Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Inside the Belly of the Whale

In 2009, at the American Psychiatric Association annual meeting, I heard behavior expert Robert Cloninger frame recovery in a thermodynamic context, with energy shifts between two stable states: A (where you don't want to be but where you feel most comfortable and where psychiatry tends to keep us) and B (where you need to be). The catch is getting from A to B involves a painful struggle, through a valley of tears. Speaking of which ...

The name, Israel, means “struggles with God.” You may recall that Jacob wrestled to a standoff a mysterious entity in the dark, who turned out to be none other than the Main Man, Himself. In recognition of his opponent's efforts, God bestowed on Jacob the new name, Israel. Lesson: You’re not going to win against God, but you’re perfectly within your rights to put up a fight. And the lessons you learn from that struggle will imbue you with the qualities you need to take stock in yourself and lead your people.

A parallel tale exists in Norse myth. Here, in the Land of the Frost Giants, Thor thought he was wrestling with an old hag. After he got bested, the King of the Giants revealed the opponent’s true identity as Old Age. Old Age always wins, but there is absolutely no shame in taking up the challenge and losing. Thor and his two companion gods did a lot of losing that day, but it turns out that in their failures they learned an awful lot about their strengths.

My good friend Therese Borchard wrote a terrific blog post on failure. Literally every successful person, she wrote, has a string of failures to their name. Back in Kansas City, for instance, Walt Disney was fired from his local newspaper gig. Later, the first company he founded went belly up and he had to file for bankruptcy. Decades later, Steve Jobs faced the supreme humiliation of being booted out of the company he founded. Both Disney and Jobs asserted that without these personal disasters, they never would have achieved their later success. In 2005, Jobs told a Stanford graduating class that the most productive and instructive time in his life came after Apple fired him. The path to success, says Therese, is not linear. There will always be setbacks, indeed crushing ones. But success, it appears, is forged in failure.

You may have first heard of Disney’s and Jobs’ experiences from a motivational speaker or writer. If you draw inspiration from these sources, by all means keep doing so. But also consider viewing these stories as personifications of the hero’s journey. Motivating yourself to action is fine, but motivation is a nonstarter if you’re working with a brain where your operating system refuses to boot up. You may find yourself stuck in failure mode for a lot longer than you want to be. You’ve signed a long-term lease in a very bleak spot, and you may as well give it a name. Joseph Campbell did - the belly of the whale. You have been swallowed whole. You cease to exist. But this is precisely where you need to be, as extinction sets the scene for rebirth.

Back in 1999, when I was finding my way out of a suicidal depression, I drew great comfort in an internet post I came across by an unsung individual, Traute Klein. Ms Klein compared her emergence from the darkness of depression to an arisen Jesus emerging from the tomb. The Roman Catholic faith places tremendous emphasis on his suffering in the hands of his captors. Its churches and cathedrals, either outdoors or in, feature “Stations of the Cross,” where people off the street can pause at fourteen different waypoints to ponder and reflect. On Good Friday, the day of his crucifixion, the altar is draped in black, with the celebrants in black vestments. So powerful is the narrative that when the clock strikes three, the hour of his death, one almost expects to encounter a total eclipse of the sun.

Significantly, the Gospels are silent concerning the time Jesus lay in the tomb after it was sealed, but his entire mission to this point lends a sense of inevitability to what is about to occur. Earlier, Jesus had foretold he would enter the belly of the whale (or fish), just like Jonah, only with a far more spectacular result. The whale released Jonah when the time was right. Did the tomb, in a similar fashion, release Jesus?

We will never know, of course, but let’s run with the proposition that his release was conditional upon his finding a level of comfort in his current surroundings. There was no sense in him fighting his situation, in putting up a struggle. Joseph Campbell in his classic Hero of a Thousand Faces compares the belly of the whale to the womb, a place of nurture. Seen is this regard, there are no expectations, nothing more to prove We are free at long last to lay down our present burdens. In the process, we shed a layer or two of our old identity – various attitudes and beliefs that are no longer working for us – and free up our energies to take on whatever the next phase of our journey may bring. When time is right, we feel a sense of rebirth. The rock rolls away. The tomb opens up, letting in light.

But this is never the end of the story. On our own journeys, there are no true endings, only new beginnings. This new beginning of yours presents its own set of challenges, but what you have going for you now is that you are in a story that you belong in, with yourself as the hero.

Take heart, you are on the right path.

John McManamy is the author of Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder and is the publisher of the Bipolar Expert Series, available on Amazon.

Follow John on Twitter at @johnmcman and on Facebook.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Being the Hero in Your Own Narrative

A lot has happened since I last posted. If you followed this blog in the past, welcome back. By all means, feel free to post and get a dialogue going. Same with you newcomers.

Right now, I'm outside my tent watching the sun rise over the desert. Tonight will be a spectacular full moon. These days, I tend to think of the outdoors as my living room and heavenly objects as my chandeliers.

I've been on the road for two years, living out of my car, sleeping in a tent and, occasionally, on people's couches. My first year on the road, I did a complete circuit of the country, from rural San Diego to Florida, up through the Appalachians into New York and New England, across the plains states and into the Northwest, then down into California and back where I started. Eleven months, 30 states, 13,000 miles. Then back on the road.

My second year, I divided my time between the Southwest and the Northwest, adding two new states to my list, but staying put long enough to get off a draft book of my first-year road adventures and misadventures. I'm hoping to find a mainstream publisher in due course. In the meantime, I've just begun the final book to my self-published Bipolar Expert Series. The first two were on mood and behavior. This one is on recovery.

Funny thing when writing a book – themes pop up out of nowhere. A few days ago, a major one jumped out and hit my in the face. This has to do with the fact that we need to cast ourselves as heroes in our own stories. Otherwise, recovery is a nonstarter.

The model for the hero's journey, of course, is Joseph Campbell's classic Hero of a Thousand Faces. Breaking it down …

The hero gets called to action, often with great reluctance, leaving her safe and comfortable world behind. Along the way, she picks up a mentor and a helper or two, plus a magic object to aid her in her quest. Over time, the stakes grow exponentially higher, typically with the fate of the world riding on the outcome. She faces various challenges and temptations, caves into despair at least once, then with renewed purpose reaches her destination, defeats the enemy, and achieves the object of her quest.

In the process of the journey, she has acquired new wisdom and insight, with a new sense of self. She is no longer the same person she was back when she set out at the beginning. The trick now is to bring all she has gained back into her old world, a boon to herself, a boon to humankind.

The original Star Wars trilogy followed this template, as did Lord of the Rings.

In our own world, the hero’s journey tends to be far more prosaic but no less inspiring. Sometimes, these involve Hollywood actors in real life. Typical is the star who has fallen from grace due to an alcohol or drug addiction. After a long battle wrestling with his demons, he returns to good standing and makes movies again, infinitely wiser, an inspiration to those going through similar struggles.

We also see these stories played out in our everyday lives: The tradesman who has lost years of his life to drug abuse, then finds Jesus, and now, with a supportive faith community, is back on his feet, helping others. Or the single mom battling tooth and nail to keep her family together through all sorts of financial and other hardships, including a disabled child, and in the process discovers strengths she never knew she had. On and on ...

What we don’t see nearly enough of, though, are our own stories – from those of us contending with depression and bipolar and similar challenges – every bit as worthy, every bit as inspiring. One problem could be is that we don’t frame our struggles in terms of the hero’s journey. Perhaps we’re too ashamed to want to draw attention to ourselves. You might call this a form of self-stigma. It could also be that well-meaning clinicians and family members tend to take over our narratives.

I’ve seen this happen time and again. I finally gave up on one well-known national mental health organization after watching them trot out patients at a national conference like entries at a dog and pony show. Instead of heroism, the ideal of this organization proved to be compliance – of dependents doing what those who purported to know better told them to do. To rub salt into the wound, the conference in question devoted a gala evening to a doctor on their payroll, one who made his bones promoting the idea that patients lacked basic insight into their illness.

What I didn’t see at this conference were patients on an equal footing with doctors and family members, delivering keynotes or being otherwise featured, based on their considerable level of expertise and what they had to offer.

Nearly two years later, I received an email flier from this same organization, promoting their upcoming conference. Sure enough, no patients as the featured speakers. When I contacted the person responsible for the flier, she responded that not mentioning patients in their promotion was an oversight.

Okay, I thought, prove it. I replied asking her to name the patient speakers at the conference. I explicitly added that their usual dog-and-pony show patients don’t count (I worded it far more diplomatically but with no less emphasis). With tremendous satisfaction, she got back to me, citing the dog-and-pony show patients. That was the last straw.

I will have a lot more to say in upcoming posts about casting ourselves as the hero in our own narrative, on our own terms, shooting for the stars, with something to offer the world – not as meek betas, expected to submit, settling for miserable existences, a burden on those around us.

Don't let others steal your narrative. Much more to come. Your comments most welcome ...

John McManamy is the author of Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder and is the publisher of the Bipolar Expert Series, available on Amazon.

Follow John on Twitter at @johnmcman and on Facebook.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Bullshit Mountain Explained: Why You Can't Reason With Republicans - Part III

The biggest problem with the denizens of Bullshit Mountain, is they act like their shit don't stink. If they have success, "they built it". If they failed, the government ruined it for them. If they get a break, they deserve it. If you get a break, it's a "handout" and an "entitlement". It's a baffling, willfully blind, cognitive dissonance ... - Jon Stewart

My previous two posts (one and two), based on Chris Mooney’s illuminating “The Republican Brain,” summarizes the science and circumstances behind Bullshit Mountain and why these days it is impossible to reason with a Republican. Today, I woke up to validation from a surprise source - JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame. In a recent interview with the Guardian, she said:

We all know that pleasurable rush that comes from condemning, and in the short term it's quite a satisfying thing to do, isn't it?

Ah, dopamine.

Rowling is about to publish her first novel for grown-ups, “The Casual Vacancy,” that, according to the Guardian, “satirizes the ignorance of elites who assume to know what's best for everyone else.” Says Rowling, who has experienced poverty and not forgotten about it:

How many of us are able to expand our minds beyond our own personal experience? So many people, certainly people who sit around the cabinet table, say, 'Well, it worked for me' or, 'This is how my father managed it' – these trite catchphrases – and the idea that other people might have had such a different life experience that their choices and beliefs and behaviors would be completely different from your own seems to escape a lot of otherwise intelligent people. The poor are discussed as this homogeneous mash, like porridge. The idea that they might be individuals, and be where they are for very different, diverse reasons, again seems to escape some people.

So, can one recover from Republicanism? Yes, but it’s not easy. An eye-opening article by Jeremiah Goulkin in The Nation makes it clear that nothing less than a willingness to confront your comforting illusions is involved. According to Goulkin:

The more I learned about reality, the more I started to care about people as people, and my values shifted. Had I always known what I know today, it would have been clear that there hasn’t been a place for me in the Republican Party since the Free Soil days of Abe Lincoln.

He goes on to say:

The enormity of the advantages I had always enjoyed started to truly sink in. Everyone begins life thinking that his or her normal is the normal. For the first time, I found myself paying attention to broken eggs rather than making omelets. Up until then, I hadn’t really seen most Americans as living, breathing, thinking, feeling, hoping, loving, dreaming, hurting people. ...

My old Republican worldview was flawed because it was based upon a small and particularly rosy sliver of reality. To preserve that worldview, I had to believe that people had morally earned their “just” desserts, and I had to ignore those whining liberals who tried to point out that the world didn’t actually work that way. ...

Last but not least:

Waking up to a fuller spectrum of reality has proved long and painful. I had to question all my assumptions, unlearn so much of what I had learned. I came to understand why we Republicans thought people on the Left always seemed to be screeching angrily (because we refused to open our eyes to the damage we caused or blamed the victims) and why they never seemed to have any solutions to offer (because those weren’t mentioned in the media we read or watched).

As discussed in my two previous pieces, shifting one’s thinking is far more difficult for conservatives than liberals. To quickly review: Our brains were not built to dispassionately sift through facts and come to reasoned conclusions. Rather, we think with our emotions. This applies to all of us, but there is a fatal twist with conservatives, namely they score low on “openness to experience,” which translates to extreme discomfort with change and uncertainty and ambiguity.

Conservatives, then, are far more inclined than liberals to remain locked into unsustainable positions, in complete defiance of the facts. Yes, there are extreme liberals, too, but there are far fewer of them and they tend to get relegated to the margins. The very opposite has happened in the Republican party, where the extremists have taken over.

As Mooney explains, conservatives are afflicted by “conscientiousness,” a very desirable personality trait but fatal in the context of misplaced loyalty, particularly to a tribe or in-group at the expense of the greater good. This is why moderate conservatives would rather remain silent than speak out, even in full knowledge of the consequences of their acquiescence.

We can’t leave this without something about Fox News. Mooney devotes a lot of attention to this in his book, but fails to mention that conservatives are far more inclined than liberals to pick their news - just compare the ratings of Fox News to MSNBC. Where is Walter Cronkite when we need him?

Back to Bullshit Mountain, to Republicans: No need to explain yourselves. I've already done that for you.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why You Can't Reason With Republicans - Part II

Last week I posted why you can’t reason with Republicans. This has to do with the “smart idiot effect,” laid out in Chris Mooney’s illuminating book, “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality.”

First you start with the proposition that the thinking part of the brain is designed to rationalize our emotions rather than override them. The emotional part of the brain was there first, and - like it or not - it still calls the shots. We have to work with what we’ve got. I’m sure if God decided to start over, He would be outfitting us with Vulcan brains. That’s more or less the evolutionary biology take on it. As to why God doesn’t start over - that’s a theological discussion.

If our brains were truly built for dispassionately sifting through information, making reasoned decisions, and adjusting beliefs in response to new facts, we wouldn’t be exposed to such spectacularly stupid dogma as man coexisting with dinosaurs and humans having nothing to do with global warming.

Amazingly, intelligent people actually support such rubbish, and this leads to the “smart idiot” effect, namely the more informed we are, the more elaborate our rationalizations. According to Mooney, Republicans are particularly adept at this. I can cite Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment as Exhibit A, but I’m not about to change any minds on this, which is exactly my point.

It’s only likely to get worse. One reason, Mooney explains, is that conservatives (read Republicans) rank low on “openness to experience” (part of standard personality tests).  These are people uncomfortable with change and challenge. Liberals tend to be the opposite. Here, Mooney contrasted two default positions: Conservatives with global warming and liberals with nuclear power. According to research cited by Mooney, conservatives (particularly informed ones) failed to moderate their positions over time while the opposite happened with liberals.

So, liberals, rather than being smart idiots, tend to suffer a surfeit of open-mindedness, which can be a fatal affliction. Whereas conservatives are totally sure of themselves, irrespective of the facts, liberals can’t seem to make up their minds, can’t make decisions.

This is why thinking with our emotions can be good. I have written extensively on this, citing Jonah Lehrer’s eye-opening “How We Decide.” When our thinking and emotions align, the brain tends to make the right call. We need to pay attention to what is going on in the back end of the brain, but - likewise - we also need the wisdom to veto where our emotions want to take us.

It may feel good believing that half the citizens of the US are victims who don’t pay their taxes, but is this any way to run a country? Really, seriously.  

But still, extreme liberals are as looney as extreme conservatives, right? Of course, but if we go with Mooney’s analysis there aren’t as many of them. Liberals - you will recall - are more likely to change or moderate their default positions on particular issues. The ones who don’t get relegated to the fringe. Mainstream liberals may wind up despising them as much as Rush Limbaugh, but for much more intelligent reasons. I ask you, who listens to Helen Caldicott these days?

This is not the case, says Mooney, with conservatives. Another personality trait is at play here - “conscientiousness,” which conservatives score high on. These are people who, among other things, exhibit fervent loyalty to their tribe, which can be a great character strength but also a sign of malignant xenophobia.

The eleventh commandment, said Ronald Reagan: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”

Party first - pretty scary stuff, especially if the lunatics have taken over the asylum. This explains why you don’t hear principled conservatives or moderates speaking out against the extremists in their midst. It also explains why - with virtually no outcry from principled conservatives and moderates - the extremists have taken over. Try to imagine Eisenhower - or, for that matter, Reagan - finding a home in today’s Republican Party. 

With liberals, it’s a whole different ball game. Says Mooney:

For these folks, it isn’t about obedience, or group solidarity, or sticking up for those on your side of the aisle - it’s about getting it right, dammit.

Getting it right, of course, is always a work in progress. Which is why we need everyone helping out. Principled conservatives and moderates have a lot to contribute. Too bad they have rolled over and are currently playing dead. Too bad they have dropped out of the conversation.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Smart Idiot Effect: Why You Can't Reason With Republicans

Two years ago, I posted a piece here, Is Republicanism the New Stupid? The short answer, I concluded, is yes. The long answer is more involved. You can write a book on it. Journalist Chris Mooney has: “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science and Reality.”

It’s not like our genes have predestined us to vote for a specific party or believe in a particular ideology (often in complete defiance of the facts), but it’s something like that, and the topic is now the object of intense research across a wide range of disciplines - from how we think (or don’t think), to heritable personality traits, to how we behave, to environmental factors. But we begin with the fact that the Republican Party has been taken over - occupied - by the lunatic fringe.

It wasn’t always this way. Indeed, poll any Democrat today and you are likely to find he or she (myself included) is very comfortable with Eisenhower Republicanism. Indeed, Ike - a former university President who championed science, who got the troops out of (rather than into) a foreign conflict, who expanded social security, and who worked with Democrats across the aisle - had no place for extremists in his party. To wit:

Should any political party attempt to abolish Social Security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things, but their number is negligible and they are stupid.

Those were the days of liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, which appeared to have a strong moderating influence on the politics of the era. Over the years, that changed. Conservatives gravitated to one party and liberals to the other, with a predictable polarization affect. Fine, dandy. We can still talk, right? May the best ideas prevail, right? Everyone benefits, right?

Wrong. For one, the brain is not wired to rationally sift through the facts and make smart decisions. Any casual reader of this blog knows that the brain science is coming in loud and clear on this. Our “thinking” is emotions-driven. We respond first, think later. Too often, our “thinking” is deployed to rationalize our emotions.

We’re all guilty of this. We buy stuff we don’t need, we fall in love with the wrong person, we put up with awful abuse. Do we learn? Sometimes. The rest of the time - well, that’s a different story.

Basically, we have two brains: a sophisticated processing unit retrofitted atop a primitive responding device. When things work right, our emotions give meaning to the flood of information bombarding us, which helps the “thinking” part of the brain make smart choices. When things go wrong, we do a lot of stupid things. This is why we are human, not Vulcans.

The big mistake our Founding Fathers made was that they, as children of the Enlightenment, assumed that reason would prevail. An educated public, with access to the facts - so they thought - could be entrusted with the reins of government.

Had they only known about the “smart idiot” effect.

Chris Mooney begins his book with the example of Conservapedia (see top image), which bills itself as “The Trustworthy Encyclopedia.” You can trust Conservapedia to inform you that evolution is not real, that global warming is a hoax, that homosexuality is a choice, and that abortions cause breast cancer.

On today's front page of the site, in the news section, reads the heading: 

What lunatic, you might ask, is responsible for such nonsense? The answer will surprise you. He is Andrew Schlafly (son of Phyllis), a Princeton-educated engineer and Harvard Law graduate. 

How can smart people (a lot of this stuff is mainstream Republican dogma) possibly believe such rubbish? We start with the proposition that emotions decide and that emotions are housed inside personalities. Thus, if you are the type of person who feels comfortable in a world of certainties and is threatened by change, your natural tendency is to reconfigure the facts (even making up your own) to sync with your world view, however out of touch with reality it may be.

And how do you FEEL after reconfiguring the facts? Much better, thank you very much. You may be in total denial of reality, but - very ironically - the smarter you are, the more proficient you become at deluding yourself. Your arguments become ever more sophisticated, your beliefs grow more rigid. By now you are absolutely certain of yourself. Nothing is going to change your world. Check this out, from a Pew report cited by Mooney:

For Republicans, having a college degree didn’t appear to make one any more open to what scientists have to say. On the contrary, better-educated Republicans were more skeptical of modern climate science than their less educated brethren. Only 19 percent of college-educated Republicans agreed that the planet is warming due to human actions, versus 31 percent of non-college-educated Republicans.

What about liberals? “Are liberals ‘smart idiots’ on nukes?” asks Mooney. According to Mooney, the natural liberal impulse to distrust nuclear energy “puts them at odds with the views of the scientific community on the matter (scientists tend to think nuclear power risks are overblown, especially in light of the dangers of other energy sources, like coal).” Mooney cites study evidence showing that on further reflection, liberals  “moved in the opposite direction from where these initial impulses would have taken them.” 

According to Mooney: “This is not the ‘smart idiot’ effect. It looks a lot more like open-mindedness.”

What gives? No surprise, liberals love facts, they are comfortable with change. On personality tests, they score high on “openness to experience” and low on “conscientiousness.” Loosely translated, liberals have messier houses with more interesting things in them.

Loosely translated again: You can reason with most liberals. But, ironically, because liberals are open to reasoned discussion, they are blind to the fact that others are not. You can’t reason with a Republican. I gave up trying years ago.

Much more to come ...

Monday, September 10, 2012

Rerun: My Good Friend Kevin

In honor of World Suicide Prevention Day ...

Eight years ago, I was facilitating a DBSA support group in Princeton, NJ. In walked Kevin, exuding a goofy charm, baseball cap on backward. But there was something about his presence that indicated he was no mere goofball. The others in the room felt it, too.

Over the weeks, I couldn't help but be impressed by the way Kevin carried himself. He would walk up to newcomers and introduce himself and start up a conversation. In the group, he was a great listener, dispensing the wisdom of a sage, leavened by a keen sense of humor.

It was amazing to observe him with people much older. At once, he was deferential, compassionate, and exuding great authority. You simply forgot you were talking to someone much younger. You simply wanted to be around him, laugh with him, seek advice from him.

He had his setbacks, his dark moments. Yet, over time - in group, over coffee, over sandwiches, hanging out - I watched him blossom. With his extraordinary people skills, the sky was the limit.

In late 2006, my marriage broke up. Kevin was the first to offer me support. He also reached out to my then-wife.

Suddenly, I had my life in seven or eight FedEx cartons and a one-way ticket to San Diego. I popped into the DBSA group one last time. Kevin was facilitating. He gave me a heartfelt tribute. I felt the goodness in the man. Goodness, true goodness. That was the last time I saw him alive.

He had so much to live for, so much to offer. Yet, on a miserable muggy New Jersey morning - almost exactly three years ago today - his brain tricked him into believing otherwise. He was 28. Three years later, all those he left behind are still dealing with it.

I've been suicidal. So have a lot of us. We fully understand, yet - we totally don't understand.

Kevin, you still shine a light on the world. Nothing - nothing - is ever going to extinguish it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fort and the Three-Leaf Clover

Book III in the series ...

In the land of Ar, on the eve of day of the Festival of the Indecisive Moon of Indeterminate Phase, Fort Maker of Fine Hardwood Didgeridoos hastened into the village, breathless with excitement.

“A three-leaf clover!” he shouted exultantly. “I found a lucky three-leaf clover!”

The villagers, although evincing postures of apostolic confusion, smiled knowingly. The wise Fort, Sage of Ar, was up to his old tricks. Festival-goers from afar, however, unfamiliar with the ways of Fort, only saw a raving old fool.

“A lucky three-leaf clover, petunia feathers!” declared Arigoth of Bor, employing the term of utmost disdain of his land. 

“Indeed,” responded Fort in apparent agreement.

“Everyone knows that it is the four-leaf clover that is lucky,” Arigoth persisted, extending his arms in a great clatter of jewelry.

“Hmm,” responded Fort, scratching a sore on his flesh through a hole in his garment. A crowd now gathered about the two men.

“Is that all you have to say for yourself?” mocked Arigoth, with a great rustling of silk.

“I beg your indulgence,” Fort responded with utmost deference. “You are a man of high import. Alas, I am a man of little account.”

“For once, you speak with great veracity,” Arigoth replied, feeling very proud.

“If only my words could serve me as admirably all the time,” allowed Fort. “Perhaps you can take pity upon this babbling old fool, and we can settle this matter amicably and expeditiously.”

By now, a considerable crowd had gathered.

“Proceed,” said Arigoth, feigning great magnanimity.

“If you would be so kind,” said Fort, holding up his three-leaf clover, “as to show me your four-leaf clover?” 


The wise man knows when to quit while he is behind. So said Fort on many occasions, and the crowd, knowing this, turned expectantly to the man from Bor. But Arigoth, hailing from afar and thus unfamiliar with the Sage of Ar, pressed his case: “What four-leaf clover?” the man expectorated with great contempt. “Everyone knows that four-leaf clovers scarcely exist.”

“Yes, yes,” Fort readily agreed. “Why then, do we pin our hopes on that which scarcely exists?”

The crowd politely roared with approval. The man from Bor, however, set his face in a grim countenance, demanding an explanation. The Sage of Ar was happy to oblige. “Behold the three-leaf clover,” he exclaimed, holding it aloft, “abundant and available. Behold my luck.”

This was too much for the man from Bor. “Lucky?” he erupted, unable to contain himself. “You, lucky?”

The crowd turned expectantly to Fort.

“Perhaps,” Fort acknowledged in a quiet voice, “I have not used my three-leaf clover wisely.” He plucked an abundant and available three-leaf clover from the ground and offered it to the man. “If you would be so kind as to show me how to make proper use of this?”

The man expressed puzzlement. “You mean make a wish?” he asked, accepting the clover.

“Yes,” said Fort. “Make a wish.”

“That’s easy,” said Arigoth, twirling his clover. “I wish for a twelve-fold increase in my wealth.”

“And your wisdom?” asked Fort.

“If you persist, and my wisdom,” said Arigoth.

“And a larger - ahem - personal endowment?” asked Fort.

The man made a gesture to strike down this impudent fool, but then, assaying the sentiment of the crowd, decided otherwise. “The size of my personal endowment is fine,” he responded with a great lack of authority.

“Indeed,” demurred Fort with great sincerity. “I have no reason to question either your endowment or your credibility. Please, allow me to continue.”

“Granted,” said Arigoth, with a great rattling of jewelry.

“Perhaps you can clear my confusion. Even in men of substantial personal endowment, is it not natural to wish for - a little bit more?”

“A little bit more,” the man conceded. “That is a perfectly natural wish.”

The crowd nodded in sympathy. Yes, they agreed. A little bit more was a perfectly natural wish.

“Let me see if I got this right,” said Fort. “You are wishing upon your three-leaf clover for a twelve-fold increase in your wealth, a proportionate increase in your wisdom, and - a little bit more?”

“That is correct,” said Arigoth.

Fort affected to ponder the matter. “That is asking a lot of a clover with but three leaves. You already appear to be a man of substantial wealth and wisdom. Perhaps you would choose to limit yourself to one wish?”

“So be it,” said the man impatiently.

“A little bit more?” prompted Fort with great delicacy.

“A little bit more,” the man acknowledged.

“Ah” said Fort. “A wish very worthy of a person of your stature. Woe is me, for I fear I wish most unwisely.”

“Judging by your appearance, I have no reason to dispute you,” the man responded. “Do, pray tell, satisfy my curiosity,” he continued in a mocking voice. “What would be your wish?”

Fort did not hesitate. “A crust,” he responded with great enthusiasm, holding up his clover. “A crust from the loaf in your sack. Would you be so kind as to indulge an old fool his wish?”

“What kind of a stupid wish is that?” replied the man, flinging him a crust.

Fort nibbled on his crust, head down, affecting deep thought. Then he stopped nibbling, and looked up, eyes staring straight into the seat of the man’s endowment. “My wish has been granted,” he said in a voice that carried into the far reaches of the crowd. “Do pray tell, satisfy my curiosity. How did your wish turn out?”

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Didgeridoo Festival!

I recently returned from three weeks off the grid. Four days of it was spent sharing a tent with my special someone at a didgeridoo festival deep in the Oregon woods.

In the film business, they call this an establishing shot.

We woke up to the sounds of this babbling brook running past our tent - and to didgeridoos and drums. We fell asleep to same.

Another establishing shot.

Chad Butler, cool didge guy, who has been organizing this event since 1996.

Will Thoren, another cool didge guy, pioneer of the drop octave/multi-drone technique.

Beneath the didge tree, merrily honking away on my didge.

More cool didge guys, trying out sticks. On the second-to-last day of the festival, I went on record as resolving not to buy a new stick.

Famous last words. The next day I buy this new stick.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Scenes From the Pacific Northwest

Above, McMan Central, off the grid. Below, surrounding evergreens, near Mt Shasta.
Below, water close-up, near Mt Shasta.
Below, two of Mt Shasta.
Below, two of the Oregon Coast

Below, four of the giant redwoods.

Below, tree close-up, Mt Lassen.
Below, waterfall, northern CA.