Sami

Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels, the dizzy dancing way you feel
When every fairy tale comes real, I’ve looked at love that way
Joni Mitchell, Both Sides Now

“Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels the dizzy dancing way you feel,” is a lovely metaphor for how crazy love and life may be. Oz must be a little crazy, traveling here and there trying to learn what he will never learn.

How to be happy with what one has.

Take a lesson from the Sami people, who smile and laugh despite their “hard-knock” life. Take a look at the faces in Anders Beer Wilse’s photograph of a Sami family. Is the man not smiling? Are they not proud?

The Sami are an indigenous people who live in the Scandinavian countries of Norway, Sweden, Finland, and in Russia. Traditionally, the Sami people supported themselves  through fishing, livestock farming and hunting, along the coast, on the fjords, and inland rivers. Some engage in raising reindeer. Today, tourism is abundant. About half of the estimated population of 80,000 live in Norway and half of this group still speak the Sami language.

The Norwegian Storing gave the Sami people the right to vote in 1821.

Lest you think the Sami are isolated and insignificant, Renee Zellweger and Joni Mitchell both have Sami ancestors and blood.

Sami family, circa1905

Photo, Anders Beer Wilse, ca 1905. Wilse wrote En Emigrants Ungdomserindringer (An Emigrant Youth Remembers, 1936) and Norsk Landskap og Norske Menn (Norwegian Landscape and Norwegian Men, 1943). He left behind over 200,000 photographs of Norway, its people and its beauty.

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Back on Track

railway-station

Oz is back from vacation, wondering what does it mean to get “back on track?”

I

When Oz was a child of eight or ten (I say this knowing that childhood is a haze, a glass darkly, whose memories are hit and miss, sometimes made up), he got a Lionel train set for Christmas. It was the steam-locomotive kind, weighty and black, where one could put a small aspirin-like pill in the smoke stack and by pressing a button on the control make it whistle that familiar whistle “whoo whoo” we have all heard in a hundred movies. The train set came with green box cars and a red caboose, plus enough track to lay out an oval track the width of a grownup’s arms.

Being a child, I immediately forgot the rest of my presents and set up the track, connected the track with the two wires leading from the control box. The control box was full of wires that transformed the house current down to something the train engine could handle. Electricity goes up from the metal rail through the metal wheels on the locomotive and into the electric motor, causing it to run.

It is sad, but I don’t think kids play with trains anymore.

What fascinated young Oz with the train was the idea of escape. A train took one away to a distant place like the hoboes of the Great Depression. It did not mattered where. It was simply the idea of leaving home, leaving mom and dad and going out into a strange world. Mark Twain was responsible for putting this idea in every kid’s head with his book about Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, and Jim. Of course, one could leave home on foot, or raft like Huck, but one couldn’t get far, and by dinner time one was hungry enough to come back.

All these thoughts of adventure ran through Oz’s head as he assembled his train.

II

Nothing runs perfectly all the time. The train starts out slowly around the track. Oz gives the whistle a toot and listens to the familiar “choo choo” of the wheels on the track. Faster and faster goes the train as young Oz turns up the rheostat, sending a stronger electric current through the wires into the engine of the locomotive. Train tracks on a living room floor are not laid like tracks in real life. Straightaways are fine, but curves need to be inclined to account for centrifugal force. That and the fact that the center of mass of the locomotive is top heavy make for disaster.

Play makes for learning. The engine is speeding down the straightaway and headed for the curve at break-neck speed. Crash! Boom! Bang! The locomotive goes off the track hauling the cars behind it into a gigantic pileup.

III

There is within us a secret wish to destroy things, to break rules, to be bad. It is our consciousness and the fear of repercussions that stops us. But a kid and a train need not worry. One can always pick up the locomotive and “put it back on track.”

“Get your act together!” is something every parent tells their kid. Some kids do, some don’t. Life is a struggle. Be kind to everyone you meet. “Yada yada.” Then too, even when things are going great and the locomotive is steaming down the track, there is a hidden curve you don’t see or anticipate.

Crash! Boom! Bang!

That is when you have to get back on track.

steam-locomotive

 

 

What to do today

The computer has given Oz the ability to travel to distant lands and times, to speak with those deceased as if they still lived. Where will Oz go, what will he do today, to whom should he seek counsel?

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

The young man looks at life as an endless plain, with hills and mountains to be climbed, with streams and rivers to cross, full of untold adventures, a story to be written. The old man looks at life as a book almost done, a chapter to be closed, a few final words. And then what?

Life has passed by in the snap of a finger.

Should one bemoan the paucity of the days to come, consider what has passed, or celebrate the richness of today? Seneca answers that question.

Rome, 49 AD

In the year 49 AD, the Roman philosopher Seneca wrote:

The majority of mortals, Paulinus,* complain bitterly of the spitefulness of Nature, because we are born for a brief span of life, because even this space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily and so swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live.

I. It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it…

Life is long if you know how to use it.

On all sides we are surrounded and beset by vices, and these do not permit us to rise and lift our eyes to the discernment of truth but submerge us and hold us chained down to lust.

XIV. Of all men they alone are at leisure who take time for philosophy, they alone really live; for they are not content to be good guardians of their own lifetime only. They annex every age to their own; all the years that have gone before them are an addition to their store. Unless we are most ungrateful, all those men, glorious fashioners of holy thoughts, were born for us; for us they have prepared a way of life. By other men’s labors we are led to the sight of things most beautiful that have been wrested from darkness and brought into light; from no age are we shut out, we have access to all ages, and if it is our wish, by greatness of mind, to pass beyond the narrow limits of human weakness, there is a great stretch of time through which we may roam. We may argue with Socrates, we may doubt with Carneades, find peace with Epicurus, overcome human nature with the Stoics, exceed it with the Cynics. Since Nature allows us to enter into fellowship with every age, why should we not turn from this paltry and fleeting span of time and surrender ourselves with all our soul to the past, which is boundless, which is eternal, which we share with our betters?

 

Seneca the Younger

Born in Córdoba and raised in Rome, Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65) was was exiled to Corsica by the emperor Claudius, then allowed to return to tutor Nero. Nero became emperor in 54 and Seneca became his advisor for the first five years of Nero’s reign, when by all accounts life in Rome went well. In 62 Seneca retired. Two years later, he was forced to take his own life, having been accused of involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate Nero, a crime which he was likely innocent.

― Lucius Annaeus Seneca, On the Shortness of Life

*Paulinus was a relative of Seneca’s wife and praefectus annonae, the official who superintended Rome’s grain supply.

The Passing of Maupassant

“An ‘usband should be plain enough to sit at his settle, and simple-minded enough to accept the stew on his plate, rather than looking round ev’ry corner for a more succulent chop,’ declares Elsie.”
― Emmanuelle de Maupassant, The Gentlemen’s Club

There is no crime in dreaming of other women, says Oz, it is in the doing that we get caught. That is the truth and yet, it is not, such is the difference between paradise and paradox?

And is there a crime in stealing a name? Not if the guy is dead, like Guy.

Oz is bouncing around in time and thought, looking up occasionally and watching the morning doves outside his window building their nest in the think honeysuckle. It is raining otherwise the cat would be outside curiously watching, and Oz would sharply tap on the glass and race outside to rescue the birds. The dove in gratitude land on a  branch and sing. A sharp noise, a brisk wind, and the bird, is gone.

Oz is thinking of Guy de Maupassant. How he came to this branch of thought is a mystery. And there are far too many mysteries in life, put there for our amusement.

Recorded in The Cultivator & Country Gentleman, July of 1893, the death notice of Guy de Maupassant, from insanity, age 43.

Elsewhere, in Paris they riot. In London, the Duke of York, the future King of England, George V, married Princess Victoria Mary of Teck at St. James Palace. Prince Bismark reorganized the German Army to reduce the enlistment of soldiers to two years and so allow the training of more soldiers in the event of war. In Albany, New York, country gentlemen dealt with a horse with distemper and a boar that gored a two-year-old colt. Such are the things that matter.

country-gentleman

july-13.fw

By late 1891 Maupassant was in the final stages of syphilis. Convinced his brain was pouring from his nose and mouth and that his urine was made of diamonds. It sparkled as it flowed and it felt like a stone. “My mind”, he told a friend, “is following dark valleys”. On New Year’s Day in Cannes, he slit his throat and spent the last year and a half of his life in a Parisian asylum.

Maupassant penned his epitaph:

“I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing.”

Would you like to marry Ben Cartwright?

SWM, 40ish, athletic, outdoors man, rich, looking for someone to care for my three sons, and plenty of dusty, dirty, hungry ranch hands. Can you cook, please, anything but Chinese food. Reply-Ponderosa.

SWM: ruggedly good looks,  looking for love again, married thrice, once died in childbirth, twice by the Indians, thrice, fell off a horse. Thrice bit, marriage shy.

lorne greene 1969

Would you like to marry Ben Cartwight, owner of the fabulous Ponderosa Ranch on the northern shore of Lake Tahoe?

Married three times. First wife, Elizabeth Stoddard, died in childbirth, son Adam. Six years later, marries Inger Stevenson, Swedish, son Eric Haus Cartwright, aka “Hoss”, dies on their way west, killed by Indians; then marries Marie DeMarigny, from New Orleans, son Joseph Francis Cartwright, “Little Joe”. She fell off a horse.

Hmmm?

I don’t want to be a puppet

We watch movies because they tell a good story, but we also watch because they instruct, they teach a lesson that we try to apply to better our own lives. These are the kind of lessons they don’t teach in school. Reality, hard knocks, tough breaks. The thing about a good movie is that you feel it is directed at you. The conversations are personal and meaningful.

Maybe, it is like looking at Abstract Art. You have to sort it out for yourself.

Isn’t that what life is all about?

Oz is watching The Godfather movie on TCM for the umpteenth time, mumbling along as each classic line is uttered.

hand-puppet

Those of Oz’s generation regard this as one of the greatest films of all time, a mob drama, based on Mario Puzo’s novel of the same name. It focuses on the relatable and powerful Italian-American crime family of Don Vito Corleone. La Cosa Nostra, our thing. There are great performance by many actors, but principally Marlon Brando as the Godfather and Al Pacino as the Godfather’s youngest son, Michael, who teach us lessons in how we become who we are.

Lessons, you laugh.

What lessons can Oz learn from a mobster and his son?

1. It is all about the family. A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.

2. Loyalty… I’m going to leave you now because I know that you are busy on this, the day of your daughter’s wedding.

3. You have to answer for Santino, Carlo.

4. You are not family.

5. I don’t want to be a puppet on a string.

6. I keep trying to get out of this business, but they keep dragging me back in.

7. It is not personal it’s business.

8. Yeah, let’s talk business, Mike. First of all, you’re all done.

9. What are you gonna do? Nice college boy…

10. It’s an old habit. I spent my life trying not to be careless — women and children can be careless, but not men.

Oz has ignored some of the obvious lines like “Revenge is a dish that tastes best when served cold.” Too cliché for the Oz, lacking in meaning. Oz has also paraphrased some lines, or taken them out of context. So what? We take what we need, we take what we want, and sometimes what we can get. That is what the Godfather would say.

Oz’s take away, it is a lesson in how to succeed in life by really, really trying, hard; and you either get it or you don’t.

hand-puppet-2

Not My Fault

“Men at some time are masters of their fates,” says Cassius.
“The fault, dear Brutus,” Cassius continues, “is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

sheep

Oz was out to dinner with two retail store owners.

A young African-American approaches, introduces himself as our waiter and says his name is Cassius. Only Oz finds this name unusual. The waiter politely takes our drink orders and leaves us to mend for ourselves.

The drinks come, a vodka tonic, a scotch, and beer for Oz.  A couple of swallows later the two retail owners commence bemoaning the economy. It is a fact, they say, that recently many more retail stores had opened. This, they said, cut their “piece of the pie” down to nothing.

Oz tried to explain that it is not about the competition, it is about oneself.

Hardly hearing Oz at all, they continued, “Times are tough,” they continued. “How do we compete against so many when we are one?”

Oz wanted to throw a little Nietzsche into the conversation, i.e. competition makes you stronger, that which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, etc…, but by this point the two were wringing their hands and casting their eyes to the sky in divine supplication.

Oz wanted to explain that the internet was a new tool that gave everyone the opportunity to reach new markets, to expand and grow, but his audience was commiserating in abject sorrow.

“Bid me run, and I will strive with things impossible.” Oz muttered to himself.

evening-milky-way

Not seen but felt

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,
Thou art not so unkind
As man’s ingratitude;
Thy tooth is not so keen,
Because thou art not seen,
Although thy breath be rude.
Heigh-ho! sing, heigh-ho! unto the green holly:
Most friendship is feigning, most loving mere folly:
Then, heigh-ho, the holly!
This life is most jolly.

Freeze, freeze, thou bitter sky,
That does not bite so nigh
As benefits forgot:
Though thou the waters warp,
Thy sting is not so sharp
As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, William Shakespeare

Ba, ba, bah

“Ba, ba, bah, ba, ba, bah.” Oz can’t remember the words spoken, just the sting of the words meant to hurt, said by children too young to know of things not seen but felt.

Oz closes his eyes and remembers a school yard, a bully, and childhood taunts that stung like the bitter wind of winter. Then as now, young Oz dealt with it by chanting the mantra, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Were that true… winter’s wind would never sting, and happily we would live in the forest of Arden where girls dress as boys, fools give wise advice, and royal courtiers behave like Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men, and nothing is as it seems.

ROSALIND: Love is merely a madness; and, I tell you, deserves as
well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why…

snow-cabin

a man hears what he wants to hear

A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. Paul Simon

sparrow

True then, true now – a man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.

A sparrow lights on a branch outside my window, momentarily there, he looks up and down, in stoccatatic movements, he shakes his wings, he swings his gray-brown rump to and fro, like a man who is late to work and waiting for a bus, his head ever alert, wondering has he missed something; now thinking, where shall he go; the sky above is gray and white, a cold and bitter wind blows about him, about us all. See him and the image is stamped upon one’s mind. Now he is gone.

And yet, there he still is, forever on the branch, giving one pause to wonder endlessly where birds go in the rain and the snow.