June 18th, 2008

turkey vultures

Good Morning!!

I am awake early to see the sky lighten and hear the first bird chirp.

I wake entranced with silence, with making it more audible somehow.

I am reading Bernard Moitessier's book, The Long Way, about his solo sea voyage around the three great Capes of Good Hope, Leeuwin and the Horn.  He was winning the race after passing the three capes, and then decided to forfeit the race and continue on into the Pacific again.

Right now I am with him after passing the Cape of Good Hope and heading toward Leeuwin.  The birds are his friends. 

He writes:

"So one forgets oneself, one forgets everything, seeing only the play of the boat with the sea, the play of the sea around the boat, leaving aside everything not essential to the game in the immediate present.  One has to be careful though, not to go further than necessary to the depths of the game. And that is the hard part ... not going too far."

This morning I consider lists.  We make lists these days and he certainly must have made a great many lists to prepare for a sea voyage where he would not touch land for a year, and yet, there is a place to let them all go.  Perhaps, rocking on a boat more easily allows that.  May we each find our own place today to settle for a time and rock and be rocked on this swirling planet, our home.  The sunlight just hit the top of the hill.  Ah, awe!  My heart lifts on the light!

ashes and snow - wings

Jon Carroll today -

I read about this and thought it was horrible and only done once, but it seems it is a movement of cruelty.

Here is Jon Carroll's column today from the SF Chronicle.

Jon Carroll:

Oh, here's a good idea. The school administrators in Oceanside, near San Diego, pulled it off, although apparently they are not the first.

One day last month, representative of the California Highway Patrol visited classrooms to deliver some bad news: Some classmates of theirs had been killed in traffic accidents. Alcohol apparently was involved. The students, as might be expected, were stunned. Many wept. Some screamed. School stopped as people comforted each other.

Then, a few hours later, the administrators announced that it was all a joke. Well, not a joke - it was an educational experience. The administrators had set up the stunt to make the students understand how very sad death is, and how drinking booze and driving is a bad thing. It was something the students will never forget, the administrators said, and oh how true that is.

The takeaway is: Don't trust anyone. Grown-ups will lie to you and try to make you feel bad. The world sucks even worse than you thought it did. Guidance counselor Lori Tauber defended the exercise: "They were traumatized, but we wanted them to be traumatized. That's how they get the message."

These are professional educators, and they are comfortable with the following pedagogic theory: Trauma is good for kids. It's an effective teaching tool. Why not teach American literature the same way? Harpoon a real whale and watch it die - "Moby-Dick" brought to life! They'll remember that.

Maybe they'll want to join Greenpeace too. Two lessons for the price of one dead whale! And then the "dead" whale could wake up and make a moving speech at assembly.

Are we that alienated from the adolescents in our midst? Do we think that their feelings don't matter, that almost anything is justified in pursuit of making sure they get a Life Lesson? Are we that cruel? Apparently we are - a majority of the parents in Oceanside thought there was nothing wrong with this little experiment. Shake those kids up a little.

Have we really forgotten our own teenage years? Grief and death and desperate unhappiness were not strangers to us then. Those dark feelings were fueled in part by a sense of powerlessness. So maybe the children of Oceanside thought they were getting a handle on things - bam, the teachers play a joke. Although, as school Superintendent Larry Perondi said, "We did this in earnest. This was not done to be a prankster."

Oh, like that makes a difference.

So I have an idea. You know that some parents are not as attentive as they should be? Sometimes they drink too much, or they don't have time to help with the homework, or they can't be bothered with making a real dinner. They don't attend parent-teacher conferences, either. Well, how about if an officer from the California Highway Patrol visited them at home and told them that their child has committed suicide.

Teen suicide is a serious social problem, and it's true that parents should be alert for the warning signs. Maybe a teacher could come along with the officer and say, "Gosh, if you'd come to the parent-teacher conference, I would have told you about your child's last essay, 'Why Dead Is Better.' But I guess you were too busy."

And the parents would be given time to grieve, and told that after a few hours they'd be asked to come to the morgue to identify the body. But instead of the body, it would be little Jimmy or Jill saying, "I hope you learned your lesson now. We wanted to traumatize you, and that's just what we did."

That's never going to happen, is it? Because parents have power. You don't mess with people who vote on school bonds. But the kids are still minors, so we can screw with them if we feel like it.

I blame pop psychology. So many books are written that have a push-button approach to human interactions and parent-child relations. If you push X button, then you will get Y result. It's all a great big machine, and we can explain it for you. Here are the 10 secrets, the 20 rules, the 32 questions.

This little teenage-death drama was inspired by a group called Every 15 Minutes, which promotes a less harsh version of this schoolwide pageant. (Every 15 Minutes is named for a popular statistic about how often someone dies in an alcohol-related accident. The real statistic, according to the Associated Press, is One Every 39 Minutes, but who's counting?)

Life is harder than that. If it weren't, then everyone who read a self-help book would be helped, and everyone who went to a 12-step program would be sober, and everyone who prayed for wealth would be rich. But life is complicated, and frazzled humans will apparently do anything to avoid complication - including subjecting their children to cruel pranks.

I'm sorry to announce to you today that I am dead. No, wait, I'm not. I hope you all learned a thing or two.



Book Cover

The Long Way

Here is another excerpt from Bernard Moitessier's book The Long Way, where he sails solo around the world. 

He has not seen or spoken to anyone in months.  He is alone with his boat, the wind, waves, and birds. 

    "I was in my bunk, and went on deck to sheet the mainsail and mizzen flat; they were making a little noise in the very slight roll. The moon, in her first quarter, was at mid-sky. Three shearwaters were sleeping a few yards from the stern. They did not move while I worked, though I had awakened them.  Two fluffed themselves up, the third preened his feathers. 

     I was about to go to bed, but seeing them there, busy doing their little toilet, I went to the stern and spoke to them, very softly, just like that. And they came right alongside. Yet I had not spoken the magic words.

     I kept on talking the same way.  They raised their heads toward me, cocking them to one side, right and left, from time to time giving a barely audible little cry in answer, as if they were trying to say that they liked me too. They may have added they liked cheese, but I could feel in an almost physical way that there was something more than food to that whispered conversation, something very moving: the friendship they were returning to me. I went below to get a piece of cheese and cut it into little squares. When I came up again, they had gone back to their former places a few yards from the stern. They did not approach as I silently went to the tiller. But as soon as I spoke to them, softly, without any "kew-kew", they swam toward me, leaving a faint wake gleaming in the moonlight. I stretched out on deck so they could eat the cheese out of my hand.

     They took it without squabbling. And I had the feeling, again almost physically, that my hand drew them more than the cheese. I wanted to caress them, at least to try. But I did not dare;  maybe it was too soon. With a clumsy and premature gesture I risked breaking something very fragile. Wait a while longer, don't rush things, don't force things. Wait until the waves of friendship, made of invisible vibrations, reach their full maturity. You can spoil everything, trying to go faster than nature."

I am only one-third of the way through the book.   What more is to come, and my lesson for today is to pace myself with nature, with a slow, tender wake.