Solitary Wanderer

Excerpted from The Black Cloud by Fred Hoyle, © 1957:

It is curious in how great a degree human progress depends on the individual. Humans, numbered in thousands of millions, seem organized into an ant-like society. Yet this is not so. New ideas, the impetus of all development, come from individual people, not from corporations or states. New ideas, fragile as spring flowers, easily bruised by the tread of the multitude, may yet be cherished by the solitary wanderer.



The Persistence Of

Rod McKuen’s father abandoned his mother before he was born, and in the early 1970s McKuen hired a team of private investigators to find him.  The search is documented in the autobiographical Finding My Father: One Man’s Search for Identity, ©1976.

One fascinating aspect of the search was how poor people’s memories are.  Four women who were friends of his mother at the the time of his birth were interviewed, and each gave a different address for where she had lived.  None of these women had incentive to lie– in fact, they were doing their best to be helpful– but obviously at least three of them were wrong.  On cross examination they were all quite certain they were correct, and even picked photos of the buildings out of an architectural lineup.

It makes me wonder how many of my own memories might not be true.

A Lesson in Genetics

In this excerpt from Blue Highways © 1982, author William Least Heat Moon recalls a conversation in the Desert Den Bar in Hachita, New Mexico:

(Bartender) Mrs. (Virginia) Been turned to me. “He’s a real cowboy. Horse, lasso, branding iron.”

“Not many of us left except you count the ones that tells you they’s cowboys. A lot them ones now. I been ridin’ since the war.”

“Weren’t you up around Alamogordo when they tested the bomb?” the high-mileage man said. “Think I heard you were.”

“Over west to Elephant Butte, up off the Rio Grande. Just a greenhorn, sleepin’ out where we was movin’ cattle. July of ‘forty-five. They was a high wind that night and rain, and I didn’t get much sleep. Curled up against a big rock out of the wind. I was still in my bedroll at daybreak when come a god-terrible flash. I jumped up figurin’ one of the boys took a flashbulb picture of me sleepin’ on the job. Course nobody had a Kodak. Couple minutes later the ground started rumblin’. We heard plenty of TNT goin’ off to Almagordy before, but we never heard nothin’ like that noise. Sound just kept roarin’. ‘Oh, Jesus,’ I says, ‘what’d they go and do now?’ Next month we saw wheres they bombed Heerosaykee, Japan. We never knowed what an A-tomic bomb was, but we knowed that one flash wasn’t no TNT blockbuster.”

“The next day the sun rose in the wrong direction,” the other man said. “They’ve been testing soldiers stationed at Alamogordo in ‘forty-five for radiation poisoning. You know, Herefords up there turned white.”

“Feelin’ fine. Doctor told me once it was a good thing I was behind that rock. He says the wind saved me, but the wife says the bomb musta been why we never had no kids. Says it burned out my genetics.”

“You never know.”

“Truth is, bad genetics runs in my family. Dad never had no kids.”

“Your Dad didn’t have children?” I said.

“Not a one. That’s why he adopted me.” He drained his beer. “You know what Spaniards called the valley where the bomb got blowed off?”

High mileage looked up. “Don’t think I ever heard.”

“Journey of Death,” the little cowboy said. “That’s the English for it.”

And Then I’d

“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky– up– up– up– into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.”  ~Lucy Maud Montgomery, in Anne of Green Gables ©1908

Anne of Green Gables is in the public domain and may be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg, HERE.

So we decided

In this excerpt from Amy Tan’s short story The Joy Luck Club ©1989, the narrator’s mother explains why she founded a mah jong dinner club while a refugee in war-torn China:

“It’s not that we had no heart or eyes for pain. We were all afraid. We all had our miseries. But to despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable. How much can you wish for a favorite warm coat that hangs in the closet of a house that burned down with your mother and father inside of it? How long can you see in your mind arms and legs hanging from telephone wires and starving dogs running down the streets with half-chewed hands dangling from their jaws? What was worse, we asked among ourselves, to sit and wait for our own deaths with proper somber faces? Or to choose our own happiness?

“So we decided to hold parties and pretend each week had become the new year. Each week we could forget past wrongs done to us. We weren’t allowed to think a bad thought. We feasted, we laughed, we played games, lost and won, we told the best stories. And each week, we could hope to be lucky. That hope was our only joy. And that’s how we came to call our little parties Joy Luck.”

Not Supposed To Do

This poem, excerpted from Art Garfunkel’s autobiographical What Is It All But Luminous / notes from an Underground Man ©2017, reminds me of the playfulness of Shel Silverstein:

Today I'll judge my books by their covers.
I'll watch a pot, count unhatched chicks,
I'll fix the unbroken, hold secret gods divine.

A thousand fine soldiers, resplendent in
  their jacket designs, are lined in shelves
        in my aerie--
All the noble sentiments quilled,
Cry for all the milk that's spilled,
Let the unaware buyer be sold--
If the book cover glitters, it's gold;
I'll make a Top Forty polled for pretty veneers,
  how the book appears, and how it feels
    to hold and be held the whole night
Today I'll do exactly what you're not
supposed to do.

In a world seduced by easy understanding…

This short excerpt from the preface to E.E Cummings: A Life by Susan Cheever, ©2014, was a big help to me in understanding his poems.  It’s a tremendous relief to know I’m not supposed to “get it” right away:

Modernism as (E.E.) Cummings and his mid-twentieth-century colleagues embraced it had three parts. The first was the exploration of using sounds instead of meanings to connect words to the reader’s feelings. The second was the idea of stripping away all unnecessary things to bring attention to form and structure: the formerly hidden skeleton of a work would now be exuberantly visible. The third facet of modernism was an embrace of adversity. In a world seduced by easy understanding, the modernists believed that difficulty enhanced the pleasures of reading. In a Cummings poem the reader must often pick his way toward comprehension, which comes, when it does, in a burst of delight and recognition.