THE GRASS CANOE: A LIFE
Original essays, revisited writings (with photos), highlights, lowlights, musings on question-asking and answer-seeking, lessons learned (or not), and reflections on how the world has changed during my lifetime. I chose this particular title because my creative journey has been as unconventional as trying to navigate a river in a canoe made of grass. That I made it this far is something of a miracle.
(An ongoing endeavor)
The Jaguar’s Teeth
This introductory essay describes my forty-year journey (so far) of question-asking and creativity. It begins with a snapshot I took of a Mayan ruin during a trip to Mexico in 1974 when I was thirteen years old, a trip that lit a fire that has never gone out.
“Tula changed everything. Something woke up inside of me among the stony statues – something that has not slumbered since. Here’s what I wrote in a little journal I kept: “We arrived in Tula via a very bad and rough road. I thought Tula would be just one temple with some statues on top, but I was wrong. You could see another big mound nearby partly excavated. I took six pictures. I walked over to the top of the unexcavated pyramid.” No one else went with me to this pyramid, probably because it was out-of-bounds. I had my heart set on exploration. I prowled the pyramid until one of the chaperones came rushing over to fetch me, exasperation etched on her face. “What was I doing?” she asked irritably. “Who did I think I was?”
“Questions I’m still trying to answer to this day.”
This essay, adapted from two previously published, explores the idea of manifest destiny and my hometown, Phoenix, Arizona. An unwavering sense of exceptionalism and lack of restraint infected Phoenix – and had a huge impact on my life. The second part explores the start of the Age of Consequences (2006), an extension of what I fist experienced in Phoenix.
“Progress was good for my parents. They came to a strange land as poor pioneers and prospered along with Phoenix. They lived the American Dream. Their lives were better than their parents’ lives. They had more security, more opportunity, more comfort. They didn’t do without, go hungry, or stand in unemployment lines; they were well-educated, well-fed, and well-blessed with the fruits of an expanding economy. For them, the future was always bright.
“I developed a different perspective. I came of age during the heyday of progress. Impressed at first, I have lived long enough to see that manifest destiny was not necessarily a positive force. I will likely live long enough to see evidence that America is not exceptional after all – that it is subject to the same historical forces that have worn down all great nations throughout the ages. I know that I’ve already lived long enough to see us enter the Age of Consequences.”
This essay describes my unexpected immersion into all things Shakespeare, including my first – and likely last – performance in a professional play. It was a deep dive into his plays that began three-and-a-half years earlier when Sterling and Olivia, then aged sixteen, joined the Upstart Crows, a nonprofit with the brave mission to get teenagers excited about Shakespeare through performance.
“I remain as awestruck by the playwright today as I was forty years ago. That was a surprise. As the saying goes ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ though there’s a more polite warning: if you like a writer never meet them in person. You’re bound to be disappointed. My exposure to all things Will bred not contempt but an even deeper admiration of the artist despite Merchant of Venice and all those Appendices in the back of the books. He holds up to scrutiny. He made a few mistakes and wrote some clunkers, but who hasn’t? If he was a bit of an intellectual show-off or if his allusions were often obscure, he can be forgiven. It’s one of the small prices we pay for genius.”
The Heat Wave
While traveling from Berlin to Prague on a train during late July, Gen and I experienced a record-smashing heat wave, the first of a sequence of events that put my concern for the world into worrisome perspective. In this essay, I use our experience as a touchstone to reflect on the past, current events, and thresholds. And we saw Prague!
“Something seemed wrong. An hour into our journey, I was sweating – a lot. There was no way to open the window and the meager air flow hadn’t altered, except to die briefly when we pulled into a station. Soon, the compartment became a sauna. I glanced at our fellow travelers. The man wearing next to Gen seemed unperturbed by the conditions. The other passengers were three cheerful young adults from Ireland. They had disappeared into their smart phones as soon as we left Berlin. They also seemed unfazed. The heat continued to build. I wiped my face on a sleeve as I watched pretty farm country roll past under a cloudless sky. Was I just being a wimp in middle age? I passed my hand over the air vent again. The same. Perplexed, I returned my gaze to the farmland. Then I heard two words that changed everything.
“Heat wave,” one of the Irish lads announced, looking up from his phone.”