Tuesday, September 29, 2009
The crowds were at the Morton Arboretum on Sunday hoping to catch the 'fall color' but most were probably disappointed. It was a bit early and the only conventional signs of fall were the occasional brilliant scarlet of leaves of the Virginia creeper vines on the tree trunks. I suspect it will be a disappointing fall for leaf color, as the Virginia creeper that makes my garage/office into the bat cave turned reddish and dropped its leaves pretty much at the same time. There was probably not even a minute where the whole thing was red, as some were already falling off by the time others colored. This makes me expect other trees to drop their leaves soon after they color. But the determined can find signs of autumn other than the turning color of tree leaves. Purple and pink and white asters and yellow sneezeweed bloom in the fall. Seeds are nature's way of making sure there will be new plants after the killing freeze of winter. Seeds come in many forms, from berries to stalks of seeds at the former site of flowers to grassy seed plumes to acorns and black walnuts that were dropping from the car to plunk of car roofs. It is scary when they are landing all around you and missing your delicate skull by only a couple feet. We've put it off as long as we can: We finally have to admit that fall is here.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
I am sure you have fallen victim to this one at some point in your life: Don't be a quitter! Stick with it! Finish what you start! The virtues of commitment, diligence, perseverance. Yet imagine a life where you were never allowed to quit anything that didn't work out? Imagine how much time would be wasted in pursuit of useless things. Gone to the store for Dial soap and there is none? You can buy the Dove or you can drive all over town looking for the right brand. Imagine the risks that would never get taken if you had to be sure up front. We would never try a new art or skill, never start a risky project, never meet new people or enter into new friendships if we didn't have the power and freedom to bail out of it if it wasn't working out. Never quit! Hah! The trick is to find the balance between what to give up and what to stick with. It is, yes, a wise course of action not giving up on a truly good thing just because the path to it turns out to be a little difficult. If it is going to take a little longer or be a little harder or require a little help from someone or require a little more work or effort or difficulty, but if it is truly achievable and worth it, then by all means, soldier on. Do what it takes, rally the forces, give yourself a pep talk and keep on keeping on. But if it is a lost cause, taking more time or energy than it is worth, causing unforeseen damage or harm or pain, turning out to be less important or less valuable than initially thought, by all means, give it up and move on. Move on to things more worthy of your time and effort and more likely to yield good benefit in proportion to the input required. It can be difficult to recognize that point in time where something is no longer worth it and it is time to give up and move on. Or it can be just as difficult to recognize in time of discouragement and pain that the thing really is worth never quitting on. But to recognize that we possess the free will to decide that and to reexamine and re-decide it frequently throughout the process is a valuable realization indeed. Never Quit. Unless it makes sense to quit. Then quit promptly, clean up the mess, and move on to something else. Guilt free, because sometimes quitting really is the right thing to do.
I love signs like these. No one planned this hospital courtyard and decided in advance of its opening in the planning phases that such signage would be a good idea. No, this sign is there because somebody tried it. Somebody thought it would be a good idea to go into the courtyard of dignfied serious St. Mary's hospital with antique chapel spires with ornate stone pillars, a courtyard looked out onto by patients' rooms, visitor waiting rooms, exam rooms, and doctors' and staff offices, and take off some significant measure of their clothing to take in the sun's rays. I would love to know the back story that lead to this sign, who it was that attempted their bold bathe in the sun, when it was, what they were thinking. Was it just once that riled someone up so much that the signs went up on every door, or was it a number of times that it happened, leading to a calmer approach and voting at a meeting that lead to these signs? People can be funny, on both sides of these signs: The people who triggered the rules and the people who made the rules and put up the signs to enforce them.
Talking to an artist friend the other day, we explored a concept familiar to the creative person: Procrastination. Self-help books and articles covering procrastination lean to attempts to aid one in 'overcoming' procrastination or 'eliminating' it from your life. Organization and time management are seen as the weapons against procrastination, as though it is an evil that needs management. And yet, as my son studies practical economics, he is finding that delivering too much too early are not good business models. In the arts, procrastination is a tool that allows maximum creative time and minimal production time. Doing the job too early often results in the desire to redo. Obviously, if one were to just ignore the creative project until the last possible moment, there could be problems, such as under-estimating the time needed for the project and failing to finish it. But in my experience, most creatives look at the problem early and then let it sit in the back of their minds where they think it through and muddle it over and try various options and possibilities while they work on other things. So at the 'last minute', quite a bit of mental work has already gone into it and a number of versions and alternatives have been explored. So for most creative people, procrastination is not a vice, but the virtue of optimization of time and effort and the realisation of the best quality work we are capable of. Is it time to move it from the list of vices to the list of virtues and explore and understand how useful procrastination really is?
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Fire has long been a friend of humanity. Perhaps that is what separated us from beasts, when we tamed fire. What made us human? What thing distinguished the first real human from all its primate ancestors before? Some say it was language, some say tools. Maybe it was fire? Are other primates afraid of fire like many animals are? Was it when a primate first allowed curiosity to conquer fear of fire that we became human? Fire keeps predators away. Was it the protection of the circle of light of the campfire that freed us from fear so that we could gather and learn to communicate and plan and think and dream? Indigenous people of North America used fire to keep the prairie from becoming woodland and to bring in game to hunt and to clear land to deny invaders cover from which to attack. Some say it was there at the edge of the circle of light made by the campfire that wild wolves scavenged human leavings and learned to accept the proximity of people and so the domestication of the dog began. Fire can be a blessing and fire can be a curse. A warm fire in the hearth or at the center of camp is comforting and soothing. A burn is the worst sort of pain a person can be asked to endure. A fire cooks food and lights our way and melts metals for our use but a fire can also destroy. Fire, tamed, used, is a good thing. Fire unleashed and allowed to burn out of control is a bad thing. When one speaks of fire, one may be speaking of actual flame, of the energy released in that state change, but often,when one speaks of fire, it is a euphemism for something entirely else. One can be alive with a fiery energy, one can speak with a tongue of fire, one can experience the spark of creativity to design or invent a new thing, or one's words can burn with passion or anger. Lovers hearts are aflame for each other. A spark of lightening can burn down the barn or light a prairie fire that leads to purity and renewal. How can you know for sure when you strike that match whether your flame will comfort or destroy?
When we were younger and less known, we toured in a bus with our name on every surface along with lots of flash and dancing eye candy, hoping we would be as famous as we thought our bus's paint job made us seem to be. Then, when we were actually famous and well-known and sought after and tired of the attention when we were tired of being 'on' after a show, we started to tour in 2 plain white unadorned buses with heavily tinted windows. These sleek white beasts glide barely noticed through town after town and earn us the quiet our old bodies and brains need to sleep off the adrenaline and then pump it up again for another show in another town. But back when we partied all night on the road in our flashy bus, we were burning ourselves out and not all of us made it out alive. Somewhere on the road between Chicago and Milwaukee on one such trip, one of our bass players took on a bit too much of something or a bit too many of some things together and his heart stopped beating in the second seat of the 5th row. After that, nobody would sit in that seat, or even in that row, really, and there was frequently a disturbance when someone would forget, one of us or some lowly lighting guy or one of the costume girls would plunk down with a beer and the bus would gradually go dead silent as we gaped at him or her. They would remember and leap up or maybe have to be told and pulled into the aisle. One night, we were waiting in a parking lot in one of those big L towns in Kentucky, waiting to find out if the last minute add in some nearby college field house was a go or if we were going to hit the interstate for Georgia instead. We sat around in our funk of uncertainty and someone and someone else got into an argument that lead to people taking sides that lead to someone mentioning the dead bass player's name and that shut us all down. We sat in the gloom staring at the empty seat and each other when finally one of the drummers said "I'm gonna torch that seat," and started pushing and pulling on it. A couple others joined in and only managed to get the arm wrenched akimbo. Jimmie finally got up and skulked through the aisle glaring, which made most of us shut up and sit down. He went to the driver and asked for the toolbox. They went outside and underbins were opened and closed and Jimmie came back with a yellow plastic box. He yanked up the carpet and poked his head around under the seat and one of the sound guys joined him. Pretty soon they had the seat unbolted and 3 or 4 of them were carrying it over the other seats to the door. They set it down a few parking places away. We all sat there stunned for a few seconds before we poured out of the bus and gathered in a circle around the seat. There were a few whispers about how we might be arrested but a couple others were rolling up paper towels from the lavatory and wedging them between the seat and the back and pretty soon, the paper was lit and the flames started to creep. Well, it wasn't as dramatic as we'd hoped, for instead of bursting into wild and brilliant towering roaring flame, it mostly just sizzled as the flames crept around and over and under, melting then actually burning the polycarbons of which it was made. It took a long time and there were little plumes of black smoke now and then, yet no fire trucks roared up, no police cars with flashing lights zoomed in. Soon it was a twisted framework of angled metal and sinewave curving springs and then it was over. We left the metal remains there on the pavement and trickled back onto the bus as the driver radioed to dispatch for our directions. The spot in the row of seats stayed empty for years, until we got the new white buses, and became the place where the ice chest full of bottled water and yogurt that reflected our cleaner habits was kept. We fondly remember the removal of the seat as more violent, we remember the flames as higher and hotter, we remember cheering and yelling instead of the somber quiet observance that actually took place, and at least some remember the driver cleverly talking our way out of trouble with police or fire officials, but in the end, "the day we burned Eddie's seat" was a turning point for us. We lived cleaner and worked harder and played better music and earned more money. Remember the day we "torched the bus seat"?
Sunday, September 20, 2009
We were at my grandmother's house for some family holiday with all the aunts and uncles and cousins and I was feeling sad and alone because the older cousins would not play with me. She took me home and read books to me alone and talked to me about how hurt I was by the cousins' snub and discussed with me things I might say when we got back that might get them to include me. It was obvious that day that my mother loved me dearly and greatly and would do anything to make me feel happy and secure, but it was also implicit that I would get back out there and take responsibility and do my part to make things better for myself. I don't remember what books we read nor what specific advice she gave or what the issues with the cousins even were, but I know it worked when we rejoined the gathering and I know that my mother has always loved me and given me her best so that I might find my way and make a good and happy life for myself. Today I am old enough to have been on my own for most of my days, yet she still supports and guides and encourages me; she is still there for me just as she was that sad and lonely day so long ago, kind and wise and there for me, my mother!
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Not everyone in the ICU waiting room is going to have a good outcome. For some the outcome hangs in the balance. For some, a so-so outcome is the best they can hope for. For some, the possibility of a good outcome dwindles daily. Some are merely waiting for the moment of the inevitable bad outcome. When someone asks you about your story, no matter how late it is and how tired you are and how much you really want to get back to the hotel and just go to sleep, if your story is good, you should share it with them. If you are one of the lucky ones this time, they need your good news. They need to know there is hope. They need to know there are good outcomes. They need to know there are people who will go home better off then when they came in. If your story is good, stop and take the time to share it with them. Even if it means they will hug you!