Tag Archives: opinion

The Perfect President

12 Jul

The Perfect President

By L. Stewart Marsden

I was thinking today – an achievement in and of itself lately – of the presidents of our nation during my lifetime.

Ike Eisenhower served during my early childhood years, and I remember little about him. He seemed grandfatherly, and my parents liked the heck out of him. I think both parties went after him to run on their tickets. Imagine that!

Then the Kennedy-Nixon race. In the debates, Nixon wouldn’t wear makeup, and his shadowy beard should have given all pause as a sort of foreshadowing (no pun intended). But Kennedy was a CATHOLIC! Forget the Southern vote. AND he talked funny! But he was handsome, and then there was Jackie. But he was a war hero (if PT 109 is factual … have to check Snopes on that one). With him, we went through the Cuber crisis, and the challenge to reach the moon. He reduced taxes (WHAT!?), and put civil rights on the back burner. And, of course, Dallas. So he is seared into history as the hero of Camelot, despite some seamy stuff with Marilyn and Bobby. Great men do have to have their pressure outlets apparently.

Then Johnson. Long ears. Belly scars. Back-room deals to accomplish surprisingly much in the areas of civil rights. But that damn Vietnam! Everyone in the family with the same initials. How he had wanted the presidency! How he suffered its curse.

Back from the politically-dead Nixon. Vees raised above his head with both arms and hands. Tapes. Missing tapes. Agnew. Phew! Bombing of Saigon – Merry Christmas! Paranoid surveillance of threatening people, like John Lennon. And, to his everlasting fame, Watergate. China legacy.

Gerald Ford. First error Nixon pardon? Sliding into the Oval Office through the back doors. Betty, tippling in the background. Stability?

Jim-mah Carter. Rosalynn and Miss Lillian – his stalwart women. Billy, his Hee-Haw brother. Ayatollah Khomeini, his nemesis. “Argo,” his movie detraction. Soaring gas prices and lines to the pump. His infamous “we are sinners” address to the nation. The outsider. The one-termer. The most misunderstood president ever?

Slow pan of a great western expanse – buttes in the background, massive white clouds in the sky – up big music. A rider approaches from the distance. He is dressed in white. His horse is white. He is white. Actor-turned-politician, ready to take one for the Gipper. Ronald and Nancy to the rescue. An insurmountable political tsunami where the Jerry Falwell’s and Newt the Grinch’s and Wheaties and Ovaltine take the day. “Tear down that wall!” Poland. Star Wars. John Hinckley. Dementia? Nancy in charge?

The “read my lips” president, George H.W. Bush, who defeated Michael “The Tank” Dukakis. NAFTA. Taxes? Desert Storm. Berlin Wall. USSR emplodes. Dan Quayle and Mr. Potatoe Head. Second one-and-done president since Eisenhower. First Republican president my dad had serious qualms about.

Billy “The Kid” Clinton (and wife). First bonus presidency, two-for-the-price-of-one. Kennedy-esque. National healthcare reform fiasco. Monica. Intrigue. Parsing is the new standard. Depends on what you mean by the word, “it.” Stand By My Man. Vitriol seeps from the political cracks in the DC sidewalks.  The white black man. Amazingly, second termer. Far-right radio commentators – Rush on the Rise. Gotta love those Arkansas Impeachments. Most popular president since WWII at his exit. Sax and violins.

Mr. Strategery, George W. Bush. 9-11. Iraq. Find those WMD’s please. Thank you, Florida and Jeb. Best First Lady since? Exploding deficits/national debt. Housing bubble pops. Banks too big to fail. Black October. Rev up the Nucular War Machine.

First Black President, Barak Obama. Birth Certificate? Muslim? Christian? Home church pastor rails. Osama Bin Ladin falls. Michelle shines. Ratings soar. Cooperation with Congress slumps. Hillary. Benghazi. Obamacare. Racist vitriol. Popularity polls dip. The great House and Senate divide. Barak ages in front of our eyes.

And then … Donald, a.k.a, #twitterprez. You fill in the blanks, ’cause he certainly won’t.

The perfect President is nonexistent. This need for perfection hies back to the Old Testament when the Nation of Israel wanted a King in order to be like all them other guys. They got Saul. Tall, handsome, wack-o. Then David. Statuesque model. Roving eyes. Murderer.

Hasn’t really changed much. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Not that any of our presidents had or have absolute power. That’s the genius of the Founding Fathers – who, I suspect, had their wives and girlfriends, sometimes at the same time, whispering in their ears, “And don’t forget about this ….!” Lucky for us they listened.

And lucky for us that none of our past Chief Executives was perfect. George had wooden teeth. Thomas was likely more agnostic than anything, withholding his stamp on the divinity of Jesus, and advising relatives to question boldly the existence of a god (my rewording of an article found on The Jefferson Foundation, Inc. on his religions beliefs1). Andrew Jackson did atrocious things to Native Americans. Lincoln was born before the NBA came to exist, and my relative, Ulysses S. Grant, was a renown tippler. Even FDR couldn’t stay true to Eleanor.

So what’s my point?

Quit looking for the Lone Ranger to come riding up with his VP, Tonto, to save us! The obvious lacks of our previous presidents protects us! These are men (and will eventually be women) who have feet of clay, to use a Biblical metaphor for those so inclined.

To not work on that premise is the surest way to usher in whatever cataclysmic Armageddon is ducking behind the horizon line of our future!

Are things good? Are we happy with Washington? Do we want to “Trow da bums out?” Yes, of course we do! But don’t be fooled into thinking that whoever we replace this gunk of goo with is going to be ANY better! It won’t happen! Ain’t in the cards! In the words of George W. H., “Wouldn’t be prudent!”

The people we elect have a job to run the country. For some reason they actually want the work (maybe because they get rich). I certainly don’t want to do it. Ain’t enough tea in China. You wouldn’t want me to, and I suspect you have no aspirations to that end either.

OUR job is to keep an eye on the foxes we put in charge of this very large, very complicated hen house.

That’s one responsibility none of us can afford to abdicate. It’s tiresome. It’s thankless. It’s frustrating. But you cannot complain (well, I guess you really could – but to no end) if you don’t pay attention. If you don’t register (you have time now, by the way, if you haven’t). If you don’t form your own ideas of how you’d like to see America survive. If you don’t vote this coming November.

Don’t tell me it’s useless or that it won’t make a difference. Hanging chads and margins of votes make a difference – first locally, then statewide, then nationally.

If you’re so inclined, let your representatives in DC or in your state capitol know your opinion. Smarter people than me long ago made up the phrase, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil.”

And this: United doesn’t mean we agree on everything OR anything! Again, to use a Biblical metaphor, the eye is not more important than the foot, and neither operates the same way in contributing to the body and its functionality.

As topsy-turvy as things seem right now, our system of government is working. Needs a little oil here and there from time to time. But it works.

Remember, the potential perfect president, who resides at 666 Main Street, Anytown, USA, is hoping you will quit and say “The hell with it.” And guess what? If you look for him, you will find him.

Please don’t.

 

1 https://www.monticello.org/site/research-and-collections/jeffersons-religious-beliefs

Advertisements

Gerry M. Andering

24 Feb

Gerry M. Andering

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Gerry M. Andering was lithe and spry
And could squeeze and bend
Into the smallest of space
With little or no waste
To achieve his desired end
Which was to touch only certain-shaped spots
Where he amassed his great wealth
Through his stealth and his agile turns;

Almost boneless, was he,
Fluid-like and free to jiggle and wiggle
Without any constraints
He did paint such odd shapes
In his Rorschach-like ways
That he guaranteed days
To the kings of the hills
While the rest could just fuss, fume and burn.

You Can’t Get Killed This Way Any More

10 Feb

You Can’t Get Killed This Way Any More

or,

Losing Touch With What It Means to Be a Kid

by L. Stewart Marsden

Note:
This piece was written a few years back, but in my opinion, is still relevant and will remain so until we come to grips with the issues that prevent our children from being able to range and roam safely. And until we adults put away our techno-toys and get outside ourselves.

At dinner recently I had to demand that my youngest children and grandchildren hand over their electronic gadgets from iPhones to iPads to Kindles and Nooks — innocuous-sounding replacements for true outdoor exercise. As well as table talk.

Am I not right?

Outdoor exercise. Hmmm. Today that’s the process of going from an air-conditioned house to an air-conditioned car to the air-conditioned school — and repeat the return trip, which is often spiced up with an air-conditioned mall or air-conditioned movie theater.

Sure, we’re the generation who brought you MacDonald’s and drive-throughs and empty calorie-laden drinks like Coke and Pepsi — TV dinners and more. But few of us were pudgy, ’cause we walked and biked miles every day through our towns and neighborhoods.

Kids today don’t know what outdoor play means. They don’t know what it means to survive and thrive for a full 12 to 14 hours in the neighborhood — wading down creeks to catch crayfish, or stealing those smudge pots street workers put out and lit to warn motorists of roadwork.

Or climbing trees to build really great tree houses 50 feet in the air.

Or blowing up coke bottles with M80’s and cherry bombs.

Or swiping playing cards and clothespins from your house and fastening them to the spokes of your bicycle. Two or three bikes equipped like that sounds like a Hell’s Angels gang! And who doesn’t like or wanna be a Hell’s Angel?

THAT was being a kid!

Nobody had allergies. Nobody cried or whimpered at the sight of blood. Or mud.

We didn’t have Wii controllers, we had Mattel Fanner 50 pistols, and plastic machine guns with full military combat regalia.

We hurled Dixie cups filled with flour to mimic grenades.

We played all over the neighborhood until the sun had set for an hour and our moms had to come out looking for us.

We were easily entertained by a box of stick matches and a can of lighter fluid.

Okay, that might have been extreme.

Comedian Bill Cosby (he whose name can never be mentioned again) said in a comedy bit he knew adults were out to kill the kids. His proof? Whirligigs, jungle gyms, and see-saws.

He left one out: the Flexi Flier. Not the sled, but the steel-wheeled running board vehicle, shaped like a bullet and designed for death-defying fun!

This crazy craft was great for areas like a flat, concrete paved parking area where there were no cars. Problem was, there were no flat, concrete paved parking areas with no cars in my neighborhood.

In my neighborhood, the street was paved, but with that rocky pebbly stuff — not asphalt. You know the kind: if you skated on it with your key skates (if you don’t know what these are, you will not understand anything else in this blog), and you tried to sing the word “buh” it would come out bubbabubbabubbabubbabubba.

Sidewalks — a concept that escapes current city planners — ran parallel to either side of the street. Sidewalks were constructed in squares of roughly three to four feet. Trees planted next to these sidewalks grew their roots under these squares and pushed the units out of kilter. This is an important thing to note and remember if you were a Flexi Flier rider.

The Flexi Flier design:

image

It looked like a sled. Not those molded thingies that are devastating our forests of plastic trees, but a thing of beauty! Made of real wood, and real steal. Painted with an American Eagle on top in multi-colors, and lacquered to a sheen. The metal steering and “bumpers,” painted bright red. It WAS a sled, but with four steel disc wheels rimmed with a half-inch of hard black rubber. Two wheels in the front, that could turn if you had muscles like Charles Atlas; and two at the rear.

Yes, a marvel of ingenuity and beauty. Kind of like a BB gun was.

The Three Ways to Ride a Flexi Flier:

One knee position
You positioned one knee on the bed of the flier, and bent over forward to grab the imagesteering handles with each hand. This position was ideal on those nonexistent flat, carless parking lots. You would propel yourself with the other leg, hung out over one side. It was kind of like a huge skateboard with front wheels that turned. The kid in the photo is a random selection. The fact that he has no shoes or shirt or long-legged Levi’s on tells me he’s an idiot.

 

 

Stomach position
imageFlat on your stomach with your hands on the steering handles, and if you were a short kid, your legs extended over the back end of the Flexi. If you were tall, you bent your knees and rode with your feet in the air. Like a snow sled. This is undoubtedly the preferred position.

The kid on the left (a detail from a painting by Francene Christianson) is living a fantasy life. Probably somewhere in California, no doubt. Who the hell had flat and even sidewalks back then? Where’s the challenge in that?

Sitting up position
Buttox positioned over the rear wheels, and hands firmly gripping either side slat, you put your feet forward on the steering handles. Not as aerodynamic as the one knee or stomach positions, and you definitely could not operate the state-of-the-art front brakes.

There are no photos of this position. I suspect because few survived and blood and gore had not become a fare of the local evening news yet.

Stopping
The wheels of the Flexi were steel disks with a hard rubber rim about a half-inch thick. imageOn the steering handles were metal nubs that extended out over the front wheels. If you twisted the handles forward, the idea was that those nubs would rub the rubber rims — kind of like disc brakes — and the Flexi would ostensibly and eventually stop. After maybe half a mile when gravity or a curb brought you to a halt, it did. There was no way to quickly stop a Flexi that had built up momentum other than turn towards a bush hedge, tree, or brick wall. And uneven sidewalks.

imageIf you sped down a sidewalk and had built your speed up to maybe 15 to 20 mph — remember, you are about six inches above ground level — and you hit an uneven place in the sidewalk? Well, the Flexi would pretty much stop dead, and you would continue on — Flexiless.

Face, chin, chest, stomach, knees — pretty much any clothing on your front side — was rubbed away as your body slowed to a stop.

It wasn’t unusual to have a full body scab from head to toe from a Flexi mishap. It hurt like hell, but was an unmistakable badge of pride.

Alas, Flexible Fliers pretty much went the way of whirligigs and jungle gyms and see-saws. Fearful mothers and greedy lawyers pretty much did all that great fun in.  Plus kids today are wusses. If you don’t know that term, you probably didn’t understand anything above.

Keep your iPhones, iPads and iEverythings. It’s your loss.

The Lonely King

27 Jan

image

 

In 1685, King Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes with the Edict of Fontainebleau. The Edict of Nantes provided certain religious and economic freedoms to the Huguenots, French protestants. With the revocation, Louis came down hard on Huguenots, demanding they recant their religion and convert to Catholicism, or else. The or else included loss of property, imprisonment for males, seclusion in convents for the women, torture and a variety of types of execution, including beheading and burning at the stake.

Numbers are debatable, but between 200,000 and 250,000 Huguenots fled France, many crossing the Atlantic to resettle in America. Charles Towne in now South Carolina was one of those destinations. Those who left represented about one percent of the population of France.

Two similarities strike me from that day and age to the present: the “ramrodding” of power by Louis, and the Huguenot diaspora, which included some of the most intelligent and creative French of the day.

A friend, considering (however seriously) leaving the US for places less antagonistic, got me to thinking. The poem below is the result of that cogitation (I apologize in advance for its poor literary quality):

 

The Lonely King

by Yours Truly

 

There was once a king
Who sat on his throne
Surveying his great and vast kingdom.
From the East to the West
To the ends of the earth
His realm could be equaled by none.

“Jester!” said he
To a motley-dressed clown
“Bring my fiddlers — I’m bored and want sound!”
But the clown,
With a frown, said
“Your fiddlers aren’t here,
Sire, they all have left town
And there’s no more sweet sound
To be found all around.”

“Left town? The lot of them?”

“Yes, Sire. The lot of them, sad to say,
Have amscrayed this place
Which is why there’s no music
To call for, Your Grace.”

“Why would they go and leave me alone?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” said the clown to the king on his throne.

“Then bring me my choir, and bid them to sing!”

“Your Worshipful, that, alas, too, is a shame,
For all of your choristers — sopranos to altos,
Tenors to basses —
Have left your vast kingdom for far away places
So remote that some don’t even have names.”

“And my servants and wise men?”

“Please don’t despise them,
But they’ve all left the kingdom as well.”

“But WHY then? Why have they left me here all alone?
To mourn and to moan all alone on my throne?”

“But I am still here!” said the motley-dressed jester,
“And I’ll entertain you so your sadness won’t fester,
And agree with your wisdom and all your decrees
And serve you while groveling down on my knees!
There’s nobody else you need, if you please,
But motley-dressed, dancing clown, silly old me!”

The king sighed a sigh, and nodded,”You’re right.
Those silly old fiddlers, those out-of-tune singers,
Those supposedly-wise wise men,
Those fat, needy people, all stupid and lazy —
Why together they drove this king crazy all day and all night!

“I’m far better off here alone and without them!
Here on my throne with my kingdom about me.

“Who needs all that so-called music? Who needs the riff-raff?
I’m far better off alone on my throne
with my beautiful hand-carved elephant tusk staff
To decree my decrees with a sneer and a laugh.”

To wit, he said, to the clown kneeling there,

“Get me my quill and my parchment post-haste.
I’ve a decree to declare — why there’s no time to waste!”

And he whiled the days on his throne all alone,
(The exception, of course, was his true, loyal clown)
And made his decrees which the clown did declare
To the large empty kingdom, with pomp and with flair.

Disclaimer:
Any similarities between the King and any person living in the District of Columbia on Pennsylvania Avenue are purely, most sincerely, absolutely coincidental. And that’s the purely, most sincerely absolutely alternative Truth!

***

The Coming Storm

25 Jan

image

 

The sun is rising over Grandfather Mountain, as it has for thousands of years. The temperature has already climbed to 32°, and the forecast promises a clear and very warm day. A change in weather approaches slowly from the west, and will bring more winter-like temperatures — good news for the skiers.

I don’t turn on the TV in the morning anymore. Not until around 4 or 5 PM, and then for the local news, then quick to one of the movie channels so I don’t have to be accosted by the various tirades erupting from so many different places.

I know that eventually the storm in the west, as well as the storm 7 hours east of me, will touch my door. But until then I am content to watch the immutable ridges a crow’s flight away from my back deck, and bathe in the warm rays of the sun.

What will I do when the storms hit?

For the one, I’ll dress more warmly. Light the fire and put on a crockpot of slow-cooking beef stew.

For the other, I will continue to wonder what drives people to do what they do.

I am not sure I’ll have any answers. That’s one thing that happens as you grow older. You have fewer answers. But you also have a gut-level feeling — not so much an assurance, mind you — but a feeling that this, too, shall pass.

I can only hope it will pass quickly, and with as minimal damage as possible. But I know that those in our country left in the wake of Nature’s devastation, have somehow been able to stand back up and rebuild. Changed, scarred, but more resolute.

So I sit and watch today’s sun climb and cross the sky, knowing there are storms coming.

Thank God for coffee.

Great Expectations

12 Jan

image

Great Expectations

I read (suffered through) Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” when I was in junior high school. For those who didn’t go to junior high, but middle school, it was back when grades seven through nine were put together. There was no kindergarten at the time, just grades one through six in elementary school. Back in the dark ages before educational enlightenment illumined America.

Here’s a fun 2-minute (longer if you have to use your finger under each word) abridged overview of the story. http://www.shmoop.com/great-expectations/summary.html

For those who read the story as part of the English junior high curriculum, it helps bring the more tedious Dickens’ version (he got paid by the word is why) back to memory. For those who never read the story, this will do. Otherwise, read the original, then jump to “Moby Dick,” and then, “War and Peace.” Then come back to this article ten years from now when you’ve completed the above.

I didn’t know the story had alternative endings. The original ending is Dickensonian in that it’s pretty grim. The revised ending is the one Disney would inevitably choose to animate, and has a happy (YAY!) ending.

The following is not about the Dickens story. It’s about what I assume each of us has experienced in life: the trauma, the surprise, the joy (listed last for a reason) of great expectations.

I know a person who surfs on the edge of great expectations — great expectations about relationships, jobs, success — only to topple over onto the jagged coral reefs when his wave crashes. For him, it is like clockwork, and inevitable that what he hopes for is going to be vastly underachieved. Relationships will fail because the other person is a disappointment. Jobs end abruptly because those he works with/for are incompetent. Success is fleeting, and the jaws of economic disaster snap hungrily beneath him.

Great expectations are perhaps best classified as unrealistic. At least for the vast majority. As a kid, I and others boldly proclaimed what we would do as adults. Doctor. Lawyer. President. Few of us actually fulfilled those predictions. I knew kids who were “destined” to be a doctor or lawyer. Didn’t know any presidential aspirants. Still don’t — at least on a personal basis.

There’s nothing wrong in having great expectations, as long as you realize life is more like a raindrop on a car windshield, as it skitters about in its downward path, not going from point A to point B in an uninterrupted straight line. Sometimes you do make it to point B, but more likely not. It’s point C or point D, or another totally unexpected destination.

At my age, with the vast majority of my life now in the rearview mirror, I temper my expectations. Notice I didn’t say lower them, although the variance is slight. For the sake of my blood pressure, as well as sanity, I don’t hang everything on finding Oz.

For example: last year, when Cam Newton led the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl, I did want them to win. But not so much that my life was in ruins when that expectation was not met. I suppose for Cam and company, it was much tougher to take. Plus, losing to Denver was MUCH more preferable to losing to New England.

Again, last year, when Duke made their improbable march to the NCAA Championship in men’s basketball — well, that wasn’t even an expectation at all! It was a very nice surprise (yeah, I’m a Duke fan). THIS year, however, Coach K’s team was so loaded with talent most sports prognosticators gave Duke the title to lose. Which, as it looks like, they are in the process of doing. Not sure whether it is age or wisdom that gave me the outlook that the Fat Lady hadn’t sung, and that It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over (much to the consternation and dismay of my youngest son, who held Great Expectations for Duke).

And November. Ah! Can anyone ever recover from November? Talk about Great Expectations! But, as my stance with the preseason rankings for Duke, I was more cautious, perhaps because I had NO expectations. Didn’t like either of the two major candidates. I suppose my one expectation was that Gary Johnson would somehow not blunder as he did in his campaign and at least make a decent showing for those of us who believe a third party would strengthen our democracy.

Boom! There it was!

Last night the television comedy “Black-ish” tackled the many faceted components of this presidential election, and did what I thought was a reasonable job. Biased, yes. But thought-provoking in that it reflected the range of reactions so well.

Great expectations. Democrats, crestfallen at the very least, and vehemently angry at worst. Women, dazed that the glass ceiling remains intact. Republicans (staunch), trying to figure out how this could come to by-pass the powers-that-be. Arch conservatives, pleased as punch to have so much power and control in Washington, and literally salivating.

His election wasn’t expected. Except by him and his supporters. He wasn’t supposed to win. She was.

Great expectations. Or, greater under-expectations.

Now the great expectations are building on both sides: a complete change (swamp draining?) in how business is conducted and how the decorum of the office of POTUS is about to swing in another direction. Some expectations are the limitations of things like freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Great in the sense of potentially negatively impactful.

The winners: NOW we’ll make America Great Again! Jobs. Deals. Zero tolerance for terrorism and its proponents. Great things will happen! Great people will be in control!

The losers: Shit! He needs to be curtailed, corralled, silenced, de-Twitterized, to grow up, among others. A great expectation is for failure. It is HOPED for, by some.

Either way, and with regard to either camp, the “great” expectations will inevitably not come to pass. It will be BAU (business as usual), is my expectation, albeit a great deal lowered.

The really great expectation — right now while the iron is hot — is what YOU will do. “Oh, I’m gonna do this and do that!” Some of which might actually be constructive as well as legal. And I’m for that. Involvement. Participation. Becoming an agent for positive change.

Wait! What? That sounds like a resolution (appropriate for this time of year)! So, aren’t resolutions (gonna lose weight, gonna read Moby Dick, War and Peace, and reread Great Expectations) really great expectations? And, this time next year, when reviewing the conclusion of one more annual cycle in your life, will you be like the man I mentioned earlier? The one who is constantly dismayed by unrealized, unrealistic expectations?

I applaud those who set a goal and do it. Perfunctory, they are. I’m a bit less mechanical in setting and making my goals (NOT a type A).

How about you? What are your great expectations?

From Extreme to Extreme: the search for sanity

13 Jul

image

Photo by L. Stewart Marsden

 

From Extreme to Extreme

The search for sanity

By L. Stewart Marsden

My last two weeks have been spent at two “opposite” locations. One along the coast of North Carolina, with a broad view of the shore and the thin horizon line separating water from air. The other, in the mountains of the same state, with a view of Grandfather Mountain from my top deck. There is no horizon line. Simply the jagged outline of rocky contour against a sky steeped with thick clouds.

In both locations two similarities exist: the impact of weather, with coastal storms raging from the land to the ocean late in the afternoon and into the night; and the cool, quiet build of cloud shapes and substance above the mountain range; and the quietude.

These two weeks those intrusive electronic devices — flat screened TVs — have not infringed so much on the sounds of silence. I suppose that may be the result of necks bent reverently over tiny cellphone screens. Though irksome in itself, it still allows for others to wallow in the peace, while having the deeper and perhaps more onerous effect of estranging family and friends from conversation.

For me, the separation from the world into these idyllic sanctuaries comes at a time when I feel pounded by things I cannot change. The bile and sputum that fills the airways of social media has become so corrosive one wonders what has happened to civility and the exchange of ideas within the forums of debate? It has become a smack-down, no-holds-barred UFC-style free-for-all.

While not a very religious person anymore, there is a verse in the Old Testament that begs repeating. I apologize in advance for the number of readers this may offend:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

It comes from the Book of Isaiah, Chapter I, verse 18. It is the King James Version, which we all know was the version Jesus used.

Here’s the point — I wonder if large pockets of people have lost the ability to sit down and reason. When you spend a week at the beach followed by a week in the mountains, and the air is filled with the sounds of surf and wind and thunder and goldfinches, all the stuff we see, read and hear from our various sources fades. I know it’s still out there somewhere. But I’d have to want to see, read and hear it.

Pie in the sky, I know. Everyone can’t spend time in seclusion. People gotta earn a living, take care of families, prepare for the future.

When I was a small boy, my bedroom window opened out onto a roof. Sometimes, when I heard the beckoning call of a distant train, or the low rumble of heat lightening, I’d climb out onto the roof and sit for what seemed hours. The sky above was amazing! Lit up with the Milky Way. Periodic falling stars zipped across the expanse. Where were they from? Where were they going?

I don’t believe you need to go to the shore or the mountains to find a place to think and ponder and meditate. It’s a conscious decision and can be accessed nearly everywhere and in nearly every situation.

I will invariably turn on the TV, and I haven’t yet weaned myself from my social media fixes. This eureka is not anything new — the sounds of silence are hallowed halls I’ve always known about, yet seldom used. Poets and philosophers alike have pointed the way throughout time. As did the writer of Isaiah.

If there’s anything good to come out of the stuff going on, it’s the fact I need to have that silence. I need the time to think and ponder and meditate. It is the antitoxin to what’s going on, and will help me maintain a semblance of sanity.

image

Photo by Graham R. Marsden

 

image

Photo by L. Stewart Marsden

WTF: Is there NO ONE out there?

20 Jun

WTF: Is there NO ONE out there?

By L. Stewart Marsden

So I’m sixty-six. A 1968 high school graduate. A private school, to boot. Plus college.

Sure, I’ve been married twice before, but you’re not perfect either.

And I’ve got five kids and three grandkids.

And they span the generations. The oldest is Forty-something and the youngest will be 13 at the end of August 2016.

Am I perfect?

No.

I’ve been married most of my adult life, but not to the same woman. Two Mrs. Exes.

Glad to tell you about both. But remember, it’s from my perspective.

I have a lot of incredible stories to tell. You won’t believe them. That’s why I’m a writer. I can write about them and you will then give them credence.

At the same time, I recognize there is a diminishing amount of time I have left on this earth, and wouldn’t it be nice it I could spend them with someone I liked?

I’m not an orgre.

People tell me I’m actually a quite likable fellow. Like Professor Higgins in “My Fair Lady,” for example. Although I’m not British, and not a professor.

I kind of wish I had more to recommend me. But I don’t.

I’m a writer.

That, in and of itself, is a negative I think.

And, I write about weird stuff.

Oh, God!

Plus, I’m overweight.

Seems that’s okay if you’re a woman. But not if a man.

Does it bother me?

Sure it does.

I was once a lithe and agile young youth. Had ribs stretching my skin.

Not now. Now I struggle. Like Oprah.

In my mind I am youth and virility and all things good.

In actuality? Not so much.

But is there credit for good intentions?

You there.

You’re looking for someone intelligent, yes?

I fit the bill.

You want a challenge?

Again, me.

You want someone to bump hips when the music’s hot, and to roll and laugh!

Right?

That’s me.

But I don’t want to be changed.

I don’t want somebody that wants to make me into something I’m not.

That’s a deal-breaker for most. And especially for me.

So I will resign myself to the fact that there is probably no one out there who I can match up with.

I’m just not there.

I’m a moment away.

I wish you could see what I see.

From where I’m sitting, it is a spectacular view!

I wish I could play a song for you on my guitar. Let the view and the music carry you away.

I wish I could hum on my harmonica, and let the tune play in the wind.

It would be only for you.

But I think, sad to say, that you are not listening, and do not have eyes to see, and you will miss me.

And I will miss you.

C’est la vive!

Wifi, Cable TV, Stephan Curry, and Grandfather Mountain

11 Jun
Grandfather Mountain, NC

Grandfather Mountain, NC

Wifi, Cable TV, Stephan Curry, and Grandfather Mountain

By L. Stewart Marsden

“Yeah! We ought to put our cellphones and our TVs and all other electronics away for a week — maybe even a month!”

You’ve heard that.

America and the rest of the world has become so digitally connected (or disconnected) that soon babies will be born with built-in microchip processors and USB outlets where their belly buttons once were.

Someone complains at the dinner table where each and every family member is crouched with hands in laps and heads down. Not to ask the blessing. But to make sure they don’t miss the latest Instagram or Tweet or message from a friend’s brother’s cousin’s whatever.

I’m moving from a middle-sized backward community (textiles and furniture … Dead), to the mountains. It’s not an all-at-once move, but is taking several trips to move my stuff into a nice condo underlooking Grandfather Mountain in NC. Yes, I don’t plan to move because of HB2.

The cable and wifi in the condo has been disconnected, and my new service isn’t scheduled to be hooked up for a while.

I facetiously posted that I was going to survive the “dead” time and enjoy the quiet.

I lied.

Try to quit something and see if you are not addicted to whatever that something is. And it’s not just booze or cigarettes that hook you.

You know that.

I still had my iPhone, but because I’m not one of those thumbidexterous digital dandies I see all over, the thought of writing anything became far more than a daunting obstacle. Plus automatic spellcheck.

You can commiserate.

I busied myself with the task of removing photos from the condo (it was my parents summertime retreat for nearly 30 years) and replacing them with my own. Of disconnecting entangled plugs and wires from various electrical outlets my dad had configured over the years (ala “A Christmas Story”), and removing and rearranging furniture to suit my taste and personality.

You’ve moved before. You know the compulsion to get things settled so you can settle down.

All the while documenting stuff on my iPhone. Unable to wean myself from Facebook. Messaging and checking messaging at every opportunity. That’s sick!

The most grating part of no wifi nor cable was that the damn NBA decided to put on the championship finals during my move!

I’m NOT a big NBA fan, for various reasons. College b-ball is my bailiwick. Before ESPN brought college ball onto the screen, my friends and I fed off every word Woody Durham spoke into his radio mic during a Carolina game. We huddled around someone’s AM/FM transitor radio on camping trips with our Scout troop.

And the NBA seemed to be nothing more than individual play — hot-shotting and ball-hogging and nothing that remotely resembled the game I loved.

But this year? This year a phenomenal Golden State team took the heart of the country with its innocent-looking point guard who does things no one should be able to do. Almost dancing to the finals, with one small hiccup in OKC, the history-making Warriors were about to add to their court legacy.

AND, pitted agains LeBron! Like Rocky Balboa v. Mr. T! Finesse v Brute Strength!

And no wifi nor cable.

Wait, what!?

MAY-be there’s a way! MAY-be I could use my iPhone — with it’s unlimited data plan from T-Mobile (don’t they slow that down after about 2 gigs?) — to tether my iPad and my. PC to get to the internet and watch the games in streaming digital glory!

Wait, what!?

Weren’t you the guy who was looking forward to an uncomplicated period of no-digital-no-TV peace?

Who, me?

Yes, YOU!

There it is. The truth. I’m addicted. Didn’t someone say too much of a good thing is bad? Yes, I’m sure of that. And I was clearly on the verge of too much peace and quiet! After 24 hours. Plus the impending NBA playoffs.

In the end, I wasn’t able to actually watch live streaming of the third and fourth games. I made a special trip back down the mountain to my apartment where I have both cable and wifi in order to watch the first two games of the series.

Back in the mountains, I toggled between the new season of Bloodline on Netflix and the ESPN website updated score with running commentary.

Not the same.

Pretty pathetic.

I will say that I still wanted to bite my fingernails as the running commentary gradually refreshed. Who shot and whether they made the shot or not. Who fouled. Who got fouled. Who made 1 of 2, and then 2 of 2 free throws. The last two minutes of the game lasted, I think, for about 30 minutes, what with the time outs and stuff. It’s bad enough when you watch it on TV. It’s incredibly painful to watch it creep by on a 2″x4″ cellphone screen.

I still don’t have TV.

But, as this article proves, I am functioning. Back in the digital flow. Bird feeders with visiting wrens and goldfinches and hummingbirds feet away on the deck underlooking Grandfather Mountain.

You’ve been there.

You haven’t?

On the precipice once again

6 Feb

 EPSON MFP image

On the precipice once again

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

Years ago a pastor, friend, and mentor shared a parable during a church service on a farm in rural North Carolina.

He has passed on to better grounds long ago, but his metaphor still lingers, and is resurrected at special times in my life.

Now is such a time. While my words, which dare to remember, the heart of the message is the same.

Imagine you climb the ladder on a 10 meter diving platform. You are blindfolded. Each step and thrust brings you closer to the top of the tower. While you cannot see it, you can see it vividly in your mind’s eye. You have been there before. Many times.

You reach the top of the platform and grab the side rails. You carefully make your way out to the edge of the concrete platform, and curl your toes over the front edge.

Ten meters.

Every other time you have performed a dive you have not been blindfolded. You could look around and see the spectators, or empty bleachers, to the left and right. You could hear the soft spray of water across the water’s surface to even the surface. You could see the water below, and knew when you performed your jump, in fractions of seconds your hands would hit and divide the water’s surface, and you would pierce the pool with your body.

It was rote.

It was something to which you were accustomed.

This time, however, you are blindfolded, and see nothing. It is by the feel of your toes and feet and hands you ascend the cold stainless steel ladder.

You know the step count from hundreds of previous climbs. But this time, your mind is muddled, and you cannot remember the number of steps, and it seems your very first time.

On the edge of the platform, a soft buffeting of air pats your chest.

You listen carefully for the sound of the spray of water down below, but your heart pounds so loudly in your ears it is discernible.

You realize the pool might — in fact — be empty, and what awaits you is the hard reality of concrete as you hit it from ten meters up.

Ten meters. 32.81 feet. About the length of a three-story building.

You see nothing.

“Jump!” you hear someone shout, the word echoing throughout the empty arena.

“Jump!” you feel your heart urging, realizing the words, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”

It is a fearful moment.

Yet there have been many times in life prior to this particular standing on the precipice. You have jumped many times. Sometimes the results have been good. Sometimes not.

What are the odds there is no water in the pool below as you stand on the edge of the 10-meter platform yet once again?

When I was a child, I would climb the ladder to the high diving board, and people would warn me, “You know, you can’t go back once you go up!”

Life guards with zinc-covered noses and dark sunglasses and deep summer tans.

A springboard lacks the solid feeling of a platform. There I was, lost in swim trunks too large, bouncing at the end of the oscillating diving board, my arms over my head, looking down at the water which may as well have been a mile down — like the Colorado River from the edge of the Grand Canyon.

And I would jump. Feet first. And plunge into the water, and dog-paddle my way to the surface for a much-needed gasp of air. I had done it!

Blindfolded. On the edge of the 10-meter platform. Unsure whether there would be water or concrete to break my fall. And my fall would be head first.

“Jump!” the voice taunted.

That is the essence of faith,” my pastor, friend and mentor explained. “You jump, without any guarantees.”

 

Copyright © by Lawrence S. Marsden, 6 February, 2016