Making It Happen

I had a post ready to go this morning when a friend suggested that I continue on the subject of morality. I decided that was a good idea. When you’re rolling, why not keep rolling? First of all, some semantics. Right and wrong, and good and bad are words that denote concepts. The concept of right and wrong is nothing more than something that the majority of people agree on. Our laws are made on the idea that most people agree on what is right and wrong. That doesn’t mean however, that there is an absolute right or wrong. People often disagree on what is right or wrong. How then do we know what morality means? If you think that being rude to someone because they deserve it is being a moral person, then that’s your idea of morality. Are you right or wrong in thinking that way? The majority of people would probably say you’re wrong, that no one deserves your rudeness. Are they right or wrong? Right and wrong are often determined by the consequences of your actions. If the consequences are disagreeable, you were probably wrong. So for my purposes here, I’m going to go with the majority.

Quality is a concept that compares one thing to another. “I have a high quality TV,” usually mean a very good, expensive TV. Quality is most often used to describe things as opposed to actions, speech, or thoughts. Applying quality to ourselves relates to morality. Two books that come to mind on the subject of quality relating to people are, “Zen and the art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” by Robert M Pirsig and “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz. Each of these books talks about the quality of our speech, actions, and thoughts. Pirsig’s book goes into the area of metaphysics, and Ruiz’s takes a more practical approach. Both however say that we should apply quality to everything we think, do, or say.

The term “Best Life” has been thrown around a lot these days. Mostly in today’s meaning it’s applied to superficial things like lifestyle, grooming, physical appearance, material desires, etc. Self help books take up miles of shelf space in brick and mortar bookstores and the titles online are endless. But do they delve into morality? Do they explain why the quality of your speech, actions and thoughts make more difference than just about anything else?

The Dalai Lama has said, “If you cannot help someone, at least do no harm.” This hits to the core of what it means to be a moral human being. Not harming others. And by others we can include the earth, environment, animals, etc. Do no harm. It’s a simple idea, but one that’s hard to follow. It takes being self aware, of being awake in the moment. It takes being conscious of the things we think, do, and say. Most of us are so caught up in the motions of day to day living, taking care of our children, putting food on the table, going to work, that we don’t have much time to examine our motives or thoughts. But it’s important that we do. To be a moral person, to apply the concept of quality to our daily lives, we need to be conscious of it. We can’t just float through our days on automatic and expect that everything will work out. If we want to moral people, we have to make that happen.

Examining our lives to see if they follow the moral code we decide we want means taking a deeper look at who we really are. This can be troublesome. Sometimes we find that we don’t like certain aspects of ourselves. I know that I have shortcomings. And if I really want to improve my morality, my quality, I need to work on those things. When we look in the mirror we want to see the kind of person that other people like. The kind of person that others will want to be around. And not superficially, but a good and decent person that others will genuinely enjoy. This is not to say that we should become better people for the benefit of others. Although they will benefit from us being a morally decent person, we must do this for ourselves.

There are many people in the world that most of us would agree are immoral people. Greed is the culprit for most of it today. The desire for more money, or power or whatever cause people to do things most of us agree are wrong. Things that hurt others. When we act on our selfish desires most of the time it turns out bad for other people. And it turns out bad for ourselves as well because nothing in life is permanent. When we lust after money, we just want more. Power, or the control of others goes to are heads. It’s like a drug. Controlling others for our own benefit is a high that’s hard to come down from. In these cases morality goes out the window. Morality should not be something we take lightly or for convenience. It should be important enough for us to make it a priority. It can change the world.


Second Verse, Same As The First

The title of this post, “Second verse, same as the first,” is a line from the Herman’s Hermits song, Henry the Eighth. I’m going to continue talking about morality so this post is sort of like the last one, but not quite. I only got one “like” on yesterdays post, (thank you Rachel) so maybe morality isn’t a popular subject. If we think about morals, we start thinking about our own morals and that leads to taking a deeper look at ourselves. That, can be uncomfortable. As with all things, I try to take the uncomfortable along with the comfortable, the good with the bad, that sort of thing. It’s good to be balanced. You see so many things today, such as Facebook memes, TV, newspaper, and magazine ads about being happy. Buy this, eat that, consume this and you’ll be happy. The truth is, it’s not good for you to be happy all the time. A good balance of happy/sad, comfortable/uncomfortable, is healthier. The bad times help you appreciate the good times more. Being uncomfortable, especially with yourself, helps you grow as a person. If we don’t know we have a problem, how can we fix it?

So, back to morality. How can two people have completely different outlooks morally, on the same subject. The pacifist feels that war is completely unnecessary, the killing of others completely unacceptable. The war hawk believes that war is necessary and even good. To accomplish your goals, to get what you want, sometimes you have to kill some people. Sometimes even siblings have viewpoints that are that different. Born and raised by the same parents, under the same conditions and they still have moral outlooks that are miles apart. I’m not sure if it can be explained, and that is why the Philosophy of morals exists. To try and find answers.

My own moral viewpoint as to war is somewhere in between pacifist and not pacifist. When it comes to conflict I think all other avenues should be explored before going to war, and only going to war when it’s necessary to protect yourself and your country. Even then, war is still morally objectionable. That’s my feeling. How did I come by that? I’m not sure I know, but it’s how I feel.

One of the ways people find war/killing/mistreatment of others more acceptable is to demonize the “enemy.” Make them seem less than human. Call them savages, murderers, rapists, etc. White Americans did that to Native Americans. They did it to African American slaves. And even today, our own president does it to Mexicans and Central Americans. Gay people have been called sick and immoral, Muslims are all called terrorists. If you make your target seem “less than” it becomes easier to treat them badly. This is all part of morality. Convince yourself that some people are just evil and you can justify many things that maybe you normally wouldn’t. Morality is fluid. Our moral outlook fluctuates depending on a lot of criteria. While you wouldn’t think of taking a big stick and beating your neighbor who’s nice to you, that guy down the street who’s always playing loud music at midnight deserves a whacking. Fluid morality.

So why is morality fluid? It depends on how we feel. It depends on what we fear. One neighbor is nice to you, the other one isn’t. Does one deserve less than the other one? Or more? Why do we feel more compassion towards one than the other? We feel compassion for people who are starving because we feel they don’t deserve it. For a brutal murderer who gets life in prison we feel little compassion because after all, she killed someone. She deserves what she got. Fluid morality. Our feelings change with the situation. Is this a protection system built into our brains to protect us from what we fear? Does our moral code change with our feelings because our morality is our feelings?

These are questions I ponder. No wonder my mind is such a mess! This is the reason I write. To get all this stuff out of my head helps me think more clearly about it. I’m endlessly fascinated by the question of why people are the way they are. How they see good verses bad and why. And more importantly, how do we arrive at our moral values and what happens to change them? Fun stuff!

What Is Morality?

I’m about to start reading a book titled, “The Elements Of Moral Philosophy,” by James Rachels and Stuart Rachels. Now in it’s 9th edition, it is used as a text book by many Philosophy programs around the country. I’ve been thinking about morality lately, in light of all the current happenings in the U.S. such as the immigrant situation, our president, and famous people being arrested for seemingly immoral acts such as rape, wire fraud, theft by swindle, etc, etc. So the question is, what is morality? As far as laws are concerned, how is morality decided upon, and where does morality come from? Is my sense of morality the same as yours? If you’ve read philosophy you will understand that few if any books give you concrete answers. Often times they leave you with more questions. This is not a bad thing, however. Mostly I hope to find insights on what other people’s ideas on morality are. The more you know, as the T.V. commercial used to say, the more you know.

So what is morality? From the Oxford online dictionary we have this: “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behavior.” This definition pretty much leaves the question wide open. Purveyors of pyramid schemes believe it’s perfectly alright to cheat stupid people out of their money. We hear tales all the time of the elderly being cheated by con game artists. These people’s sense of morality tells them that this is okay. This differs sharply with the morality of honesty. So obviously morals differ from one person to the next. But how can this be? If my morality is different from yours, how do we both come by it? How do we arrive at two separate answers to the same question? I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that, but the question of how we each arrive at our own definition of what morality is, is fascinating.

Does religion play a part in morality? Do you get your morality from the god you believe in? Many people think so. One Christian preacher online said he believed that if he didn’t have a relationship with god he would be out raping and murdering. Thank god for his god, I guess. If morality comes from god, then what about all the people who don’t believe, that are good and decent people? And what about all the people who do believe that commit atrocities in society? The Dalai Lama says that his religion is kindness. That’s all, just be kind. But what is kindness? If a woman shoots her partner because she thinks she’s just too stupid to live, is she being kind? Putting her out of her misery? Maybe this is not a good example because most of us probably feel shooting someone would be immoral. But there are those who don’t. Is helping someone who doesn’t walk very well cross the street, kindness? These two examples are markedly different but both could be considered kindness from a certain point of view. So how do we decide what morality is and how do we argue the differences?

I believe morality is something you learn. From the beginning of your life through to the end, you are deciding what morality is. I believe it is based on many factors from how you are raised, the environment you are in, to the influences you are subjected to. Each person has their own idea of what being moral is. The laws of the U.S. are based on what the majority believes is moral. In some countries it is acceptable to behead some one for certain crimes. Others, it is not. If we got our morals from a god then we’d all think alike, wouldn’t we? If we were instilled with morality from a creator would we even need laws? Wouldn’t we just all simply know how to act? Our ideas of what is good or bad are based on what we think is good and bad for us personally.

Here’s a scenario: You are starving. You have no money and no way to get some. There are no places you can go to get free food. Is it immoral to steal a loaf of bread? And another: Your loved one is slowly dying from a terrible, painful disease. They ask you to end their life. Is it moral to end their suffering? To kill them. How do you decide? What is right in these situations, and what is not? This is what fascinates me about morality. How you come up with the answer says a lot about you as a person. If two people come up with two different answers, is one of them wrong? How do we know?

I don’t know why these things afflict me so, but I’m glad they do. To keep your mind working, especially as you get older is a very good thing. A discussion of morality is really good because these questions are hard to answer and yet many of our thoughts and actions are based on our personal morality, every day. Unfortunately, we spend very little time actually thinking about it. We don’t question our morality much. Most of us see a news item or hear something about something someone did and immediately we think we know whether or not it was right or wrong. But how do we know? That, is the question.

Six O’clock Song

These days I wake at 6 a.m., specifically to take my dog Sophie for a walk. There are two reasons for going this early; summer heat and Sophie’s intense dislike of other dogs. She had this lovely trait passed down to her by her mother, a full blood Malamute. Her father, a full blood Husky gave her unbounded energy and a curiosity of nearly everything. Together these things make her a formidable dog. She’s beautiful, with streaks of gray, black, and white and Sable around her ears and nearly white eyes. At 115 pounds with her outgoing personality she scares most people who don’t know her. I’ve never been able to teach her not to jump up to look you in the eyes. Mostly, when she does that it’s to smell your breath to see if you’ve eaten anything good recently. Her appetite matches her energy.

This morning we head West and cross Highway 3, two blocks from our house. Traffic is not a problem at this time of day, only a car or two to watch out for. In another half hour, it’ll be rush minute in our rural town. We live in Northfield, Minnesota, a town of about 20,000 people 40 miles south of the Twin Cities. Northfield’s claims to fame are the ending of the career of The Jesse James gang, and Carleton and St. Olaf colleges. We moved here two years ago when we bought my mom’s house, the very house I grew up in. Since that time my mom and my wife have both died, and now it’s just me and Sophie. Just when you think you know what you’re doing, life has a way of telling you you’re wrong. Onward and upward, they say.

Sophie and I head for the path that runs between the dog park and the Cannon river. We walk different paths nearly every day so Sophie has new things to sniff at and the scenery change keeps us both interested. The river has been high all summer. We’ve had copious amounts of rain this year and the trees and foliage along the river is lush and green. Various wildflowers poke their heads up here and there and wildlife is abundant. There are plenty of cottontail rabbits and squirrels to keep Sophie interested. If they get too close she lunges, jerking my arm and shoulder with her sled pulling power. At 7 1/2 years old she’s lost none of her youthful exuberance. Me, on the other hand, at 62, I wonder how much longer I can hold her back. We cross the river on the walk bridge and I notice the water level has come down some. The part of the path that has been flooded for much of the summer is visible again, now covered in mud. We head past the Kwik Trip and Walgreens and cross Highway 19. Crossing Highway 3 again, we walk along Ames park. The park is where the carnival for the Defeat of Jesse James Days sets up. The rest of the year it’s empty. Inhabited by Canada geese whose crap is everywhere, it’s not a popular park. The geese, more wary than ducks start running for the river the moment they see us. If dogs can smile, then Sophie is smiling, thinking she’s successfully run off all the geese. Another job well done.

Ducks on the other hand, are not so easily scared away as the geese are. We have several Mallard families living along the river and some days they barely get out of Sophie,s reach. Then they quack indignantly as if to say, this is our park buddy, leave us be! Among the Mallards there are at least 3 pure white ones. The internet tells me this is the result of wild Mallards breeding with domestic ducks. Another page said that most domestic ducks are Mallards, bred for certain traits, like the plain white color so these could be escapees. Who knows. With the considerable rainfall we’ve had this summer part of Riverside park has become a wetland. There has been permanent water in a large swath of it and the city has not mowed it. The ducks love it and this is another park that doesn’t see much use. I’m all in favor of the wetland, I hope it stays.

This morning we walk past Ames mill. Construction on the mill began in 1856 and was owned by John W. North, the founder of Northfield. In 1917 the Campbell’s cereal company bought the mill and the company wanted to make a hot breakfast cereal that would be different from the cream of wheat and farina cereals of the day. Adding Malt to wheat cereal produced Malt O Meal and the Ames mill in Northfield is the only place in the entire world where hot Malt O Meal cereal is made. Another claim to fame. The Malt O Meal company produces some of the most wonderful smells in the air. It reminds you of the smells of baking cookies or breads. When they’re making chocolate cereal, it’s even better. Crossing the river at Bridge square, we take a break on a park bench. On Bridge Square is a large fountain donated in part by the Sheldahl company, another Northfield claim to fame. Sheldahl, originally spelled Schjeldahl, the founders last name, has made aerospace products including material for the Apollo lunar landers and the Space Shuttle program as well as early satellites and many military applications.

Leaving Bridge Square we head down Water street just in time to see a fat Raccoon waddle up the street. Seeing us, it heads for a clump of thick bushes and stays there. Sophie will chase any animal that runs and they all run. There is a leash ordinance in Northfield and I’m a strict follower. I wish everyone felt that way. One evening Sophie and I were sitting on the deck enjoying the evening air when a family came walking with their dog. The dog was not on a leash. It charged into our yard right at Sophie who was on her cable. Sophie wasn’t having any of that and proceeded to tear up the dog pretty good. The next day a policeman stopped to ask for my version of the story. Apparently the family had to take their dog to the vet for stitches. I felt badly for the dog but my dog was tied up so we didn’t get into any trouble. Hopefully they will use a leash from now on.

We work our way back through the park and finally arrive at home. Before we moved here we lived on a lake near Faribault, a town about 12 miles away. My wife worked overnights and I would be dressed in my scrubs and ready for work when she came home. She felt safer with a big dog in the house while she slept. Ann would play really rough with Sophie, who loved it, growling and barking and rolling around. She misses that, I’m sure. After a big drink and some breakfast, Sophie settles down for a nap and I head to the computer for some writing. My being retired now, Sophie gets all the attention she needs. As I write this the heat of the day is rising. The temperature will approach 90 degrees today with the dewpoint at about 70, which is considered tropical. Today, we’ll stay inside.

Life moves in strange circles. Everything changes. In the 7 1/2 years that I’ve had Sophie, there have only been a handful of times that we’ve missed our morning walk. And yet each time we go something is always different. Trees, grass, shrubs, and wildlife are always there. We pass the occasional jogger or bicycler. Sometimes there’s a beaver along the river or like this morning, a raccoon. Ducks and Geese all summer and rain or snow in Winter. I enjoy our walks as much as she does, for the solitude and the scenery. Birds of various kinds, including eagles and hawks are sometimes seen and all these are indicators that our environment, at least for now, is still in good shape. We’ll keep walking for as long as we can and eventually, that will change. As with the seasons, lives change too. We will take it as it comes and adapt, for what other choice do we have?


….I heard a thump when I was in the shower, thought maybe someone was knocking on the door, hoped it wasn’t, checked when I got out, must have been the dog flopping down on the kitchen floor, waiting to get into the bathroom , the tile floor is so much cooler for her. Did I pay that damn electric bill, I can’t even remember doing it I’ll have to check, I need groceries, neighbors just got home from camping, must be camping because they were gone for about four days and they pulled a cooler out of the car, you don’t take a cooler if you’re staying in a hotel, well I wouldn’t so I guess I’m projecting, must have been camping, he hates everything so he probably hated camping. Think I should put up a rainbow flag on my flag pole just to piss him off, other neighbor is piling junk along the curb hoping other people will take it and they do because apparently they don’t have enough junk of their own, maybe I should do that and people can take my junk. Now leave me alone dog, can’t you see I’m busy, oh alright I’ll let you out…’s really nice out this morning but it’s going to get hot and humid again, this time for several days, that damned trump is at it again, jesus so many things going on, Venezuela, Palestine, Iran, what the hell, if they take my social security I’ll be screwed, that’s what I live on, well not right away I have some money squirreled away but not much I’d probably have to go back to work again and who’d hire me in my 60’s, what a frickin’ mess, why can’t the people in charge do something about this, this is not the government we’re supposed to have the whole worlds a huge mess and why is that, apathy that’s why people just don’t give a shit until it affects them then they’re pissed and can’t understand what happened because their head was in their cell phone this whole time and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and what I don’t know what’s happening and how did that happen I thought he was a good president….damn immigrants, immigrant song by Led Zeppelin, now there’s a great song too bad they don’t play anymore they must be in their 70’s like the Stones and all the rest, you’re still performing and they call your music classic that’s a hell of a deal, shit I got to vacuum again that damn dog sheds so bad, I still got to sort out all that shit in the garage and take it to the dump maybe I should put it on the curb maybe someone will take it home and if they don’t I’ll have to put it back in the garage and I’ll be no better off than I was so I think I’ll just take it to the dump, hot and humid the next five days the weather lady said, half the time she’s wrong but the grass will need mowing and I’ll have to do it in the heat if she’s right so she’ll be right because that’s my luck…I told one of my co workers back when I worked to try meditation because she said she was so distracted but she said she tried and couldn’t do that so this is my brain on life, remember that old tv commercial about this is your brain on drugs where they showed an egg frying in a pan, it’s like that our brains are too filled with junk, I guess maybe we should take it all to the curb….

My Old School

Next month I’ll be attending my 45th High School class reunion. I even volunteered to be on the planning committee. This will be the first High School reunion I’ve gone to. Today I’ve been thinking about the reasons why I’ve never been to one. What was it about school that made me not want to revisit those days? I’ve often wondered, as I’m sure many people do, what happened to some of my old school mates. I could probably have kept up with them through reunions but something always kept me away. It’s almost like I’ve had a phobia of school. So I’ve been thinking about that, and I’ll share some of those thoughts with you.

I got into a lot of trouble in school, but not in the way you might think. Whether it was grade school or Sunday school or high school, I got in trouble because I asked questions. Now you would think that school is the perfect place to ask questions and you’d be right. Unless you ask the wrong questions. Take for instance, History class. We learned all about American history, specifically European American history. We learned about the Doctrine of Discovery. And how this idea allows that Christian governments can occupy and claim for their own, lands that are occupied by non-Christian peoples. As Christians, it is their God given right to basically take what they want because they are on the side of God and those that aren’t, don’t count. I got in trouble over this because I wanted to know why it was okay to slaughter millions of Native Americans just so we could have their land. Once, I was told that if the Europeans hadn’t done that, I would never have been born, so I should be grateful that they did. Basically this means as long as I got what I wanted out of it, the rest of it shouldn’t matter. That excuse has been use for the fulfillment of most of the atrocities of history. I got a lot of lectures from teachers and principles in school.

As a child I attended Sunday school, Wednesday school and Confirmation classes in Middle school. At some time during all that I was taught that Hebrew law required all Rabbi’s to be married. This was an important part of being a Rabbi. I asked why Jesus wasn’t married. He was a Rabbi after all, the New Testament says so. He taught in the Synagogue. I was told that Jesus wasn’t married because he was the son of God. And I answered that Jesus was a Rabbi before anyone knew he was the son of God so, why wasn’t he married? I got in big trouble for that. In confirmation class I asked questions that my pastor couldn’t answer. He told me sometimes you have to take things on faith. “Well, no I don’t,” I answered. He looked at me thoughtfully and said, “Well you’re right, you don’t.” That was the first time I remember a teacher giving me an honest answer.

When I graduated High school I walked away without looking back. I didn’t have fond memories. I didn’t fit in. I wasn’t into sports, I wasn’t into joining. I wanted answers to questions that High school had no answers for. On my own throughout the years I’ve answered a lot of those questions by studying various teachers who would not be considered mainstream and definitely not accepted by the Education department of our government. To get my spiritual questions answered I went to Christianity and Buddhism, Paganism and no “ism” at all. And I have never once needed Algebra. As an adult I went to college to become a Medical Laboratory Technician. Had I had the money and time I would have continued my education on to Medical Laboratory Scientist which was only another two years from a Technician degree but it never happened. Going into the medical field allowed me to go to school and learn what I needed without all the extras that required education tacks on. Except for Algebra. I still had to do Algebra in college. (And I’ve still never needed it.)

So why go to a high school reunion after all these years? Hopefully we mature as we age. I’ve come to the point where if a person tells me they believe the exact opposite of what I believe I’ll say, “Well that’s nice, have a great day!” When I was young I wanted answers, I wanted to argue until I got them. I wanted to know. I wasn’t interested in being right in someone else’s eyes, I was interested in being right in my own mind. I am still interested in a good debate but the outcome of a debate should be to learn, not to be right. So I think the reunion will be fun. It will be good to see some folks I haven’t seen in a very long time. All the old drama that we thought was so important will be gone and we can simply enjoy seeing one another.

I had my head so filled with useless information in school that there were times I thought it might explode. I had to sift through it all, discard what I didn’t need and expound on what was useful. But you really can’t do that until you have a maturity level to know the difference. That’s what I’ve been doing since high school, in case anyone asks. Taking it all in, religion, politics, news and information, dissecting it all, looking for truth and discarding what is not helpful. Maybe someday, I’ll know something!

And We All Had A Real Good Time

In 1972, the Edgar Winter Group, a prominent rock and roll band of the time released an album titled, “They Only Come Out At Night.” On that album was a song titled, “We All Had A Real Good Time.” It was a party song about people coming together, playing music and enjoying life. It’s an appropriate title for this post also because at last nights music party we did indeed, all have a real good time.

Some time in the early 90’s my wife, who I had not met yet, answered an ad in the newspaper for singers for a 1960’s Dance Music Review band. She auditioned and joined the group. They were called, “The Boomerangs.” The band played many events in the area and garnered quite a following but in 1996 they broke up, as bands do. A couple years later, Bill, who was instrumental in forming the band started an annual reunion party for the group. It was to be acoustic instruments only, a backyard gathering of friends and family to celebrate music, the band, and just plain having fun. It’s been more than twenty years now, and the party is still going strong.

Probably somewhere between 70 and 80 people came to the annual party last night. There is always a plethora of musicians, both former members of the band and others. Plenty of guitar players, singers, bassists, (both guitar and stand-up) fiddles, sometimes a banjo or an accordion, and usually I’m the only one playing drums. Last night we had another drummer too. We play Rock and Roll from the 60’s and also folk, country and blues. For the last two years we’ve even had a traditional Irish music group play and for several years now we’ve had a guy who juggles fire. People bring food. Lot’s of food. It’s all free, and the mood is always festive but laid back. Lot’s of smiles and laughter, lots of handshakes and hugs. Lot’s of conversation. I’ve made more new friends at those parties than at any other time in my life. It’s one of those things that you wish you could do more often but if you did, it wouldn’t have the same meaning.

Many thanks to Bill and Janet for putting on a great gathering. Proving to me once again that music is the great moderator. Many people of many different backgrounds and beliefs can come together and forget for a while the troubles of our lives and simply have a real good time. And hopefully we’ll keep doing it for many years to come.

A Giant Meteor Is One Solution

Today is one of those days where I feel the need to write but I’ve no real idea what to write about. Isn’t that strange? If I feel the urge, shouldn’t there be a reason? Shouldn’t there be some idea trying desperately to get out? There should, but it’s hidden, like there’s another person in there keeping secrets from me. Sometimes communicating with myself is like trying to pry into someone else’s brain. Sometimes others just don’t want to talk to you. Sometimes, I don’t want to talk to me. I guess I’ll just ramble and see if anything reveals itself.

I was thinking recently about poverty in the U.S. The capitalist system we have here creates poverty. In a system where people can become billionaires, you will always have a segment of the people who live in poverty. If you were somehow able to get rid of all the people who live in poverty, the people in the next highest income bracket would then be the people in poverty. I looked up some statistics. The poverty level income in the U.S. in 2019 is, $12,490 per year, (Link) That’s a pretty low number. The average rent for a 1 bedroom apartment in 2018 is right around $1000 per month. (Link) Even with my rudimentary math skills I can see that you’re going to spend more than half to almost all of your yearly income on rent. So how does that work? How do you live with a minimum wage job? The answer is, you don’t. One of the reasons why unemployment is so low today is because a lot of people have more than one job.

I’ve always believed that in life, quality is more important than quantity. If you have to work two or more jobs just to survive, where is the quality in that? From these numbers it’s easy to see why we have the social problems that we do. Recently I watched the Democratic debates on television. All of the candidates have great ideas for fixing the problems but few solutions. When specific questions were asked about how each of them were going to accomplish their goals, very few of them had direct answers. One candidate said he would give everyone over the age of 18, $1000 dollars a month guaranteed income. Great idea, right? It doesn’t take much to see the problems involved in pulling that off. We’re full of great ideas, but not so many solutions. Unfortunately I don’t have any solutions either, so it’s easy to see why they don’t. The truth is, no system of government is perfect. All have their problems and the problems always stem from greed. Every government will always include some who will try to scam the system in their favor.

Sometimes I wish I didn’t think about these things. I wish I could just go stupidly through life not caring about anything. Life would be so much easier if I just didn’t care. Alas, that is not the way it is. And I don’t regret that. I want to care, and I want to do my part. I just wish sometimes I could turn it all off for a while. Say, take a vacation from my brain. Sit on a beach somewhere under the shade of a big umbrella drinking boat drinks and thinking of nothing but the waves on the deep blue sea and what I might have for lunch. Ahh, can you see it? Not a care in the world. Again alas, that is not the way it is. So here we are, in the midst of our troubled world trying to figure out what to do next. Anyone in favor of a giant meteor?

The Things We Have

Two years ago in May, I bought my parents house from my mom who at 87 wanted to move to a smaller place. The house that she had spent more than 60 years in was getting to be too much for her to take care of, so at 60 years old, I came back to the home I was raised in. It felt good to do it for a number of reasons, chief among them was that I loved this old place and the neighborhood around it. I have a lot of good memories of growing up here. When my mom moved, she took only what she could fit into a one bedroom apartment. The rest, she left here for me to deal with. For your children to be able to take care of you in your old age is a blessing so who can blame her? Since she died I have been going through her things trying to decide what to do with it all. It has been a real eye opener to discover all the things my parents accumulated over the years.

My mom and dad were born in 1930 and 1929, respectively. Their childhood was during the Great Depression. As history shows us, the depression was a time of great need, and great want. For common working folks it was a tough time. My dad grew up very poor, and my mom’s family had what they needed, but little more. Families valued what they had, fixed what broke and accumulated what they could for future need. Little was wasted. It is evident that my parents learned that lesson very well. This week I rented a dumpster to clean out the house. It’s 20 feet by 8 feet by 4 feet deep. I have it 3/4 full and there is still more stuff to sort through. I understand the reasons why they accumulated so much. They both did well in their working life and had the money to buy what they wanted. Having the freedom to buy what you want as opposed to stretching every dollar must have felt pretty good. I have been through some tough times of my own so I know how that feels. And they weren’t extravagant. They didn’t buy foolishly just because they could. What they did do however, or didn’t do, was throw anything away. In going through their things I have found lamps, and toasters, and coffee makers and hundreds of other things going all the way back to my childhood. When they replaced something they put the old one in the basement. Or the garage or the shed or wherever it would fit. You never know when you might need it.

I have offered some things for sale. I’m also donating things to charities. And yet I still have so much to dispose of. I’m not one who cares overly much about money so having a yard sale is out of the question. It’s way too much work for too little gain. But that’s not the point of this story. The point is, we have too much stuff. We have become a consumerist society where everything you want or need can be had at the click of a button. And you don’t need money when you have a credit card. Or two or three. Credit cards are easy to come by now days and credit debt in the U.S. is huge. Unpaid revolving consumer debt is at 4.1 trillion dollars! We have too much stuff. And don’t get me wrong, I’m just as guilty as anyone else. Getting rid of all the stuff my parents collected over the years has helped me see that I also have too much stuff. So I’m getting rid of all my own junk as well. And it feels good.

It sort of feels like lifting a weight off my shoulders. The less stuff I have the less I have to worry about. I highly recommend this to everyone. Go through your stuff. Get rid of what you don’t need. Donate it or throw it away. You don’t need it. It especially feels good considering the homeless situation in the U.S. today. At a time when people don’t even have a home some of us are cramming as much stuff into ours as we can get. It just doesn’t seem right. So I’m taking a good look at all I own and disposing of what I don’t need. And it really does feel good. Less is more, it is said.

Another Northward Trek

Sunlight filters through the yellow curtains of my cabin bedroom, filling the room with a warm, diffused light. Loons call hauntingly from the lake, as a cool morning breeze finds its way through my open window. I stir slowly, turn over and stretch, noticing the smoke smell from last night’s camp fire on my clothes, draped over a chair in the corner. This is typically how I wake up when I spend time in the north woods of Minnesota. I go each year to Big Balsam Camp. It is a place my wife’s parents started going to in the late 1950’s. They were farmers and when they got their crops in the ground in Spring the headed north for a week of fishing. The kids enjoyed it as a vacation but to John, my wife’s Irish father, it was for fishing. To bring back as many fish as the state allowed was to put more food on the table. He taught Ann how to spot sunfish beds during spawning, how to drive a boat, clean a fish, bait a hook and tease a fish just right so they take the bait. She was a fisherman farmers daughter, and proud of it.

Last year’s trip, the first without my wife was bittersweet. We celebrated her life and were so glad we could all come to the lake. We left her ashes there. This year, only my youngest son Thomas and my oldest granddaughter Brenna were able to go. Never the less, we had a good time. Thomas regaled us with 1930’s swing music and stories of his work and the latest video games while Brenna texted her boyfriend whenever she had a weak phone signal and took pictures of everything that held still long enough and some that didn’t. She’s becoming quite a good photographer. We fished, we took road trips, and evening rides on local back roads looking for wild life. You don’t have to look far. There are plenty of deer everywhere. This year there were a lot of spotted fawns and instead of running into the woods when they see you they are more curious than anything. They’ll stand and stare or race along side your car while you drive. We take the top off the Jeep and Brenna stands on the passenger seat taking photos of everything. And we saw a family of baby foxes this year. They are fuzzy, playful and cute. We weren’t able to get good pictures of them, however.

This year the three of us went to Ely. Ely is in the Vermilion Iron Range of Minnesota and is known as the Gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. While we were there we visited the North American Bear Center and The International Wolf Center. If you ever want to go to where the road ends, Ely is the place. The highway that leads there ends a few miles beyond Ely at a parking area in the woods at a lake. You can drive no further. Beyond is lakes, streams and woods. No motors allowed. So the only way in is with canoe’s or kayaks. It is one of the few true wilderness areas left in the U.S.

The Bears and Wolves in their respective centers live in areas where they have several acres of woodland to roam. This year the bears were getting an upgrade to their pond so they had to be kept in penned in areas when we saw them. They eat peanuts right out of the workers hands and have to contend with chipmunks trying to steal them!

We also spent a day in Duluth. Duluth is the terminus of the Saint Lawrence Seaway and is the furthest inland port in the world. The day we were there they were getting ready for the Grandmas Marathon. Grandmas Marathon has taken place since 1977 with runners from all over the world competing.

The lighthouse with the red roof is the spot where I asked Annie to marry me. She said yes! The lift bridge raises up and down everyday letting boats and ships from all over the world into and out of the harbor.

We had a nice relaxing time in the north woods. Remembering our past trips, relaxing around the fire and generally just taking life easy. In August, one part on Annie’s family goes to Big Balsam Camp and occupies every cabin in the place. The world famous artist, Mary Pettis is Annie’s cousin and she will be there too. Brenna and I may go back then. It always takes me a day or two to get back to normal life when I get back from up north. This morning when I woke up I listened for the loons to call across the lake. Remembering then where I was, I realized I wouldn’t hear them. Instead, I heard a car drive by my house. Heavy sigh.

What Scares You?

In my last post, (right below this one) I wrote about how I thought we were killing ourselves with all the crap we’ve put in our water, air and soil. So since we’re on that subject, let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about death. I can already hear what you’re thinking. “I’m not reading the rest of this post.” But c’mon, this is something most people don’t want to talk about but they really should. I mean, we’re all going to die, right? And we all know that, so what’s the problem? We should talk about it.

Now I’ll repeat something I just said. We are all going to die. Roll that around in your mind a little while. “We are all going to die.” (Why, why does he have to keep repeating that?) For a lot of people, I would venture to say, most people, death is not a cocktail party conversation topic. Not that I’ve ever went to a cocktail party, but you get my drift. Can you picture it? A bunch of people sitting around in their casual wear, sipping martini’s and Bruce says, “Hey guys, lets talk about death!” I’m pretty sure Bruce would not get invited to the next party. Most of us like being alive. We like believing we’re going to wake up tomorrow and carry out the plans we’ve made. And why not? We make plans. No one thinks, “No sense planning on tomorrow, I might be dead.”

But it scares us. It really does. If you’ve ever seen a survey or something like that, where people are asked what scares them most you’ll find all kinds of answers like spiders or snakes or whatever but almost no one says death scares them the most. This is funny because I can guarantee you that death is profoundly more scary to most people than spiders or snakes. But people don’t even like using the word. And dying is so far removed from most peoples minds that it doesn’t even register when they’re asked, what scares them most. So what is it about death that scares people? The loss of their life, certainly. We like life, for the most part and we don’t want it to go away. But more than that I think it is fear of the unknown.

And the unknown of death is huge. A question many people have wondered at is, is there an afterlife? This has been asked and thought about since the beginning of time. Many religions have tried to answer this question by claiming that there is. In Christianity for instance, the afterlife is talked about a lot. Heaven is explained and described. And all good Christians will go there. It will be beautiful, peaceful, and without fear or want. The streets will be paved in gold (ghastly). And yet, in my own experience, the people who are most afraid of death are the ones I know who are Christian. Think about that for a minute. The people I know who believe in Heaven are the ones who are most scared of death. One woman I know couldn’t talk about death or even listen to a conversation about it. It scared her that much. I asked her if she believed she would go to heaven when she died and she said yes. Then why did it scare her so? She said she didn’t understand that, it just did. All other Christians I know felt like her. Maybe not to her extreme but death scared the hell out of them.

There have been lots of books written about death. A quick Google search produces many titles and I often wonder how well those books have done. Who buys a book about death? I don’t think many of them are given as gifts, do you? “Happy Birthday dear, since you’re going to die someday, I thought you might like this book.” No, I can’t see it. But maybe we should talk about it. Anything you fear is a burden and makes your life a little less enjoyable. Sometimes we are encouraged to think about death. Preparing a will requires thinking about death. Not exactly the death part, but at least preparing for its eventuality. But more than that, we should at least try to get a little more comfortable with it. I mean, it’s going to happen, right?

We’ve all heard the stories about people dying during an operation and having an experience of heaven. I think someone even made a movie about it, certainly a book. The problem I have with these stories is that we know so little about our own brains, how do we know that these heaven trips didn’t happen in the person’s head? We really don’t. I’ve had dreams that were so vivid that when I woke up I questioned if they really happened. The experience left me confused and disoriented, and yet I realized later that it was just a dream. Who knows?

I don’t know how to tell you how to become more comfortable with death. A fear of the unknown is not something I suffer from. Humans are creatures of curiosity. We have a need to know so I would think that people would be a little less afraid of the unknown. But not when it comes to death. People don’t want to know. It’s not something I look forward to but when it happens, I’ll welcome the journey, wherever it leads.

Are We Healthy?

I walk my dog Sophie, every morning. Even though I’m retired I set my alarm and get up at 6:00 a.m. to take her out for exercise. Why, you ask? Why get up so early to take Fido for a stroll? Well, simply put, my dog is an ass when it comes to other dogs. She doesn’t like them, and will try to go after them if she can. I don’t feel like being sued because she wants to fight. So, we get up early because this town is overflowing with dogs. Everyone it seems, has a dog. Or two. But most people don’t get up at 6:00 in the morning to walk them. Besides, it’s a beautiful time of day. Being the coolest part of the day year round, I like it a lot better in the summer. Anyway, Sophie’s disposition is not what this article is about.

Some mornings we walk past our local health food co-op. This morning as we went by, I noticed a rack of magazines through the window. All of them were some type of health magazine. Organic cooking, healthy lifestyles, etc. It brought to my attention just how enormous the health industry really is. Yoga classes, health clubs, health foods, healthy lifestyles, books and magazines and so on. And of course, it all costs money. A lot of money. The overall health industry rakes in billions of dollars annually. “Try this diet.” “Follow these 10 healthful tips for a better life.” “Read this book for the secret to a healthy life.” We see this every day. Television, radio, and social media are absolutely bombarded with ads for everything healthy. But are we healthier? Are the billions that people spend on getting healthier actually getting us healthier?

Personally I think we closed the door on any long term human existence on July 16th, 1945 with the culmination of the Manhattan project, resulting in the first Atomic bomb explosion in the deserts of New Mexico. I mean seriously, how do we know what the long term results of that will be? For all we know it could have affected some lizard which is now incubating under ground and will eventually turn into Godzilla and end up eating most of Arizona. How do we know whether or not we’ll all die from radiation poisoning? How do we know what’s causing the proliferation of cancer throughout the world? How do we know it didn’t come from nuclear testing? We don’t.

Organic foods cost more than non-organic. Capitalism guarantees it. Anything that people want in great quantities is going to be expensive. This pretty much also guarantees that people living at or below the poverty level cannot afford organic food. Even at McDonald’s a non-organic salad is more expensive than a Big Mac so just eating healthier in general is more costly. While I’m not going to get into the evils of Capitalism because this is not a political post, it just seems to me that we should be promoting health and healthy living better than we are. But in the good old USA, if you want it, it’s going to cost you.

The Mayo Clinic has a pretty good article on organic foods. You can read it here. The fact is, there’s hardly any research showing that any of this is doing us much good. Something interesting to note is that all those magazines that tell you how to be healthier are printed on some of the most toxic paper ever made. Glossy magazines don’t use recycled paper because they can’t get the quality they’re after, but they do use lots of toxic ink and glue. Have you ever stuck your nose into one? It makes you feel like you need oxygen afterward. I hate to be a Debbie Downer but I think we’re killing ourselves with a smile on our faces. We practice yoga and meditation while poisoning ourselves. And what can we do about it? Nothing. Now remember, this is just my opinion. But I think we have already put so much crap into our air, water and soil that organic foods are not going to help. If I want to start an organic farm I have to follow all kinds of government regulations to do so. At high cost. And remember kids, this is the same government which has been pumping tons of shit into the environment for decades. If you don’t want to pump shit into the environment, it’s going to cost you. Makes perfect sense, right?

I’d like to end this article on a positive note. Personally, I think quality of life is more important than quantity. If you don’t want to spend an hour on the toilet wrestling with your colon, don’t eat junk food. Just don’t get to excited by all the healthy living fads. Eat good food, live a good life. Relax.

The Window

Why the window? Good question,that. Why choose “The Window” as a name for my website? Windows it seems, are important to people. We need them. We need light and air in our homes. We need to see. The view out our windows is important. Some people build their homes based on the view out the windows. Did you know that there is a list on the website “Ranker” of 50+ movies with the word “window” in the title? And another list of 50+ song titles. What is it about windows that we find so important, so intriguing? If you do a web search of windows you’ll find tons of information, as you will for nearly everything, but interestingly, the window has been used as metaphor more often than most other things. Why is this, do you think?

“The eyes are the window of the soul,” “A window to another world.” These sayings and more all encompass the window as a gateway of sorts. Windows can also be thought of as dividers or barriers to whatever is on the other side. Like a skin you can see through. Open that window, and you let in whatever is out there. Safety perhaps; a closed window keeps out the storm. Or a means of escape; climbing through the window to freedom, or love, or mystery. From, “The Raven,” by Edgar Allen Poe: “Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter, in there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore” The window, as a metaphor has been used for countless reasons. A window into the mind is a metaphor for seeing or perceiving someone’s thoughts, emotions or motives. Looking, seeing, perceiving. All use the window as a device.

I have used the window in more than a few of my poems and stories. A quick search of the website shows 56 posts with the word, “window” in them. Some of it was metaphor, some not. For whatever the reasons, we seem to like the image of a window. Either an actual window, or the image that it portrays, the meaning behind it, what it stands for.

So those are the reasons for using the window as the name of this blog. Those and others I can’t even think of. I’ve had great conversations through windows. I’ve yelled in anger, out of them. I’ve climbed in through windows and snuck out of them. I have dumped dish water out a window and emptied a chamber pot as well. I have let in the breeze and the rain. I have stuck my head and torso out a window in a raging storm. The window is a metaphor for so many things that it just seemed the perfect vehicle for the blog. I’ve written about so many subjects that any other name would have been inadequate. When you read this blog you’re opening a window. You never know what you’ll let inside.

Life As It Comes

Pain is a constant companion. On November 24th, 1972, I was involved in a car accident. I was 16 years old, a Junior in high school and I fractured a few of my lower lumbar vertebra. The swelling was so bad that my spinal chord was squeezed to the point of my not being able to move or feel from the waist down. After about 3 weeks I slowly got the feeling back but standing and walking was extremely painful. I had to wear a brace with big steel bars up the back for support. I spent a month in the hospital and another month at home before I could return to school. I have suffered with back pain and sciatica ever since. Regaining the movement that I had until then taken for granted took many more months. I have learned to live with the pain.

Now in my 60’s, I find that I’m getting arthritis. My grandmother on my dad’s side had it so bad that she could barely move on her own. I often wondered if I could inherit that. I’ve had it in my lower back for some time but within the last few years it has developed in my hips and hands. I play hand percussion and fool around with bass guitar but as time goes on those things are becoming more painful. As I am well familiar with pain it is not a surprise or necessarily a burden. Because of my back I have always had to be innovative in how I do things. So the new pain just presents more challenges for how to get things done with the least amount of suffering. I don’t like taking medication so I find other ways of working around it. Some days are just too much however, So I take pain reliever like Ibuprofen.

The joints in the fingers on my left hand make a crunching noise when I make a fist. Some days they hurt so bad I can’t make that fist. I know I’ll have to go to the Doctor soon and probably will take meds to alleviate some of that. I’m not so much worried about the pain as I am worried about the loss of movement. I really like my hands. And I like using them. Who doesn’t, right? And the pain in my hips may not be arthritis but a deteriorating joint. Yay, that sounds better! It is said that age and experience brings wisdom which is great but they leave out the part about your body falling apart. And of course, with the wonderful state of our health care system and insurance, it’ll cost more money than some countries GDP. Can’t wait for that.

Physical pain is a natural part of life. So of course, is emotional pain. All of us have to deal with pain of one kind or another. How we deal with it is important to our overall physical and emotional well being. I think of pain, physical and emotional as a natural part of existence. I don’t think of it as something to be avoided, but something to be dealt with. I, like most people, want less pain so I do things or don’t do things accordingly. Or I change how I do things. Sometimes the change is drastic, like not playing bass anymore. I only started playing bass about a year and a half ago but pushing down on the strings is really getting painful and to continue doing it will only make things worse. I like playing bass, but it’s not something I’m going to be able to continue with. Sometimes changes are not as drastic as that. Like changing how I pick things up. Using my middle finger as opposed to my pointer. I don’t mind change. It keeps the mind sharp.

All this I guess is to say that change happens. Looking at something not necessarily as bad, but different, can contribute to a more stable emotional well being. Pain is not bad, it’s just different than not having pain. Good and bad are just concepts that you agree with. If you can view something as different instead of bad, it helps you think about it in a more constructive way. Now I know that the pain I’ve suffered has not been debilitating. That’s not what I’m talking about. If I ever reach that point I believe I’ll figure out how to deal with that as well. Dealing with pain for me is like dealing with anything else. Whatever comes my way, I look at it, study it and figure out what to do or not do about it. If I can get the pain to go away, that’s great. If not, I’ll figure out how to live with it. What else can you do?

Summer Heat

I despise hot weather. I live in Minnesota and many people here can’t wait for summer to arrive after a long cold Winter. Me, not so much. I love Spring and Fall when the temperature is mild (around 60 degrees Fahrenheit) and the sun on your shoulders feels good. But when that sun starts to cause pain, like the cold air does in Winter, I head for the shade, with a fan blowing or even air conditioning. Now I don’t like AC but if the alternative is blistering heat well, I’ll take the AC. People in Minnesota flock to the beach in summer to soak up the rays and get a tan. Not me. I will no more hang out in the sun in summer than stand in 30 below Winter air without a coat on.

The difference I feel, between Summer and Winter is this: I can go outside in Winter with a coat, boots, hat and gloves and if I stay active, I will stay warm. In Summer when it’s 90 degrees outside, with high humidity like we often get here, there’s nothing you can do to stay cool. It’s just hot and I’m miserable. It saps all my energy, it dull my mind and I get cranky. I hate sweating and feeling damp. It makes me feel prickly and itchy and rashy. I know, rashy is not a word. The only reason I stay here is because I’ve got family and friends.

I used to know a woman from Florida. She tried to tell me it was the same as living in Minnesota. “We just stay inside during the hottest months like you do in Winter,” she said. “Wrong,” I said. We Minnesotans are outside a lot in Winter. There is a multitude of Winter activities that people take part in. Skiing, snowboarding, skating, snowshoeing, hiking, ice fishing, snowmobiling, and lots of Winter celebrations all over the state. We are outside all throughout the Winter whereas in Summer in places like Florida when it’s really hot and humid well, you can’t escape that unless you stay indoors.

I’ve thought about moving further North. Northern Minnesota is beautiful with it’s Pine forests and thousands of lakes. But I would sorely miss my family and friends. And they, me. So here I stay. And I’ll be hot and miserable until the temperature gets below 65 and stays there. Oh well.