Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reaching for the Sycamore (or, A Slap on the Wrist)

Aphorism of the day: “He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”  AESCHYLUS 525-456 B.C.

“Do you believe in God?” In a Gallup poll a couple of years ago, more than 9 in 10 Americans said "yes" when asked that basic question. I know . . . you never talk about sex, politics, or religion. I’ve heard that all my life; in one ear and out the other like many dogmatic rules forced on youth. Look at our literature, movies, and TV shows, all of them will have at least one of those topics, and most of them have all three.

My first six years of school were at Holy Names, mass every morning, then walked across the driveway from church to school and the first hour of the study was Catechism. But before that we had to pray again. I remember we all kneeled backward in our desk, my hands together in supplication, reciting the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary. A large sycamore tree grew outside a window close to my desk; its limbs I could reach through the window and touch. Every morning at the exact same time, I stared at that tree, mumbling my prayers, and waited for the sun hiding behind the sycamore to show its face. The sun highlighted the trees exfoliating bark, which was flaked off in great irregular masses, leaving a mottled, pure-white smooth surface, and in a blink of the eye the sun burst through my window. Millions of golden color cosmic dust particles blasted past my face riding on a shaft of sun rays; it was like God’s opening curtain of a play. I was lost in a dream world, started spitting, firing my artillery of miniscule spitballs into the invading cosmic dust as rockets and mortars exploded through the convoy of sunlight. It was a blitzkrieg, a battle for control of the sky. Then a bomb was dropped into the room, a loud slam of a wooden ruler onto my desktop, and from behind me, I heard an angry shout from Sister Agnes George, “James A. Carson, stick out your hands . . . NO, palms down!”  She brought the ruler down hard on my knuckles. I doubled over, my hands tucked and in a ball. I screamed loud enough to break the glass in the windows and followed that with a mournful cry, “You broke my hand.” She put her arms around me, smothering me with her huge boobs, “I’m so sorry, please forgive me,” she said. The whole classroom watched terrified, then uproarious laughter filled the room when the others saw the large grin on my face and heard my muffled giggles. Sister Agnes George pulled me by my ear out of the classroom, down the hall, and marched me into Father O’Brian’s office.

What does all this mean? Like Aeschylus above said, no matter how much we screw up, we can’t avoid God’s grace. And more than 3,000 years ago, King Solomon said, “We must search for meaning and purpose of life: How strange that people spend their lives striving for the very enjoyment that God gives freely, as a gift.” And lastly and more recently, the man that speaks to my mind and soul, whose writings guided me through my labyrinth studies of religions, Carl Jung: Among all my patients, from all civilized countries on the earth, there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life. It is safe to say that every one of them fell ill because he had lost that which the living religions of every age have given to their followers and none of them has been really healed who did not regain his religious outlook.” And if all this is not enough, check out what this Harvard professor has to say:   

Thursday, December 18, 2014

If Only Crime Didn't Pay

Aphorism of the day: "The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business."    John Steinbeck

As some of you know, I live on three acres behind a nine-foot concrete block stucco wall with non-see-through gates. I’ve never had anyone in thirty years try to get onto my property. My neighborhood is an old and established bucolic area that has held its value during the ups and downs of the real estate market. I love where I live, but I got complacent, left my guard down, and got hit.

Running across the rear of my property, behind my two guest houses, is a city drainage ditch, about four feet wide and three feet deep, which leaves a 4 x 3 foot “hole” under my fence and that’s where the little sewer rats came crawling onto my property. Years ago, I had a city street light attached to one of the power poles because of the darkness back there, but I guess the thieves scurried back and forth in the shadows hauling my new lawn equipment (backpack blower, chainsaw, etc.) from my garage and the different items from my friends' cars (my friends live in the guest houses).

If you’ve never been burglarized, you are lucky. It’s a helpless feeling of invasion that steals your peace of mind for months. They say the crime rate in Memphis is down, but the statistics last year were over 38,000 burglaries/thefts. That’s four every hour, and we’re not including the crimes of Aggravated Assault, Rape, Larceny, Auto Theft, Murder, and Robbery. With only 13% of the criminals caught, I think they need a new motto besides “Crime Doesn’t Pay.”

My Shangri-La has been invaded. What is the answer? Guns, armed guards, and junkyard dogs like in parts of Miami and LA, or security patrols and video alarm systems? You can’t shoot an unarmed burglar (as much as I would like to blow a couple of kneecaps off), and they know it. But we always have options, and all this week I’ve been dreaming about an evil counterattack: punji sticks, razor wire, bear traps, tripwire, electrified fence...But, back to reality—I’m meeting with my lawyer to see how much revenge I can legally enact. Till then, I will practice what my mentor teaches;  “With every adversity, there is an equal or greater benefit.”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Writing, Procrastination, and Squirrels!

Aphorism of the day: “Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar.”  Mickey Spillane 

Writing is a hard way to make a living, “Only 5% of books sell over 1,000 copies,” but what a way to live. In a few minutes, you can be anywhere in the world, with anyone you want, and doing anything your heart desires.
I make a habit of writing everyday no matter what . . . but there’s always something that can get in your way.  If that happens, I punish myself. I’ve got 24 hours, so I do without sleep, without food, and without people. No phones, no pets, no emails—lockdown, till I write something before the end of the day. 
Still, procrastination is a sneaky thief . . . like today. I have a good friend staying with me this week from Boulder, CO. He’s a lawyer with his Notary seal, so . . . you guessed it: legal stuff.  We redid my Will, Health Care, Living Will, and Power of Attorney. I mean it’s free; you can’t pass up an opportunity like this, right?
And while I’m at it, I might as well get a twofer. I pulled from my do-it-next-week stash an application for Genesis, a donor program, and we discussed this, and he put his stamp to my signature. I mean, the last thing I want is a crowd of people gawking into my open casket looking at some old wrinkled up, powder-faced corpse, charging $18,300 to throw dirt in my face. Below is what my insurance company, USAA estimated for the cost. However, Genesis will pick up your body immediately upon death and a year later deliver your ashes in a nice urn to your designated kin without any charges. After a year, memories faded. My kin can fly down to Key West—my old stomping grounds—have some fresh seafood, with a bottle of Madame Clicquot’s, “Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin,” and afterwards let the warm ocean breeze walk you down to Mallory Square and watch the sunset as they empty my ashes into the Gulf Stream.
I opted out on the special project gift where they do some experimental research projects on your body in the fields of battlefield medicine, forensic pathology, crime scene investigation, fire investigation, and other vital scientific endeavors. I know you're dead, and your body is going to rot, but it’s enough that I’m leaving it to the UT medical center for study and not for voodoo practice.

Funeral home or mortuary $4,800
Burial $4,100
Medical out-of-pocket expenses $4,300
Transportation & accommodations for
out-of-town relatives $1,200
Family gathering (hall rental, food, drink) $1,500
Churches services $400
Legal matters $2,000


SIDE BAR:      I was bitten by a squirrel. I live on three wooded acres in the middle of the city with 200-year-old oak trees in the company of many, many squirrels and other tenants: a couple of families of raccoons (one baby albino), beautifully colored knee-high owls that drink from my garden pond, red tail hawks, and some other critters. This one squirrel, whom I named Pete, ran down the tree every time I came out into the yard and stood watching me from about 15 feet away. I started feeding him, and soon he was eating out of my hand until he mistook a pecan for the end of my finger. Today, I have two puncture wounds in my left index finger, and it’s a little awkward typing with just three fingers. I Googled “squirrel bites,” and it assured me they carried no disease. I cleaned it with peroxide and then swabbed it with methylate (my all-purpose healer) and it’s healing nicely.