Posts Tagged ‘Edward Abbey’

Sane Man Walking

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

When Your Heart Is Strong painting by Nolan Winkler

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser April 2013)

“ Solvitur ambulando, St. Jerome was fond of saying.  To solve a problem, walk around.” Gregory McNamee

After a severely stressful year of extreme physical challenges finally resolved by two successful surgeries, I am once again walking to and from the village every day, and slowly but surely building up my strength and stamina. The three-mile trip—downhill to town, uphill coming home—is invigorating now rather than exhausting, and the hour of steady walking is always a welcome relief from desk work and my connection to the electrical digital reality that underpins so much of my life today.

Spring has sprung, the plum trees and camellias and quince are in fulgent bloom, crab apples, rhododendrons, and cherry trees soon to follow with their outbursts of color, while Japanese maples spread their leafy wings and daffodils wave their trumpet-like flowers over the green grass that will never be so brilliantly green as when it first erupts from the flanks of Mother Earth. How sweet to walk through this riot of new life—what fun to write such purple prose.

“If you are seeking creative ideas, go out walking.  Angels whisper to a man when he goes for a walk.” Raymond Inmon

Having just finished writing a new novel, copies being made at Zo, the one and only copy shop in Mendocino, Ian the meticulous maven of duplication handling my case, I find that I am already in the grip of yet another novel, three chapters written and a fourth being told to me as I walk through the piney woods, the new story so intriguing I can barely remember the other book that owned me so completely for several months until just the other day.

I was talking to a friend about the experience of writing my new novel, the first I’ve birthed in some years, and I used the expression necessary delusion to describe why, whilst in the throes of giving birth, I felt so certain that this new book was truly fantastic, though it might not be any good at all.

“I’m not sure what you mean,” said my friend, frowning quizzically. “Why was it necessary that you be delusional?”

“Because,” I explained, “if I’m going to spend months and possibly years working on something that has very little chance of succeeding commercially, when I might otherwise make real money editing other people’s writing, I must believe the novel is going to be the next Moby Dick or Portnoy’s Complaint, or better yet a combination of the two.”

“But maybe you’re not delusional,” said my friend, an optimistic fellow. “Maybe you did create a masterpiece.”

“Doesn’t matter,” I replied. “Masterwork or drivel, it is imperative that I believe the book is superb or I won’t continue. And because the epigenetic overlords controlling me wanted that thing written, they caused the requisite endorphins to be released into my blood along with whatever else was needed to silence my inner critics long enough for me to get the job done, after which the spell was broken and, to thoroughly mix my metaphors, I turned back into a frog, or Toad, as I was called in elementary school. Toad Walnut.”

“Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached.” Simone Weil

Yes, indeed, until I was fifty, I cared deeply about what might happen to my stories and novels and plays after I completed them, hoping fervently that they would bring me renown and buckets of money. And it was this hoping and caring, I now realize, that kept those creations glued to my psyche for months and years after I finished them. Now, blessedly, I understand that keeping things glued to my psyche is the creative equivalent of going deaf from wax buildup in my ears—an impediment to hearing the call of the muse, a blaring egotism that tells the gods I am not the tabula rasa they require; and so they desist from using me in the way I love to be used.

Which is not to say I don’t appreciate those rare and inspiring notes of praise from readers and listeners—I do—or that I don’t hoot for joy when I find a check in our post office box for something I wrote or recorded—I do. But I am happiest nowadays when the muse has me under her power and there is nothing glued to my psyche to distract me. I feel most alive and empowered when no attachment stands in my way of hearing the muse in full surround sound stereo, my attention undivided as I work to translate her imagistic offerings into prose.

“Walking takes longer than any other known form of locomotion except crawling.  Thus it stretches time and prolongs life.  Life is already too short to waste on speed.” Edward Abbey

Countless authors have written about how their most famous works came to them while they were on long walks; and many great scientists, Einstein among them, have said that their most profound theories were first imagined while they were taking walks. I attribute this recurring linkage of inspiration and walking to the profound interrelationship of our specie’s evolution from little-brained tree-dwelling apes to walking-around-on-the-ground hominids with huge brains—the relatively swift evolution from small-brained to big-brained coinciding precisely with our specie’s adaptation of walking and running on two legs as the fundamental means of getting around in the absence of trees to swing through.

During my brief collegiate career, I majored in Cultural Anthropology and was required to take an introductory course in Physical Anthropology, a field I found both fascinating and infinitely less morally questionable than Cultural Anthropology as it was generally practiced in those days—a university-funded imperialism, if you will, that treated indigenous societies as specimens to be intellectually dissected and analyzed by Great White Academics whether those specimen societies wanted to be dissected or not.

In 1967, the year I began my avid reading of Physical Anthropology texts, one of the debates raging in that field was whether bi-pedal locomotion (walking on two legs) or the advent of the opposable thumb was the adaptation most responsible for and/or conjoined with the dramatic enlargement of our australopithecine brains.

This distracting debate eventually went the way of the Dodo, thank goodness, and we followers of the fossil discoveries and resultant theories of how we came to be the humans we are today were no longer distracted by academic dickering while we marveled at the ingenuity of nature guiding our evolution from little hominids who were the favorite prey of enormous cats to large hominids staring at television screens while miniature versions of those enormous cats sleep on our beds and demand to be fed or they’ll shred the furniture.

My point being: I totally grok why walking ignites the imagination, and I enjoy thinking about that ignition as a variation on good old ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny—the physiological development of the individual organism recapitulating the physiological evolution of that organism’s species—the imagination ignited by walking recapitulating the interconnectedness of bi-pedal locomotion and the dramatic enlargement of our incredible brains.

 “After a day’s walk everything has twice its usual value.” George Macauley Trevelyan

I have previously extolled the wonders of Bruce Chatwin’s book The Songlines, which might have been subtitled A Treatise on Walking and the Evolution of Human Society, and I feel compelled to extol his book again. A favorite anecdote therein echoes my own sense of how Nature intends for humans—amalgams of body, mind, and spirit—to function on spaceship Earth.

“A white explorer in Africa, anxious to press ahead with his journey, paid his porters for a series of forced marches. But they, almost within reach of their destination, set down their bundles and refused to budge. No amount of extra payment would convince them otherwise. They said they had to wait for their souls to catch up.”

That story strikes me as an excellent explanation for the discombobulating sensation known as jet lag, as well as explaining why I always feel so much more relaxed and present when I walk to town rather than drive. I have not run ahead of my soul. Or put another way, I am in synch with my essential nature. I am grooving with my intrinsic biorhythms. I have fortified my sanity by doing what my body and mind and spirit require for optimal functioning. In walking I am practicing the yoga (unification) of body, mind, and spirit free of digital electronic automotive interference—striding (or in my case ambling) through the natural world as our Bushmen foremothers and forefathers strode on the sands of the Kalahari.

Here is another thought-provoking tidbit from The Songlines.

“In Middle English, the word progress meant a journey, particularly a seasonal journey or circuit. A progress was the journey of a king round the castles of his barons, a bishop round his dioceses, a nomad round his pastures, a pilgrim round a sequence of shrines. Moral or material forms of progress were unknown until the seventeenth century.”

What I especially like about that earlier definition of progress is how it resonates with my feelings about my daily walk to town, my own little pilgrim’s progress, my shrines the post office, Zo, Corners of the Mouth, Harvest at Mendosa’s, the bank, Goodlife Café, the Tiki god statue overlooking the mouth of Mendocino Bay, the driftwood sculptures on Portuguese Beach, the library, the hardware store, the traffic light on Highway One—the pleasure of my progress amplified by meeting other pilgrims along the way.

Zero Population Growth

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser October 2012)

“The chief cause for the impending collapse of the world—the cause sufficient in and by itself—is the enormous growth of the human population: the human flood. The worst enemy of life is too much life: the excess of human life.” Pentti Linkola

Decades ago I joined an organization called Zero Population Growth, a group founded by Paul Ehrlich dedicated to educating people and elected officials about the dire need to take political and educational action to combat overpopulation in America and around the world. I liked the name of the organization because it said clearly what we wanted to do: intentionally reduce the human birth rate so human population would begin to decline and the earth might be saved. However, some years ago during a time when Republicans controlled both Congress and the White House, funding grew scarce for organizations espousing such radical ideas as limiting population growth, and in order to survive, Zero Population Growth changed its name to Population Connection.

Did the name change help? Apparently so, because the organization lives on and continues to do valuable work. The Reporter, the magazine of Population Connection, dedicates one issue per year to an extensive Congressional Report Card wherein the battle lines are clearly drawn and readers are shown a Congress very much under the sway of ignorant morons who routinely vote against any legislation to fund or enhance family planning or birth control both here and abroad. Ignorant morons doesn’t quite do these particular hominids justice. Evil malicious poopheads would be more accurate; and it is both fascinating and sad to see that the vast majority of these EMP’s are from the South and Midwest; which is not to say that the South and Midwest are hotbeds of ignorance and misogyny and the rest of the country is enlightened, but to suggest that the South and Midwest are hotbeds of ignorance and misogyny.

Say what I will about there being little difference between the Presidential candidates on most matters of importance, Population Connection sees a huge difference between the candidates regarding freedom of choice and access to family planning, safe and legal abortion, and birth control. As stated in the most recent issue of The Reporter:

“There’s really no such thing as a low-stakes election, but it’s clear that for family planning and women’s health advocates, this one is going to be especially pivotal.”

“Over the next four years we could see as many as three new Supreme Court appointments, which could decisively settle the direction of the court for the next twenty to thirty years.”

“As high as the stakes are for women and families in this country (USA), they’re even higher for the 222 million women in the developing world who have an urgent need for contraception. The current House of Representatives has already made numerous attempts to ban U.S. funding for the United Nations Population Fund and reinstate the Global Gag Rule.”

What is the Global Gag Rule? The Global Gag Rule, created by alpha evil malicious poopheads during the reign of Ronald Reagan, ordains that nongovernmental organizations receiving U.S. government assistance cannot use that funding or funding from other sources to inform the public or educate their governments on the need to make safe abortion available, provide legal abortion services, or provide advice on where to get an abortion. Obama repealed the Global Gag Rule on January 23, 2009.

“A crowded society is a restrictive society; an overcrowded society becomes an authoritarian, repressive and murderous society.” Edward Abbey

Speaking of population, today is my birthday. I was born in San Francisco at 6:33 AM on October 17, 1949 at St. Luke’s Hospital. In that same year, my parents bought a steep hillside lot in Mill Valley and hired some out-of-work artists to build the little house where I spent the first four years of my life with my two older sisters, my parents, and a cat. The lot and house cost my parents seven thousand dollars, which they borrowed from my mother’s parents. My father commuted to San Francisco by bus and my mother walked with her little kids to and from the grocery store in the village. In those days, Mill Valley was not yet the domain of the super wealthy, but rather a haven for artists and those who wanted to live a rural life on the edge of civilization. Goodness me, how population growth has changed all that.

My parents were both born in California in 1922 when the entire population of southern California (everything from San Luis Obispo south, including Los Angeles and San Diego) was less than 150,000 people. Today there are roughly twenty-five million people in southern California. When I was a boy, the Santa Clara Valley, now known as Silicon Valley, was sparsely populated and given over entirely to farms and orchards, the rich topsoil there over fifty feet deep. Today there are several million people living in Silicon Valley and most of that miraculous topsoil is covered with pavement and buildings.

I was the third of four children and I am fairly certain that if my parents had been born in 1952, rather than 1922, and been the same people, they would have considered it their moral responsibility to give birth to no more than two children. I am very glad they had four children so that I and my siblings got to be alive and experience the miracles of life, but that does not make me any less a believer in the need for men and women, for the good of the world, to limit the number of children they have to two or less.

A front-page article in today’s news proclaims that Romney surged ahead of Obama in the latest national polls, with huge gains among women voters; and I thought to myself, That can’t possibly be true. How could even one woman in America vote for Romney, let alone a majority of women voters? And then I remembered that Romney is a Mormon, and that devout Mormons believe it is every Mormon’s duty to have as many children as he or she can because each new Mormon he or she creates helps him or her accrue credits toward winning a place in a sector of heaven closer to God than if he or she only creates a couple of Mormons or none at all. No wonder Romney wants to keep women ignorant and disenfranchised and vulnerable to stupid violent men—his policies precisely reflect his religious and moral beliefs.

But the big question is: why would any woman vote for a man and a political party dedicated to destroying the earth and systematically mistreating women? The only answer that makes any sense to me is that women who would vote for their oppressors are deeply confused and psychologically damaged. But just because that’s the only answer that makes any sense to me doesn’t necessarily make it the right answer.

Long ago, when I still thought I might one day beget a child or two, I dated a delightful woman I will call Tina. Smart, funny, thoughtful, sexy, and very much in love with me, Tina and I shared a fabulous few weeks of getting to know each other; and I found myself thinking Maybe Tina and I will get married and spend the rest of our lives together.

Then one night, in the afterglow of groovalicious lovemaking, Tina said, “So listen…I’m totally madly in love with you and want to marry you and hope you feel the same way about me, but I have to tell you I want at least five kids and I can’t invest any more time in you if you’re not up for that.”

“Five kids?” I said, hoping she was joking but fairly certain she wasn’t. “Why five kids?”

“I just have to. It’s what I was born to do and I’ve always known that. Have lots of babies and be a mom.”

“Right, but…how about having one or two children and adopting three or four?”

“No, they have to be ours.”

“But…why?”

“If you don’t know,” she said sadly, “I can’t tell you.”

That was the end of my relationship with Tina, though we stayed distant friends and every year at Christmas for many years she sent me a card containing a brief update on her life. When she was in her late twenties and fed up with being a swinging single in Manhattan, Tina met and married a wealthy fundamentalist Christian stockbroker, and thereafter her Christmas cards contained photographs of her growing family. The last photograph I received from Tina shows her eight children, ages eighteen, sixteen, fourteen, twelve, ten, eight, six, and four, having a snowball fight in front of an enormous mansion—a gang of healthy happy looking young people.

For my part, I did not beget any children, but have been lucky to be a helpful uncle and friend to several children who are now of an age to start having children of their own. They are all wonderful people and deeply concerned about the state of the world, and as far as I know, they are each consciously determined to have two children or less should they have any.