Saturday, September 06, 2008

Lone Tree on a Barren Prairie

Don Miguel Ruiz published his book “The Four Agreements’ in 1997. It is an easy to read book that posits the idea that we all conduct our lives and make our decisions based on agreements we have made with life; agreements that are the result of our individual experiences and the positive and negative feedback received as we move along in time. The author states he is expressing a long held tenant of Toltec thinking handed down from his Mexican ancestors.

I am not a scholar of Toltec philosophy. To be so would require even more energy on my part than becoming a practitioner of Yoga, which still lies untouched on my list of things to conquer.

Nevertheless I remain fascinated by the concept presented and the challenge that lies inside this Toltec philosophy. Ruiz maintains that the ability to break these agreements, which are often founded in false reality, is the path of personal progress and self fulfillment.

It seems to me that he is on a track to understanding how to change destructive patterns of behavior and how to redefine our beliefs not by what we are taught, but rather by what we understand as a more natural truth. Like a lone tree on a barren prairie, we bend our lives in the direction the force of life takes us, just as the tree over time bends in the direction of the prevalent winds. We cope and adjust to life. We listen to parents and friends and teachers and we form agreements within our consciousness of what we believe and how we respond to circumstances of life. We rarely construct our agreements without the approval of others.

All this talk of Toltec philosophy and an eleven year old book brings me to the subject of politics. Specifically it enlivens the discussion of what we have come to know as ‘flip-flopping’. In the world of American politics it has become a negative term. Recall Bush supporters arriving at Kerry stump speeches waving flip flops in the air as he talked? The term is applied, as everyone knows, to the process of changing position or changing thinking on a political topic. It is assumed to be a political and personal character flaw in a candidate.

Is it a flaw? Maybe it’s merely the use of politically motivated language that paints such a heavy coat of negativity on a common life process. Can the practice of thinking through a position, then changing your opinion based on a re-analysis of fact be thought of as positive?

In my view this depends entirely on context. In matters of war it seems prudent to constantly weigh one’s position with respect to the facts available. Have the Iraqis let too many sunrises pass without taking possession of their governance responsibility? Would a very unpopular position to run Al-Qaeda from Iraq by sending more US soldiers work? Maybe, I don’t know the facts and I strongly suspect my readers don’t know unless you happen to be one of the privileged that receives top secret briefings. Isn’t it amazing how many of your friends and our celebrities around America know exactly what’s wrong and what to do without access to any of the facts available to the President? It is increasingly apparent that the hardest agreement many Americans have to break is the idea we are exceptionally wise while working with an absence of knowledge and fact about many world situations. A simpler way to express the point is to say, “We certainly have a lot of know it all blowhards in our midst, do we not?”

If we look at the context of abortion it seems less reasonable to own a shifting position. The biologic process has not changed and will not change between now and November 2008. Is the changing of one’s mind on abortion a negative when facts are stable?

I theorize that a majority of Americans will cast their vote for leadership based on agreements that remain unquestioned. Because of that fact, the candidates search for the so-called independent voter with their campaign dollars and their oration. Wouldn’t it be healthier for America if we all understood that our decision should be made on a rational analysis of available fact, with personal agreements questioned at every turn? Ruiz maintains in his book that this ability to reject agreements that limit us is our best hope for self awareness and the fulfillment of our potential.

Sadly I expect the populace and the networks to continue the vitriolic arguments that sustain and foster the strength of their personal agreements no matter the opportunity to base their opinions on objective assessment. We will argue our agreements instead of our natural truth, not comprehending the kernel of truth embedded in the Toltec philosophy. Vice Presidential candidate Spiro Agnew once referred to the press as “nattering nabobs of negativism” a well turned phrase pointed directly at this remarkable capacity of the media for finding fault rather than a positive, which returns me to the central point that ‘flip-flopping’ is not inherently evil or stupid.

Extending this argument about the breaking of agreements to the voting public is the logical extension of our expectation that our leaders be able to change position not only with grace but with intelligence. Can we, the voting American public, do more than vote our pre-existing agreements that Republicans are gun–toting mean racists or that Democrats are God hating socialists? Or, can we think and reason about which candidate offers our country and our children a safe and productive future?

Is our opportunity for continued success in America tied to our ability to no longer howl at the moon of our prejudices until we are hoarse? I think so, but it’s so hard isn’t it?

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Truth Crushed to Earth

If we imagined that good always prevails would we engage life with a different plan? The answer to that question might be more important than we think and as in all things important it might be painstakingly elusive as well. Why ask the question in the first place?

It’s only important if we embrace the possibility of truth being embedded in the statement 'good always prevails'. The idea that good will prevail over the course of time is a philosophy handed down by generations of writers and thinkers, theological and secular.

If we accept the truth of that idea as an acknowledged principle, then it raises the question of whether or not it should alter the way we live our lives. If I accept that good prevails I might elect to care not a thread if I abet its ultimate triumph, another way of saying it doesn’t matter what I do in my life. I might also say it this way, “If good always triumphs in the end there is no need for intervention on my part.” Conversely, if I decide that the flow of good required for triumph is inherently tied to my personal actions, it creates the need of a demanding code of conduct, a code directly predicated on embracing one simple belief.

If I answer one way, the moral direction of the universe demands nothing of me. If I answer the other way, the moral direction demands everything of me.

Martin Luther King wrote the beautiful phrase “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” It is a philosophical and poetic phrase. Is it true? If the moral universe bends toward justice do I have an obligation to help it bend? Do you?

In that same speech given on August 16, 1967, King quoted a William Cullen Bryant phrase of matching power, "Truth crushed to earth will rise again."

If good can be equated with justice or truth, then we might combine all of this thinking into the idea that good, justice and truth prevail over time, or as King poetically states, “over the arc of the moral universe”.

Do we have a part? Or is it out of our hands and lying in the larger hands of the Creator? Or, is it possible the hands of the Creator exist at the ends of our arms?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The One With The Flowers?

In the past few days I waded through an imaginary swamp.

It was filled with water the color and texture of sewage. Large trees ripe with summer foliage overhung the mire and blocked my vision of a sky dark with heavy clouds. A distinctive grey darkness cast itself across the surface of every plant and animal. Debris of an indeterminate composition, representing the mistakes of my life, floated on the top of the thick water. Snakes of evil, casting an aura of unknown danger moved across the surface of the water, gliding in that distinctive curving fashion of a swimming serpent, the darkness of their backs moving from one debris pile to the other. Their eyes locked mine in a threatening stare and my own eyes locked onto theirs. Each of us measured the other with equal loathing and fear.

I hadn’t come here by design. When I left it was fields of waving green grass, speckled with multicolored wildflowers that I searched for. Throughout a sunny morning I had walked along the forest path looking left and right for an opening that would lead me to that field of pleasant dream. From the trees above the locusts hummed their incessant song. An occasional unexplained noise diverted my attention from the path yet nothing showed itself to explain the scurrying noise from the undergrowth. The canopy of trees above my head grew thicker, darkening the sandy path as the day grew longer.

Just beyond a brown stone bridge the path split. The side I chose led me longer into the day and deeper into the dark. Eventually cold water tickled at my ankles and my feet slid an inch deeper into turf that had become mud. Dark images of large birds mocked me from above. The scurrying sounds of the underbrush were replaced by an eerie quiet, the type of quiet that magnifies its presence by the forceful power of its nothingness. Still, I moved forward. I knew what lay behind. I didn’t yet know what lay ahead, though I searched with hope for my sun drenched field of green.

I noticed the outline of his small figure mirrored in the water to my right side. My attention raptly focused on the snakes and piles of mistakes had honed my alertness to a level that gave the water borne image unusual clarity. I moved my torso a quarter turn in the bog, the swishing of the water at my waist breaking through the silence. I stared at the figure, fuzzy and dark in the shadows of the trees. The outline of a small human form crouched along the earthen bank, his right foot closer to the waters edge than his left, his elbows resting on his knees. He held up his right hand and with a soft and slow folding motion of the hand beckoned me to come closer. He spoke no words. I moved one step toward him, lowering my head in an effort to see more clearly. I squinted my eyes in the manner people use to try to sharpen their focus. I could see he wore only a white shirt, long sleeved and buttoned only in the middle, the sleeves rolled up on his muscular arms in a haphazard fashion. His skin was peculiarly free of any hair, glowing and sleek in the way dolphin skin might look if transposed onto a human figure. His feet were longer than his body size would dictate they should be. The hands had the same out of proportion quality, the fingers long as they folded up and then back out again in the beckoning motion. His penis was small as if Michelangelo had re-sculpted David, crouched on an earthen bank in a bog wearing dolphin skin. I was unsure if I should obey the hand command. I moved three more steps forward and his hand uprighted itself in the stop signal. He smiled a radiant smile of brilliant white perfect teeth that seemed to have caught light from nowhere, further obscuring his facial features in the grayness that surrounded all but the smile. The small man spoke to me in a pleasant inquisitive voice.

“Are you lost my friend?”
“Are you looking for the green field, the one with the flowers, the one that everyone that passes here is searching for?”
“You missed it because you were not looking when you found it.”
“That’s impossible; I have looked all along the path I’ve walked. I never once closed my eyes or quit looking for the field.”
“How is it then that you have come so far to find me?”
“I don’t know, I just kept walking, I was just hoping to find the field and lie down in the sun, I didn’t realize I passed it.”
“You have passed it as I said, yet it remains in front of you.”
“How can that be, how can it be both in front of me and behind me?”
“It can only be found my friend when you are not seeking it. It lies behind you. It lies in front of you. It is on your right and on your left, but you have chosen to wade with snakes instead.”
“No, it’s not like that! I am only here because I got lost!
I looked quickly to my left to keep an eye on the snakes and the floating debris. When I looked back toward the dolphin skinned man he was gone. The eerie quiet returned.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Innocence and Experience

Purple seagrass waves in the breeze
Summer announces
Am I seasoned, or am I young again?
Memories cross paths and the boy engages the man

Dreams of youth and the realities of the present
They seem strangers; the familiarity goes unexplained
The scent of cut grass and the memories of baseball
Phones ringing; insistence on experience

Innocence or experience
Collisions inside my mind
A girl in a short skirt
A stirring of memory

An unexpected glimpse of today in the mirror
A young girl laughs; her conversation amuses the elder
It excites the younger

Purple seagrass waves in the breeze
A tear decorates the man’s cheek

Memories cross paths
The boy engages the man
Familiarities go unexplained

They are staring at one another
Perplexed by the other image
Purple seagrass waves in the breeze

Hello, my soul

Monday, June 30, 2008

I'll give you something to cry about.....

I have been listening to all the news stories about the airlines charging $15 to check a bag.
I started traveling with one carry-on bag after my luggage was lost for 11 days during a trip to Italy. My wife's bag was lost (delayed in airline language) for the same time period. I learned something. You need far less things than you might imagine, even in a foreign country where you don't speak the language.
BEG and I made a pact to never check an airline bag again. It has nothing to do with fifteen dollars. We learned exactly what is really needed and how to pack it in a carry-on size suitcase. We spent 2 weeks in France this past March with one carry-on bag each. No problem, no kidding. It can be accomplished sooo easily.
Cut to the television interviews. One woman at O'Hare in Chicago is whining like a baby about the high cost of flying for a family with six children. Six children? Lady, this is the smallest of your problems. Having cashed 2 kiddos through college, trust me on this one, airlines are the smallest of your problems. And not to sound all Chinese and everything; but 6 kids! Good planning.
Another lady traveler is bemoaning the fact that she is being charged to carry the child seat she is taking to her daughter in Omaha. Huh? They don't have child seats at WalMart in Omaha? Think people! Another man says he might have to shift from his normal first class to sit in coach if fuel prices keep rising. Oh Good God! No, tell me it isn't true!
Another man says this is killing his trips to Las Vegas to gamble once a month. Oh no!
Cut to the TV anchor with a furrowed brow, asking the field reporter if there is ANY relief in sight? The field reporter sadly replies "not anytime soon." My lingering thought is this is a lot of silly crybaby excrement we're hearing. I'm sure the powers in Dubai are laughing their asses off at the ridiculous and whiny Americans.

My dad used to say when I would tear-up as a child, "Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about." Harsh? Sure. But I know at this point in my life what he meant. I recently earned a bad ankle sprain and haven't been able to train on the track, which has made me agitated (according to BEG, and God knows she is the one that would know). I tested the ankle on the track this morning and still no go for me after 2 weeks of shut down. I grumped my way up to 7-11 to buy some coffee. A patron at the counter bid me a cheerful good morning. He was sitting in a wheelchair and had no legs. True story; not kidding you. Happened this morning.

"I'll give you something to cry about"
Now I Get It....maybe

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Freckles and Sweat

Beads of sweat, invisible in the darkness of night, ran off his forehead. He closed his eyes. A quick swipe of his fingertips removed the dampness from his eyelids. The mattress below him had grown wet from his perspiration, yet it meant nothing in the world he lived in. He slept in his own sweat every night. There was no air conditioning in his house. This night was cooler than the ones in his bedroom. The slight breeze that came with the growing Texas night was beginning to cool the sides of the pick-up truck’s bed. It was Friday night, and a few hours before his dad had hauled the queen mattress out of the house and dropped it into the back of the 1957 Ford pick-up. From his spot in the back of the truck his senses filled with the voices of the women laughing as if they were rehearsing a TV scene with Lucy and Ethel. The men spoke softly and drew large hits off a stream of never ending cigarettes that glowed like small lamps among the cluster of men. He concentrated on the small orange glows as they danced up and down, their movement caused by the practiced art of men talking while also holding a cigarette in their mouths.

Fireflies darted across his face, daring him to chase them. He was content in the back of the truck; the soggy pillow below his head doubled up where he could watch the dancing cigarettes and hear the laughter and high pitched voices of the moms.

He was 8 years old. He had been to a handful of these church socials. He didn’t know why the church members gathered in a city park on Friday nights. They would all sleep in the park tonight, on cots and in the back of pick-up trucks. He knew the small frame house where he lived next to the railroad tracks was hot and that maybe that is why they gathered in the park on these nights. It was also noisy at his house as the trains roared by through the night no more than 50 yards from his open window. Late at night the hobos that walked the tracks and rode the trains would appear at one of the windows and wake him up by knocking on the wooden window sill. It always scared him, but he tried to not let on. He just told them they only had enough food and stuff for themselves, sorry. That’s what his dad said to tell them.

The vacation from the small hot house and the productive railroad tracks was what made these Friday nights so much fun. There was laughter. There were games before the picnic dinners, men playing dominoes and smoking, moms laughing and preparing food. Now the stars above him were glowing with a full brightness through the leaves of the oak trees. The leaves moved gently in the cooling breeze of the evening, a breeze that had begun to make the sweat on his face feel cool. The same breeze brought the distinctive aroma of smoke from the group of men and also seemed to heighten the sound of the ducks near the pond, their constant quacking mimicking the back and forth voices of the group of women.

He lost himself in thought about Rebecca. She was confusing to think about. Small freckles decorated her nose and cheeks, the freckles were almost the same muted red color as her hair. He liked the way her hair would fall across her face when she ran. She would have to slow down and move it behind her ears before she could continue running. Her red canvas shoes were always topped by white socks that sagged to her ankles when she played with the boys. He didn’t know why he liked to think about her but it made him feel good to remember her running and tending to her hair. He liked it when she smiled right at him and he imagined holding her hand, but he also knew he would never dare.

He was happy. No hobos and no trains, just laughter and stars and ducks on a pond. He swatted a mosquito away from his ear. He thought about Rebecca’s freckles and smiled. His eyelids grew heavy and he drifted into sleep.

Years later when he had all the things of value that life could bring him, when a generation of time had separated him from the boy and his personal wealth had grown, he would sit in his study and think about the happiness of the boy. He did it again tonight.

When we have so little, only dreams and an image of what comfort might be, why are we so happy? When poverty stricken children in third world countries chase a soccer ball across a barren field dotted with skinny cows, why does an enormous smile play across their face and why do their eyes dance with the fullness of life? Does ignorance of plenty enhance satisfaction with little? And if its true………….how do we return to the place where the leaves rustle in front of the stars and we care only about our dreams and the play that begins in the morning? Where do we find the place that we chase a soccer ball across a field of skinny cows, grinning like a child?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A Million Pounds?

All day I have been working away at my job, but I have also had the cable news programs on in the background. Today President Bush upped the ante on the elections by pressing Congress to revoke the long standing legislation prohibiting off-shore drilling.
One startling overnight poll showed that Americans have shifted to being nearly 80% in favor of off-shore drilling, the percentages turning almost 180 degrees from where they have been in recent years.
For some reason that reminded me of the best joke ever written about prostitution. The joke is credited to Bernard Shaw.
He was at a party once and told a woman that everyone would agree to do anything for money, if the price was high enough.
"Surely not, she said."
"Oh yes," he said.
"Well, I wouldn't," she said.
"Oh yes you would. For instance, would you sleep with me for... for a million pounds?"
"Well," she said, "maybe for a million I would, yes."
"Would you do it for ten shillings?" he asked.
"Certainly not!" said the woman "What do you take me for? A prostitute?"
"We've established that already," said Bernard Shaw. "We're just trying to fix your price now!"

Sooooo....... I see the flip-over price is $4 per gallon.

Now I Get It...........maybe.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I Don't Believe You

This post is like huntin with Cheney. I’ve got no idea where I’m aiming, but I might hit something if I just fire a round off.

My knee hurts. It doesn’t hurt like arthritis or any of that old guy stuff. It hurts because I have been banging the victim knee on hurdles. Fair enough, go ahead and wonder why a 56 year old man is jumping hurdles. Frustration awaits you if you seek an actual answer because the man doesn’t actually have a reason except that he thinks its fun to see if he can do it better than other 56 year old men. I never claimed to be motivated in enlightened ways. I lay claim only to being motivated, which of course was also true of Timothy McVea, so any association with the good implied by that statement is suspect from the time the light turned green at the front of the sentence.

Back to my knee. In the interest of going over the hurdles with optimum efficiency I am required to forcefully jerk my right knee over the top of the hurdle during the step over. Well, not required, but it helps if you want to win. Refer to the previous sentences regarding improperly placed motivations if you feel confused at this point. Several times in the course of a workout I manage to bring the right knee into serious impact with the hurdle. It hurts. The seventh time you do it in the same week hurts more than the first time. Here is what I said on the seventh impact. #(*^@$*@$*@&@*!!!!!.

So, being a fellow of diligence and serious motivation, however improperly placed or maniacal that said motivation might be when analyzed by a kind hearted counselor, and damn those guys cost a lot, I went to look for advice from a second expert. I found one only 75 yards away. A world famous track and field coach, that I call a friend, was working on the other end of the track with two Bejing bound athletes.

Understand that my coach friend is famous for his wit, wisdom and plain spoken passages about track and life. He is in his early 60’s, so plain speak is his earned province much like your old cantankerous uncle, whatever his name is in your case. I presented my hurt knee problem. Coach’s solution was quick and effective. He said “If I was you I would quit running hurdles. Crashing into them is what is making your knee hurt.”

Okeee Dokeee, thanks Coach. I wish McVea had asked for help too.

Last year this same friend told me something I have not forgotten and I want to talk to you about what he said. This is a man who has worked with literally thousands of college age athletes, many running at a world class level years after they leave his program. He has seen and accomplished a great deal in his profession and is widely known for his successes. Here is the wisdom Mr. Track Coach laid on me.

“People will always show you exactly who they are. The hardest thing is learning to accept that what they show us is the truth.”

I reflect on the relationships I have known of where abuse was present. The abused often stays around, refusing to believe what they have been shown. I had to make a decision in the past 2 weeks about a personal relationship based on a pattern of behavior that I had witnessed so many times before that it became crystal clear that this individual was showing me once again exactly who they are, and this persons behavior keeps repeating itself like a barroom parrot in a Jamaican bar.

Do you think this saying by my coach friend is accurate? Is it really possible that people always show us exactly who they are, but the hardest piece of the puzzle is fully accepting what we have been shown?

Speaking of showing us what you got, I’m going to Las Vegas for a wedding this weekend. BEG is going too so I have to figure a way to get her into one of the showgirl shows, you know the kind where 120 topless girls balance big feather things on their heads, which the women in the audience comment on, while the men wonder what feather head thing?

So while I’m gone, just talk amongst yourselves here if you want. Or come on out to Vegas. I’ll be at the MGM Grand showing Vegas exactly who I am. Ask for Seven Alevin, but don't be surprised if they think you want a Slurpee. Everybody’s welcome, but I don’t think you can go to the wedding.

Monday, June 09, 2008

An Old Coot Don't Need No Stinkin Gas

I have a privileged slot in the pecking order when it comes to buying gasoline. What I mean is that I don’t have to buy much of it. I work at home and 90% of my everyday commerce is conducted electronically. I emailed an entire construction specification manual today by email. It was the 4th book I have written in 3 weeks that reached its end user without my use of gasoline.

Taking advantage of the information age was a decision I made 10 years ago and it has paid far more lifestyle and financial dividends than I would ever have imagined. I don’t have to wear clothes when I’m working. I am able to do my run and weight training on a regular schedule since I don’t have a boss and can work deep into the night if I need to. I only drive in rush hour traffic if I happen to go temporarily brain dead and schedule a meeting in downtown Dallas or Fort Worth at a bad time. I eat the food in my refrigerator instead of fast food or restaurant food which is a necessity of my training anyway, but at least I don’t have to carry my lunch to work!

I’m not bragging, just feeling good about my circumstances. I know there are millions of Americans, especially young Americans with families that drive many miles to work for small wages. Surely this gas situation is a huge strain for them. I have empathy.

Still, maybe there is good that can come from the situation. Maybe more of us will learn to work from home and take full advantage of the new information age, lowering carbon emissions and simultaneously shooting a middle finger toward Dubai. Maybe we can learn to bicycle and plan our trips. It wouldn’t hurt Americans to lose about seven gazillion pounds collectively. My Lord, people surrounding me in public are just sooo fat these days! Riding a bike or walking like thinner Europeans can’t be as bad as the fattys might imagine. Maybe we will rediscover that we have neighbors living alongside us.

Maybe we will all stay home and become Guitar Hero legends. I can play Black Magic Woman now as well as any fifth grader on his second try and I’ve only been practicing for 2 months.

Maybe we will find something far more important. Maybe we will rediscover the simplicity of right now. That may be a confusing sentence without context, so let me explain. The frenetic pace of our culture has taught us to scurry like mice on a wheel. We run from here to there with a sense of urgency not limited by space, distance or the cost of fuel. In the course of that scurrying and the brain patterning that accompanies it have we lost our sense of simplicity, planning and the idea of being present in the now? Have we lost sunsets and meaningful conversation?

All that may seem a tad gray or old fashioned. Sorry for sounding like an old coot that don't need no gas.

Maybe what we will learn is that we have a new purpose and stewardship not only with our energy and environment, but also with our personal sense of where we are going as individual souls and why we are going there. Maybe we will have time to ask the question "why are we always needing to travel so far outside ourselves and at such a rapid pace." If we run fast enough might we be able to escape ourselves? A Jackson Browne lyric observes, "no matter how fast I run, I can never get away from me."

If we all had more time to sit at peace outside the immediate view of our steering wheels and gas gages and think about our lives and our perspective of the 'right now', is that really a negative?

You tell me.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Applause for Bigotry?

I’m curious about the media’s insistence on referring to Barrack Obama as the first black candidate nominated by his party. After his victories earlier this week the headlines across America lead their stories with some variation of this theme. I might be accused of picking knit, but the tiniest bit of research indicates Mr. Obama is neither all black nor all white.

It leaves me with the idea that this is merely a new chapter in American racial bigotry rather than the mining of a new vein of acceptance and race blindness. What dictates that a bi-racial man is black rather than white? Is it because his appearance presents the image that lives in our minds about what a black man looks like?

Is it more sinister than that simplistic observation? Is it possible that our culture is presenting that once a white woman or white man has produced a child with a black person that the child is considered black rather than white because of institutionalized cultural agreement on permanent blemish or social devaluation?

This is my question for America. Why do we not refer to Mr. Obama as the first bi-racial candidate nominated by his party? Is this insistence that he is a black man America’s hoping and dreaming that our prejudice is resolved by electing a black man, when we actually elect a man that is both black and white?

Is the prospect that two races have merged to produce a unique and talented individual just too underwhelming for journalism? Or, is it possibly the biggest story of the day, left unearthed by a media stuffed full of its own unobserved bigotry?

You tell me.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Gossip and the Green

Eradicating vice from our daily life is an onerous task. The devil in many lives, my own included, is the daily dose of gossip and erroneous language that passes from mouth to mouth, infiltrating and infecting the wrinkled gray matter of everyone it contacts. Like a computer virus traveling by email, gossip races across its course with alarming speed and even more frightening it travels over multiple race courses, proving it possesses far more lives than the ordinary house cat. The vice of gossip is often attributed to housewives and women with nothing better to do with their time. The sexist notion wrapped therein is demonstrably false by simple observation. Men delight in gossip just the same as women. It is a non-biased stain on both genders.

Let’s talk about gossip and the green.

Recently, the American Institute of Architects instituted a new requirement for its membership to earn continuing education credits in sustainable design, a code phrase for ‘green movement architecture’.

This comes on the 15 year old heels of the requirement for continuing education in the first place which produced a vast array of education providers feasting on the Architect’s dutifully coughed up seminar money. Green is now gospel. Throughout the streets of America folks are wearing their ‘go green’ t-shirts with smug smiles of self indulgent pride in their do-goodness.

Now begins the task of preparing for the commercialism of the green movement. Look around and gather the easily apparent clues of the blossoming attempt to take your money and mine by promoting the ‘green movement’ in products. Stand back as the green commercial stampede claims its victims. This cascading phenomenon is firmly rooted in the fantastically fertile mixture of capitalism and gossip.

There are only a limited number of scientists with the credentials to understand the impact of man’s activities on the future of our planet. In reading what some of them have to say I have discovered they possess a large measure of humility, often stating directly that they are unsure of the results gathered at the end of their well intended and carefully controlled scientific pursuits. This appears to be a way of saying that they understand nature and science, but do not own the skills to extrapolate the longevity of the polar ice cap and other geographies from the gathered data. I also read disagreement among a few of the less humble scientists. One group espousing the coming doom, the other group lecturing to hang on a minute before you take the next flight to Mars; another way of saying that not even the brightest knows for sure what our future holds. The less objective of the scientist and the non-scientist shills with a platform use the whole discussion for personal gain. Al Gore secures a new fortune by preaching the coming firestorm. Rush Limbaugh pontificates that global warming is a complete hoax though my research shows he has no scientific training. Michael Moore continues to muddy reality with multiple lies disguised as truth, a fact well documented, aimed at the youthful, the ignorant and the blissfully absorbent and angry rebels in need of a cause.

None of the three individuals I mentioned has a scientific pedigree to make any statement whatsoever that should cause anyone to pay attention. The corollary that comes to mind is that this is the same as if your bank teller has diagnosed you with a malignant brain tumor.

My position in all of this ‘g-warming’ discussion is a simple one. I don’t know because I don’t have the credentials or scientific intelligence to know. A good portion of the reports I read I don’t even understand due to a lack of scientific background.

I consider the discussion analogous to gossip. Rush wants his listeners to believe in the hoax of the movement. Former VP Gore wants his listeners to believe the earth hangs in the balance of buying his book and stabilizing his legacy. This is the common form of gossip. It is the spreading of words, not dipped in the well of truth, being nonetheless orated as though it were true beyond any doubt. The listener believes it as truth, then passes it along to the next gossip participant. The underlying premise that this is a giant hoax or else a 180 degree opposite calamity with earth in the balance strains a rational man’s patience.

And so I am now stuck, with equal parts of amusement and disgust, as I watch the green movement turn into a products parade. The fertile mixture of gossip and capitalism tilled together, reaping a giant harvest of the ignorant and absorbent souls of our world wearing their new $21.95 “Go Green” t-shirts. Al Gore stares back at me from the cover of his apocalyptic revelation. Michael Moore apparently continues to harbor a misplaced need to unleash his vast anger and corpulent image on the general public. Rush smokes his cigar after lighting it with a $1,000 bill and smiles as he reminds the largest radio audience in America that it is all a hoax. And now, to continue being an Architect in good standing I have to sit in a CE class with a lecturer half my age teaching me how to collect rainwater from the roof, drain it into a cistern and wash my hair with it as though it were actually complicated and had not been first accomplished around 900 BC. The fact that I have no hair is seemingly immaterial in the face of this hurricane of gossip and fresh t-shirts.

Doubt me? Look around your local stores carefully at how many products are now “green’ though nothing really changed. I saw a plumber’s truck on the highways of Dallas yesterday with fresh painting on the sides declaring he was a ‘green plumber’, whatever the hell that might be. It‘s only the beginning.

Resist. Admit your scientific ignorance and save yourself a bundle, and if not money, maybe you can save yourself a lot of misplaced energy and frustration. Can we acknowledge there may be intelligence illustrated in knowing what we do not know?

Enjoy the sunset tonight instead of MSNBC. Yes, the sunrise and sunset are still out there, and that's not gossip. Its fact.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

"Son, are you hungry"

My father was a hard working man that selected his words carefully. Truth actually told he never selected more than a mere handful at any one sitting. On odd occasions he would pack me into his work pick-up, a 1957 red Ford, and haul my pre-teen randomness out to my Grandmother’s house in deep west Texas. It was a drive of over 300 miles, straight as an arrow through the Texas desert flatlands and cotton fields. Our mission was always the same. The back of the truck was stacked with building materials. My dad and I would spend the weekend fixing and renovating my Grandmother’s home. It was my father’s generosity and carpentry craft rolled into a gift, given in virtual silence and received by his mother in like silence. At the close of the day Sunday we would pack up and head home across the starry skies and flat plains of Texas. He would return to his regular work that following Monday morning. I would go to school, sleepy as a Mardi Gras partier after an all night parade.

On those long rides down the straight and dusty Texas highways, my Dad would always say the same thing to me. Its entire content was the useful question, “Son, are you hungry?” If I answered in the affirmative he would pull into some clapboard mom and pop restaurant along the side of the road. His door would open and then slam shut without a word while I tagged along after him. After all, it was perfectly clear to anyone except Larry, Curly and Moe that stopping at the restaurant meant we should go inside and eat. The meal and the remainder of the journey were executed in silence. That is also the manner in which he taught me carpentry. He used words only to make clear the aspects of the craft hidden from visual observation. What could be observed and translated with one’s eyes was assumed to need no explanation by word.

He has been absent from my world for more than 20 years, his early sixties life claimed by a cerebral aneurysm. I miss his silence as though it had been a symphony. And now in the 56th year of my life I work at my own use of words. I work at how to best use them. Or more accurately I wonder how to not use them when silence is the better selection.

Words are surely the most powerful tool we own. They can hurt. We can all give testimony to their sting. They can heal the soul and dry tears just as easily, and this remarkable reversible property is always dependent on how we select the words we wish to use and the tone of voice we use to grant them life.

What I know with the degree of certainty that is the consequential partner of the older man with half a brain remaining is that our words matter a great deal. My words have been missing here for a while, but they have been applied other places, for better or worse. Or maybe they have been spent on the great god of Who Cares. I know my father sometimes seemed to look at words that way. His eyes frequently said “Who cares about all that talking?” Maybe it was nothing more than the silence of his own mother that birthed the silence of the son.

But I have discovered I do care. Words are a gift to be used with wisdom. Ignoring their power and usefulness can be as sinful as using them to negate.

I am working on using words in a better manner. Maybe the path of Goldilocks is what I seek, where my words are neither too few, nor are there too many, but somehow just right. And maybe by some sort of grace the words will even be the correct ones delivered in a suitable and welcomed tone.

For now I am having a small problem with this new exercise. I have been listening very carefully to my questioners and fellow conversators. (yes, conversators is a new word created here for my personal use) Now I think carefully before responding and I try to choose words that are appropriate and carry the proper meaning of what I want to convey. Several people have become agitated at my tardiness and repeated the question thinking I didn’t hear it on first resonance. I suppose next they will merely walk away. If they do they might miss the most carefully thought out and meaningful response I can give. I mean really, it could be very good after I have thought it all out.

You know what they say, “everyone wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” I suppose waiting on me can be a bit like dying if you are already old?