Semi-hillbilly and proud of it

When I three years old, my mom passed away. When I was six, my dad packed up his four kids (ages 9, 8, 6 and 4) and moved us from uber-urban Jersey City, New Jersey to really rural Hagarville, Arkansas. (Population: 300 if you count the cows.)

I like to call it a “reverse Beverly Hillbillies.” (Culturally, anyway… we never were rich.) I guess my dad wanted to get a fresh start of sorts.

I vividly remember the first day we went to our new home in Arkansas. The property was bordered on one side by a dirt road, and on another side by a cow pasture. There was a propane tank near the driveway… I thought it was a submarine. I got burrs in my socks from walking in the ankle-high weeds, and had no idea what they were. In some ways, I felt like I’d landed on another planet.

Like this, only with more chicken coops next door.

We gradually adjusted… I adopted the University of Arkansas Razorbacks as my college sports team, and I even had a slight Arkansas drawl when I moved away to go to college in Cincinnati.

But the “Land of Opportunity” never quite felt like home, mainly because we were “Yankees” and had no relatives within 600 miles in a place where so many of the ties that bind have to do with close kinfolk.

“Seems the land of opportunity for me is just a curse” – John Hiatt in “Tennessee Plates”

However, it was a good place for four motherless kids to grow up. We could be what I like to call “free range children.” Hiking, biking, fishing… exploring the world without adult supervision and learning more about self-reliance.

I’ve only been back once since 1985. Dad’s long gone, my siblings live elsewhere, and the house is slowly being reclaimed by nature (watch out for the burrs!). “There is no there there” as Gertrude Stein famously said.

But I still have a soft spot in my heart for The Natural State. It’s where I went from a boy to a… er, boyish man (and not a “Mannish Boy”).

So when I heard a new tune called “Arkansas” by Chris Stapleton, I got excited. Especially because it rocks.

When I worked as a lifeguard for a couple summers at the city pool in Morrilton, Arkansas, the city employee who managed the pool would switch the radio station playing on the P.A. system from rock to country… and I’d raise holy hell. I remember him telling me “when you get older, you’re gonna like country music.” I still don’t care for mainstream country music (a.k.a. “bro country”) at all, but Stapleton’s not mainstream.

“Arkansas” is on Chris’ new release, which is really good from start to finish. The album is called Starting Over. That reminds me of Arkansas too.

Make nature your office, or at least make your office nature-like

A silver lining of the dark pandemic cloud is the fact that more folks are taking walks and/or hikes.

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than one seeks.”

 John Muir, July 19, 1877

This white paper is about the benefits of designing work environments to help us reconnect with the elements of nature – what’s known as biophilic design.

Biophilia is the humankind’s innate biological connection with nature. It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows and heights instill fascination and fear; and why animal companionship and strolling through a park have restorative, healing effects. 

From the Terrapin Bright Green term paper linked above

If the entire white paper is too dense for you (I get it… “dense” is my middle name), at least read the introduction. (It’s where I cribbed the John Muir quote above as well as the passage above and below.)

TL;DR version:

Biophilic design can reduce stress, improve cognitive function and creativity, improve our well-being and expedite healing; as the world population continues to urbanize, these qualities are ever more important. Given how quickly an experience of nature can elicit a restorative response, and the fact that U.S. businesses squander billions of dollars each year on lost productivity due to stress-related illnesses, design that reconnects us with nature – biophilic design – is essential for providing people opportunities to live and work in healthy places and spaces with less stress and greater overall health and well-being.

And if you’re currently stuck in a home office in your basement (or closet – I’ve seen it on Zoom meeting), get up and get moving. Go outside, find the nearest park, and spend some time reconnecting and re-communing with nature. It’ll do your head, your heart and your health a world of good.

Don’t be yourself. Be more.

As someone who prides himself on knowing a little bit about a lot of subjects (some serious, most not-so-serious), this quote really rang true to me:

“You can’t just be you. You have to double yourself. You have to read books on subjects you know nothing about. You have to travel to places you never thought of traveling. You have to meet every kind of person and endlessly stretch what you know.” 

Mary Wells Lawrence, advertising exec in the 60s and the first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company

Ms. Wells Lawrence made her mark in the ad world (“plop, plop, fizz, fizz” ring a bell?), but her quote about how to exercise your creative muscles is certainly applicable well beyond the realm of advertising. I think it’s sound advice for any career field… and for life in general. Our brains need stimuli to grow, our souls need enrichment to thrive.

One of my favorite words (yes, I’m a certified WordNerd™) is “polymath.”

I’m more of a poly-dabbler, but you have to start somewhere, right? And I do think learning about new and different things makes it easier to find connections and solve problems.

The world seems more polarized today. Us vs. them. But how much do you really know about “them” when you’re trapped in your own bubble? By reading more, by engaging with more people across the spectrum, we all can grow not just our creativity, but also our empathy.

Hugh MacLeod, from the Gaping Void blog

HT to the Gaping Void blog for putting the Mary Wells Lawrence quote on my radar. If you’re looking for some creative stimulus on a regular basis, that blog is a great way to start to “double yourself.”

Unlock your mind and open your eyes

There’s not much to do in the Age of COVID, but we can still take walks around the neighborhood. This past weekend, I went by a house featuring these two signs:

Based on another yard sign (not pictured because I’m not giving Rump any free ads), I’m assuming the HER in question is Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. You know, the same governor who was recently the target of a kidnapping plot by domestic terrorists.

Several members talked about murdering ‘tyrants’ or ‘taking’ a sitting governor,” according to the complaint.

from this CNN story

Yes, a woman, a wife, a mother, a stepmother, a survivor of sexual assault, a public servant, was targeted for kidnapping or worse, and our country’s president immediately blamed HER for being divisive, and less than a week later he was laughing off chants of “lock her up.” It’s victim-blaming on steroids. To use his own words “Sad! Very sad.”

“You know, the fact that after a plot to kidnap and to kill me, this is what they come out with. They start attacking me, opposed to what good, decent people would do is to check in and say, ‘Are you OK?’ Which is what Joe Biden did,” she said.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the same CNN article

At least Le Cheeto-in-Chief is consistent – he never met a dumpster fire he didn’t want to add more lighter fluid to. He’s also consistent in HIS narcissism, HIS avoidance of responsibility for HIS words and actions, HIS wanton disregard for civility, and HIS misogyny. (Four years ago, there was another HER he wanted to lock up. Meanwhile, there are a lot of HIMS in the president’s circle who have been locked up, and deservedly so. )

Michigan’s Republican Party Chair, Laura Cox, said this:

“We live in a nation where we settle our political disagreements at the ballot box, not through violence, and any attempt to do otherwise is an attack on our Constitution, our values, and our American way of life.”

Well said. It’s about WE the People…

If you haven’t already, please vote. Right now, the pathetic sounds of the hateful name-callers are being amplified. But our voices can drown out that noise.

Sports is life

Hall of Fame baseball pitcher Bob Gibson passed away Friday night, after battling pancreatic cancer. He was 84. As fate would have it, the book I’ve been reading over the past week is a collection of essays by the great sportswriter Roger Kahn.

And I was smack dab in the middle of the Bob Gibson essay when I heard that he passed away. The best years of Gibson’s playing career were mostly before my time (hard to believe when I’m so old), but I remember my dad telling stories about his baseball prowess. What I didn’t know until I read the Roger Kahn profile was his backstory. He grew up in a four-room shack in Omaha, Nebraska, the youngest of seven kids. His dad died three months before he was born. His mom worked at a laundry. One night during his childhood, a rat bit him on the ear while he was sleeping.

He loved basketball, and his dream was to play college hoops for Indiana University, but they rejected him because they had already met their “quota” of Black players. Instead he starred in basketball and baseball for Creighton University in his hometown. And when he graduated, he signed with the St. Louis Cardinals AND the Harlem Globetrotters, playing sports year-round to earn the princely sum of $8,000.

Most of the obits mention Bob Gibson’s competitive nature, and how it manifested itself on the mound – how he’d hit batters to keep them from digging in against him. You’d probably have a bit of an edge too, if you grew up poor and fatherless, and were denied opportunities due to the color of your skin.

We think we’ve come so far in race relations since the 1960s, but when you read the excerpt below from Bob Gibson’s 1968 book, it’s easy to see similarities in the way he was perceived back then, and the backlash that Colin Kaepernick received in 2016, or the “shut up and dribble” comments directed toward LeBron James earlier this year:

“In a world filled with hate, prejudice and protest, I find that I too am filled with hate, prejudice and protest. I hate phonies. I am prejudiced against all those who have contempt for me because my face is black and all those who accept me only because of my ability to throw a baseball.”

From Gibson’s book From Ghetto to Glory

In another essay from The Roger Kahn Reader, written during the Watergate era, Roger Kahn sums up “sports is life” nicely… and his words still ring true half a century later:

“Sports tells anyone who watches intelligently about the times in which we live: about managed news and corporate politics, about race and terror and what the process of aging does to strong men. If that sounds grim, there is courage and high humor, too… I find sport to be a better area than most to look for truth.”

The truth is Bob Gibson is a Hall of Famer. The other truth is that his path there was a lot rockier due to his circumstances. And the saddest truth of all is that a fatherless child from the ghetto is probably no better off today than Bob Gibson was when he was born in 1935.

Their pain. Someone else’s gain.

Death is part of life. But it’s tougher to wrap your head around it when it comes “too soon.” Carl Reiner was 98, and had dinner with Mel Brooks every day for a decade… I think most of us would slot that into the “he had a great run” category. On the other hand, there are those who pass in their prime. We all know them (Hi Mom!).

I admire my friends who have lost a loved one “too soon” yet have managed to look beyond their own pain and anguish and create something that will benefit others.

My old radio friend Steve and his family – their 17-year-old son Patrick took his own life this year after battling depression for years. They’ve started a nonprofit in the Chicago area:

The wife and daughter of a local musician and videographer, who have started a fund in his honor to aid organizations that treat mental illness:

The family of a Xavier grad who recently died of Legionnaires’ Disease at age 55:

The family of another Xavier grad, Kim, who died of a heart attack two summers ago at 52. Her siblings (two of whom also went to Xavier, and the third sibling married an XU grad) have started the Kimberly Ann Collins Memorial Scholarship fund to aid students in need of financial assistance at Villa Madonna Academy, the Northern Kentucky school that Kim attended from K-12. They held a fundraiser this past weekend, despite the fact that their dad passed away from COVID a month ago.

In Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Marc Antony said “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.” Kudos to the folks who are proving ol’ Billy Shakes wrong on that, and making sure that the good lives on, even after their loved ones are gone.

Life is eternal and love is immortal, and death is only an horizon, and an horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight. 

From a prayer written by William Penn, later included in a poem by Rossiter W. Raymond

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