Cabbage Patch Dolls were, in my haughty opinion, dolls with ugly faces attached to bodies which had no elbows, which idiotic small girls were suckered into coveting. I had no use for such nonsense, for I was a young (and then a not-so-young) poet concerned with deep and important things such as iambs, which young girls likely think are equally idiotic. But then something odd happened. At age thirty-seven I met a twenty-nine-year-old beauty, and she too was idiotic, for she married me. What this meant was that I abruptly had three small children, and this meant I had to concern myself with things that seemingly had nothing to do with poetry, such as hundred dollar basketball sneakers, and Cabbage Patch Dolls.
When I myself was young I had entertained the naive belief that poetry would make me rich. I would write the lyrics of a hit song, or some such thing. In actual fact I never made a penny from poetry, which might seem a good reason to conclude, “Then the heck with it.” The fact I persisted despite poverty seems proof I actually am a poet. (I didn’t say, “good poet”; I said “poet”.)
When a person is gifted, whether to a great or small degree, they possess a gift, and, by definition, a gift is not something you charge for. If you are a poet’s agent you perhaps turn what is a gift into a commodity, which can be sold, but initially a poem is a gift given by a penniless philanthropist.
Audacious arrogance is involved. Basically a man stands in rags, with no money in his pocket, yet the man has a vanity which allows him to think he is being charitable. In terms of money he is basically a beggar with a cup, (or an open guitar case), yet he believes he is God’s gift to that stretch of sidewalk.
In perhaps .01% of all cases an artist is “discovered” by an agent who enables them to make good money, but in nearly all other cases the income from art is either meager or non-existent. This may be disappointing to young artists, but it is as it should be.
Why? Because if you give, you are not suppose to get richer. If you have a hundred dollars and give a tithe of 10% you are suppose to wind up with ninety dollars. If you get filthy rich running a charity you are not charitable (and in some cases, naming no names, you are a complete slime-ball who robs from widows and orphans, as well as the sick, wounded, and devastated.)
At this point a young artist likely wonders, “then what’s in it for me?” It does little good to preach to them, “It is better to give than to receive.” Instead it is better to take young poets to some poor, rural church with peeling paint that happens to have a good choir. There they will see, watching the choir, people giving with all their heart, making no money, yet receiving an income of sheer joy.
It was due to this income-of-joy that I kept writing poetry, but by age thirty-seven I’d become aware I also often needed to get a Real Job if I intended to eat. Not that I worked for long. Poetry made me something of a minimalist, for if I worked hard at a Real Job I had no time to write, yet, if I worked hard at my poetry, I’d be sacrificing in terms hours on my time-card at a Real Job, which reduced my income. I became skilled at getting by on next to nothing, however there were things I could get away with, as a bachelor, that I could not get away with, when I abruptly became the-father-of-three, (such as sleeping in my car.) But other minimalist things I learned as a poet were of great value, as I suddenly found myself raising three small children with very little money.
One thing I had learned as a poet was that joy can’t be bought. I’d started my childhood pampered and rich, but became aware, simply through looking around my wealthy neighborhood, that rich people are sometimes miserable, whereas poor people often are capable of possessing non-tangible wealth, consisting of things such as laughter. I also became aware that, in terms of percentage-of-income, poor people are far, far more generous than wealthy people, as a general rule. It is often misers who have money, and the word “miser” is in the word “miserable.” Not that the poor, and poets, don’t suffer, but they also are a strange proof that “blessed are the poor”. Their blessing is measured in an income of not money, but joy.
It was obvious we were going to be poor, when I first married, as the recession which kept the first President Bush from reelection was a genuine depression in the town where I lived, and the population was shrinking. Houses looked out on streets with empty eyes. However I wanted to impress upon my new children that a poor family could be a happy family and that, like poets, they might receive an income-of-joy. The kids begged to differ, and found many reasons to gripe. Fortunately I have a good sense of humor, which allowed me to laugh rather than be offended (most of the time).
Not that I wasn’t amazed by what they found to gripe about. For example, delicious dinners. I was always amazed by the delicacies my wife concocted from our minuscule food budget. I myself had learned my own ways of spicing up a poet’s meager diet of rice and beans, and also had learned how to be at the right place at the right time, and to get good deals on things such as just-slaughtered, small-farm chicken, pork or beef. Often the rural poor eat the best, freshest food.
Much to my surprise, my new children found farm-fresh hamburgers distasteful. It wasn’t the flavor (which was excellent) that bothered them, as much as it was the texture. They preferred the mush that came from the supermarket, which had the texture of jello, as it had been through a meat-grinder twice, and also included some so-called “red slime”. To me it tasted like sawdust, but they didn’t care about “taste”. They cared about “texture”.
One time a friend shot a deer, but had no use for the liver. I told him he had no idea what he was missing, for the deer had not nibbled hemlock, which makes the liver bitter, but had feasted on apples in an orchard, which makes the liver sweet. He shrugged and handed me the liver. I handed it to my new wife, telling her that under no condition should she tell the children the meat didn’t come from a supermarket. If the children knew it was from a deer they would gag. She nodded, and produced an amazing Stroganoff, and the children zealously devoured it, none the wiser. They didn’t even know it was liver, let alone liver from a deer.
(My wife also had the ability to sneak blocks of frozen spinach into her casseroles, which were so delicious the children didn’t comprehend they were eating spinach. It seems that, while parents are suppose to educate children, physical nourishment of the same children involves keeping them blissfully ignorant.)
On another occasion my wife and I happened to hear of a rugged person we barely knew who, with a strange sense of “fun”, went to sea when the roaring winter winds froze salt spray to the boat’s gunnels, and came back to town with more shrimp than he knew what to do with. We purchased pounds of fresh shrimp more cheaply than chicken. I then discovered my new children hated sea-food. They would not even try the shrimp. It didn’t matter that they had never tried it before. It was apparently “the principle of the thing”. Seafood was “gross”, and that was that.
I tried to be sympathetic towards my new children’s dislike of delicious food, but it wasn’t easy, due to my background.
My own parents had known the want of the Great Depression, and impressed upon me that I should be thankful for what I received, or they would whack my hindquarters with a leather belt. I’d never dare criticize a dinner, even though my mother had become fond of certain strange dinners which were invented only due to the extreme want of the Great Depression, (one of which World-War-Two-Slang called “shit on a shingle”, and another of which was basically a greasy soup made of the marrow of bones). My mother’s memory of surviving hardships, and of how happy you are to eat when you thought you might not, covered the actual taste of such meals with nostalgia’s rose-colored hues. She was so fond of such sludge that I never dared tell her it was horrible stuff, and not delicious food. Therefore I could remember gagging over what grown-ups called delicious, and could empathize with my kids to a degree, but no farther. Because I wouldn’t complain even as a child, and because my subsequent impoverished drifting and sleeping-in-my-car made me appreciative of even drab food, it remained perpetually amazing to me that my new wife’s children griped about her delicious meals.
How I taught them, and how they taught me, will be the subject of some future post, if God allows. Hilarity and joy was involved, but the point I want to make in this post is that there are times in your life that you face a sort of insanity which, rather than thanks, bites the hand that feeds.
For some reason I expected to have my hand bit, as a stepfather. Perhaps I simply figured it would be pay-back for the way I treated my own stepfather, (who I initially called “The Fossil”, though I later understood he was an amazingly generous and kind person). When you have made a fool of yourself in your own life, you tend to be more forgiving of similar foolishness in others. In any case, I didn’t shoot the dog when it bit my hand, even though it seemed ridiculous for my new kids to gripe about their mother’s superb cooking.
Moving from the subject of food to the subject of clothing, my three new children continued to behave in a manner which seemed (to a poet) to be irrational. Besides suffering apparent eating-disorders they seemingly also suffered clothing-disorders.
The epitome of modern madness, in my poetic view, was Mad Ave. I was far more inclined towards the minimalist views of Henry Thoreau, who stated a man needs only two pairs of pants: One to wear and one to wash. Mad Ave, on the other hand, did it’s best to persuade you that whatever pants you had were never enough. You were sunk unless you bought what they sold.
My new son had been sold this bill of goods. He informed me that I simply had to buy him a certain pair of expensive sneakers, costing more than half of my weekly income. I stated he would have to do with cheaper sneakers. He then told me that he really loved basketball, and wanted to be good at basketball, but he never would be good unless he obeyed the star player Michael Jordan, who said you had to buy certain sneakers. I said that if that claim was true then Michael Jordan himself would never have been any good, because that sort of sneakers hadn’t been invented when Michael himself was growing up. Michael Jordon himself was living proof such sneakers were unnecessary.
The young boy was an interesting fellow to get to know, for he seldom whined, to me at least. He would look off thoughtfully and say something reasonable such as, “I never thought of that”, and walk off to think up a different approach. I knew he’d be back. As I recall I was forced to develop a whole philosophy revolving around footwear, and to do considerable research. My son learned a lot about footwear as well, hearing the tale of the Ethiopian, Abebe Bikila, who didn’t like the footwear he was issued at the start of the 1960 Olympics, and won the Marathon with a record time, running barefoot. In the end my son and I decided there was no way around the fact he wanted those sneakers, and also no way around the fact I couldn’t afford them. Therefore we agreed he should do chores and save up for the sneakers. He patiently saved up his dollars, and when he at long last had a hundred rumpled bills, he bought a used bicycle.
The fact the fashions he pursued were not exactly rational did not make our discussions irrational. The closest he came to ever losing his temper with me was one time I insisted he put on a hat, which would have messed up his waxed hair, which he combed straight up like a frightened porcupine. I was standing by the front door with my arms folded as he regarded me balefully, when my wife intervened, asking me to be reasonable. I stated it was unreasonable to send a eight-year-old boy into a minus-thirty windchill with no hat, but, as the odds were two to one against me, I finally judged he could stuff the woolen cap in his pocket and put it on when his ears hurt, but that he shouldn’t let his ears freeze and break off. The young man nodded, all seriousness, and then hurried out into the arctic blasts to walk the half mile to school hat-less.
His sisters were less calm, regarding the need for fashion. They employed techniques I felt were illegal, in a rational, intellectual debate: The older one gushed genuine tears and the younger one stormed from the room. I myself could be depended upon to say the absolutely wrong things about fashion, such as, “Football players have a good reason for having shoulder pads; why do you need them?” At times our furors about fashion made me wonder why on earth I was putting up with such nonsense when I could be sleeping in my car off in some nice desert, however, when I remembered the loneliness of that car, the fuss and bother didn’t seem all that bad, and at times even seemed humorous. But it was dangerous to smile.
At one point the fashion in young girl’s footwear became army boots. When I was young it was an insult to say a girl wore army boots, but now black, clomping boots were all the rage, and absurdly expensive. I required boots for my work, and my old boots had patches, for I had found an old-fashioned cobbler who patched boots for less than the price of new boots, however my daughters didn’t require boots, especially in the summertime. I refused to buy them.
But then I became sly. Summer was ending, and I knew they would need boots for the winter. So I bribed them with the prospect of boots, if they fulfilled some requirement (which I can’t remember). Also I was counting on the price coming down, and the price did fall as the fashion faded. Finally I purchased the boots on sale, and for a couple of days my daughters strutted around proud as peacocks. I felt I had killed two birds with one stone, fulfilling my daughters desire for fashion, and also fulfilling the genuine need for winter boots. I even briefly strutted about as proud as a peacock, in my own way, but then…
Then my daughters came home crestfallen, having been told by a peer “nobody wears those old things any more.” Therefore, just as the first snow fell, they became reluctant to wear the boots. Instead they wanted the new fashion, which was a sort of cross between a sneaker and a ballet slipper, and only came halfway up to a girl’s ankle. I stated such footwear made no sense in winter, and it also made no sense that footwear with a quarter as much material as the boots should be four times more expensive. My daughters were amazed a man could be so ignorant. They wore their old sneakers to school, and refused to wear the boots except in the worst snowstorms.
The sheer absurdity of the new fashion hit home one morning when we received a quick two inches of fluffy snow in a squall. I was heading out past the school, and offered to give my daughters a lift. Then I wondered if there had been an accident, for the cars were barely crawling as we approached the school. I burst out laughing when I realized the reason for the delay: My daughter’s snobby and fashionable classmate’s could not walk in the two inches of snow at the side of the road, for the snow would freeze their exposed ankles, and therefore they had to walk, teetering like a man on a tightrope, in the tire-tracks of the cars. I rolled down our unfashionable vehicle’s old-fashioned window, but my daughter’s said they’d die of embarrassment if I said anything, so I bit my tongue.
It’s amazing what a guy will do for his daughters, which at long last brings me to the subject of Cabbage Patch Dolls. They had been a surprisingly long-lasting fashion, older than my girls were. I thought the fad was dumb when I first heard about it, and shook my head every year when the madness resurrected itself, around Christmas.
The dolls actually began as the artwork of a woman named Martha Nelson Thomas. She was involved with “soft sculpture”, and expressed herself through hand-stitching dolls. She felt she “put life” into each artwork, and rather than selling them she had them “adopted”. Each doll came with a handwritten note, explaining the particular doll’s likes and dislikes. She was not interested in commercializing her idea, and the idea of mass-producing such individuality struck her as horrifying, and the opposite of individuality. However a man named Xavier Roberts obtained some of the dolls and began selling them at a profit. Martha took offense, and demanded her dolls be returned, whereupon Xavier, in 1978, copyrighted the quilting procedure used to make the faces. He proved himself highly skilled at marketing, and had to hire more and more people to hand-stitch the dolls, maxing out at some 200 employees. Xavier made millions of dollars and lived in a mansion, as Martha and her husband got nothing. Martha hired a lawyer. The suit was filed in 1979 and finally went to trial in 1985. Martha won a settlement, not stating how much she received but stating her children could go to college, yet Xavier retained control of the dolls. The company making the dolls filed for bankruptcy in 1988, and Hasbro bought the rights to make the dolls for 30 million dollars, (which doesn’t exactly sound like bankruptcy to me). In any case by the early 1990’s, as I raised my daughters, you would think the fad would have faded, but every Christmas the same silliness reoccurred, where fathers embarrassed themselves by acting like women getting in fights over lingerie at a 50%-Off-Sale.
The dolls-marketing trick seemed to be to produce fewer dolls than could supply the demand. There were never enough. Consequently some shoppers would be disappointed. The prospect of disappointing daughters on Christmas morning then made ordinarily courteous gentlemen turn into Blackbeard the pirate. There were melees in toy-stores. To me such behavior seemed complete madness, and I pointed out to my daughters that, in “Little House In The Prairie”, Laura’s doll “Charlotte” was homemade, formed of corn-husks. My daughters rolled their eyes.
In retrospect I can see I was a bit of a cheapskate, but not like a miser who is miserable. I just had a tendency to hit the brakes whenever I sensed the marketing of Mad Ave attempting to whip me into a frenzy. I felt such frenzy tended to draw on our lower instincts, to stimulate greed rather than generosity. It didn’t matter if it began high minded, as a father’s kindly desire to gratify his daughter’s innocent desire for a doll; it wasn’t long before it sank low, and made a good man be Blackbeard.
In a sense marketing seemed the opposite of poetry, in that marketing lowered, whereas poetry uplifted. I suppose one could argue the same factors were at play in both fields, in that, in both marketing and in poetry, there are the manipulators and the manipulated. But the aim, the direction, was entirely different.
It was like the difference between lust and love. In lust the aim is the pleasure of the self, whereas in true love the self is forgotten and the aim is the pleasure of the beloved. Actions may superficially be the same, for example one person may hand another a bouquet, both in lust or in love, yet the motives are opposites; the difference is between selfishness and selflessness. We may not always be certain which we are dealing with, especially when young and dating, but at a certain point we intuitively recognize the difference between lust and love, by the look in the other’s eyes.
This is not to say marketing itself is evil. It is a necessity. However it should be kept clear that marketing is marketing. It is a matter for the head and not the heart. A deal can be conducted in a manner that is quite spiritual, wherein neither side “rips-off” the other, and in fact both sides benefit. One area’s surplus can be traded for another area’s; my ancestors traded ice from northern lakes to Cuba, for their sugar. Both sides got what they desired. However it is important during such business transactions to be clear about what you have and what you want.
Such deals become messy once the heart is mixed into the transaction. Such messiness often involves phrases such as, “ordinarily I would charge more, but, because you are X, I’ll lower the price.”
What is X? It can be an almost infinite number of things, involving all the variations individuality allows. It can be “because you are Christian” or “because you are Moslem” or “because you are Jewish” or “because you are Hindi”. It can be “because you are Republican” or “because you are Democrat”. It can be “because you are straight” or “because you aren’t straight”. It can be “because you are a friend” or “because you are a comrade.” Often it involves the “because” of your generation or sex or income-level or nationality or occupation. However perhaps the best “X”, (to illustrate my point) involves the concept of family, and it states, “Because you are family.”
There is a good reason family-feelings should not enter into a business transaction, described by the ugly-sounding word “nepotism”. In terms of common sense and rational business behavior, it makes no pragmatic sense to become maudlin and speak of the heart. Just because you are related to (and fond of) foolish Uncle Nedwick, there is no reason he should be hired before a person who is far more wise and skilled, but happens to be a total stranger (even if he or she or it is from a different planet, has green skin, and on Christmas thinks trees in living-rooms are silly, and prefers rutabagas.)
In terms of poetry, the heart matters more than the rational, business-like intellect. The phrase “charity begins at home” indicates there is a goodness in family, very different from the world of business. In a sense the two operate in different dimensions. The concept of “charity” does not mix well with the concept of “business”, even in a family business.
Businessmen seem greedy when they state they must first make a profit before they can even think of charity, but farmers know the same thing: You cannot feed the poor until you sweat and strain to plow, plant, weed and finally harvest. This is the logic of the head.
But what is the logic of the heart?
Consider the young mother feeding her baby with milk from her own body. Does she have a coin-slot by each breast? And is her newborn working a nine-to-five job to plunk coins in the slots and pay for their milk? Or are we seeing a primal “charity”? Can it be that the very foundation of our lives is non-businesslike, more heart than head?
The conflict between the heart and head needs to be recognized. In fact it already has been, in certain situations. When a lawyer represents his own family or self in a court of law, he is said “to have a fool for a lawyer.” In like manner, doctors are advised to avoid taking on patients who are family members, for they will lose their objectivity. This is not to say having “family” is a bad thing, but rather that it is a different thing.
There are basically three ways of dealing with this difference.
The first is to put family and business as far apart as possible, and to function commuting between two separate worlds, attempting to to keep the difference in separate compartments, which may work for a while, but leads to a problem called “hypocrisy”, which can lead to a second problem called “schizophrenia”.
The second is the confused mess most of us call everyday. The demands of family argue with the demands of business. I’ll come back to this later, as it is the point of this post.
The third way is a beautiful marriage between the heart and head, wherein the heart governs matters of the heart and and the head governs matters of the head, and the two work in harmony. (I posit this splendid ideal confessing I have never achieved it).
This third way differs from the first because, while the heart is recognized as being different from the head, it is recognized they need each other. A head without heart is starkness, while a heart without head is sheer mush.
At this point it may be helpful to return to Cabbage Patch Dolls and to reconsider Martha Nelson Thomas and Xavier Roberts, seeing Martha as the “heart” and Xavier as the “head”.
Martha created her original artwork as a sort of protest against the plastic perfection of “Barbie” dolls, though Barbies were in some ways themselves a protest against the suffocating situation created by the isolation of suburbs of the 1950’s and 1960’s, wherein woman were stuck with large numbers of children midst the stark luxury of emerald lawns, far from the workplaces where life was more vibrant and exciting.
Barbie dolls had next to nothing to do with mothering; initially there was never a pregnant Barbie, or a Barbie with a baby, and instead Barbie was always bopping about single and free. This created a hollowness in place of the original purpose of dolls, which seems (to me) to be a need to cuddle and nurture, to “mother”. (At my Childcare I like to get the kids out in the woods away from commercialized toys, and in this environment, away from stereotypes, stereotypes reappear: Not always, but as a general rule, boys tend to make sticks be make-believe guns and forts, while girls make sticks be make-believe dolls and dollhouses.) While a Barbie may represent a liberated woman having tons of fun, it isn’t easy to cuddle a Barbie, while a Cabbage Patch Doll looked like a child who definitely needed help. It hearkened back to a time when a mother was part of a workplace called “the farm”, and knew she was vitally important. The doll “hearkened back” even to the degree where the dolls were made in a manner that suggested a cottage industry, rather than a factory. It was a stroke of artistic genius for Martha to involve the signing of adoption papers in the obtaining of her artworks; it made cuddling serious, and returned dignity to mothering.
But how many children would have benefited from Martha’s genius, without Xavier? At most a few hundred, and likely less. She could only make so many dolls, just as van Gogh could only paint so many canvases. Just as only a single billionaire would appreciate van Gogh’s, “The Starry Night”, had not a businessman created the million prints (that seemed to be on the wall of every third college student’s dorm, back in the 1960’s), Xavier, whatever his motives, made the good of Cabbage Patch Dolls available to hundreds of thousands. If the initial art is good, commercialization is not all bad, (though it does seem a bit ridiculous that Xavier had his salesladies dress as nurses.)
However saying “if the initial art is good” opens a whole can of worms. It involves value judgements, and will expose one to the criticism, “who are you to judge?” But I assert we intuitively all do judge the hearts we meet, and the heart within us. We sense who is goodhearted and who has darkness within. Our minds do evaluate hearts.
And hearts do touch the mind’s decrees. Even in the most rigid court one hears terms such as “crimes of passion” and “mercy of the court.”
So let us return to the mess. I know a bit about messes, and may even be an authority. Others may brag about their successes, but I brag about my messes, where the heart battles the head.
As a poet, what I have concluded is that, no matter how hard you attempt to be disciplined and rational, what truly rules is the heart. This hinges upon the Truth that the actual power behind creation is Love; Love gives even the stones life; without Love even the Taj Mahal is just woman’s a marble gravestone.
Poets quit good Real Jobs to focus on beauty, and what makes beauty beautiful is Love. Love is what makes a heart healthy, but our problem as humans tends to be we don’t set our hearts on Love, but rather on certain “things.” Some of these things are true “needs” but, to be honest, most are “wants”. In a desert our true need is water, but we tend to want ice-water, or lemonade, or a mansion with a pool.
As soon as we care more for a want than for pure Love, our heart knows a hollowness, for even if we gain what we desire it isn’t enough, for it isn’t Love.
For example, many think more money will solve their problems. It doesn’t. If you ask people who have won the lottery if their sudden fortune made them happier or sadder, you almost always hear they were wildly happy at first, but tragedy followed.
In like manner people who crave fame, and achieve it, enjoy it greatly at first, but later discover it was not all it was cracked up to be. Whatever good thing they did that led to fame must be followed by another, and another, and another, or they become a “has been”, and no one cares for them, and they become as worthless as army boots were to my daughters, once they became unfashionable.
In like manner even power gets stale. I’m sure men such as Hitler and Stalin and Mao got a thrill out of gaining more and more power, until millions marched when they demanded, but later, as the end of life approached, they do not appear to have been joyous. In fact, because they chose to set their hearts upon something other than Love, life became unlovely.
Meanwhile most poets never win the lottery, never are famous, and never manage to control even themselves with power, yet after they die they are remembered more than they ever imagined they could be, and in some cases they posthumously influence millions. Why? Because often their hearts were attracted to loveliness, and therefore Love.
In a sense Love works completely opposite to the way business logic works: The more Love you give away the more Love you have. On the other hand greed works backward, in a different way: The more you attempt to possess a thing, the more it possesses you. You must have that thing, like a heroin addict must have his heroin. The thing you are attempting to masterfully seize becomes your master; you are reduced to a mere slave.
Freeing ourselves from such slavery is no easy thing. First of all, we have our pride, and none likes to admit they are a slave. A member of the “elite” does not at all like a grubby old poet like me walking up them and informing them that they are slaves to their precious power and privilege. They feel they are the grounded.ones, and that I have my head in the clouds. But then, when the solid earth which they feel they are so firmly grounded upon quakes, (for example when the stock market crashes, or Donald Trump is elected), they are the one on the ledge outside their high-rise window, contemplating suicide, as I wander the alley below unperturbed, humming “when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”
The true reason, in a spiritual sense, for disciplines such as fasting, is not to make us physically sleek and attractive, nor to improve our health and longevity, but to break our most primal enslavement, namely our addiction to stuff called “food”.
Food may be a “need”, but it is also largely a “want”. As a poet, eating often is an interruption and bother, and digesting a bellyful makes my creativity sluggish. Therefore I’ve learned minimalist tricks that allow me to eat as little as possible, involving the copious consumption of coffee. I don’t do it for any particularly spiritual reason, and confess I diet like an amphetamine addict diets, primarily to “stay high”. However it has taught me it is possible to live a long life subsisting on much less than some think they “need.”
The reason for fasting is to remind us that the heart is healthy when focused on Love, not hamburgers. If you want your heart filled with Love, you need to subject your self to some discipline.
(Not that I have ever intentionally fasted. That too would be a distraction from my poetry. The hardest disciplines in my own life have not involved going without food, but rather have involved putting my pen aside and going without poetry.)
Even while I stress our heart needs Love, and that it is good to discipline our selves by going without things we have our heart set upon such as hamburgers, so that our heart is ruled by what is most healthy, I will also state I have tasted dinners that have stopped me in my tracks. My mind may be deeply engrossed in some artwork, and I may be eating unappreciatively, in the unconscious manner that I breathe, but suddenly I am reflective about what I chew, and look at my fork as if it held a revelation, and what I think in such circumstances is, “There is Love in this food.”
Love is all around us, and may indeed be at the root of some of our worst addictions. I myself have never taken heroin, but the initial glimpse into Elysium must be heavenly, to make people crave to return to it so badly. Yet, though the initial perception may hold some glimmer of Love, what follows does not. There is nothing lovely about being so desperate for your next “fix” that you steal your grandmother’s false teeth and pawn them. Then your heart is not fixed on Love, but on heroin.
In conclusion, the measure of an addict’s Love involves that day when he is just about to steal his Grandmother’s teeth, but rips himself away from his own desire, preferring the cold sweats of withdrawal to gratification. In a sense Love can be shown not by what you gain, but what you do without.
This returns me to the concept, “Blessed are the poor”, for the poor do without all sorts of things the “elite” deem essential. The poor are in a sense fasting, not because they have any choice, but because it is the cards they were dealt. Their hearts are not cluttered and encumbered with the multitudinous cravings of the elite. They would never claim they “need” the incredibly expensive clothing the elite claim are an absolute necessity. It is the elite who wear chains, and the poor who are free. The elite worry and suffer about buying suits the poor can’t afford, just as my daughters once worried and suffered, first because they didn’t have army boots, and second because they had them but they were out of style.
A result of this situation is that the poor have a serenity the elite lack. When the heart is not full of stuff it was never intended to hold, Love has room to enter, and one attribute of Love is “a peace that passes all understanding”.
I like to think it is for this reason the vote of a poor man counts as much as the vote of a rich man, in the United States. Often the poor see with a tranquility the wealthy lack, and point out the obvious the intellectual is blinded to. It is a little child who points out that “The emperor has no clothes.”
Humans are as different as their fingerprints, and all sorts of inequalities exist. For example, men can’t give birth. Is that fair? If you take umbrage, take it up with our Creator. He is who created life’s wonderful variety, that keeps life from ever becoming boring. (Often our boredom is due to our efforts to avoid variety and “keep things the same”; rather than ups and downs we want to stay up.) But the odd thing is that, despite this infinite variety, the United States is based on the premise “all men are created equal.”
This is an important and audacious claim. It is a challenge to the haughty and an insult to the elite. It states we should never disdain others as “bitter clingers” or “deplorables” or “flyover country”, or even as “the elite”. Instead we should listen. And the best way so far, to listen, is through heeding the quiet and privacy of a ballot booth, where others speak without needing to justify.
If one needed to democratically justify it would be like the old-fashioned “Town Meetings” which predated the political creation of “Town Managers”. In those settings people took the time to exchange ideas, utilizing the concept of “Freedom of Speech.” The elite had to listen to the deplorable, who might make a point no one else saw.
You will notice that as the deplorable speaks, the elite man to his right (your left) looks like he is being enlightened. The painter, Norman Rockwell, confessed he tended to paint “the way we wished life was”. However the subject of “Freedom of Speech” was so important that he tackled the subject from other angles, including one where the elite gentleman is not quite so approving of the deplorable. I am projecting, of course, but in the version below it seems he is not looking up and rather is looking askance.
I have a strong sense the facial expressions of the elite gentleman in the second version of Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom Of Speech” may not be “the way we wish life was”, but instead be what we are now experiencing.
The election of Donald Trump was like the deplorable man standing up to speak at a Town Meeting, and the “elite” have made every effort to shout him down. They have spent untold billions of dollars, perhaps trillions, to keep him quiet. They have not listened. They have not discussed things in a reasonable manner, like friends. Instead they have resorted to tactics which do not seem honest, to me. When Trump “drained the swamp”, the snakes emerged.
For example, they attempted to portray Trump as a Russian spy who had stolen the election. There was zero evidence, but week after week, month after month, year after year, this falsity was reported as fact. Then, when enormous resources had been expended to verify the accusation was false, the elite did not apologize.
Why not? We all make mistakes. Why not be humble?
I think it all boils down to the “heart”. What does your heart value? Does it value Love? Or is your heart seduced by some inferior thing?
Thirty years ago I was the intruder in my young daughter’s lives. I was the stepfather butting into their normalcy. I introduced old-fashioned values into their pursuit of fashion. I was a sort of Donald Trump in their lives. They were the “elite” and I was the “deplorable”.
On either our first or second Christmas together the subject of Cabbage Patch Dolls was raised. Was Christmas worth celebrating if I didn’t buy them one?
I was a drag, for I pointed out they did not “need” a doll. A single doll made of corn husks, named “Charlotte”, was good enough for Laura in “Little House On The Prairie”, yet they had already not just one doll each, but had so many other dolls it made cleaning their bedrooms problematic.
After long beach-days they would fall asleep in the car driving home, and when I tried to carry them up to bed without waking them I was always stepping on a dratted “Little Mermaid” doll that blasted out the “Little Mermaid” theme-song and threatened to wake them. And then there were also Barbie dolls strewn left and right, in various forms of nudity and decapitation, including a Barbie with a shaven skull like a Collaborator, because sisters are not always nice to sisters. There were also dolls that closed their eyes when lain down, dolls that talked when you pulled a string, “Betsy Wetsy” dolls, and “Precious Moments” dolls still in their boxes, (as such dolls were “collector items”). And there were older handed-down unbranded dolls without trademarks, more baby-like and real. And among all these grubby and tattered old dolls was an old and faded Cabbage Patch Doll some relative had given them years before, that the girls didn’t even know they had. So I of course had to cause them to roll their eyes, by pointing out they already had what they were clamoring for.
This seems to be a general rule for any craze, whether it be a Cabbage Patch Doll craze or a Black Lives Matter craze. We already have that which we are going crazy about.
How so? Well, God is described as omnipresent, and therefore there is no place you can go where He is not. God is also described as being Love, so there is no place where you are not loved. Lastly, we all have a heart. It is what we allow into our hearts, that makes the difference.
In any craze there are those who instigate the furor; sly salesmen from Mad Ave who see fellow man as rabble to be roused, and seek to inflame passions by muddying the waters and confusing the distinction between “want” and “need”. Rather than pointing out we are blessed with God-given sufficiency, and that we already have that which is most crucial to happiness, they instead foment divisive dissatisfaction by stressing you don’t have some “thing”, which makes you a “have-not” oppressed by some group of “haves”. Our lower emotions of envy, greed, and anger are described as “righteous indignation”, and hearts are encouraged to devalue decency, while the actions of coveting and looting material goods from neighbor’s shops is condoned, with a wink and a nod.
And do not suppose the leaders misleading in such a manner are not doing so without the delusion they profit from misguiding. Just as short-term, material profit came from the mayhem when too many fathers wanted too few Hasbro Cabbage Patch Dolls, (with the under-supply an intentional ploy), there are those who hope to profit from the mayhem of the Floyd riots. These people need to look to their hearts, and to the Love they lack. The rest of us need to see them as they are. Pity them, while disdaining their foolishness. (Hate the sin but love the sinner.)
In the end Truth will triumph. For a time it may seem shadow can stifle light and ignorance can swamp understanding, but such evidence is only sleight-of-hand. Fads are fickle and can turn on a dime, and then the one leading a mob is abruptly at the rear.
And should you feel on the verge of losing hope in youth, as they all behave like copy-cats with no minds of their own, allow me to conclude by stating youth are in God’s presence, are loved by God, and have hearts which may crave things other than Love, but are as capable of Love as any other heart. Such hearts can soften in a twinkling, with greater speed than an old, hardened heart like mine. The young may receive gifts, and become gifted. They are neither deplorables nor useful idiots, neither sheep nor lemmings, so treat them with Love and respect.
Let me end this odd essay with a poem I wrote on March 31, 1970, roughly a month after my seventeenth birthday. I came across it when I was trying to remember what it was like to be young and naive and misled. It surprised me, for, despite being caught up in the “revolution” of that time, it seemed to suggest even a young fool, “wet-behind-the-ears”, can detach themselves from the seductive pleasures of group-think.
AT LAND ‘TIS A RAT RACE
Man is like a lemming:
He leads a life of wandering
Forward to his death,
Swimming for perfection
Until he’s lost his breath,
And why he never finds it
Is anybody’s guess
Unless by finally dying
He escapes the stupid mess.
Wander on, tiny creatures,
Don’t let the brassy desert sun
Deter you from your goal.
Dream forward, puny creatures,
To turquoise waters you must run;
Atlantis awaits your soul.
Ignore the blue beseechers.
Being fish-food isn’t fun
So ’til your race is finally done
Ignore me in the bleachers…
…Say hello to the octopus
Who’ll cradle you to sleep.
Say hello to the coral grave
Whose company you’ll keep.
Remember me to temple walls
Stained purple by the deep,
And all my lover’s broken souls.
They followed you like sheep.