbehaving child.  Instead something called “Redirection” was urged.

This puzzled me.  Wasn’t a “Time Out” supposed to “redirect” a child?  For that matter, wasn’t tanning a child’s hide with a willow switch supposed to “redirect” the child?  What was this exercise in semantics intended to do?

Semantics don’t change the reality.  At times using the word “redirection” is a bit like a glowering police chief informing a surly suspect that their “failure to communicate” requires “an attitude adjustment.”

Kids are kids, and they need to learn their limits, and the way they learn is to test their limits. Children are downright scientific as they test. Even when they do things for the fun of it they are a researcher, eager “to see what happens.” When Johnnie pulls out the chair as Susie sits down, it is a laboratory experiment, and, among the other observations he jots down in his mental notebook, is the observation that steam comes out of the teacher’s ears, as he gets “redirected.” Calling it “redirection” doesn’t change the fundamental fact that the teacher is laying down the law.

The law doesn’t really seem to matter a hill of beans to a child.  They have a desire, and a rule stands in the way, so they break the rule. This actually doesn’t bother me all that much.  I like the fact humanity strives to overcome limitations.  I just don’t want the kid to get hurt.  Therefore I, as the ruler, have lots and lots and lots of rules, at my Childcare.

In the eyes of many children the main advantage of rules, (it seems to me,) is that rules can be used to get other kids in trouble.  If Johnnie has the wagon Susie wants, and gets tattled on by Susie for driving it full tilt into the pond, then he gets redirected, and Susie gets the wagon.

Children are constantly coming before me like little lawyers, and I am the judge.  When they bicker about who ought have a certain toy, I, with the Wisdom of Solomon, decide we should cut the toy in half. Even three-year-olds know sharing-the-wealth is a stupid idea, when it destroys the wealth, and they break my law by refusing to break the toy, and instead resort to more sensible sharing. In the same manner, it is amazing how swiftly children patch up a quarrel when you exile them to opposite sides of a playground: Moments before they were shouting at each other, stating they were not going to invite each other to each other’s birthday parties, but now they suddenly are creeping and sneaking, just to get back together.

Of course, when there is a real danger of them getting hurt, I have to adopt a different demeanor. For example, my personal Childcare Law #727B states that flying machines will not be tested from a height above the child’s own shoulders, and that leaping from the peak of the barn to test out wings is strictly forbidden. When I spot a child attempting to break that law, I might be chuckling on the inside, but on the outside my brow darkens like thunder.  I don’t say much, and do nothing, (and therefore break no State Laws,) however the children bite their knuckles and say, “Oh, Oh.” The difference is in my demeanor.

I actually think it makes little difference if a child is “redirected” or caned.  They both can be equally ineffective, or effective, depending on demeanor.

For those who like to quote, “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” I can only state I attended an English boarding school for a year, at the very end of the time when caning was allowed, and saw first hand that, among many of the boys, being whipped was more of a badge of honor than a deterrent. Not that boys wouldn’t try to talk their way out of punishment, if possible, but if caught red-handed, they were proud of the machismo they (to some degree) displayed, and when, afterwards, other boys demanded, “Show us your stripes,” they did not hesitate to drop their trousers to show off their welts.

It is no longer politically correct to drop your trousers in this manner, and anyway, where is the glamour of showing off the wounds of “redirection?”  People who wished to make childhood kinder and gentler have robbed boyhood of one of its simple pleasures.

(As an aside, Winston Churchill experienced an above-average amount of corporal punishment, even to a degree where the other boys wished he’d stop antagonizing teachers, however he was what he was:  Rather than surrendering to the dictatorship of the headmaster he would…well…look like Winston Churchill.)  (I suppose nowadays Winston Churchill would be put on Ritalin, likely when he was six months old.)

Speaking subjectively, I found the good side of corporal punishment was that it was so swift, and when it was done you had served your time and were free.  You were forgiven.  Whatever your transgression was was forgotten. You walked into a new day, cleansed of all guilt, (until the next time.)

It was the adults who suffered.  I didn’t believe it, at the time, when they said, “This hurts me more than it does you,” but it was in some ways a very real truth.  Adults (supposedly) know more about cause and effect, about reaping what you sow, about “Karma,” and they worry about what they may reap when they strike a child.

When I passed my 21st birthday I inherited a small amount of money. It was just enough to do what you did in those days, which was to emulate the Beatles.  Airfare to India was $650.00, so off I went, to “seek.” One thing I found was an explanation of the Karmic consequences of corporal punishment that would make any parent think twice, before spanking a child.

As it was explained to me, Karmic law states that when a child is spanked, all the bad Karma the child would have earned from their transgression passes to the parent or teacher punishing them.  Even if this law is merely a superstition, it might be a good thing if adults feared that being cruel to a kid might get them “Bad Karma,” (especially if they feared a fate worse than having “a millstone tied around their neck,” and being chucked overboard in a deep, green sea, as was suggested by Jesus.)

(Not only would they be slower to spank, but also I think they’d be slower to drug a child.  For the life of me I’ve never quite understood why smacking a fanny is deemed worse than smacking a brain.)

However I have learned both spankings and drugs are unnecessary, if you know how to frown. Your demeanor has power.  But what exactly is “demeanor?”

“Demeanor” is an intangible indicator of whether you are in trouble or not, with a fellow human.  What is most surprising is how little it actually has to do with being sensible.  When a beautiful blond smiles at a young man, all is right with the world, but when she glares, he starts hopping about like a cricket in a skillet.

We like to believe that men get better at being sensible as they get older, however I’m not entirely sure they do. What is so sensible about George Washington wearing that silly white wig?  What is so sensible about Abraham Lincoln wearing that silly stovepipe hat?  A future president might have a tattooed tongue, and what would be the sense of it?  I myself think fashion is rubbish, but have to confess my wife halts me as I’m heading out the door on a regular basis. She looks me up and down, pats my hair, adjusts my collar, hands me a Kleenex, and tells me to zip up my fly.  So I begrudge the fact that even I get shoved around, by what the world calls “correctness.”

To children correctness is largely a game.  Superficiality is dress-up, and they have no trouble donning Washington’s white wig or Lincoln’s stove pipe hat; one moment they are wearing the armor of the past, (a cardboard box,) and the next they are wearing the space helmet of the future, (a cardboard box.) Adults tend to be indulgent about such disregard towards the current social norms, however when the weather gets hot, and the child strolls by wearing nothing at all, the current generation utterly freaks out.

Such was not always the case.  Nudity comes and goes with the strange regularity of other fashions.  In the 1930’s and 1940’s the French were scandalized because the English allowed their children to “paddle” naked on beaches; these same French were determined to “civilize” African women by forcing them to wear blouses in jungle heat, only to start going topless on their own beaches after the Africans complied.

In the same manner many of my own generation have swung from one extreme to another.  As a young, somewhat prudish hippy I never was all that comfortable with the nudity which was the norm at certain pools and parties, and was informed on a regular basis that my discomfort was proof I was oppressed by irrational inhibitions which I ought to overcome.  Now, (perhaps due to what occurred at some of those parties,) I am informed I ought suspect every person who comes within fifty yards of a child at our Childcare.

The laws concerning “background checks” are quite strict.  It does not matter if I am hiring an old friend to come by after my Childcare is closed, to help me shovel stables and milk goats; I must tell him to get a background check and be fingerprinted, which takes both time and money, and is somewhat offensive to boot. Even more offensive are the names that can pop up during a background check. Perfectly harmless people are labeled “predators,” and mixed in with the truly foul people who likely ought not even be allowed out on the street.

For example, if you are a red blooded fifteen-year-old boy, and mess around with a eighteen-year-old girl, she might end up on the dreaded list, but if you mess around with a fourteen-year-old girl, you might end up on the list. It is no joke to be on that list, either.  You are likely to receive hate mail and death threats.  All in all, it proves we are undergoing a backlash to the “free love” of the 1960’s, and may be moving towards an oppressiveness that could make Puritans look liberal.

The reality that social “correctness” can go through such enormous swings, even during my life, tends to suggest many laws are not commandments written on stone, and may explain why some small children don’t take laws all that seriously. Not that one small child won’t be completely horrified and scandalized if another walks by buff naked, however that same moralistic tot might take toy scissors and shave the head of another child’s Barbie Doll, five minutes later. Adults must step in and draw lines.

I usually skip the bother of explaining the logic behind my rules, when I lay down the law.  I try to avoid saying, “Because I said so,” because using the word “I” involves me.  I find it is better to speak of “the Law” as if laws were some alien power, separate from me, like gravity.  It saves a lot of time ordinarily spent arguing.  However, if I have the time, I actually like listening to the arguments of little lawyers.

In a strange way the manner that children argue gives me hope. It demonstrates that down near the core of the human spirit is a huge desire for freedom that balks at any sort of limitation. “Something there is that does not love a wall.”  The fact that this may lead to anarchy and boyish bullshit does not belay the inherent beauty of the impulse, and understanding the forces behind boyish bullshit and excuse-making not only helps me understand children, but also Climate Scientists.

II

Most people, when they are honest with themselves, must confess that when they were young they were not entirely honest with their elders. Many can even confess they were proud of their dishonesty, for they saw adults as the Gestapo and they themselves as the French Resistance.  Among some boys honesty itself is seen as a sort of betrayal: One must not “tattle,” “squeal,” or be an “informer.”

While it is good fun to hang out with a gang and consider yourself a member of a counter-culture, there arises a sad day when one is faced with the onerous prospect of increased responsibility.  Perhaps one is working at Floppy Burger and gets the chance to do twice the work for a ten-cent raise, and accepts a promotion to the position of “Assistant Manager.”  On that day one discovers a remarkable thing.  The other workers abruptly regard you with suspicion, for you have sold out and joined the Gestapo.  Suddenly rather than inventing excuses you start to hear them.  Rather than dolling out bullshit you receive it.

This downfall happens to the best of us.  Even those who attempt to avoid ever graduating from college, or who join some group which attempts to avoid responsibility and forever blame the responsible, (such as some labor unions,) tend to go home and find they have children of their own, dolling out bullshit.  Even George Washington had to give up revolution and become a president.

Once you accept responsibility then other responsible people, such as your own parents, stop looking so unreasonable. One starts to see that there are reasons for rules, and rules stop seeming so oppressive. One can even feel grateful for some of the rules they had to endure, when young.

However one doesn’t want to go overboard, and forget the reasons for the rebellions of youth. If one is totally accepting of the limitations and disciplines that exist, one loses something important: Freedom.  While it is true that freedom and discipline walk hand in hand, and “freedom isn’t free,” if one becomes too conventional imagination gets stifled, and one is also likely to accept some erroneous belief, such as that the sun goes around the earth.

One discipline I rue rebelling from involves Math classes at school.  Math just wasn’t my cup of tea. I have since had many occasions to regret I learned so little in thirteen years of Math classes, and if I awoke and found the past fifty years were a dream I likely would do differently. However that would mean I would turn out differently.  Rather than a writer I likely would be a mathematician. However that was not my fate; my mother didn’t raise me to be no mathematician. (Even if she had attempted it, she likely would have failed, for it doesn’t seem to be in my make-up.)

I think each child is born with a gift, and one reason they rebel is because we are trying to make them be something they aren’t. In my case Math classes were trying to discipline my mind into a square peg for a square hole, when the shape of my mind was nonlinear.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t do Math, if I gritted my teeth. I recall that, back in third grade, the entire concept of division made absolutely no sense to me, and the teacher didn’t help me by calling it “backwards multiplication.” Then, after strenuous contortions of boyish logic, division suddenly made sense, and the golden flash of realization that then flooded my skull seemed to light the entire room. It was definitely a very enjoyable sensation, however it was a very long run for a very short slide, and I found there were other ways to experience the same flashes of inspiration. Other ways were, to a person of my psychic make-up, much easier, (and led in the direction of becoming a writer.)  Therefore I took the route of least resistance, even when it involved a lot of resistance to Math teachers.  I pity those teachers.  The only reasons they put up with me at all were that Math was a required class, and also I provided a certain comic relief.

As the years passed I am ashamed to confess the depths I sunk to, to avoid the disciplines of Math.  I mostly hid behind my book while looking out the window, however when necessary I copied, cheated and lied.  The lying helped me hone my skills as a creative writer, and involved the bullshit teachers must endure when they ask for homework that cannot be produced, because it doesn’t exist. The silver lining was that, by being forced to explain what doesn’t exist, I learned some principles of both Physics and Religion.

At reunions former classmates have since told me that my excuses were often the most interesting part of Math class. For me, however, it was agony, and the clock never moved slower than it did waiting for Math class to end, hoping and praying I could escape without needing to come up with yet another excuse. In fact one of my first poems was written in Math class, describing how slowly the clock moved, and was called, “Math Forever.”

Bullshitting wasn’t merely a matter of making things up.  One had to tread warily, for some teachers did not take kindly to being lied to.  There was the necessity of charm, tact, humor, and believability, which, among other things, has helped me spot others who stretch the truth, over the years, and has made me suspect Climate Scientists right from the start.

However Climate Scientists are good at Math. In any debate with them, I was at a distinct disadvantage, if I allowed the subject to move towards Physics.  Fortunately I could fall back on all my experience in Math classes, and adroitly steer the subject away from Math with baffling brilliance. (It’s a skill and an art: I’m sure some of my Math teachers wondered how in the world, when they asked me for my Math homework, they wound up talking about their childhoods.)

Some might wonder how and why, considering I was so unskilled with Math, I could have the nerve to criticize a Climate Science that was so highly mathematical. The simple fact of the matter is that wisdom does not require Math. Shakespeare likely would be puzzled by any modern Math beyond basic arithmetic, however his depth of understanding resulted in works that have shaped and changed people all over the planet, including some who don’t even speak English, for centuries.

What is that “depth of understanding?”

My personal view is that “depth” is an extra dimension gained by being broad minded, and having the ability to grasp a concept some find difficult to grasp:  The concept that there can be more than one answer to a single question, and that it is possible to accept both answers simultaneously.

The simplest example of this is the fact we are not formed as a Cyclops, and instead have two eyes.  By using both eyes at the same time we gain a depth perception neither eye has by itself.  We gain an extra dimension by holding two views.

There are all sorts of dull and tedious people who insist there can only be one answer to a question.  Included are policemen who are extremely frustrated when they get ten differing eyewitness accounts of the same event, and historians who wade through the winner’s and loser’s differing versions of a battle. In attempting to arrive at a single “version” of what occurred, they inadvertently winnow out what allows an extra dimension, and in the end arrive at the myopia of a Cyclops.

Life is full of events that have different versions. For the fun of it, imagine a dullard historian interviewing a husband and wife just after they have made love, and then writing a history about what occurred.  Obviously he will have two highly different versions of what occurred, and will need to cancel out all conflicting testimony.  After canceling out all the differences he will either arrive at the conclusion that nothing happened at all, or concede there was an exchange of a small amount of bodily fluids.  This will be a correct, and scientific, history.  It will also miss a large part of what just occurred.

For another example, simply look at some small object across the room, such as a thermostat on the wall, and line up your thumb so it blocks your view of that object.  Often you will need to close one eye, because your thumb is too small to block the view from both sides of your nose. If you block the view from your right eye, your left eye can see, but if you shift your thumb so the left eye can’t see, the right eye can.  Then ask the stupid question, “Which position of the thumb blocks the view?” Or the even stupider question, “Which version is correct?”

Obviously the questions are to blame. They are simply inadequate. However it is amazing how often people get sucked into choosing between one version or another version of history.  Often they take sides, or get so frustrated they reject both sides, when the truth of the matter is that both sides have validity.

I think I began thinking about this stuff due to the fact I loved both my parents, but they went through a particularly ugly divorce involving two very different versions of history.  The simple fact I refused to take sides broadened my mind even as their minds remained one-sided, until I had a sort of marriage in my skull even as they enacted divorce in real life.  I gained a dimension they lost.

This “depth of understanding,” which I gained in a small way, is what Shakespeare had in a Great Way.  It allows you fathom human nature.  It also fills you with a thirst to hear different versions, even when they conflict with versions you have already heard.  You listen to story after story, and “story” is five-sevenths of the word “history.”  Beyond that, very little Math is involved at all.

History holds a golden hue, which we fail to notice during the drudgery of our day-to-day disciplines.  People sometimes scorn that gold, claiming it is a delusion, caused by a sort of amnesia that sets in, causing us to forget past pains, but actually it is the other way around: The pain in our current situation blinds us to the gold which is all around us.  Only when that pain is gone does a woman think she might like to have another child, or a man think he might like to start another business, or climb another mountain. When we speak of “twenty-twenty hindsight” or even use an expression such as “absence makes the heart grow fonder” we are recognizing the golden vistas history allows us to glimpse.  Even people who despise history books and historians often like to open an old photo album, and simply remember.

When seen in this light the expression, “when seen in this light,” is seen in a new light. It is a phenomenon many can relate to, however we are running headlong into a problem.  This golden light is a light science has yet to measure. Cameras cannot record it, thermometers cannot measure it, tweezers cannot tweeze it, and therefore to even broach this subject is to leave the firmly grounded rock of science and venture out onto the treacherous quicksand of pseudoscience.

Because I don’t want to go there, I simply won’t call it science.  I’ll call it nostalgia.  I likely should leave it at that, however it is my understanding English is a limiting language, because it only has one word for nostalgia.  Other languages go into greater detail, recognizing the nuances of nostalgia by using different words. For example, in one language (Japanese?) remembering-your-mother-after-she-has-passed-away is described by a different word than remembering-your-mother-while-she-is-still-alive.

To demonstrate the strange power of nostalgia I will bring up two things from the past that were a royal pain, back in the day, but that now can make old-timers smile. The two things were two knobs on the side of an old fashioned TV set called “vert” and “hoz.”  They were necessary because the “picture” (IE; Video screen) of old fashioned TV’s had the annoying tendency to flip or warp in a manner difficult to describe to modern youth, but which requires no description to old-timers.

This annoyance made no one smile back in the day. The only reason mentioning the “vert” and “hoz” knobs now makes old-timers smile is because such problems seem so much simpler than a computer virus. The only time an old-fashioned TV crashed was when someone pitched a beer bottle at a commercial.

However sometimes the “vert” and “hoz” knobs failed to stop the screen from flipping and warping, and when this was occurring during the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series, it called for desperate measures:  Sometimes the problem could be fixed by giving the TV set a firm but not-too-firm whack on the side.

I was good at TV whacking, as a youth.  People may well have said, “That Caleb Shaw may be no good at Math, but he sure can whack a TV.” It may have been the only reason my girlfriend’s father allowed me in their house at all. Looking back, the main reason that some lacked this skill was because they had too much respect for the delicate circuitry of a TV set, and when they dared whack a TV at all, did so in a tentative manner that was barely more than a gentle tap.

I have no idea why giving the circuitry of a TV a jolt stopped the picture from flipping and warping.  Perhaps there was a build up of static electricity in the cathode thingy which was released by the whack, however I had no pretentions that I was any sort of TV repairman, nor that I had a clue how the gizmo worked. Despite the fact I, as a teenager, tended to brag and swagger about all sorts of things I had no business acting knowledgeable about, it never even occurred to me that I ought pretend I was an expert on TV’s.

Therefore it amazes me that some psychologists have the audacity to pretend they understand the human brain, after using electroshock or drugs to basically give a person a whack on the side of the head.  The circuitry of a brain is far more complex than the circuitry of a TV, and just because whacking a brain may stop a mind from flipping gives the whacker no right to state he knows what is happening, or why whacking works.

This is not to say psychologists can’t save lives. Lonely people need someone to talk to. Misunderstood people need understanding. The mentorless need mentors. However this is not science; it is kindness.  To pretend it is science is to step across an invisible line into the landscape of fraud.

There is a temptation to make a science out of psychology, because certain patterns of human behavior seem recognizable. Though Chaucer created the Wife Of Bath back in 1375, she reminds me of a lady who served me burgers back in college, and though Shakespeare created Falstaff in 1593, Flastaff reminds me of a guy I worked third shift with, in a cannery. Certain characters are like certain weather maps, and provide us with analogs we use, and give us the sense we can predict behavior in the same manner we can predict the weather.

However every forecaster knows that all it takes is some stupid butterfly flapping its wing somewhere, and two maps which start out nearly identical can come to quite opposite solutions.  In the same manner two people, both resembling Falstaff, can reach a fork in the road where one is redeemed while the other progresses steadfastly on to their tragic demise.

Human being are, in fact, chaotic systems, and when we deal with chaotic systems we need to be humble and say something difficult to say, namely: “I connot predict the future with 100% certainty.”  This is not to say that, when we meet a Falstaff, we ought loan him money, or that, when the sky gets pitch black and thunders, we should ignore our raincoat. We are allowed to forecast, and in fact it is our nature to forecast; we just need to be prepared to be wrong, and not get all crabby about it when it happens.

It is when someone is dealing with a chaotic system, and puts on a white coat and pretends to be sure, and to be able to speak with scientific certainty, that the fraud enters in.  They are claiming to have authority they lack, and are setting themselves up for a Falstaffian fall. Unfortunately they see some short-term gain in their pompous buffoonery, money to be made and power to be gripped, and they often hurt others in the process of acting out their tragedy.

In the case of psychologists, bad ones can clamber up onto pedestals and claim to be experts, pontificating upon “predatory behavior” even while they themselves prey upon the most vulnerable and hapless members of society, bullying meek clients with thinly-veiled threats to incarcerate them and subject them to cruel and unusual punishment without trial. In the process they destroy the reputation of good psychologists who do save lives, and the public gradually gets so disgusted that it may even pass a law such as the one passed in Texas, which had to be vetoed by the governor. (That law stated that when psychologists gave testimony as expert witnesses in trials they had to wear tall, pointed, wizard-hats, complete with stars and moons.)

To conclude, we need a different attitude when dealing with chaotic systems than the attitude we adopt when dealing with Math, and Climate Scientists have failed to adopt this attitude.

III

For the non-mathematical reasons mentioned in the first two parts of this essay I distrusted Climate Scientists as soon as I became aware they had staked out a certain turf to call their own.  First, they were pretending to be certain about a chaotic system.  Second, they behaved in a manner that resembled Falstaff. Third, their versions of history shifted like sinister shadows amidst the golden versions of history I knew.  Lastly, they somewhat snidely stated I couldn’t know anything because I didn’t know the mathematics of programming modeling into computers. I think it was that last thing that really got me riled up. Perhaps it is pure egotism, but I have never taken kindly to people who tell me I’m stupid.

Fortunately I enjoy debating, and my hot temper is nicely balanced by my ability to fearlessly apologize, which tends to keep my opponents off balance. Of course, keeping your opponents off balance is totally unnecessary, and not anything you want to do, if you are debating in good faith, seeking to find the Truth.  It is only necessary when your opponent is slightly immature, and perhaps behaving a bit like a jerk.

When three-year-olds come to me like little lawyers at my Childcare, they tend to be slightly immature, but completely sincere.  Often they are arguing about a relatively worthless object, for example, a mere stick, one of hundreds of sticks in our woods.  I scratch my head in wonder, aware the reason for rage is not the stick, it is the principle of the thing. Who “had it first,” and who “started it,” matters a heck of a lot more than the stupid stick does, as the tots bellow jaw to jaw, eyes bugging out and veins bulging and skin turning purple.  Fortunately they are so small it is comical, and not only does my sense of humor kick in, but also fondness comes welling up from my heart.

The same sense of humor kicks in when I am dealing with people who ought be old enough to know better. There is the same illogical tendency to drift from the subject at hand to who “had it first,” who “started it,” and whether or not I have the IQ of an opossum. It is a big mistake to move in this direction with me, for it is a movement away from Math, which I struggle with, into landscapes I’m more familiar with.

Some day sooner than I like I will stand before my Maker, and He is likely to ask me, among other things, why I spent so much of the last ten years quarreling with Alarmists. I fear my first response will be that of a three-year-old: I will point my finger and say, “They started it.”  As I recall how things developed, such blaming is actually the truth. Initially I was not arguing, but rather merely asking questions. My questions had to do with the Medieval Warm Period, and the Viking colony in Greenland.

I knew a fair amount about those Vikings, due to my love of history. (My brain is full of interesting trivia I collected when I should have been doing my Math homework.) I knew those Vikings raised cows, and grew barley for beer, in an environment where it currently is impossible.  Therefore when the Medieval Warm Period was abruptly “erased” by Climate Scientists I had questions.  When I got answers they were the sorts of answers that do not give you a sense of peace, but rather make you restless with many more questions.  For example, I was told the Medieval Warm Period only occurred on either side of the North Atlantic, and no where else.  In order for this to occur some new and interesting rearrangement of the Gulf Stream and the Jet Stream would have to exist, and persist for decades and even centuries, and I was curious about this unheard-of weather pattern. At this point I started to get the impression my questions were unwelcome.

This struck me as unusual, for it had always been my experience that scientists studied obscure things no one else was interested in, and often felt misunderstood and starved for attention, and when someone actually asked a question about what they were studying they either fainted in shock, or else were so overjoyed about finding a listener that you couldn’t get them to stop talking, once they started.  To receive a cold shoulder instead made me instantaneously curious.

I suppose it involved the same principle as playing “hard to get” involves. When I was in high school, and a girl spurned my adolescent grins, my older brother told me to stop being so friendly, and to utterly ignore the girl.  To my complete astonishment, the ploy worked.  Of course, I didn’t have a clue what to do next, but at least I had her attention.

When a person becomes evasive, we immediately wonder what they are evading.  When Climate Scientists and their Alarmist groupies stopped answering questions I developed a curiosity I might otherwise not have possessed.  The situation then became odder, because they turned out to be Falstaffs who loved basking in the spotlight. They wanted attention but didn’t want it; they loved looking wise but didn’t want certain questions to be asked.  They were like James Bond strolling into a casino, sticking out like a sore thumb at the same time they were secret.

It was at this time people who knew their Math, such as Steve McIntyre and Willis Eschenbach, first began asking questions and first ran into the evasiveness that eventually resulted in stonewalling and the need to employ the Freedom Of Information Act.  However for a person like myself, who knew little Math, the evasiveness took the form of The Snoot. Just as a psychologist might haughtily state, “You can’t possibly understand; you haven’t studied psychology,” I increasingly heard the news that I couldn’t possibly understand, because I am a moron.

Well, I admit that, but even a moron has the right to ask questions. Then I ran into the evasive tactic of using jargon and big words an ordinary person doesn’t use.  However, due to my love of writing, I have a rather large vocabulary for a moron, and even when I didn’t know the meaning of a word, I could always ask what it meant.  For example, the first time I heard “dendochronological” I was silenced and had to back off, but, after a pause, I persisted, pestered, (and even when the answers were evasive I could Google the word,) and I wound up exclaiming, “Oh! Tree rings!  If you meant tree rings, why didn’t you say so!”  I then discovered that haughty people do not like it when you simplify things they are haughty about.

The question, “Why do you use the word ‘dendrochronological’ when you could say ‘tree rings’ ?” is admittedly drifting a bit off-topic from the actual topic of tree rings, but so is the topic of whether I am a moron or not.  So is the topic of whether or not I am “a shill of Big Oil,” “ a ditto head,”  “a wing nut,” a “useful idiot,” or any of the other interesting gobs of mud I’ve found flung my way. Fortunately I’m not the sensitive young poet I once was, have a thick skin, and also think it is good fun to devise sophisticated and witty insults to reply with. In fact I’ve been told I’m fairly good at the sort of insult you have to scratch your head over, before you realize it is an insult.  (We used to call these “polar bear traps,” for a polar bear trap is a sphere of frozen fat with a coiled piece of steel within.  As the fat melts in the polar bear’s stomach, the steel springs out straight and kills the bear; in the same way, some sweet words only stab you when they are digested.)

However descending to the level of mud slinging, even when it is gussied up with charm, gets tiresome, and asking real questions and getting to the real Truth turns out to be far more interesting and rewarding in the long run.  That is why I was always so swift to apologize, (even when no one apologized for calling me a moron,) and returned to innocent and sincere questions.

An amazing thing happens when you do this.  You learn.  You can even learn a little Math.  Not much, I’ll admit, but enough to get by on.

One technical word that backed me off, in the beginning, was the word, “albedo.”  For the Alarmists it was a sort of magical word that explained everything.  I ran into it due to my interest in Vikings, and the amount of ice up by Greenland.  The more I asked questions about “abedo” the more questions I had, and the more annoyed the people I was questioning became.  They wanted to strictly focus on the Arctic Sea, but I wanted to explore the Antarctic.  Then I asked an annoying question about the albedo of the Arctic land masses when they are covered with snow.  I think this was annoying because it turned out freshly fallen snow has a significantly higher albedo than rotten ice, and the people I was talking with had neglected to include the albedo of vast stretches of tunda, from Finland to Sibera to Alaska to Canada, in their calculations.  Then I asked about the albedo of flat, open water, when the sun sits low on the horizon, as it does in September at the North Pole, and discovered water has a higher albedo than ice does when the sun is that low. This was annoying because it suggested the opposite of what Alarmist theory suggests; rather than absorbing more sunlight, open water would reflect more sunlight.

It was not necessary to develop a counter-theory.  Using “doesn’t-it-follow-that” questions would suffice.  For example, your question could be, “If freshly fallen snow has a higher albedo than ice, and the northern hemisphere has just had its greatest snow cover in recent history, doesn’t it follow that…”

Asking so many questions was great fun, for I learned all sorts of interesting trivia, for example I learned that salt water behaves differently than fresh water when both are chilled to thirty-three degrees. However it was also fun because I discovered I was putting Alarmists on the defensive, because most had not done their homework.  There were a few who were as eager as I was to learn new things, and these few were wonderful to talk with, but most behaved as I once had behaved, facing my Math teachers with undone homework, and I found it great fun to have the tables turned, and to watch them squirm.

One neat thing about being a Math teacher is that you get to assign homework, without having to do it. Simply by asking questions I was demanding answers that involved the sort of work that people who delight in Math find joy in, but others are made miserable by.  For example, asking about the “area of albedo” involved finding the surface area of the globe north of eighty degrees latitude, between seventy and eighty degrees north, between sixty and seventy degrees north, and between fifty-five and sixty degrees north.  While someone like Willis could figure out such things on the back of an envelope, the Alarmists I was questioning tended to turn an interesting shade of green.

I wasn’t asking these questions to cause trouble.  I had simply turned my globe upside-down, and realized Antarctica had sea ice at the latitude of northern Scotland.  I began to wonder if sea ice at lower latitudes had a greater effect than ice at higher latitudes, because the sun has greater power at lower latitudes, and there is more of it to reflect. After all, albedo means very little when the sun is on the horizon and weak, or even has set. I decided the word “albedo” was insufficient. There needed to be a word for the sunlight that actually was reflected, and, because the Alarmists I was questioning had no such word, I decided the word ought be coined, and ought be, “calbedo.” (Not derived from “calorie,” which would be sensible, but rather from “Caleb,” because I am vain.)

Once your questions are along the lines of, “Isn’t the word ‘albedo’ insufficient, and shouldn’t there be a word such as ‘calbedo’ in order to…” Alarmists tend to be in full retreat.  They haven’t done their homework, and the best they can do is defer to authority, pointing at the gobbledygook of computer code they themselves don’t understand, and insisting that it proves something you can’t understand. This debating technique is often seen among three-year-olds at my Childcare, and usually takes the form of, “My Daddy is bigger than your Daddy.”

This retreat is also a form of evasiveness much like the behavior of Shakespeare’s Falstaff.  Honest people do not need to evade in such a manner.

In conclusion, without Math, and only asking questions, it is possible to arrive at the conclusion that Climate Science, at the very least, is not a thing that is “settled” to a degree where we ought to invest in what it concludes. The buyer beware.

OLD GEEZER’S WARNING: MARIJUANA IS HARMFUL

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OLD GEEZER’S WARNING: MARIJUANA IS HARMFUL

            The news about the “Smoke In” in Denver troubles me, for I always imagined that the harm of marijuana would be obvious to the young, as they looked at their aging Baby Boomer parents.  Apparently it isn’t, and therefore I suppose I must state the obvious: Marijuana is harmful.

Furthermore, it is more harmful than alcohol, nicotine, or caffeine.

The harm is not visible in scans of the brain, for the harm is done on the level of memory.  While the latest scans are able to give a rough estimate of the emotion a memory produces, whether it be anger or fear, or pleasurable or unpleasant, there is absolutely no way of showing what the actual memory is, nor how memory is shuffled and resorted.

As memory is crucial to learning, the obvious forgetfulness, which is quite apparent to anyone who smokes marijuana, should be a reason for concern to the smoker, however it isn’t, for they are quite often under the illusion they are learning more, when the truth is they are forgetting more.

The processes of creativity and learning are bipolar processes, involving agony and ecstasy, both manic and depressive states.  While we all prefer the manic, the depressive is also crucial to learning. “You’ve got to pay the dues if you’re going to play the blues.”

The best analogy I can think of involves a desk that gets messier and messier as one is hard at work, until it gets so messy that one simply has to stop working and clean up.

In the brain’s manic state it is making “connections,” and this continues until there are simply too many connections to progress further, at which point the brain must “hit the delete key,” and discard some of the connections it has made.  This important second step is what we are undergoing when we suffer the state commonly known as “depression.”

In actual fact the brain does not utterly “delete” any memory, but rather is rearranging the “connections” (which lead from memory to memory) into a more efficient pattern.  This takes energy, and rather than the manic, “Eureka” of making a connection, it is more of a process of saying, “This doesn’t work, and this doesn’t work, and this doesn’t work.”  Even though the process isn’t pleasant, (sort of like getting a lot of rejection slips,) it lays the groundwork for the next creative effort.

When the mind is done “cleaning the desk” and gets back to work, the next sequence of connections is more efficient.  It is for this reason that Beethoven’s Ninth symphony is more amazing than Beethoven’s First symphony.

A person who smokes a lot of marijuana will notice, in the long run, no such improvement.  Or perhaps they will not notice. What is there to notice, if your ninth symphony is exactly the same as your first?  In fact you can say marijuana obviously hasn’t harmed you, for you are no different.

However we are supposed to become different.  It is a process called “maturing.”

Deep down people do notice when they are no different, and nothing changes.  It creates a sense of frustration. Unfortunately the user of marijuana seldom makes the connection that the frustration is due to marijuana, and instead of quitting, they smoke more. They want to recreate the sense of “eureka,” but what they discover is that the same dosage gets them less and less “high.”  Sometimes they then increase the dosage, until they arrive at a point where rather than high, they just get buzzed.

I arrived at that point as a teenager, over forty years ago, and even then I was too stupid to blame marijuana.  Instead I was blaming society and capitalism and what-have-you.  I had to be told, rather bluntly, that marijuana was making me stupid.

(As I recall what penetrated my thick skull was a tract entitled, “God In A Pill?”  One hippy was handing the tract out to other hippies on Harvard Square, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.)

Quitting marijuana was one of the few smart things I ever did, as a teenager. It was difficult, because I had to get through roughly six months where I was largely depressed and had very few “natural highs.”  (I suppose my brains were drained, and had to replenish energy reservoirs.)  However now I can do things with my creative side, which were completely impossible for me to do, back then.

Whoever it was who handed me that tract, all those years ago, did me a very great favor.  I am especially aware of it when I meet old friends who never quit marijuana, and who were once smarter than me, but now seem strangely stuck forty years in their past.

It is because I want to return the favor that I chose to be a nag, and tell modern youth, “Don’t smoke marijuana.  It will harm you, and no good will come of it.”