Some Thoughts About Decisions, Dreams, Words and Big Sur

jon99bw1Decisions, Decisions…

Time is a map and we build upon it with our dreams and decisions. Every thing we do, and every action we engage in has an effect upon ourselves and on the world around us.

The abstract expressionist painter Robert Motherwell wrote that a painting is the result of thousands of decisions. If you have ever been involved with the creative process (and who hasn’t) you’ll understand what he meant.

We each do the same thing with our lives, make decision after decision, choice after choice… you can not avoid that responsibility. Even if we delude ourselves into thinking someone else has control over my life, I still have the responsibility for how I react and the decisions I make based on other peoples choices that affect me.

In hockey it works like this; the referee might let a little infraction slide, but if a player takes matters into his own hands and retaliates, most likely he’ll end up in the penalty box. I think most parents will understand the social management wisdom on the part of the referees.

In this world people will offend you, will cut you off on the road, will cut in line, smile to your face and then stab you in the back, cheat on you, lie to you, steal from you and worse… why, because we’re all becoming human beings, and in this world you will have suffering. That’s not my original thought – every great religion will point that out and you don’t have to live long to experience the truth of the matter…

But that is not the end of it – you have choices, and you have dreams.

Dreaming The Future

I bet that if you looked around you right now you’d be hard pressed to find something that didn’t start as a dream, notion or inspiration of some person. Even the plants around you were placed there by someone… and that’s the way it is in a world that has been made in our image.

When I was very young, back in the late 1960’s and early 70’s I used to dream about computer devices that look like our laptops do today, and I used to fantasize about having devices that are just like our camcorders now – I would spend afternoons daydreaming about what I could do with cool stuff like that…

I doubt that I was the only kid at the time who had those daydreams about the gadgets we have today… I’m sure there were others who had them also, but were better equipped or positioned for the task to build those dreams. As for me, I just waited for them to be built so I could use them now.

Ideas and dreams can take a generation or two to materialize, but if it’s a strong dream it will happen. What could be more evident of this truth than what we have seen in our own times and the dream of Martin Luther King, Jr?

To make an immaterial thing like a dream into a material reality requires one of the most amazing building materials known to mankind – words.

A word is like an atom – in it’s nucleus is the core formed by the tensions of pure idea and sound – while around it flies emotionally charged energy. In the hot, dense fields of mental energy we call dreams and ideas, these atoms get bound together into thought molecules, and then groups of molecules into structures that start to create a new material existence in the physical world around us.

And where does this amazing and mysterious form of alchemy take place? In songs, poems, stories, plays and books.

Built By Words

I grew up in a home that was basically decorated in wall-to-wall bookshelves. My parents could not pass up a library book sale, and a good Saturday afternoon could be spent digging through the interesting treasure trove of words and pictures they brought home by the box load. I read quickly and had excellent comprehension. By the end of third grade I had already finished C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Series and was working my way through Tolkien’s The Lord of The Ring Trilogy.

My mom had a great reading voice and many evenings were spent listening to her read, begging her (along with my brothers and sisters) to read “just one more chapter.”

One of her favorite tricks to get me into a book she thought I’d like was by reading the first chapter – only. If I wanted to know more I’d have to read the rest myself. She was so smart…

She also had a way of using books like idea-time-bombs… She’d give me some book years before I needed it, but at the right moment it would be at my fingertips, ready to provide the information I needed at that moment – really amazing stuff sometimes.

When she died a few years back I became the owner and caretaker for the two books she wrote,  Commentaries on the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, which are some of my most precious possession.

It was partly those two books by my mom, along with many others that have shaped me, my dreams and my decisions. As I wrestled with ideas I didn’t understand or disagreed with, my critical thinking skills were sharpened. While embracing, dissecting and rejecting ideas and concepts I found that I was polishing a mirror that helped me see who I really am… and without certain books I doubt if I would be the person I am today.

Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch by Henry Miller

Henry Miller - Big Sur - Cover1

This book has to be the top of the list (after the Bible, but that’s a whole other posting) of books that changed my life, as in, I did not think the same after reading this book, and never would. I re-read this book every couple of years, and it knocks me out every time.

I discovered this book in my father-in-laws attic bookshelves back in 1989 while my wife and I were living in her old bedroom after moving home from Minnesota in the winter of 1988.

Tania, my wife, and I weren’t married yet, and I was at the time the out-of-work boyfriend who hung around the house reading while everyone else was responsible and went to work or school. My unemployment lasted until April, and to escape from my job-hunting I read – lots.

After spending a couple of days traveling through Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I came across this book by Henry Miller. It was sitting on the shelf with his book Tropic of Capricorn. I had never heard of Henry Miller, so I grabbed both books to take them for a spin.

Sometimes you just don’t realize your life is about to change directions – and this was one of those moments. Something happened as I read through the book, like a well bubbling up inside…

As I was trying to think of the right words to describe why this book that has been so influential to me, I cruised over to Amazon.com to get the link to this book when I read this review by veedon”:

I first read this book exactly ten years ago when I was struggling through a profound period of depression. I don’t want to say that the book cured me, because that would be too facile and too drastic a declaration, but I will say that Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch was the first real beacon, the first glimmer of light to lead me out of a suffocating psychological cave.

I don’t know why, exactly, but when I began reading the book, a deep sense of peace came over me for the first time in several months. The book seemed to open up my eyes and my ears and my throat and even my lungs; I found myself sucking in big sweet gulps of air, and I started to detect a freedom and a limitlessness in the world that I had previously failed to recognize.

Of course, there is no way that I can promise that you will have the same reaction. Over the years I have passed the book along to various friends: Some of them have fallen in love with it and some of them have been utterly bored…

You can read more on the amazon site, but I will include this excerpt, also from veedon”:

Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch is for any reader who is in the mood for a beguiling rumination on how a man once tried to bring peace into his life.

The story, as such, is this: Henry Miller moves to Big Sur, one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and sets out to create a new home infused with energy, creativity, a sense of community, and an appreciation of nature, while at the same time he copes with intrusions and financial pressures and the charisma and creepiness of other people.

That’s it.

If that sounds dull to you, steer clear. If it sounds seductive to you, plunge in. Because if these are issues that gnaw at your soul (and maybe they should, since our media-saturated culture is becoming more programmed and conformist every day), then you might find this book to be a page-turner as gripping as any of John Grisham’s potboilers.

I could not put it down. I read it straight through, and afterwards, I felt like every step I took was charged up with a new vitality. Crazy, huh? The way I see it, Henry Miller’s big lascivious grin was one of the bravest acts of American rebellion, because it came roaring out of his heart, and the heart is where all true liberation takes place. That’s the appeal of this book, for anybody who cares to explore it.

In my case, this book said to a depressed man: There is another way to live. Choose it.

I think that sums the book up quite well. Veedon says it much better than I could have.

Now I have to go get my copy back from my neighbor who I loaned it to months ago…

End of Part I – To Be Continued Someday…

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