Learning and Unlearning…

outhouse“Education is what survives when what has been learned has been forgotten.” – B. F. Skinner

There is a strong and resilient tradition of anti-intellectualism in America. It attributes vanity, pride and ignorance to too much learning, and takes pride in a lack of formal learning that avoids ignorance.

American anti-intellectualism is a natural response to the rejection of elitism (that birth or privilege determines value in life and society) and the strong democratic spirit of America’s history. (Yes, it sounds like a topic we’d hear in intellectual circles, and that’s ironic). There is a ‘common sense’ and ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident’ that’s as ordinary as the nose on one’s face.

It’s an everyday ‘smart’ that differs from being book-smart. And it routinely warns that books and education can easily ruin a good and get in the way of common sense. Sometimes.

So a young man went off to the university to study geology. He returned after his first year and warned his dad that the well was too close to the outhouse. The dad replied that the boy didn’t know what he was talking about and insisted that the well was fine where it was. The same thing happened after the boy’s second and third years of studying geology, and the dad said the boy only had ‘book education’ but not ‘life learning’ and said he wouldn’t listen until the boy had accomplished something.

After the boy returned with his degree in hand and made his case, once again – that the well was too close to the outhouse and that the family’s fresh water supply could be polluted by the outhouse – the dad finally relented.

He moved the outhouse and a week later the well dried up.

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The Truer Truth… to begin…

Begin

“There are few nudities so objectionable as the naked truth.” – Agnes Repplier

It’s time.

It’s time to transform our lives—from the ordinary that shouldn’t have become normal for people like us to the life we’ve hoped for.

It’s time to live our hopes.

Solomon said there’s a time for everything.

Everything.

That means we always live in the time for something.

And now is our time.

No more excuses, no more delays, no better-things to do. In a voyeuristic culture, in a voyeuristic world, and in the mind-game of ‘I like to watch’ it’s time to do something worth watching.

And we are ready.

It’s our time to do something worth watching.

We’re ready for whatever is next because what’s next is all we’ve got.

The past can’t be changed. We can play with it, or twist it, but if we try to ignore it we will be haunted by it. It won’t go away.

The present—our now—is ephemeral. It’s worse than brief, faster than fleeting; it’s timeless and seductive. And it’s gone… just like that. If we listen closely we can hear it laughing at us, mocking us.

What’s next is all we’ve got.

And what’s is next is up to us.

It’s time.

Our time.

Our timeThis is the truer truth.

Oh, Hell I Guess…

dante-inferno
Dante has his seven circles
Homer his Hades, Isaiah his Sheol,
Jesus a Gehenna of unquenchable fires,
Muhammad a threatening Jahannam,
and John a Lake of sulfuric Fire
for a Disney Land of torturous pain
too much for old-school ameliorists
just wishing for annihilation or the
Great Nothing which means so much
more nothing when capitalized, and
it’s Joseph who gives us two hells – one
temporary for pain and anguish in-between
and romantically tolerable like another
purgatory, but the other a serious forever
of outer darkness for Saints gone astray
or souls beyond their reach or anyone’s;

we have nothing of the kind today,
no gnashing of teeth, unquenchable fire
to torment the wicked and straighten
our ways today by some pragmatic and
self-audited karma of paying it forward
to match the bitch of being paid back,
or peril of judgment tomorrow or
the childhood threat of Santa keeping lists,
instead we have dreams of nothing
like falling asleep – a long rest
or life simply not being so complicated,
a benign-ness beyond feeling, even a light
that everyone wants to walk toward
all met by the certainty of some
that the world is ever-worse
because hell is no more and you’ll see;

but what if – and this is what sticks – what if
even a hint is true of the unknowable,
that’s Pascal’s wager I guess because that’s
all it can be – a guess of what I should
or ought or must do today
while Joseph’s haunting outer darkness
makes me wonder of an even more
lost and irredeemable wilderness,
something beyond the imagination
and that’s what keeps me wanting,
guessing, believing there is more to
believing than believing in hell.

How we do things with words…

Only Words

The Philosopher says there are only words,
only ways of saying what can’t be said
about things like toast and coffee and love
and you and us, and somehow this should
make me feel better about how my words
trail off into air, into nothingness, but
when they were spoken, even thoughtlessly,
they were loud and important and true,
and the games we played with our words
that excited us then we reminisce over now,
those lisps of titles, and the laughs which
are certainly words and not just noises,
when a simple yes was amatory and
I waited to hear your voice say my name.

All history, no life…

Only a Past

The man begging at the monument’s facade
has no future to imagine but only a past,
as pretenders to writing fear the blank page
praying for a prompt of creative forecast,
as history is inevitable providence to the faithless
afraid of the unknown of our choices
and Pollyannaish wishes cloud the gray matter
silencing all of doubt’s voices;
when will those who need to, learn to learn
and let those who cry, cry
when will old dogs find new tricks to love
until the day they must die.

I’d prefer not to die…

Ode Not to Dying

In this poem no one will die
no one is sick or will grieve
it’s not that everyone’s blissful
for that would be a silly lie
but we could use a reprieve
from the funereal hymnal.

This could be about life or joy
pleasant parks, a May flower
yet some don’t love Spring
allergies and rain may annoy
for some it’s love turned sour
or that they’re denied a ring.

Can-do bravery is pleasing
psalms of life, into the valley
when others perish bravely
we’re moved to day seizing
coup de grâce to de foudre
lifely lived, lively not gravely.

But I’m Irish – death’s our theme
the grave the cradle’s twin
gentle Lady silenced by Joyce
Heanley’s Naturalist midstream
Yeats killed off Paddy Flynn
Wilde at the grave’s lost voice.

But I’ve promised no decay
disease, mortality or demise
instead we’ll think of the morn
and life as a grand parfait
beauty we will not despise
nor emote so as to mourn.

So here is the happy end
ever after, fondly, cheerful
hoping you feel better with this
and sleep better, life commend
laughing instead of tearful
and not dying (today) is bliss.

Then there is the miracle
when death is itself done in
but how often does that occur;
hope is fine, gullibility satirical
and none escapes original sin
for death one may not defer.

The stream that’s never the same…

That stream – the one that’s never
the same stepped-in twice,
at the same bend, with the same
sameness – will not refuse my dabbling
toe; she will yield to me, and I to her,
not out of pity or sheer desire,
but because we have
agreed not to continue the charade
of indeterminate, transient mockery
that idles youth, corrupts good
and haunts the aged.

There are nouns after all – persons,
places, things – that are, not because
of forms but in sentences which are
like streams with dabbling toes
and bubbling eddies, shapely bends;
so inviting and seducing, calling
with her come hither of comeliness.
Yes, the waters flow, the bed and silt
are stirred and is upset by every touch
of my foot but I step into the flux
and flow nonetheless, I stoop to
cup her cool waters and sip contentedly
for she yields to me and I to her,
but unhurried, unchasing motion
in symbiosis as we move together
in rhythm – our panta rei –
joined freely in flow.

Let those who scold and chide
these many, many years continue
their fluxing prater of fuel and flame,
for we, my stream and I, have come to
an understanding and will agree to
agree that this day we are the one;
her cool waters are as real as
my weary step – sensations rippling
in her as much as me,
as tangible as the rush and tingle which
tickle my limb and stir her bed in swirls
of sediment twisted awake from slumber
dancing along current and wake we have
made together in our covenant today.

The guy who brings in the grocery carts…

grocery cartsYou know him… sort of… probably not by name… but sort of… the guy who is sent out into the parking lot to bring in all the grocery carts because there aren’t enough carts for the new shoppers (except, maybe, the carts with bad wheels or the two carts stuck together). Yeah, that guy… you know him… sort of…

Edward and Charlie
The bright orange vest is florescent
and carries a nametag, ‘Edward’ in bold
block letters drawn with permanent
marker but he answers to Charlie with
a blank, silent gaze and simply, slowly
begins the task requested by a manager’s
learned gentleness of kindly caution
not shared with others; there’s a story
to Charlie’s life, maybe even a family
of Mom or a sister and probably some
disappointment or settling for what
came their way and fighting with this
strange, foreign thing called gratitude;
his anti-social shyness earns him an
odd reaction from most because he’s
almost seven feet tall with an uneven
haircut and only parts of his face carry
a beard of Pollock-like design that’s
mesmerizing, they stare up at Charlie
who gathers their emptied carts strewn
about the lot on a frigid, wintery day,
over and over again as shoppers justifiably
leave them wherever inconvenience
demands in haste and frustration, and
Charlie is, again, in the far corner
as he’s paged from inside the warm store
to no avail because he’s already set to the
task and because they’re calling for
someone named ‘Edward.’

What I learned as a teacher…

stonerOnce upon a time I held a romantic dream of fame and fortune in higher education. (Stop laughing….)

This was outlandish for a high school dropout, but I was undeterred by my own story. It was more of a dream for me than all or any of you – as you dutifully marched through grades and degrees while I dallied and dillied in my deficient disorder. And with effort – more than so many alongside – I arrived, burned brightly for a few years, and have dimmed ever since. But that’s my story.

There are few ‘good reads’ about such things, and with good reason. There are only a few of us who dream such foolishness (limited market), and our dream is unbelievable or undesirable (to the market). One exception is an oddly titled narrative from John Willaims – Stoner (http://goo.gl/luA0Wd). Ever heard of it? (Didn’t think so.)

In the meantime, here’s something about what I learned as a teacher…

Great Things
I spent my life doing great things
at least in my own eyes;
better words, deeper thoughts,
longer books; languages, authors
and thinking things people didn’t
think because it hurt to do so, but
I enjoyed the pain and wanted
more, to learn just to learn
and speak and write out of joy,
not compulsion or guilt,
with my delight, sometimes
out of understanding, often
just because I was contagious
in the way I loved finding out
there is so much more to
be found out, so much more;
I spent my life doing great things
and some of them were very good,
even kind because of education’s
gentle touch, so unknown, so
mysterious, when teacher is
learner and students evaluate
with agreeing nods and notes
of I can’t imagine what – what
was said worth writing down
is the mystery because this
won’t be on the test, it will
only be in this classroom,
in this moment important
because I made it seem like
the entire world was waiting
to hear what it depended on;
I spent my life doing great things
and at times I was paid to do
the things I knew were great,
but more often I had to fit them in,
in between the labor and burdens
and ordinariness of women and men
who refused to know what was new
to be known and preferred
to repeat what they’d heard
another pretend lover say
from notes composed over
a score past, including humor
to connect with the dead or
dying and good grades were
in rote memorization of
names, dates and the teacher’s
words that filled in blanks
he created like a crossword
of life and death without
real consequence, only tenure;
I spent my life doing great things
and there are still so many
great things to do but it’s
become too difficult – the fight
for space to breath, and I need
air more than money, and
money more than books now,
and that alone makes me cry;
seeing others do what I love
to do and make a living at it
but eager to retire, to quit and
I’d give anything, anything just
to have the chance, once again,
to live the life of a learner,
indebted to all there is to know.

A wordy perversion of diversion…

scrabbleWords hide what can only be said.

Workman by Day
A nobody to professors, a workman by day
this subtly ordinary man said we write
(if we do) for others and not ourselves;
a simple diversion for the wordy perversion
making things fit snug like a girdle once did,
hiding things curvy, restraining and deceiving
the favors like adverbs for our great, untidied
neighbors, their reading a passion for our
weakened fashion of night’s haunts which
scare us awake and forced one to contemplate
the nightmares of failures and adult scares
which only verse hides what sunlight chides.