November 21, 1997


What use will I make of this newsletter? What will it mean for me and for you? I am not sure. I think that the proof will be in the pudding. It will take time for this thing to evolve. But I see it as a voice, my voice. I will be able to articulate the things which are important to me in living a full life. I will probably wear different hats. One day I may be a teacher and the next a comedian.

I read an interview recently with Wendy Kaminer, a lawyer turned writer, who “writes widely on feminism, pornography, and criminal justice.” She was asked, “Do you hold forth all the time, at all times of day?” She answered, “I’m a hold-forther, to many people’s dismay.”

I do not intend to be a “hold-forther.” I do not know much about many things. But through experience and hard work I have learned a few things about living. “Living” sounds like an easy topic, but I find that I can make it pretty hard. There are so many places in life to get stuck.

So I hope to pass things along that I notice help make for a jazzed up life. We all know how to do the boring life routine. That one comes naturally. But to be “really alive” takes some learning.

And learning is what I do. I take a snippet from here and add it to a wacky idea from there and sometimes a thing makes more sense. Small victories multiply and before you know it, watch out, life is exciting!

So is that clear? If you answered yes then you need help, because it is not clear to me. But in those spaces of gray, in that mystery, in that confusion and frustration, a life is boiling up and getting ready.

So in the words of the immortal Temptations (or was it Smokey Robinson and the Miracles?), get ready cuz here I come.

November 16, 1997

Slow No Wake

I often take a walk down my street, a pretty country lane. It runs parallel to the Ipswich River and winds through the marshes and the old farmlands. I peek at the river as I go, but mostly I solve the day’s problems. My mind is always going. As part of the walk I pass over a new bridge which spans the creek running to the river, which shortly flows into the ocean. I particularly love the open marshes beyond the bridge. There is something about open expanses that moves me.

Today I stopped on the bridge. I rarely stop because the marsh and the end of the street is my real destination. I noticed that all of the boats were now out of the water and their moorings were gone. Winter is coming. But no, there was one boat about fifty feet away that was still tied up to the dock. I did not notice that sailboat at first. And then a duck landed in the water across the creek. It was soon joined by two friends and they got into line for their trip up the creek. Geese rose up out of the marsh and fled in formation. Small terns squeaked as they flew overhead.

And that sailboat had a stunning reflection in the water. It took me a few more minutes to notice that. The longer I stood there, the more I saw and heard: the swirling currents of the water, the airplane overhead, the rustle of the wings of the flying geese, the church bells filling the Sunday morning and more.

I was struck that all of this unfolded in layers. My mind and senses were unable to take it in all at once. It was a progressive revelation dependent on time and attitude - dependent on me. It was not dependent on what was happening because what was happening was being filtered by me. This scene full of action and animation is available twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. I am available less often. I rarely stop on the bridge. I am headed someplace else. My mind is someplace else.

I noticed that my shoulders relaxed as I stood there. Of course I did not know that they were tense. But there was a significant release into the life outside of my head.

When I left the bridge I noticed that a channel buoy had been washed up to the edge of the marsh. It said, “SLOW NO WAKE.” The “NO” had one of those red circles with a line through it, just in case you could not read well. It spoke to me, “SLOW NO AWAKE,” “SLOW NOT AWAKE,” “SLOW DOWN, YOU’RE NOT AWAKE!”

I got the message.

November 14, 1997

The Burning Shirt

I love raking leaves. It is one of the very few physical activities that I do really well. I am not one of those yard guys who loves gardening, mowing the lawn and pruning the bushes. No, I hate all of those things. I only like to rake leaves.

Raking must be done in an orderly fashion of rectangles. You rake long sweeps of rectangles to clear a larger rectangle. Then you lay out a rectangular tarp to capture the leaves. The four corners of the tarp are then joined carefully together, one laid over another, without twisting, and the leaves are dragged to the pile.

The beauty of this arrangement is that the rectangles can be of any size, depending on your ambition. I like to keep mine small. It is easier to do more small areas than to peter out in the middle of a big one.

The real topper is to mow and bag the areas after they are raked. The mower sucks up any leaves left behind and a carpet of green is left where only an hour ago dead leaves resided. Do not get your fears about perfectionism get in the way. The reward is worth the jibes of your family and friends.

A tinge of sadness always accompanies my leaf raking. I learned my raking skills from my dad when at an early age I was conscripted to help out in the yard. He had not heard of the notion of paying children for yard help, so it was viewed by my brothers and me as slavery - which it was. But he was a benevolent master. And he always wore his burning shirt.

A burning shirt is a red and black plaid wool shirt which is worn for yard work in the fall. My dad always had one - not the same one because they do wear out every ten to twenty years. Please note that it was not his “raking shirt.” It was his “burning shirt” because after all those leaves were raked he would burn them. He would spend the entire weekend afternoon tending little piles of burning leaves.

I can still smell the smoke and the smoldering ashes. I would dance around the fires pretending that I had some good reason to be there. My favorite occupation was tossing chestnuts into the fire and then waiting for them to explode.

Sadly, burning is no longer allowed. The air we breathe may be better off, but I am not sure that we are. So there is always a let down after my raking. There is a touch of something missing each time I hang up my burning shirt.

Yes, I have a burning shirt. In fact, it is the very shirt my father wore during that period shortly before he died in 1971. I wear the shirt more sparsely than he did, so it has lasted me many years. I cannot afford to wear it for other activities, because it cannot be replaced.

The leaves themselves will be replaced. Spring will always bring a new batch of candidates which are allowed a few months of green before being retired to their true function. And I will be out there with my insane rectangles. Some days I will share with my son. The challenge is to pass along the love without the rectangles. But most days I will be by myself. But in my burning shirt I am never alone. I am just part of the transition.

November 4, 1997


Detours have always fascinated me. I can remember frequent street closings from back when I was a child. The orange flames of the oil lamps burned mysteriously throughout the night.

My father hated detours and he would mutter under his breath as we passed along unfamiliar streets carefully following the arrows on the detour signs so that we could eventually get back to our proper route. There was something about being in the hands of others during this rerouting. We were temporarily lost and dependent on those who knew where the streets went. We were not in complete control and we had to trust.

I passed a detour sign in my hometown yesterday and I roared laughter. The sign had two arrows attached, one pointing left and one pointing right. The motorist will be in the middle of the detour and will come to the end of the street and face this sign. He can choose to go right or to go left. Only one way will take him back to his proper route. If he goes the other way he will be lost.

I would be upset if I came to such a detour sign in an unfamiliar place. I would feel let down. Who is the detour sign for? If I knew which way to turn, I would not need any sign at all. I need direction back to my route and someone has given up in the middle of that job. I am stranded. I am on my own and I am lost. The promise of an orderly route to my destination has been summarily withdrawn.

I wonder what the lesson is in this crazy detour sign. I think of the frequent detours which I take in my life. I will often have an objective or a destination, but I will find myself off wandering on a detour, large or small. In the legal system there is a phrase for this. When an employee, while on company time, goes off on a personal errand, he is on a “frolic of his own.” That is where I am - off on a frolic of my own. Something else has grabbed my attention and I have lost my focus. This can happen for hours, days, weeks, or months.

The funny part is that I did not know that I was lost. I thought that I was on a detour which would lead to my destination. I made up the proper arrows for the detour signs in my mind. I thought that I was making progress. It is only when I reach a point that makes no sense, when the arrows point in both directions, that I wake up and laugh - or cry.
Detours are part of life and are important. If I stay on the same old route all of the time I will miss a lot. I will miss all of the new neighborhoods of life. And I will think that I have figured it all out. I will know the way - the one true way.

In truth, the way is in the detours. The way is in the frolics. The way is in focusing, getting lost and refocusing. In the middle of the night, at the blockades of the detours, the oil lamps burn brightest.