Thursday, March 25, 2010

Negative Capability

John Keats crammed a lot of insight into a short span of time. Tuberculosis took him at 26. He left us with a pocket full of fantastic poems that have endured to this day. And, maybe lesser known, he left us to ponder Negative Capability.  He coined Negative Capability to convey what he felt was the essence of a good poet, and in a broader sense, he drew up a blueprint for embracing life's unpredictability. In a letter to his brother he wrote "at once it struck me, what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously- I mean negative capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties. Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason".  This concept served to open up the world around Keats by closing off the restricting concerns for fact and reason. Restrictions which he felt inhibited one's ability to truly experience the intangible elements of life.  In his eyes fact and reason had no place in sorting out the chaotic mess which is life. 

I would be remiss if I did not extend Keats' concept to humanitarian work. In a line of work where months, even years, of positive progress can be undone in a single day one has little reason not to embrace Keats' approach to life.  Those who are working to solve the epic problems in the far corners of the world are those who feel most comfortable "being in uncertainties". Without a doubt fact and reason still enjoy center stage in our society but Negative Capability has me appreciating life's unpredictability in a new light.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Drawing by Tom Treloar

Down a San Cristobal side street on a Sunday morning the only sound I hear is soft, short steps from an old Mayan woman carrying a stack of warm tortillas.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Happy birthday Jack!

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. (...) The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. But the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as they crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."
- Jack Kerouac born Mach 12, 1922.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Part 1: A decade later

CCR's Someday never comes plays on Ruth's aged Alpine speakers. Fogerty's voice is cranked to a decibel which is most likely damaging my eardrums. I justify this reckless behavior the only way I know how by opening the sunroof and donating half the volume to the cold, clear afternoon. We bomb down highway 395.  I can feel she is feeling young today. We are headed home from a weekend ski trip near Kelowna B.C. I lean forward caressing her dusty black dashboard with my open hand. A random ritual I recently developed to express gratitude for all places she has faithfully, safely, slowly taken me over the last ten years.

Ruth's original name is Mercedes Benz 300 CD (coupe diesel). I know. Horrible name, right. However, it is important to take note of the CD. To spot an old beat up Mercedes Benz on the road is not difficult but I dare you to find a 2-door coupe. They're rare, very rare. Just like Ruth.

Her name was an obvious choice.  In 1980 my great aunt Ruth bought the car band new in Manhattan and faithfully drove it all over NYC and Long Island where she lived for many years. When my great aunt grew into retirement her and the car found a new home in Palm Springs. As she grew increasingly frail, the decision was made for her and the car to live near relatives in Calgary, Canada. The year was 2000 and with a short conversation about being too old to drive my great aunt offered me her car. I graciously accepted her generous offer, thus commencing my 10 year relationship with a car. Yes, I used the word 'relationship' to describe my history with this car.

During the early part of our courtship, travel consisted of endurance rides back and forth from Portland Oregon to Spokane Washington. I attended the University of Portland and Ruth provided reliable transport during all those fall, winter, spring and summer breaks.  But following graduation in 2003 our relationship entered a difficult phase. I started taking extended trips aboard. Leaving Ruth for long periods of time to sit in the garage.

Then, in the fall of 2004 I made the bold decision that Ruth and I would begin anew in San Francisco. The trip would be long, the hills would be the steepest in her life, and the chance of success unknown.  We made that trip together, she proved herself worthy. Running those Bay Area hills with as much speed as she could muster. Although sometimes, we would begin a hill only to quickly realize reverse was in order as it might be asking too much of her fatigued five cylinders. Once I landed my job in the city it became clear that a car was a luxury I couldn't afford and had to again return Ruth to her spot in the garage back in Spokane.

Fast forward a few years later. My time by the Bay fizzled out, then of course more travel abroad. All the while Ruth collected dust in the garage. It wasn't until a book (On the Road) written by the famous beat writer Jack Kerouac connected me to an idea that would prove to be the greatest adventure Ruth and I would ever take. The plan was simple. Drive Ruth from Spokane back to her childhood home on Long Island, via San Diego.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

childish memories.

The full sense of adventure could only really be felt once you ducked under the fence that divided my step-father's property from Grandpa Vic's property.  I caught my shirt on the barbed wire all the time, but once free on the other side I crossed into a frontier and explored it with all the wonderment of a five year old. Which was a lot.

Tall grass carpeted all but the narrow path that twisted down to his house. Soaring strips of white birch reached towards the sky. Countless big black knot holes spied as I darted between the trees.  Once I reached the dirt drive that was when I usually spotted tiny chicks.  Like 10 baby chicks would be busy following close behind mother hen.  I remember thinking how impossibly small they were.  Every time thinking they must have been born yesterday and for sure the next day they would be fully grown and have chicks of their own. But if I was on the dirt drive that meant I was getting close to the mean goose. It was big. It was light gray.  And it was always mad. That goose struck a fear in me that whenever I saw it I started running in the other direction. That crazy goose, what was its problem?

Then past the grain shack. It was this creepy fragile shack, made with rusty wood, well if wood could rust it would have looked like this wood. If I could muster the courage sometimes I would stop and peer inside, pushing open the door just enough to see the mice scurrying away from the shaft of light. I would slam the door and take off for the house, smoke from the chimney would be curling up into the crisp canadian morning air. The valley rolled down from his house, you could see forever. Endless pasture would push up against the other side of the valley, then thick forrest, spread like moss on a mountainside until an inhospitable line separated green from the pale gray of rock.

Opening his front door was like Pandora's box. You could never guess what was going to happen. Inside it was always dimly lit. His dog "Licorice"was jet black and always happy. ALWAYS. Just like my Grandpa. I remember, he had the most amazing shirts, usually dirty but always full of color and crazy prints, western style but with crazy prints like pheasants, or cowboys on horses. And his house was full of shit. But good shit, like cowboys and indians stuff. I mean that guy never threw anything way. Stuff everywhere. EVERYWHERE. I would walk inside and he would be making tea. He would ask if I wanted tea, "sure" I said. "Go get more water from the well downstairs" he would say very chipper. Then the challenge was to find a clean coffee cup. Cups and dishes were all over the counter, used and never washed, just grab one and clean it and use it, that's how it worked.

When I grew old enough to understand chess, we would play. But if not chess we would walk around the property, feeding animals, or just putzing around like farmers do in the morning. And I remember when he needed to go check on the cows he would get on his beatup motorcycle, and then he would call out "LICORICE" and a few seconds later the dog would be seated on the gas tank in his lap.  Sometimes I would ride along, holding on tight behind Grandpa Vic.  If I didn't go I would stand in the dirt drive and watch as my grandpa and his dog would take off down into the valley.  I would start back up the path into the shade of the Birch trees full of wonderment.

A chill covers my skin. I miss that man and his land.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

in defense of the vagabond.

Momentarily perplexed, her head tilts to one side,  "oh, yeah. No, I remember Patrick telling me about you. You're the one that's putting off life. Ahh." She starts to backpedal. "I mean, the one who travels a lot." She continues to stumble over her words as I prepare for my rebuttal.

I know I still have a lot to learn because this description of my lifestyle still stirs in me a fury like nothing else. A true zen master would draw a deep breath and realize no matter what path we walk, we all endure judgements, critiques, and lots of bad advice. Most of it unwanted, a large chunk unwarranted, but all of it a prerequisite for life.

Regardless of whether it is at the forefront of our minds, we are all searching for purpose in this world. For some it comes in the sleek lines of a sports car. It is for many the creation of a happy, healthy family.  The list of reasons is as long as the world's population. Everyone defines their own sense of purpose.

Of course self-actualization is not delivered in the form of a diploma. No professional photographer is at the corner of the stage ready to snap a shot of this moment into a photo album for your grandkids.  Like a spiritual puberty this process arrives at different times for everyone.

Speaking from personal experience, the nomad is someone, for whatever reason, who is still transfixed by the number of paths before him. Many like to label this sense of wonderment as lost, or better yet lazy. Please feel free to fill in the blank.  The risk is that all of this reads a little self-righteous. Pitting vagabonds against venture capitalists.  Mudslinging from the campfire to the water cooler. Take it for what you will.

Having spent a few days on the slopes with the backpedaling girl we found ourselves on the chair lift, laughing.

"...I keep confusing you with another Brad I know..."
"Just remember, I'm the one who's putting off life."

Monday, March 1, 2010

Only in America Collection.

For the barbarian bargain hunter in all of us.

Nothing says "Handicap parking" like John Deere

He might be there awhile.

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