Sustainable Me

January 2, 2017
Photo credit: Bill Sperry

Our gens english lit curriculum included:

I never dared to be radical when young
For fear it would make me conservative when old.
–Robert Frost ‘Ten Mills,’ A Further Range, 1936

My bard won the Nobel Peace Prize with lyrics like these:

My Back Pages

Crimson flames tied through my ears, rollin’ high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads using ideas as my maps
“We’ll meet on edges, soon, ” said I, proud ‘neath heated brow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth, “rip down all hate, ” I screamed
Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull, I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I wasso much older then, I’m younger than that now

Girls’ faces formed the forward path from phony jealousy
To memorizing politics of ancient history
Flung down by corpse evangelists,
unthought of, though somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.

A self-ordained professor’s tongue too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school
“Equality, ” I spoke the word as if a wedding vow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand at the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy in the instant that I preach
My existence led by confusion boats, mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then I’m younger than that now.

–from “Another side of Bob Dylan,” Written by Bob Dylan • Copyright © Bob Dylan Music Co.

In 1954, my dad scored two tickets for the two of us to attend the Broadway production of Peter Pan. I was in thrall. We joined the cast at an after party and all of us reprised the entire score with a special solo by me, “I Won’t Grow Up.” I had learned the lyrics by the time the curtain fell.

So the pixie danced in our heads, replayed every year in a TV special, until the idea of a Peter Pan Syndrome, Kiley 1983, brushed away the fairy dust and became a pejorative. The urban dictionary cites several uses:

They’re smart, the masters of slave labor. THEY know if we simply move into a world where there is abundant food, shelter, clothing, and warmth, we might all just go to the beach (Neverland). THEY will feed the beast of extraction and consumption, tying those who do not dare to desks, or remotes, or dependency.

They will promote the myth that the “boomerang” generation is something less than adult by living in multi-generational homes (like humans have done for 15,000 years). THEY will nurture the fear of instability if mates are not selected on their ability to be good providers. THEY build empires on the idea of insured risk and then bring you nightly news amplifying risk and attendant fear. Before “cutting the cord” meant going wireless, there was “Zorba the Greek.” In the film Zorba asks “English” what is the purpose of life? English admits he doesn’t know. Zorba: ‘Well, all those high-brow books you read–what good are they? Why do you read them?’ English says he doesn’t know. “That’s the trouble with you. ‘A man’s head is like a grocer,’ Zorba says, ‘it keeps accounts… The head’s a careful little shopkeeper; it never risks all it has, always keeps something in reserve. It never breaks the string.’ Wise men and grocers weigh everything. They can never cut the cord and be free.”

English asks Zorba to teach him to dance. He does. They do.

Freedom is subject to interpretation. I know that I can never be free of my nature, my core needs, my responsibilities. “Freedom is just
(NOT-mine) a word for nothing left to lose.” But, to the extent possible, I can free myself from the ravages of my basest instincts, my anxiety that I am alone, that there is not enough. There is enough.That 12 yr old singing of Neverland had nothing in his pocket. He had a nurturing relationship. That 12 yr old played pick up ball on a rec field that supplied bats and balls for their kids. That 12 yr old grew
up and found a companion that shared one room spaces with him as they made their beds together. Those 20-somethings stopped growing up when they moved to NY, ostensibly to help alleviate gang violence, and instead found that the better life was being a part of said gang. Those 30-somethings had a child and dropped further out to be with him. Those 30-somethings scrapped and scrambled and gigged their work for the money and the surplus they needed. So that when Reagan came to town, the epitome of an adult who had play-acted all his life and sold out for the biggest toys, they were free to move to the woods and carve out a living.

Friends and family would chide us, we took the easy way out. I would remind them that being other, deviating from the expected, enduring these very conversations, was the more difficult row to hoe. In terms of the mental discipline.

All of us, and friends and family, have had the lived experience of having enough, of being those penny-less children, full of sass and
freedom. And then we sell out, or in depending on your perspective. And then the times keep changing and we adopt this behavior or that. We eat green for a while, or stop smoking, or contemplate the alternative. Give to a good cause, volunteer a day a week or less. Then face the prospect of college tuition for one or more kids, buying into the trap that expensive college will insure them of…here it gets tricky and better not to think on this too much. Or cave in and admit we really want the Beemer, or the hand bag, or the house on the hill. We convince ourselves that ours is the good work, we are advancing the common cause of mankind. We are adult, after all.

And we know, yes absolutely know, that the very basis of our social organization is built of a tissue of lies. We know there are horrible consequences of business as usual, and yet we will not break the cycle. We lack the mental discipline. We will not act like children.

Our motive should not be to “save the children.” I’ve been there. A sleazy form of equity politics that affirms all is well but for those who are excluded. In other words, there is nothing wrong with the system except that more aren’t benefitting from it. What we need to do is become the children. Reject the adult in the room, who after all is the one with his hands on all of the buttons. Join the gang. Define the common space and create more of it. Move away from those unaffordable places and spaces. Free yourself from debt and dependence. Create meaningful occupation and most of all, learn to dance.

Billy Joel sang: “If that’s moving up then I’m moving out….”

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  • Reply Stan January 2, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    My heroes, both of you, Will and Bob, you could never know how much the two of you meant and mean to me moving in to take the place of my father dying too young.

  • Reply Carol hickey January 4, 2017 at 12:16 am

    Thanks Will for the reminder
    Laramie has been wondering why people are not outraged

  • Reply Mary January 4, 2017 at 3:02 am

    Dear Will, Too many things to say, too many thoughts and emotions stirred, by you, by Bob, by Robert. Come visit us and we can catch up, if not catch on.

    I love the Canned Salmon name and logo. We grew up eating canned salmon and buy a red labeled can on line by the case. We mash it with a bit of mayo, chopped red onions, capers, lemon juice and black pepper and eat on lettuce leaves or rye bread or challah with sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.

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