The Calendar Persists

Another beautiful day in the neighborhood. Sun shining, bees buzzing, butterflies looking for love. “What Bear?”

“You said something about snow.”

“I’m not in charge, little one. Anyway if it snows it won’t be until Sunday.” I don’t know how to tell her they’ve reduced the “odds” in the meteorological crapshoot that is weather forecasting. I guess I’ll just kind of let the thing drop and see what happens.

“But it will snow?”

“I think it might, but I’m not sure.”

“I don’t understand anything you just said.” She walks off.

And that, right there, explains why some people run for office and win. They come out with definitive promises that things will happen. I won’t do that to Bear unless I really do KNOW something. She is capable of disappointment. She realizes that what’s happening is not what she wants, hangs her head and goes to lie down in one of her cool spots. Cool in matters of temperature and because she’s there. 😉

The picture on my Grandma’s wall

I don’t have much to say (“Whoa, no, you don’t mean it!!!”) but I shall persist, undaunted like the brave soldier that I am (what???).

I learned this morning that today is “Good Friday.” Then I realized that yesterday was my ONE Holy Day in the Christian calendar. I don’t know if it’s my holy day because of the cheap paper print of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane my grandma had on her living room wall or the sudden perception (satori?) I had long ago that maybe Jesus didn’t want to fulfill the prophecy. Maybe he really liked his life here on Earth and would have preferred to stay in the beautiful garden. In my mind/interpretation he was scared, sad and very aware of the beauty of the Earth, because, dammit, we like it here.

My Easter service for years was a hike on Maundy Thursday, intentionally, with the idea of paying attention. But yesterday I just took Bear for a walk and didn’t think for a moment about the Christian calendar. Calendars are arbitrary anyway.

West Frisco Creek Trail

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks—who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going à la Sainte Terre,” to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea. But I prefer the first, which, indeed, is the most probable derivation. For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels. Henry David Thoreau, “Walking.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/04/10/rdp-friday-finally/

Nothing Pedestrian About It

I am a pedestrian. I walk. I’m not the first and, god-wiling, not the last of the species to make this claim, even to make this one. I love to walk. Love. Yep.

My dad had Multiple Sclerosis and had problems walking that got worse with time. Watching him struggle and persist probably contributed to my early sense that being able to walk is not to be taken for granted. That knowledge has been affirmed many times by my own mobility problems, two hips that went south and various injuries. My mom didn’t like walking, but she HAD walked to school in 40 below degrees with newspapers in her hand-me-down shoes, her feet in hand knit socks. It wasn’t “uphill both ways,” it was legit, but I did hear a lot about it. I never had to walk to school in 40 below, but 10 below is no picnic. But you do walk fast.

Some of my sweetest memories from childhood involve walking home from school with my brother over a little mesa where the wind blew like a, like a, oh well, like it does here. My mom knitted us short scarves she pinned around our heads, kind of like a Buff, and we often arrived home with icicles hanging from the place above out mouths, but, in the meantime, we’d fought through a barrage of space aliens; snow flakes — coming at us head on.

I still go out in that and like it.

Walking has often provided the transition, the liminal moment, between one life and another — between work and home, school and home. It was transportation (literally, TRANSPORT-ation) for much of my life. I didn’t drive if I could walk. Simply.

Walking to work and back from my Denver apartment in my late 20s was so important for me. My walk was 3/4 of a mile to and from, just long enough to prepare myself for whatever the day would hold in the morning and to clear the spiders of law from my mind in the evening. There were no electronic devices back then to pump music into my ears on my walks. There was only the sound of the streets, cars passing, snippets of music, vroom, the fragrance of dinners cooking.

I was a paralegal in an immense 17th street (Wall Street of the West) law firm. I was having my first experience with the kind of squishy integrity inherent in “billable hours.” My law firm had some huge clients — the City of Lakewood, for example — for which my boss was the city attorney. I was deep in municipal law, public improvement agreements and and and … I did well, but for me there was no governing philosophy to anything we did other than the bottom line. I liked my job OK. It was challenging, changing, fast-moving, but it wasn’t “me.” Invariably, somewhere on the walk home, I shed the paralegal and encountered my”self” and we went home together. It wasn’t much of a walk, but every day I saw something new and apparently I wrote convincing rhapsodies about it because the man in my life at the time, a man who’d trekked all over and been on the support team for a climb up Annapurna II, wanted to make the walk with me when he came to Denver. “I want to see what you see.”

I wasn’t aware of it then, but I was learning the lesson that if you go out, you will see something. Simple, huh? One day as I headed down the hill to the State Capital building I saw a hot air balloon preparing to rise. The design on the balloon was an immense blue Columbine, the Colorado state flower. There was no one to witness this but the denizens of the balloon and me.

I learned that you don’t have to walk in some “grand place.” All places are grand places.

If you would like to read some beautiful and inspiring words about walking, I turn your attention to Walking by Henry David Thoreau and “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson. There are other writers, such as John Muir, who have extolled the quiet wonders of a pedestrian life, but those written Thoreau and Emerson are still my favorites.

This, from Thoreau’s Walking sums up my feelings and experience — and did the first time I read it in Robert D. Richardson’s graduate American Lit survey. Life — just like walking — comes down to putting one foot in front of the other.

“…We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return,—prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again,—if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man; then you are ready for a walk.” Henry David Thoreau, Walking

The best book about walking I’ve read recently is A Walk to the Water by Daniel Graham. Definitely a good choice for a time like this one (“like” this one?)

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/03/31/rdp-tuesday-pedestrian/

Looking into my “hippy” past…

I’ve been curious about the 1960’s lately. I was “there” in a sense, but not really. I was 15 in 1967, the Summer of Love, and had no thought of running away from home where my dad and brother were. Why would I? I loved my family and was needed there. I loved my school, my church, my friend (yeah, I had one). I might act out — I did — but I wasn’t going anywhere. I was going to stay and fight it out. 

Drugs had begun to penetrate the middle class world in which I lived, but I’d promised my dad not to use them. I smoked some pot my senior year, but that was it. 

The other night, out of curiosity, I watched a documentary, Orange Sunshine. It was fascinating — mostly stuff I knew nothing about. I liked the anarchistic behavior of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love, but I have always been very skeptical of synthetic trips to an exalted spiritual state. I never doubted the authenticity of an acid trip, but I also have always thought that real things require more commitment, challenge to that commitment, doubt… But maybe that’s just me. The Brotherhood was really all about turning on the whole world which meant they had to — and did — manufacture a ton of LSD. At one point they made enough to “turn on” 100,000,000 people.

That wasn’t all. They also made journeys to Afghanistan for hash — that part of the movie was especially fascinating. The film footage of the Kabul bazaar back then was amazing, exotic, provocative. I’d have gone if I’d had the chance.

I was fascinated by the way the Weather Underground set up Timothy Leary’s jailbreak. 

But from the film, I understood why so many people in my life have considered me to be, and called me, a hippy. Learning about “hippy values” from the film I understood. There’s nothing wrong with being a hippy — but I’m not.

I’m not a hundred percent sure where our values come from. Parents? Yeah, but also the books we read and the world around us. I think major influences on my values were my dad (and his precious Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam), Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, and the Sermon on the Mount. My dad was dying of MS right before my eyes, right there a huge argument for life’s brevity and unpredictability. All the while he was teaching me, “Drink! for you know not whence you came nor why: drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.” The entirety of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is essentially argument after argument for “Sha, na, na, na, na live for today.”

“Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit
Of This and That endeavor and dispute.
Better be jocund with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.”

From Thoreau I got:

“Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Rise free from care before the dawn, and seek adventures. Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee everywhere at home. There are no larger fields than these, no worthier games than may here be played. Grow wild according to thy nature, like these sedges and brakes, which will never become English bay…Enjoy the land, but own it not. Through want of enterprise and faith men are where they are, buying and selling, and spending their lives like serfs.” (Walden, chapter 10)

All pretty much boils down to, 

27  Consider the lilies how they grow: they toil not, they spin not; and yet I say unto you, that Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

28  If then God so clothe the grass, which is to day in the field, and to morrow is cast into the oven; how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?

29  And seek not ye what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind.

30  For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.

31  But rather seek ye the kingdom of God; and all these things shall be added unto you.

32  Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

33  Sell what ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.

34  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Luke 12:27-40 (KJV)

These ideas spoke forcefully to me when I was a teenager. What was the point of acquiring a lot of things when you’re going to die, anyway? And life was (obviously) pretty short — what if I died in the middle of “selling my life like a serf”? I really did think those things. As an adult, I was lucky to spend every single day of my life doing something I loved until I didn’t love it any more. Then, by the grace of God, I was 62 and could get out of it with an income. 

Watching the hippy documentaries I understood. It seems LSD took some of my peers to some of the places I was looking for on my own. The “searcher” identity fit me as well as it fit them. The differences — which I’ve always known — are the peace thing and the community thing. I value peace, but I’m not peaceful. I’m also not a person who would want to live communally with a lot of other people. The way they lived, the ideals of perfection they seemed to hold, were at odds with my basic personality which is friendly — but solitary, and fierce.

Last night, pursuing my education into the world in which I reached adulthood, I watched the PBS program from The American Experience — “The Summer of Love.” I didn’t know how it all started, and it was interesting to learn. I did have accurate memories of how it ended.

A woman speaking from her experiences as a hippy on the Haight in 1967 said of the end of the hippies, “Acid deconstructs your world. You have to have the inner resources to rebuild it, and many of the kids who came up here that summer were too young or didn’t have anyway to rebuild themselves.” A lot of people were broken by those days, those experiences. Others remain there, remembering it as a halcyon moment in their lives when everything seemed possible and perfect. Others, like me, were never there. And others, more than we might have thought, moved along the conventional path of the military industrial establishment that the hippies (and I) reasonably questioned. 

I loved the film Orange Sunshine. I enjoyed seeing actual clips of The Brotherhood back in the day, seeing Laguna Beach in the sixties (it was one of my favorite destinations when I lived in Southern California), and listening to what the survivors of that time had to say. It was utterly fascinating — and the anarchist in me liked them. 

In case you’re interested in the film Orange Sunshine

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/10/18/rdp-friday-broken/

Rosy Fingers and Golden Arms

I’m enjoying the slow convergence of dawn with my waking up time. Pretty soon we’ll be “at one.” Just in time, too, because it will be “colder than a well digger’s ass,” and I won’t be able to open the back door and leave it open for the dogs until I get up a couple of hours later. That door opens to the laundry room, and the pipes would freeze. Yep. That’s how things are out here in the Back of Beyond.

Dawn has labored long as a metaphor. One of the coolest (long…) moments in my undergraduate life was reading The Odyssey in Homeric Greek and one of the coolest moments of that was learning to read, “Rosy fingered dawn.” Back in those days, when poetry was recited not read, little devices — like repetition — added music to the recital and probably made the long poems easier to remember. I honestly cannot see the dawn without, in my mind, thinking, “Rohodoctulous hos.” (ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς) Dawn — Aurora — wore a saffron robe, had golden arms and red fingers.

My two favorite literary dawn bits are in Thoreau’s Walden.

“We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep.”

“All memorable events, I should say, transpire in morning time and in a morning atmosphere. The Vedas say, “All intelligences awake with the morning.” Poetry and art, and the fairest and most memorable of the actions of men, date from such an hour. All poets and heroes…are the children of Aurora… To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning. It matters not what the clocks say or the attitudes and labors of men. Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me.”

~~~~

Meanwhile, here in Colorado, the San Luis Valley is an island of sunshine on this Thursday morning while most of the state is enduring snow, high winds and frigid temperatures. The very cold temps will arrive here tonight. So, yesterday I winterized the front garden with the leaves that have already fallen from the trees in front of my house. My corner of the world — on the map above — shows dry roads (beige lines) and clear skies while all around? Purple (high wind) and blue (snow and ice). Highways and mountain passes have closed (red dots), people are skidding right and left. No one is EVER ready for this. Luckily, it will only last three days…for now.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/10/10/rdp-thursday-dawn/

Saunter

“I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements…” Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

I love to walk. Most of my blog posts are about walking, and I’ve even written a book about my walks with my dogs during the years I lived in California, My Everest.

I never have taken the ability to walk for granted. There have been times when I couldn’t just “get up and walk.” I’ve written here — often — about the challenges to me — emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually — of suffering from hip arthritis and not being able to walk well.

This time last year I was flying, uh walking, on the short-term high afforded me by a cortisone shot in my hip joint. For the first time in YEARS I could walk, pain-free and happy. I could even go up and down stairs! Two things happened as a result of that shot. I realized how long I’d been messed up (years), and my doc saw for sure (for the benefit of Medicare) that I had no real choice but a hip replacement if I were to regain my mobility. The cortisone shot brought me relief for 3 weeks then I was back where I was.

I have fought hard to be able to continue to walk. In a long conversation with my doc, I told him about my dad who suffered from MS, who, over a period of 15 years, lost the ability to walk.

“So you know what it is to lose mobility.”

“Yeah.”

He confided to me that it was a similar situation with his mom that had inspired him to become an orthopedic surgeon. “We know what it means not to be able to walk.”

Of course, as often happened when I talked to him about these things, my eyes filled with tears.

Me, age 12, hiking in the woods of Nebraska, hiding from my brother. Obviously, he found me. 😀

“…most of my townsmen would fain walk sometimes, as I do, but they cannot. No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence which are the capital in this profession [walkers]. It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker. You must be born into the family of the Walkers. Ambulator nascitur, non fit. Some of my townsmen, it is true, can remember and have described to me some walks which they took ten years ago, in which they were so blessed as to lose themselves for half an hour in the woods; but I know very well that they have confined themselves to the highway ever since, whatever pretensions they may make to belong to this select class.”  

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”


I hope this summer will bring me some good walks that I haven’t been able to to take because of, well, being unable. Now I have a car with good ground clearance, a dog who’s willing to go to war for me, maps, a hydration pack , trekking poles and a big can of bear spray. I should be good to go as soon as the snow melts and the roads to the mountains are dry enough not to be destroyed by cars. Maybe being exiled from the golf course and chased away from the wild life area by the Icky Man and the closures so the geese can mate is fate’s way of telling me, “You can go anywhere now, Martha. Don’t be afraid.”

I’ve also lately realized that I’m alone. No one is depending on me for anything. If a cougar gets me how’s that different from a heart attack? Just more interesting. I’ve realized that before in my life, but in the agar culture of, uh, culture, I sometimes forget. We all live FOR something. I think I can live FOR walking. Oh, and langlauf. ❤

My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farmhouse which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the king of Dahomey. There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”


https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2019/03/09/rdp-saturday-walk/

Take a Walk

A long time ago — in the 80s — in SELF magazine — was an ad for Reebox. It showed a woman walking on a wooden sidewalk near a lake. Behind her was a wet golden retriever who looked (obviously) very happy. The caption was, “You CAN Walk Away from Your Problems.”

I cut out the ad and glued it into one of the journals I can’t throw away but never look at. 

Something from one of those journals ❤

I learned this lesson as a kid and I was happy to see it validated in a magazine. But others have discovered this, too. 

II think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least—and it is commonly more than that—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements…. Henry David Thoreau, “Walking.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1862/06/walking/304674/

Walking in a dry stream bed in the chaparral, 1990

I’ve probably written a hundred blog posts — and a whole book! — on this topic. and the book, My Everest pretty much just says this:

My vicinity affords many good walks; and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see… There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you.

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

Almost everything I’ve done for the past year has been directed toward continuing to be able to…

Walk.

Walking IS exercise, but not very efficient exercise for things we might need, such as weight loss or flexibility. For years I mocked people who went to gyms or did yoga in studios with lots of other people. My mockery was unfair, but I’m an extremely flawed human. Now I work out on a piece of gym equipment and do yoga but the purpose of all that is to make it easier for me to walk. 

But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours—as the Swinging of dumb- bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life.

Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

Some people don’t get this. Once, out on a walk in the California chaparral, an acquaintance and I walked about 8 miles. She asked me how far we’d gone and I told her. Her response, “Do you do this every day?”

“Just about.”

“Why aren’t you thin?”

In my defense, I wasn’t fat. I’m a compact muscular person; she was a tall lithe person. I thought, “You’re not coming with me again, ever.” She had no idea why we were there, or what I was doing. I took off running, calling out behind me, “If you can keep up with me, you can call me fat.”

She couldn’t catch me. I was in my car and about to pull out of the parking lot before she caught up, red-faced and breathing hard. 

Some people do get it. Last month I took a mountain hike with my friend, Elizabeth. It was a big moment for me, my first mountain hike since I moved back here four years ago. Plus, you know, my “religion.” Going out there is an experience I don’t really have words for. Elizabeth is Church of England. We were walking along — not fast. I have asthma and until I’m warmed up speed is impossible, and, anyway, I wanted to look around. Groves of aspen trees such as I have never seen, a foot-rough but easy trail, a stream on the bottom.

Geologically it was exactly the same as one of my favorite hikes in San Diego County, but the vegetation belonged to Colorado. Where in California there were sycamore and oak trees lining the trail, here were aspen and spruce. I love that aspect to nature, that if you’ve wandered enough you experience the grand repetition of natural forms in different scales appropriate to the place. 

We stopped and looked at the hundreds of aspen trees reaching high into the sky. Young spruce huddled happily, hopefully, on the base of the forest. I was awed, with tears in my eyes, so happy to be there, to see them, to be able to walk again after years of debilitation pain, surgery and rehab. I was definitely repaired. My walking possibilities had been returned to me, and here was this miracle of nature. I said to Elizabeth, “This is my church.”

She said, “I know,” and said she hoped we could visit my church again soon. 

Elizabeth in the aspen trees


https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/27/rdp-tuesday-walk/

Enough IS Enough

It was business communication a long time ago. We were talking about how conventional composition — rhetoric and writing — classes teach students to write more words and then in Bus Comm I’m there saying, “It’s wordy.” I remember actually saying, “In business you write for people. In rhetoric and writing you write for teachers.” I said that. Yep. And I said, “In a writing class people are paid to read your writing. In real life, people aren’t. Don’t waste their time.”

The students were shocked. “Time is money, right, professor?”

“That’s the idea. Write clearly and concisely so even people who don’t want to read what you’ve written will get the point.”

Somehow, no idea how, we got off on Thoreau and “Where I Lived and What I Lived For.” They’d all read it, so it was a common point and an example of wordiness (for business writing, anyway). In there, in the midst of Thoreau’s convoluted, complicated sentences, in his complex, descriptive enumeration, his rhapsodic litany of how people complicate their lives he wrote, “Simplify! Simplify!”

Kid in the very back corner, football player, spoke up. “I get it teach. One ‘simplify’ would have done!”

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/complicated/

“I Heard the News Today…” So What?

I generally find the news uninteresting. That it is often sensational doesn’t make it interesting. This began for me as a high school junior when I met Henry David Thoreau. We (of course) read “Civil Disobedience” which I found ho-hum, but Walden was magical. In Walden, Thoreau writes:

“And I am sure that I never read any memorable news in a newspaper. If we read of one man robbed, or murdered, or killed by accident, or one house burned, or one vessel wrecked, or one steamboat blown up, or one cow run over on the Western Railroad, or one mad dog killed, or one lot of grasshoppers in the winter, – we need never read of another. One is enough. If you are acquainted with the principle, what do you care for a myriad instances and applications?”

My household (meaning my mom) was an avid news watcher/reader. She believed it was important to “be informed.” She read the paper from cover to cover; we subscribed to news magazines (anyone under 30 in this country has not seen Time Magazine when it was mostly words) and watched the news twice each day — that was as often as it could be watched in the 60s, by the way. The radio was on most of the time with hourly news reports.

“Watch the news,” she said. “You need to know what’s going on. It’s going to be your turn to take over the world soon.” With teenage cockiness I simply replied that I would be the news. 🙂 But just as she had little life of her own, she knew little about mine. Instead of knowing about me, she knew what the news said about “teenagers today.”

These were pretty wild days in the news. The goal of the news at that time really was to tell and show. The US government had not yet discovered the result of broadcasting facts — real facts — and the Viet Nam War in all it’s gory glory was on television as were street riots over race, the draft and the right for young people to vote. The result of those years on broadcast media is that the Gulf War was more like a TV show than a war, complete with a theme song and opening graphics. It’s even worse now… The effect of the news on many people is to render them impotent to act in their own lives. “What’s the point of voting?” for example. Well, if they knew that the news is an illusion and nothing but marketing and propaganda, they might realize that their vote IS the one thing that they can do that does matter (unless it’s GWB and it’s Florida or Ohio).

So, at seventeen, I put a permanent boycott on the news, a boycott I have seldom suspended. I decided that only the news that has direct bearing on  my life is important because it affects what I may or may not be able to change. Other news? Such as the idiocy that comes out of the mouths of Presidential candidates or the relentless business of war in this country? I can’t change it. In the first case, the best I can do is vote, and in the second, the best I could do was help returning soldiers, with their fractured brains and broken hearts, find a way into life here.

The news in the United States is mostly ‘bad’ news — this point was brought home to me by my students in China. China Daily and other Chinese papers print mostly GOOD news. As my students’ English was good enough to read American newspapers — and they did — they went at our news with the bias that ALL newspapers print only the good news. If the stories in American papers were the good news from America, what a horrible place the United States must be! “Aren’t you afraid to go outside your house, teacher? You can be murdered or raped!” True. They believed this. Our way of reporting news fed right into China’s anti-American propaganda machine.

Thoreau has something to say about the ‘bad news’ obsession, too. He views news as gossip and gossip likes the juicy tid-bits of human pain and failure. In Life Without Principle Thoreau uses the example of two men sharing the news of the day, moaning about the state of affairs, leaving each other feeling a strange sense of hopelessness and triumph (which we feel when we are let off the hook yet know that should not be the case). Neither man has spoken of the “real” news of his life and what has happened between them is flat, empty and unsatisfying. Thoreau writes:

We may well be ashamed to tell what things we have read or heard in our day. I did not know why my news should be so trivial, — considering what one’s dreams and expectations are, why the developments should be so paltry. The news we hear, for the most part, is not news to our genius. It is the stalest repetition.

The real news is not in the paper, but in our lives, thoughts, experiences and the newspaper is a distraction from both our true outer life and the even more true (to Thoreau) inner life.

I do not know but it is too much to read one newspaper a week. I have tried it recently, and for so long it seems to me that I have not dwelt in my native region. The sun, the clouds, the snow, the trees say not so much to me. You cannot serve two masters. It requires more than a day’s devotion to know and to possess the wealth of a day.

Iggy Pop says it well, too. 🙂