Monday, August 14, 2017

It's Who You Are

Belmont 1973
The movie, Secretariat, opened September 30, 2010.  We were at the theater to see it and we weren't disappointed.  In fact, it was even better than I imagined it would be.

That was almost seven years ago and other than occasionally listening to Oh Happy Day, by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, I've had no contact with the movie since.  For some reason it came up in conversation last weekend and we decided to watch it again.  Once again we were inspired by the story and blown away by the presentation.  And then we received a bonus.

At the end of the credits, long after we had left the movie seven years ago, a song from the movie's sound track played.  A song that retold the story of the magnificent horse, and at the same time, promised the same glory for anyone who would understand and act on its message.  This time we heard it.  Now you can hear it.

"You Choose Your Race And Then You Run."

If life can be reduced to a two-step process, that's it.  Other factors, subsets of those two steps, often keep us from appreciating the simplicity of the process.

For example, years of conditioning can keep us from seeing that the choice of the race we'll run is our choice.  When we lose sight of that, we often let someone or something else choose our race or even worse, we don't make a choice at all - we stand off-stage waiting for the final curtain.

And then there's the running or to be more exact, there is how we run.  Again, we are often overwhelmed by choices: just get by or go all out;  run strong to the end or quit at the first sign of trouble.

The choices are ours and not making a choice is one of the possibilities.  How we execute the choice we make is also ours, even when we allow something outside us to set our pace.

Keep it simple - and have fun.

PS:  Here's a tribute to Secretariat you might enjoy.


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Last House

Rainer Maria Rilke

I tend to read the same poets again and again.  At those readings, I often hear Mark Twain chuckle and say, "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years."

Note - if you are a serious student of Mark Twain, you know that most Samuel Clemens scholars have come to the conclusion that he didn't say that.  But since we don't know who did, and it sounds like something he would have said, I'm sure I'll continue hearing him say it every time I pick up Basho or Bly, Buson or Cummings, Barks or Lawrence, and especially when I read Rilke.  

Since I first crossed paths with Rainer Maria Rilke, at least forty years ago, I've walked much further along the way he knew and described, such that I feel it passing beneath my feet as I reread his words.  I smell its rich earthy scent on the wind, when I close my eyes and recall particularly meaningful passages.

Then I know the soul of the Panther of whom Rilke said:

Only sometimes the curtains of the pupils
soundlessly slide up.  Then an image enters,
goes through the limbs taut stillness -
and in the heart ceases to exist.

And now, more than any time since Rainer Maria Rilke and I first met, I know what he meant when he wrote:

Whoever you are, go out in the evening,
Leaving your room, of which you know each bit;
your house is the last before the infinite...

I also know why many of his translators omit that last line from their translation of Initiation.  It is startling when one first realizes that the only thing that separates each of us from the oneness of all is the flimsy affair that we've constructed from rumors, tales, misconceptions, and lies: the thing we call home.

Friday, August 4, 2017

A Collaboration Of Sorts

This is a stained glass depiction of William of Occam, an English Franciscan friar, who was both a student and teacher of logic.  At his core, Occam believed that science was a matter of discovery and God was the only necessity in understanding the nature of being.  In other words, Occam believed faith in God was all that one required.

He probably stated it this way, "God is all you need to know..."  If he did say that, or anything similar, no one remembered or bothered to write it down.  What they did remember him saying was, "The simplest answer is usually the correct one (my paraphrase)," or, to use Bertram Russell's description of what is commonly known as Occam's Razor, "If one can explain a phenomenon without assuming this or that hypothetical entity, there is no ground for assuming it."

Over 300 years after William of Occam espoused his universally known and accepted method of logic, Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winning physicist, gave us The Feynman Method, a practical learning/teaching application of  Occam's Razor.

Feynman's four step method works this way: (1) Write the name of the concept (2) Write down an explanation, in plain English, that includes both what you understand and what you don't quite know (3) Review what you've written focusing on what you don't know, then repeat step 2 (4) Review your wording.  If you are using overly wordy or confusing language simplify.

That's it, Feynman using Occam to create a simple, effective heuristic learning method.

To wrap it up, the third member of my imagined collaboration said, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant.  We have created a society which honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."

Albert Einstein

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Lost In The Lights

Bryce Harper

"Where did July go?"

That's the way I began yesterday's journal entry.  Then, as it does on occasion, my pen didn't pause at the end of the sentence.

Continuing on its own the pen wrote, "July didn't go anywhere.  It got lost in the lights."

I looked at the line, thought about it a few seconds, and then wrote, "I don't get it."

"I know," the pen continued... "July got lost in the lights like a long fly ball."

Not sure where this was going, I wrote... "Lost by whom?  Where?"

Magically, the words flowed from the nib, "Lost by a baseball player during a night game. At the sound of the bat hitting the ball, he senses it is heading toward him.  Raises his head.  Locks his sight on the ball and begins to run backwards while trying to hold the ball in his sight... then the ball rises and passes directly between a light and the player's line of sight.  For a moment, he loses sight of it.  If he doesn't regain it quickly, the ball falls uncaught."

"That doesn't happen to Bryce Harper," I wrote.

My smart ass pen didn't hesitate, "Bryce doesn't play the way most outfielders play.  He hears the ball hit.  Focuses on its trajectory. Mentally computes where it is going to land.  Turns his back on the ball and sprints to that spot.  Turns around and catches it."

The pen waited while I thought about that.  I considered the times I'd seen Bryce do it that way and tried to recall another player using that technique.  None came to mind, so I wrote.  "Why doesn't everyone do it that way?"

"Because they don't trust themselves."

"What's that got to do with July?"

The pen didn't hesitate, "To trust yourself is to do what you know is right and do it instantly - without hesitation.  When you do that, you do not drop balls or lose time.  Not a month, a day, or even a second... you lose nothing."

I shook my head and wrote, "So August begins, just where I knew it would."

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Across Time

"Every day is a journey,
And the journey itself is home."
Matsuo Basho

Basho speaks to me of things that matter - to him and to me.  For example, last night, with the ease of one for whom timelessness is only another aspect of Oneness, he dropped in and without preamble said:

 "But when all has been said, I am not really the kind who is so completely enamored of solitude that he must hide every trace of himself away in the mountains and wilds.  It's just that, troubled by frequent illness and weary with dealing with people, I've come to dislike society.  Again and again I think of the mistakes I've made in my clumsiness over the course of the years.  There was a time when I envied those who had government offices or impressive domains, and on another occasion I considered entering the precincts of the Buddha and the teaching room of the patriarchs.  Instead, I've worn out my body in journeys that are aimless as the winds and clouds and expended my feelings on flowers and birds.  But somehow I've been able to make a living this way, and so in the end, unskilled and talentless as I am I give myself wholly to this one concern, poetry. Po Chu-i worked so hard at it that he almost ruined his five vital organs, and Tu Fu grew lean and emaciated because of it.  As far as intelligence or the quality of our writings go, I can never compare to such men.  And yet we all in the end live, do we not, in a phantom dwelling? 
But enough of that - I'm off to bed."

All I said was, "Good night my friend.  Sleep well."

There was nothing else to say. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Silver Star

Note from my journal:  7/7/17

Leaving Home Depot, I spotted a man about my age.

Pretty damn old I thought then amended the thought to include, just like me. 

He was wearing a Vietnam Veteran's baseball cap, so I walked over and started the conversation in the usual way.  "When were you there?"

Still seated behind the wheel of the gleaming silver, Ford, long bed, four-wheel drive, crew cab pickup, he raised his head and said, "66 and 67.  I was with the 173rd Airborne Brigade.  You?"

"Right behind you.  67 and 68. 1st Aviation Brigade."



As he opened the door of the massive pickup truck he tried to smile but it was too painful to manage, twisted and crippled the way he was.

I stood clear of the door, not offering to help, because we both knew I couldn't.  Finally he was out of the vehicle, standing, less-than-solidly with the help of a polished silver walking stick.

Our eyes locked for a long moment, everything that needed to be said passed in silence.  Then he nodded curtly, and I returned the gesture.

I stood a long time in the silence he had left behind, watching as he made his way slowly toward the store, noting that he had not mentioned the embroidered line of script on the bottom edge of his cap.  It read, "SILVER STAR WINNER."

I broke my stare, letting the parking lot full of unaware people flood back into consciousness. I knew he hadn't mentioned it because we both understood what it meant. Our knowing was enough.

The Silver Star Medal is the United States' THIRD HIGHEST award exclusively for combat valor, and ranks fifth in the precedence of military awards behind the Medal of Honor, the Crosses (DSC/NC/AFC), the Defense Distinguished Service Medal (awarded by DOD), and the Distinguished Service Medals of the various branches of service. It is the highest award for combat valor that is NOT unique to any specific branch; it has been bestowed by the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marines. It may be given by any one of the individual services to not only their own members, but to members of other branches of service, foreign allies, and even to civilians for "gallantry in action" in support of combat missions of the United States military.
Because the Silver Star is ONLY awarded for combat valor, the only devices worn on it are:
  • Bronze Oak Leaf Clusters in lieu of additional Army/AF awards
  • Silver Oak Leaf Clusters in lieu of a SIXTH Army/AF award
  • Gold Star in lieu of additional Navy/USMC awards
  • Silver Star in lieu of a SIXTH Navy/USMC award.

Monday, February 20, 2017

800 Words - Number One

800 is a number.  Eight-hundred is a word.  Words? Numbers?  What is that all about?  Have there always been words? Numbers? I think not.  There was a time when there were no numbers or words.  A time when we were just here… and not talking about it. 

During those times, we lived in small groups.  Everyone in each group knew what everyone else was thinking, knew where everyone had been, and had a good idea of where everyone was going.

Then, as small groups grew, it became difficult to know everyone, much less what they were thinking, or where they were at any given time, not to mention where they had come from or what they had done. 

Then there was the history issue.  I don’t mean the musty recording of who did what to whom.  I mean the know this or die kind of history: like where the bad animals lived, the location of tar pits and quick sand, and the ways of the humans who lived just over that ridge, the ones who seemed to delight in killing members of other bands.

Words became necessary if humans were to survive on earth.  They were essential for communicating our history, our ideas, our plans, everything.  And what of numbers?  They are required to add dimension to language by specifying time, magnitude and size.  For example, if you and I were having a conversation and I said, “Words,” that would be meaningless, until I added at least one number, say 800.

So, if I said 800 words, you’d know the exact number of words I was talking about, though, unless you’re a writer, you probably don’t know what 800 words looks like.  To give you a reference point, this is word number 305 in this post; or slightly over 38% of 800.  The piece still has a way to go to hit 800.

For me, 1,000 words has always been a benchmark of sorts.  It separates the recording of an idle thought from something more serious, even if the 1,000 is only the bare beginning of a string that will ultimately be 50,000 – 75,000 words; an acceptable novel length today. 

When I was searching for entertainment and saw 800 Words, the title of a Acorn series, I was interested.  I knew what it was about.  At least, I knew part of it.   I knew there would be a writer, charged with stringing together 800 words for a definite purpose.  That’s all I had to know to continue exploring the story line.   

This is the description of the show that I found on IMDb: A recently widowed father, quits his job as a popular 800-word columnist for a top selling Sydney newspaper. Over the internet, he buys a house on an impulse in a remote New Zealand seaside town. He then has to break the news to his two teenage kids who just lost their mum, and now face an even more uncertain future. But the colourful and inquisitive locals ensure his dream of a fresh start does not go to plan.

Another click and I discovered that last month (Jan 2017), the producers of the show announced that it had been renewed for a third season.  The description, the two-season run and the renewal were more than enough for us to take a chance.  That was four days and four episodes ago.  Yep, we’re hooked.  If this were simply a review of a TV show, this is the place where I would say, “Good writing, good characters, great acting, fantastic location, entertaining, etc. etc.” and I would end by saying, “Watch it, you’ll like it.”  I would include a link - Like this.

However, this is a bit more than a TV series review.  This is the story of an idea.  Unrelated to watching 800 Words, yesterday, Christina and I were talking about writing when she said, “I’ve learned, finally, that my writing skills are only improved by one thing – writing.”

Currently she is working on a collection short stories that are marvelous.  The key word in that sentence is working.  She labors over each word as a great artist focuses on every brush stroke.  The effort expended is evident in the results. 

Though I didn’t comment on her comment, it hit home.  I knew what she said was true, and I knew I’d been very lax with my writing – note, that comment translates: I’ve not written a word for a while.

So, my brain immediately connected the conversation with the show, 800 Words, and added this thought, I can write 800 words.  I can do that every day.  No matter how busy I am, or think I am, I can write 800 words.  And then I thought, I’ll do it. 

And I looked at the word counter.  It read 800