Shellfish And Zen

Haven’t posted in a bit, because I just got back from a trip to the Gulf Coast.  I hadn’t been there since Hurricane Katrina, and wanted to see just how they were coming along.  In addition to that, I had two other goals:

1. To eat my weight in fresh shrimp, oysters and assorted seafood.

2. To visit the George Ohr Museum, one of my favorite eccentrics and the “Mad Potter of Biloxi”

I easily accomplished the first goal, but was disappointed when visiting the Ohr Museum.  It is a lesson in how most modern museums and exhibits go wrong.  It was obvious that the professional “arts administrators” had taken over.  The smallest room in the exhibit?  You guessed it – the room containing George Ohr’s work.

The largest and most impressive?  The “visitor center”, which is really just the offices, gift shop, and a freakin’ Starbucks!

Overall, I left feeling disappointed and ripped off.  Luckily, I discovered the beautiful little colony of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, which provided an example of how to do things right.

In reading about Mississippi artists in a magazine I picked up in a coffee shop down there, I learned about Walter Anderson and the arts colony of Ocean Springs.

I wasn’t familiar with Anderson, his company, Shearwater Pottery, or any of his work, but decided to check it out.  It salvaged the trip, and was a completely opposite experience to the Ohr Museum.

Why?  The best answer I can give is harmony.  The building was compatible with it’s surroundings, was done in a sparse, coastal style, and loaded with Anderson’s bright, somewhat primitive depictions of local flora and fauna.

It was relaxing, and invited you to dawdle the day away looking closely at all the exhibits.  Unlike the commercial experience of the Ohr Museum, the Anderson Museum left me feeling peaceful and refreshed.

It was a beautiful lesson in how all the parts of anything can work together.  We’ve all had the experience of being in places that just “fit”.  There’s no dissonance or clash, just a feeling of calm and peacefulness.  Like a Zen garden, or a favorite park.

I’ve been realizing this can apply to more than our surroundings.  How many of us have parts of our lives not in harmony with the whole?  Things that detract from the whole composition instead of adding?

Sometimes we feel ill at ease, anxious, or edgy, and we don’t quite know why.  Maybe that’s the time to rearrange the pieces of our lives and get rid of the ones that don’t really fit.

You’ll know it when you feel it.

The Carnival Pony

I’ve kept a sporadic journal over the last several years, I’d recommend it as a way to get your thoughts out of your head and on to paper where they’ll do you less harm.

But although I wrote somewhat regularly, I never got in the habit of going back over things I had written days or months before and re-reading them.  I guess I just wanted to blow off steam, and once the mood was gone, wasn’t really interested in re-visiting it.

But I’ve recently gone back over my journals, and was amazed at seeing different themes and questions repeat themselves.  It’s a good way to get a snapshot of where your head was at, frozen on paper.

I see myself getting stuck at the same point…asking the same questions, taking different approaches, but not punching through the fog to the answer.  It becomes really easy to identify ruts in your thinking.

It reminds me of those little ponies you used to see giving rides at the carnival as a kid, lashed to a pole and walking around and around in the same circle.  Maybe every other day they got to go clockwise instead of counter-clockwise, but they wear the same circle in the grass and see the same things.

On a day to day basis, we tend to see old routines and thoughts dressed in slightly different clothes, and think they are brand new.  By going back over our ruminations, we can see that nope, we were here before…..and stopped just short of a breakthrough.

I’m not sure why I didn’t develop this habit of reviewing things before.  Maybe it’s too comfortable to just plow the same furrow and think you’re breaking new ground.

Or maybe I’m finally able to pick up where I left off and move things a little further down the road.

Whatever the reason, I recommend if you keep a journal, once a week go back to a random page.  You’ll be amazed at how familiar it looks.

Dog Judgement

I live with a dog.  I can’t really say “own”, because that implies he is somehow under my control and persuasion, which is definitely not the case.

We’re kind of like Laurel and Hardy – a tumultuous universe has somehow thrown us together and we’ve had enough shared misadventures that we’ve turned into a team.  The backstory really doesn’t matter any more.

He gets food, water, shelter, bathing and grooming in exchange for giving up some of his more unsanitary and animalistic tendencies. My bennies in this relationship are less tangible, but he definitely gets the better deal.

As in most relationships, every so often there’s a problem.  Usually caused by his failure to honor his end of the deal with regard to those unsanitary and animalistic tendencies.

This usually means some terse language headed in his direction, at an increased decibel level.  And usually, after a little cooling off period, one of two things happens.

Either a) he puts himself in my line of sight, with a slightly lowered head and a baleful look.  If I’m seated, he may resort to using the Paw Of Apology on my knee.  Once I scratch his head he’s OK again and resorts to his normal course of activity.

or b) he lays down and thinks for a while, then just heads to another room and a spot in the sun where he won’t be bothered.  After a while, I usually have to go see where he is, perform the Bellyscratch Of Regret, and then he will rejoin the regularly scheduled program.

All relationships of equals must find this balance. Sometimes you have to yield, sometimes you have to stand your ground.  One party can’t always be submissive, one can’t always dominate.

This is the most difficult part of a relationship to juggle.

And I’m not sure how that damned dog got so good at it.

The Most Important Quality Of All

As we navigate these trying times, there isn’t any shortage of prognosticators who are willing to give us (or sell us) their view of what the future holds.

Some preach complete collapse, while others dream of a return to a golden age that really never existed.  Fear of the future is used as an effective weapon, as is nostalgia.

As I try to figure out what is going to help myself and others find some kind of road ahead, there is only one trait that I think trumps all the others.

That is resilience.

It’s not intelligence – the people that got us into this mess had the best grades at the best schools, and they are as helpless as the rest to find a way out.

It’s not hard work – you can work hard at the wrong things.  Most of the bad things in the world were done by people who worked pretty hard at them.

It’s not persistence.  Again, you can persist in the face of evidence that you should be doing something different.  Even the Bible tells us about the fool persisting in his folly.  This Fool sure has.

Only resilience – the ability to “take it” and not give in – matters.

Resilience can’t really be taught, academically.  You have to see it demonstrated.  And fortunately the more disadvantaged you are, the more opportunities you have to see it in action.  Both in the people you’ll meet and your own experiences.

You won’t find credentialed professors or certified therapists who can teach you about resilience.  Where you will find it is in the bad parts of town.  Or in veterans, or the disabled or chronically ill.  Or in refugees, or those who have been or are persecuted.  Among the foreclosed and the pushed aside.

Because if you listen to their stories you’ll realize that people can endure a LOT.  And that things do get better, somehow, if you just hang in there.

And as long as you have a story to hang on to, of someone who went through worse times than you are going through, or a time in your own life that was worse, then you can make it too.

And when you have this trait, fear vanishes.  Because you really can’t be stopped.  It won’t make the bad parts any easier to go through, but you’ll know you’ll get through it, come what may.

I don’t know what the future holds for me.  Things may go great, and I’ll be able to bask in the warm glow of my sunset years.  Or I may end up living in a cardboard box.

We all face this uncertainty.  But as long as you have breath left and open your eyes in the morning you’ve got a chance.  Giving up is easy, it’s the keeping on going that’s hard.

But keeping on going is the best revenge, even if it’s just to see what the hell can happen next!

Playing Make Believe

I try to stay away from posts regarding the economy, politics, or any of the other hot-button issues in the news.  I certainly don’t pretend to be a subject matter expert or journalist.

But sometimes it’s tough, since so many of the experts and journalists do seem to be just that – pretend.  And the problems and issues affect so many people all around me.

There’s enough hatred and vitriol on the Internet for anyone, and I always try to stay on the sunny side of the street, so to speak, not because I’m some kind of Pollyanna but because in the stockroom of Internet life, we are full-up on inventory of anger and argument.  What is in short supply is entertainment and wisdom.

Those shelves are nearly empty.

So those are the commodities I’m placing an order for.  So if you have any suggestions, let me know.  Maybe we can bundle our order for a volume discount.

Stop The Clock, I Want To Get Off

I read that in research on treating the disease progeria scientists may have found the key to the aging process.  Is that right out of science fiction or what?  Of course it’s being trumpeted as “stopping the aging process”, which it really isn’t, but I didn’t read much past the headline, because it kind of ignited my imagination.

If you could stop aging, at what age would you “freeze” things?

Everyone would probably stop somewhere in the young adult phase, but I think I know when I would want to call a halt to Father Time.

5 years old.  Starting kindergarten.  Not that being 3 or 4 weren’t banner years, but I don’t remember much about them.  Starting school gives me an anchor event to tie memories down to.

I remember the teacher reading to us, playing with my little roundhead friends, finger painting, and on a good day, a brisk game of Duck Duck Goose.

There was some moral instruction, in an effort to make us all good little citizens.  Learn to share, wait your turn, and the toys will get put back in the toy box quicker if we all help out.

Then we’d lay on our mats, which I never really understood, but now I realize it was a safe and legal way to immobilize and silence us so the teacher didn’t go to the corner tavern on her lunch period and order doubles when she thought about doing all this again for the afternoon class.

We started to learn our ABC’s, and count.  You were anxious to learn this, because this thing called “reading” would unlock the hieroglyphics you saw everywhere.  Plus if you were good at it the grown-ups seemed to be pleased.

But it was all downhill after that.  Learning your ABC’s turned into tests, that cardboard number line turned into math, and Duck Duck Goose turned into Phy Ed class.  You couldn’t just pick a little cardboard book off the shelf anymore, now we’ll tell  you what to read and you’d better regurgitate the accepted answers when asked.

And every year was onward and upward.  Finger painting turned into art class, which was fun, but then there were budget cuts, so no more of that, it doesn’t matter anyway, spend more time on math, because you should be an engineer….we need engineers, or else the Russians are gonna kick our ass.

And all that good citizenship stuff got beaten out of you soon enough as the grading system, hormones, and adolescent society sprung up around you.

Until one day, at the end of the assembly line, you are excreted from the system with a diploma in your hand.  And everyone tells you “but you don’t know how the real world works yet”.

Well, they’ve had you for 8 hours a day for 17 years, so who’s fault is that?

So now you lay on your mat, exhausted from the job you’ve learned to hate, and wonder how the hell all the mean kids ended up in charge?  Behavior that used to get a trip to the coat room to stand in the corner and think about what you did now gets a promotion and a bonus.

And you wonder whatever happened to that cute little dark-haired girl that used to like to fingerpaint with you?  But after rent and student loans there’s nothing left so just like art class I guess she’s been cancelled due to budget constraints.

So, yeah…I’m thinking 5 years old is a good place to just hit the “pause” button.

Because everything you really need to get by you can learn from Dr. Suess.   The rest is commentary.