Prayer, Music and Retiring

by Brent M. Jones

 

When I was about four years old, my mother would have me kneel at my bedside and say my prayers. The importance of that part of my life story has changed over the years, and I see it differently. I value this experience and I am grateful for it.

The early assumption that God was listening and that taking problems to him was going to be helpful has been a comfort, even without confirmation of having been heard at times. This sentiment is summed up well in a quote by C. S. Lewis: “Life with God is not immunity from difficulties, but peace in difficulties.”

Others have shared how they were taught similar lessons at a very young age by saying a prayer many are familiar with: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” I have thought about this often, asking myself the question: If a person dies and his soul is taken, what is the soul and what exactly is taken?

 If the soul is eternal and lives on when the body dies, then it must be made of different materials. If that substance is spiritual, then where does it reside within our living bodies? Is it separate or part of our living flesh?

Some have referred to the soul as the seat or location of our character and emotions. It is sometimes explained as the spirit within a person and the person’s mental abilities, character, feelings, memories, perception, thinking, and even skills. If wherever our soul goes our particular skill are not needed, then perhaps our work ethic learned in obtaining those skills is part of the package.

Whatever it is that is going to go with me if I die before I wake, I want to understand as much about everything as possible and make sure my knowledge is worth taking along.

Louis Armstrong once said that “Musicians don’t retire; they stop when there’s no more music in them,” and “What we play is life.” What then is that music, if you are a not a musician? How did that music, or that passion, get to be inside us? Armstrong seems to be saying that he needs the music to apply his work ethic too, but this leaves the question as to what my own music might be. My conclusion is that my music/passion and what makes me feel alive, is family, reading, writing, and service, but these items have grown and changed, and I can clearly see that as I look back over my life story.

Music can be a connection between our physical self and our very souls. We feel the music. It reflects our heart. Music with scriptures are hymns, and we worship through hymns. The feelings of our heart are conveyed in prayer. Our bodies and faces reflect the images of happiness and sadness. Music and singing opens up those feelings. Sometimes we sing for what we long for, using music to help us get by without the things we need.

What do we long for? What do we have a passion for? Love and kindness are passions that can focus us and drive our actions. We lose ourselves in those feelings and, for some, opportunities for service to others reflect their hearts. When our useful passions fill our minds, we have little place for worrying about ourselves.

For us, what we play, rather than music, can be just whatever it is that we love. It can be anything we choose, but then we need to feel passionate about it. If you’re lucky enough to love knowledge, learning, or service, then you are indeed blessed. That, like the music for Louis, never stops being an option.

Many lives make up our humanness

By Brent M. Jones

 

If our life story creates our identity, then we must include the lives we have experienced in addition to the one we have lived. “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” says Jojen in George R. R. Martin’s A Dance With Dragons. “The man who never reads lives only one.”

Another well-known author, Tony Hillerman, writing about the Navajo people and their traditions said: “Everything is connected. The wing of the corn beetle affects the direction of the wind, the way the sand drifts, the way the light reflects into the eye of man beholding his reality. All is part of totality, and in this totality, man finds his hozro, his way of walking in harmony, with beauty all around him.”

We can expand our own experience by finding more about the human experiences of others. To do so, we need to know about the characteristics, key events and situations that comprise the essentials of their lives: their struggles, conclusions, emotional responses, aspirations, and even their deaths.

Authors are the gatekeepers to the lives they write about, and they provide us with the pathway to their knowledge and experiences. Harold Bloom, a well-known professor of literature at Yale, has written many books about interesting authors. His book, Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human claims that the playwright’s vocabulary of 22,000 words was so extensive that it proves he knew pretty much everything there was to know about humankind. That means, according to Bloom, that Shakespeare “invented the human,” or at least a more complete definition of humanness.

In an interview published in 1995, Bloom reflected on the great authors of the Western world, stating the importance of reading and studying Shakespeare, Dante, Chaucer, and Cervantes. He said of these authors that “They provide an intellectual, I dare say, a spiritual value which has nothing to do with organized religion or the history of institutional belief…They tell us things we couldn’t possibly know without them, and they reform our minds…They make us more vital.” Indeed, Bloom defines humanness using the stories and writings of authors, rather than his own life story, but then, for Bloom, the authors he studied are a part of him.

Shakespeare’s quotes seem to reflect a deep understanding of humanness that resonate with our lives today. I like these quotes among so many others:

•          There is nothing good or bad, only thinking makes it so—Hamlet

•          Hell is empty, and the devils are here—The Tempest

•          Though this be madness, yet there is method in it—Hamlet

•          All that glisters is not gold—The Merchant of Venice

•          To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man—Hamlet

The meaning of life is much more than our own personal daily experiences and can include much from those other lives we read about. For example, I learned things from Hyeonseo Lee’s The Girl with Seven Names: Escape from North Korea that I am glad I can have some awareness of without having to have suffered the personal experience myself. Much can be witnessed in the non-fiction accounts of other people.

Even fiction brings us insight into our humanness. The suspense and twisting plots of fiction writer Lee Child in his Jack Reacher series take us places we would never go and into situations we would never find ourselves in. We find excitement, empathy, and emotional experience in fiction. Literary critics often label a piece of writing as literature, rather than fiction, if it tries to describe the “human condition.”

Poetry can also challenge the status quo in our lives and, by doing so, improve the human condition of all people. An example of this is in the work of Maya Angelou, who fought for equality and for humanity, writing about the plights and triumphs of a marginalized people.

What we learn about others by reading becomes part of the real meaning of our own lives.

How You See Yourself Changes

By Brent M. Jones

“How you arrange the plot points of your life into narrative shapes who you are and is a fundamental part of being human.” This is the subtitle in an interesting article titled Life’s Stories, published in The Atlantic in 2015. In that article, Monisha Pasupathi, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Utah, offered much insight on this subject. She stated: “In order to have relationships, we’ve all had to tell little pieces of our story.”

We share our life stores every day. In just our greetings with others, here are some examples of that: “Hi, where are you from?” “Where did you grow up?” “Which school did you attend?”

Recently, I watched a salesperson standing at the entrance of a store in a local mall, making eye contact and smiling as people passed by. A lady said hello back, and the two of them walked into the store together. I was nearby and overheard what happened next. The salesperson greeted the customer, asking where she was from, and received a smile and a reply in return. She mentioned a town in California where she grew up, and the salesperson replied with enthusiasm as she knew the town well. They reminisced about a street they shared in common. Both women relaxed and enjoyed getting to know each other. It was clear they had made a connection by sharing part of their life story.

We see our own lives as a series of events, connecting the events with narrative that then becomes a story, our story. The resulting story, that we to a large degree have constructed, has a great deal to do with our self-identity.

In the last twenty-plus years I had the opportunity to tell my own life story in front of a church group of men at least twenty times. Each time I shared my story, it was always a little different, as I added, changed, or withheld certain details or events. I had thought more about the story, had new experiences, and my memory altered with the time that passed. Yes, I was recalling it differently because I would reflect on events and see them in a new light.

In that same time frame, I heard a few dozen men present their life story and then often heard them tell their story again after a few years. The emphasis, substance, and even conclusions of their stories changed for them, as my own had changed with each new telling.

Life stories are like books. They have plots, themes, timelines, and characters. We choose which of these are important to us and we connect these events in a narrative, shaping and reshaping our self-identity. Art, music, poetry, literature, service, our heritage and even food can influence us even to the point of being part of our life story.

People come and go in our lives, some becoming significant characters in our story as events unfold, but then later in life seem less important. We look back at these people, filtering all we have been through with our memories. Indeed, the anonymous poem opening this book suggests that, “Some people come into our lives for a reason, some for a season, and some for a lifetime.” Some feel God sends the people that are needed. Others who may come bring challenges and darkness. I believe we have a choice in putting together the narrative of who we are, and who we become. We can pick which of the events we connect with, what we conclude about them, and then weave and reweave them into our story. Finding or choosing a better perspective later in life can make all the difference.

If we reject the case for being able to reshape who we are, then we are left with a deterministic view of our identity. Some who embrace this belief claim that people are wired to be what they are. This view says that since we didn’t choose our parents, or the time or place where we were born , we are therefore programmed by cause and effect, resulting in our current circumstances.

It seems clear that this deterministic view is false. All you have to do is tell your story to a friend or family member, or even write down how you see things now, and then do the same again in a year’s time. Your story will be different.

What about an Intellectual Opportunity

by Brent M. Jones

Getting good grades had never been a problem for me before I went to college. I normally just remembered everything read or discussed and often could visualize something I had read word for word. The first two years of collage were a little more challenging because I didn’t attend a lot of the classes. I was busy wanting to get married, working several jobs at a time, and spending time with Kathy my future wife. 

Education was something I had taken for granted. I really didn’t understand what the difference would be in a more advanced educational environment. I had done a fair amount of reading growing up but was certainly not obsessed with book. About the same time that I got married I found two men that I knew through church who were in lot of my classes both having just been married. They were a few year older than I was and both had been in the National Guard with some military time and both had gone on missions for our church. Both men valued their grades, really studied hard and I was influenced for the good. We studied together and socialized as married couples together. My grades changed dramatically.

My marketing professor seemed to favor me with discussions and projects, and he invited me to a luncheon late in my Junior year. The luncheon was a way for him to get to know me better and to suggest some graduate work.  He had been impressed with a project I had put together to study a local food business and encouraged me to go onto graduate school.

I had several jobs at a time during my early collage years. I had worked at a local food distribution center since High School. I was impressed enough with what my marketing teacher presented to me that I went to the owners of the distribution company where I managed the night shift and told them I was going to quit because I wanted to be sure and finish my last two years with straight A’s. The promptly told me that if I would stay that they would make a desk available in the front office and all I had to do was to show up for the night shift and sit at the desk and study and then answer questions if any of the crew had them on routing the trucks or what product to send. They also gave me a raise, so I took the deal.

That decision could very well qualify as a mistake. When I graduated, they offered me a management position in a small company they had bought, and I didn’t even consider graduate school. As I have looked at my own life story all these years it has been clear how my choice to focus on business and sales took me from a more intellectual environment that I also loved. I have always felt the whisper of a small voice that keeps telling me “that what you do is who you are.” It helps when I add to that sentence that how you do what you do also tells who you are”.

The job I took when I graduated from collage moved me quickly into being a Branch Manager at a very young age in the foodservice industry which was just emerging as a growth industry.  I found myself able to understand the business better than many of the older people who were trying to come into the business. It was exciting to be considered an up and coming executive, but the reality was some of what business is leaves you wondering if your using your mind. I had always seen myself as outside the mainstream in intellectual opportunities.  I wondered what an advanced degree would do for me. I had two Uncles who had PHD’s that I admired.

I had to make up for this mistake so I began reading as many books as I could.  Some were sales and business books but more and more over the years my reading included the classics and the great authors. The desire to read has increased each year over my life. Looking back at my life story the choice to have not gone on to graduate school has bothered me. I know it has pushed me to read and learn as much as I can on my own.

Do Mistakes Define You?

by Brent M. Jones

I could tell you my life story 10 different times over a 10-month period and each time it would be a little different. I know this to be true from the many years of presenting my own story and listening to those of others in a church men’s group and because I have written down my life story from scratch every year for most of my life.  One thing I have noticed is that the more you do tell the story the more likely it is that you admit your mistakes. Sometimes I wonder how I could not have recognized the mistakes before or if I did was, I just hiding the truth from myself.  Our past experiences certainly do shape us, but they don’t define us.

For several year I was the General Manager of a large distribution company. The company was owned by a family that had the third generation of leadership coming up. It worked out that a period of outside leadership was wanted, and I was fortunate to get the opportunity to be that leader at a time when I was anxious to sell my own business and find another way to use my skills. When the time came that a transition was wanted and both the owners and myself made some mistakes in how we worked things out. I wound up signing a non-compete agreement that made it impossible to stay in what had been our home for over 30 years.  I found a job in New Mexico, sold our home and we moved.

We spent 13 years in New Mexico before retiring and returning to Utah and during that time I had 3 different jobs. The first two jobs were challenging but the last 8 years found a unique and fascinating opportunity to help run a large restaurant chain.

It took me a few years to see my own mistake more clearly, but I also found myself seeing how much the change really meant to our family. The experiences we as a family had in New Mexico were some of the most special ones in our lifetimes all put into place clearly because of my own mistakes.

What followed the mistakes certainly has shaped my life, but I don’t believe that the mistakes have defined me. Our lives were shaped by many different things: family, culture, friends, personal interests and the surrounding environments are factors that help shape our identity. New Mexico provided those very things.

Of course, as I have re-looked at my life story and experience and the mistakes have become obvious. When we find our mistakes sometimes we have to have the courage to rethink things completely. When we finally see what we did wrong it is too late to tear everything down and rebuild from scratch. We really never can start over but the lessons you learned from your flawed work and mistakes will have an effect on your future work. The lessons you learn stick with you.

I have worked hard to change those things about myself that contributed to the past mistakes. That is really the only way you can ensure that the mistakes don’t define you. Looking back on the past allows us to study the nature of ourselves and helps us recognize why we do what we do.

Life Story Lessons on Music & Art

I started taking piano lessons when I was in the third grade. Once a week for the next 6 years I would walk two blocks to Mrs. Mcleods house. She started my lessons out in the very boring John W. Schaum course books, and then after a time added books on cords.

The entire time I took lessons I really don’t ever recall playing a song I recognized. The only positive thing I remember about those years was her comment that I had perfect pitch and then her criticism that I relied to much on playing from memory. She had figured out somehow from her kitchen hideout that when I came for lessons and played the prior weeks songs that I had them memorized and didn’t bother looking at the music and sometimes added in some things. I should have figured out a lot sooner that she was not really a good teacher.

Once a year we would have a concert and go to various local churches and public buildings where I would get up and play very boring dull pieces in front of a lot of people. I usually did so with no errors and was told I did fine but then I never liked the music I played.

My own conclusion about this experience has changed several times as I have thought back about it over the years. I didn’t take long to resent the teacher who wasted my time.

Rather than give up on the idea that I was not musically talented when I was in the sixth grade, I decided to take band. I was excited to play the saxophone and knew what kind of music I wanted to play but the band teacher told my parents that I should play the trombone because my lips were too big for the saxophone. This clearly seems like poor advice from another poor teacher.

I stuck with the trombone for two years but again found the sound of the instrument and the music boring. Marching band did not appeal to me and I thought I looked dumb in the band uniform.

The seventh grade was a time of music overload. I was taking the piano lessons and practicing every morning. I was taking trombone lessons every two weeks and playing in the band. One morning as I was practicing my mother was sitting by me and pressing me to play more than I wanted to. Perhaps I was upset over that but it was probably just me being me because that day in school I was talking with someone in class because I had nothing to do and the teaching told me to stop it and I told her “she made me sick”. With that I was sent to the principal’s office and then expelled and sent home.

The good news part of this story is that two guys from the class came to my house that night and told my parents that the teacher was mean and that I had been right to have said what I did. Both guys became new friends and really were two of the better friends I had for many years. 

The next day my parents and I returned to the school and I apologized. That got me back in.

My mother thought maybe the piano practice that morning had been a point o stress and I could see an opening so I just told her that the piano teacher was a waste and reminded her that I had never liked the music or being taught from the kitchen.  She suggested a new teacher we had heard about that taught modern music but I just jumped on the chance to quit.

Also in the seventh grade I decided to take art as well as band. I knew I was not very good at drawing things, but I loved the idea of art. I knew I was able to feel the influence of good music and had some similar strong feelings about good art.

I thought that this might be a better experience than music had been because the art teacher, Mr. Lampson, was well known for his strong feelings about art and it was his passion that attracted me. I still remember how on the first day of class he explained how when he heard someone say,  , “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like”, that he just wanted to scream because he took it very personally and felt offended. He said it wasn’t really our decision if “Art was art”, adding that, "We don't inform art, that art informs us". He didn’t bother to tell us at the time that this quote was from Leonardo da Vinci.

I didn’t get much personal attention from Mr. Lambson and it was obvious that he was only interested in the talented students, but he did get me thinking, and over the years many things I learned told me that Mr. Lampson was right. Art does have its own role and purpose, but the question of whether art reflects the artist’s feelings, or if art created those feelings, is still unclear. Maybe it is both?

Year later still thinking about this question I found in Oscar Wilde’s1889 essay, "The Decay of Lying",  that: “Life imitates Art, more than Art imitates Life, and what is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists taught people to find there, through art”.

Mr. Lampson also showed us how a lump of clay, spinning on a pottery wheel, grasped by an artist’s hands changed into what he imagined the clay to be and said that the clay itself informed the artist through the feelings it brought. I guess Mr. Lampson borrowed his message to us about pottery from Michelangelo where he told us that “Every block of stone has a statue inside it, and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” It would be easy to just conclude from my life experiences that because I had music teachers that did more harm than good and an art teacher that didn’t have the time for me because my drawings were so poor that I must not have any talent in these areas.

Well it is my own choose how I feel about my own past experiences and both teachers were wrong in who they I was.

Louis Armstrong was a musical force and innovator as a trumpeter, singer and an entertainer. He didn’t have to deal with poor schoolteachers because he dropped out at 11 and had rough years ahead of him. His mother didn’t have an inspiring occupation and later he said of himself, that he hardly looked back at his youth as the worst of times but drew inspiration from those times instead. He said that "Every time I close my eyes blowing that trumpet of mine—I look right in the heart of good old New Orleans... It has given me something to live for.”

What we have a passion for matters and what matters to us is our own chose. Musicians, artists, writers, and ever readers don’t retire, as long as they have music in them.

Rust is a Passionate Color

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Rust is a passionate color, rich with warm-orange, brick-red, mustard-yellow and the combinations seem to be endless as ones emotions are stimulated when fond memories come front and center. Rust let's us know that an  old and perhaps otherwise worthless car, has a history and a story to share if your willing to listen. 

When a really great restored old car is found you may find yourself thinking, "Wow, That car is so cool, that era was so cool." As you caress the car with your eyes the remembering "back in the days" floods your memories and sends you back in time. When you see the same type of car all rusted out you still may think of the time and place, but your thoughts will be deeper and perhaps longing with nostalgia .

The car seems to be still be alive, if only in the remembering. Will a rusted 55 Chevy take you back in to that time any faster than a restored one? The restored one may take you back to a particular car and time but perhaps the rusted version leaves your mind open to looking deeper.

The rusted out car doesn't smell new. The doors (if they work at all) sound different if they close. The surface of rust may break and crumble if you rub your hands over it. Is it really a car or is it a spirit of a car?

The spirit of the car brings back feelings, memories and emotions and allows for that moment in time to transfer to the "now." 

Rust is beautiful. Rust is the color of timelessness.

How I see this Experience is Different Now

by Brent M. Jones

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Much of what I recall from 1966 is pleasant. I was married that year and it was in my second year at Idaho State University.  I had spent my entire life in Idaho and I had little actual experience that would have helped me understand all that was happening in the world. The Vietnam war and civil rights protests were on TV every night. Guys I had gone to school with were going to war.  Some were coming back, reenlisting and going back again: some didn't come back. The ugly view of the war was something that we did get first hand reports on when they guys we had gone to school with came back.

Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream speech” took place in August, 1963 and then things seemed to get worse. The issue of civil rights was one that, as far as first hand experiences, for us in that part of the country, were not the same. To some of us it really wasn’t clear why the blacks lived in one part of town and to some degree it seemed like it was just where they wanted to be. The only prejudice we really heard was mostly from our parents’ generation.

When I attended Pocatello High School the Student Body President was Marvin Brown. He was an African American. He was very popular and well liked, and that is what you heard about him. You didn’t hear much from the students about race. In September 1962 Marvin was killed in a car accident.  He would have gone on to Harvard in another few weeks with his scholarship.  We were all saddened by the event. Things were very different in Southeastern Idaho than what you saw on the news the next few years.

Why is it that our lives then were sheltered and we were not in the direct line of fire for all these problems?  Why didn’t we understand it more then? Does the fact that we didn’t understand it then mean we didn’t come to the same conclusions that many who were in the middle of it did, at least eventually? We thought we understood what the Civil Rights movement was it at the time.  We had knowledge of what was happening but we didn't have experience. I seemed incredible that there even was such a difference in treatment of people in our country.

Some may feel that for us, in that part of the country, that it was "just the luck of the draw"?  By that I mean that some people believe that we don't really make a lot of choices in our lives and we all just live with the set of circumstances were given. They feel that choices, and how we feel about things, are the result of how were "wired", where were born, or who our parents are. Our genetics and circumstances are felt to have programmed us and dictate how we choose?  Even today a popular point of view is that free will is an illusion.  I disagree with this point of view. If I didn't have the experience back in 1966 to understand what was happening then but I have had more than enough time to ponder it since then, and I have.  Looking back and seeing my own lack of experience has compelled me to look harder than others may have.

Experience, when added to knowledge, is better than either one alone in the search for wisdom.  The search also requires deciding how to connect the events in our life.   It can take some time for things to seem clear.

One experience I did have surprised me. I am still trying to understand what it was that it taught me but I think part of the answer is to help me understand a little more about kindness.

About the same time as all the things that were so troubling were happening in the country an unexpected thing happened to me. At the University, we would go to the student union between classes and meet with friends and talk.  I had made a new friend in one of my classes. He was an exchange student from a country in Africa. He was black, very smart, and seemed to have a different take on things.  Sitting and talking with him was something I looked forward to each day.  I am not saying we were best friends but several months went by and our routine was solid.  One day while we sat together talking he changed the subject and told me that he didn’t want to be my friend anymore and he was going to get up and leave? I was very surprised and asked why? He said that it was obvious to him that the only reason I wanted to be friends with him was because he was an exchange student from Africa and not just an American Black. (Even now I wouldn't use the word that then was used for Blacks). He said that with the way the American people felt about and treated the American Blacks, it was clear to him that I must be no different. He added that this was his conclusion and he felt it was obvious. He said that all I had to do was watch the news to see it was true.  He left and the friendship ended?

There is no good ending to this story. I was shocked. I didn’t understand how I was to blame?  I felt offended. How could I be so naive?  Here is a case where I had experience, before I had knowledge. 

We need to find ways to let others know we care about them. I would rather be misjudged or criticized about caring for others than to be guilty of not caring.

Knowledge tells me that we should care about people. Experience tells me that it can be one sided at times. Wisdom tells me that caring and kindness matter

Bottle Fishing on the Banks of the Portenuf River

By Brent M. Jones

As a young boy, in the 1950’s, I walked barefoot in the moss and mud on the banks of the Portneuf River, a tributary of the larger better-known Snake River, in Southeastern Idaho. The river was lined on both sides with trees and bushes overhanging the banks. Big Oaks, Maple trees, Goldenraintee, Hawthorne, Birch and Dogwood trees. The trees stood with willows and bushes thick at their sides. Occasional lilac bushes brought their deep blue to the natural cover.

Our families home sat right on the bank of the river and my upstairs bedroom, with the window open, brought the sound of the flowing water, birds and all the various river sounds. Large Oak trees rose from the bank below and the leaves from the upper branches would brush the house and window with the movement of the wind.

Winter by the River

With the leaves gone and water lowered everything changed. The ice layered up the banks and, in some places, only ice could be seen.  Often the branches of the willows and trees were covered with white crystal-like coverings.  Some would ice skate, but this was something I was fearful of doing.

Summers by the River

The water was higher than in the winter with all the runoff from the snow topped mountains that feed the river. My own Huckleberry Finn experience included rafts built from trees and fishing as we would float downstream. Our house was in the middle of a residential section near the town of Pocatello, but going downstream on a raft, with the tree and bush lined banks was like being in another world.

Fishing from the raft was done with a traditional fishing pole but fishing from the shore, mostly in my back yard, was different. No poles or hooks were used but instead a pint or quart glass bottle. The same Kerr brand bottles, referred to as Mason Jars, my mother used to bottle raspberries, peaches, cherries and other items in, by sealing them in a boiling kettle bath.  Raspberries were my favorite.

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An empty bottle, strong string, lid, knife and some bread was all that was needed. The string, usually six feet long, had one end tied and fasted around the lid.  Using the knife, a hole could be pressed in the middle of the flat metal lid creating a punctured X and then pressing the X to open so that 4 sharp sections of the lid depressed into the bottle.  At this point a few bread pieces would be put in the bottom of the bottle before the lid was added. The bread pieces needed to be big enough so when the bottle was filled with water that they wouldn’t float up through the opening in the lid.

With the bottle secured by the long string, doubled up strong enough to hold the bottle full of water with some pressure, the filled bottle was then just tossed off shore into the river under some overhanging branches or close to a large rock.  

This type of fishing was not complicated, and we would wait at least ten minutes, maybe even an hour, but when the bottle was pulled back to shore it almost always had some small minnows in it.

The small fish could be used for bait on a hook with a fishing pole, especially if a trip to the Snake River was coming up, or they could be sold for bait just like worms could. The small fish were also an option for more riverbank activity.  Mud and rocks could be used for making a little pond on the bank of the river to hold the small fish. Of course, just letting the fish go was the best option and that happened sometimes.

When a fish pool was created and loaded up with fish the next step was to move back away and hide or even leave and come back in an hour or so. Sooner or later a snake would find this little pool and go in and eat the fish. With good timing the snake could then be caught.

What to do with a live snake was a little more of a challenge. Several attempts to keep the snake in a cardboard box under the front porch failed when they just disappeared? I always hoped they wouldn’t find a way into the house if they got away.

Leaving the River behind

Our family eventually moved to a traditional neighborhood on the other side of town to live in a new house, but there was no river nearby.  A couple of years after we moved something terrible happened to the River.  Spring runoff was higher than it had been in years and all along the river, as it ran through the town, the neighborhoods were flooded.  The town brought the Army Core of Engineers in to evaluate the situation and they decided to make a cement ditch of the river its entire length as it twisted and turned through the town.

A river in a cement ditch is not a river! The bank had no trees or bushes. It was just a sterile ugly ditch. Any path to revisiting my Huckleberry Finn days and my youth were just eliminated by bureaucrats and a town happy to take some federal money.

I went back to where I had spent much of my youth after this happened. I waited a long time before I ever went back again.

John Steinbeck said: “You can’t go home again because home has ceased to exist in the mothballs of memory. Maybe he was right, but my memory is a lot better than the reality today of where home was. It just points to the fact that there is no sense looking back. We just get up and press forward.

Is the Soul Eternal?

By Brent M. Jones

If the soul is eternal and lives on when the body dies, then it must be made of different materials. If that substance is spiritual, then where does it reside within our living bodies?  Is it separate or part of our living flesh? Some have referred to the soul as the seat or location of our character and emotions, but is that just a metaphorical inference?

Some religions believe the soul comes back after death and reunites with a resurrected body at some future time, but then some are not clear as to whether the soul exists without being reunited with the body.

Existence as a unique entity should carry within it the substance of the life and experiences it learned in the body so if the soul exists without the body then there must be some substance as part of the soul.

       Plato, Aristotle and many others have written about the existence of the soul. A recent well-known historian, Will Durant, wrote about the history of man, looking deeply into the living lives of all things. He pondered and wrote about the existence of a soul and said he had little doubt it existed as a part the human existence, a view shared by many intellectuals. Some, like Durant, are influenced by a belief that the universe brings about life taking matter and evolving it into living forms and even suggesting that that is the purpose of the universe.

      This view says that all matter has a spiritual essence.  Durant was fond of his own unique soul but said he did not expect it to survive the complete death of his body.  Durant summed up this conclusion in his last book, Fallen Leaves, saying that he felt the death of the body would likewise be the death of the soul. That conclusion seems to be at odds with his passion for life and view that it exists within all things. We wonder what Durant may have felt if he had the view of other dimensions.

     Durant said he wanted to bring the “future into focus” and his method was to focus on the raw experience of history to do that. This approach is clearly reflected in his extensive work in writing the 11 volumes of "The Story of Civilization”.

    Durant believed that life flowed from what he felt was a mysterious source which moved like a river from an unknown beginning and then to an abrupt end with the death of the body. The sudden end of the soul is often the conclusion of intellectuals that seem to be tied to the concept of determinism: the doctrine that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will.

Durant serves as a useful focus for discussions about the soul because he certainly was not a determinist and placed great value on individual experiences.   He refused to accept the end was all predetermined by the beginning,

    My own opinion is Durant was on the right track, but with incomplete conclusions on the nature of the soul in part because he just did not live long enough to see all the options. He defended free will, that the soul was unique, valued individual experience, and he saw a universe whose purpose was to create, and advance life and he valued individual experience. What he lacked were options into what could happen after death to the soul.                

    We live in a world clearly defined by three spatial dimensions including one dimension of time.  Durant's and others in the past drew conclusion about the soul that were framed with this knowledge, but he did not have information about a 4th, 5th and other dimensions?  In 1919, mathematician Theodor Kaluza presented new ideas about a 4th dimension. This idea states that in ordinary space, a position is specified by three numbers, known as dimensions, that could be labeled x, y, and z. A position in spacetime is called an event and requires four numbers to be specified: the three-dimensional location in space, plus the position in time.

Today “string theorists” present more complicated thoughts saying it's quite easy to assume there are 10 or 11 dimensions and more. Maybe these other dimensions include or await our own participation, with our spiritual soul?  

Seeing life metaphorically, like a river of influences and forces, is a poetic approach that ties things together but it ignores where the river starts and assumes that it ends.

My own conclusion is that the soul does continue after death and the life of the soul is eternal. I think the implications of Durant’s thoughts and the what has been learned abut string theory are strong influences in this conclusion but for me my own religious teachings make a great deal of difference in this conclusion.

I am an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I believe that died Jesus Christ died on the cross, rose on the third day, appeared again to his disciples. I believe that the soul leaves the body at death and at some point, is resurrected again gaining a physical body.

One of the previous church Prophets and President, Gordon B. Hinckley, said “Let me say that we appreciate the truth in all churches and the good which they do. We say to the people, in effect, you bring with you all the good that you have, and then let us see if we can add to it.”

My own beliefs and knowledge suggest to me also that truth exists in many churches and that the more knowledge we gain the better off we will be. I believe that much of what we become during this life resides in our spiritual essence. Knowledge, memory, skills learned, and even work ethic if they are to go with us through death then understanding them is a worthy life goal.

What is Wisdom: Find it and Get it

By Brent M. Jones

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How does experience, knowledge, and good judgement bring about wisdom?  Are there classes in school that explain how to apply experience, judgement and knowledge and result in having wisdom? Is it just the lifelong attempt to find the answers that result in wisdom: if that is true then when you finally get it is it too late to matter? 

The answer to these questions requires us to think and ponder about what wisdom is. It is not the product of only schooling, or just gaining knowledge, or just the attempt to acquire it. The sincere attempt to acquire it may be part of what wisdom is, but that effort is never completed.

Reading, classes, and study can bring about knowledge. As we use what we have learned in gaining experience trying to use what we have learned wisdom comes. .

A well-known quote, “Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care”, implies that sincerity added to knowledge is of more value. Sincerity requires that we believe that the knowledge desired is of value.

Wisdom is likely not a constant because our own conclusions about our experiences change over time. Wisdom is added to with changes in point of view.

The events of our own life, when examined years later, can lead us to making changes in our point of view and even to reinventing ourselves. What wisdom is now likely will be different when looked back on.

The book of Proverbs has a lot to say about wisdom and knowledge. It suggests that they both come from God. This quote seems to sum it up very well: Wisdom is the principal thing: therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting, get understanding. (Proverbs 4:7)

An Experience at Bosque Del Apache

by Brent M. Jones

 

The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is about a two hour drive south from Albuquerque, New Mexico. You drive to Socorro, and then another 11 miles to San Antonio, where there is a 8 mile loop road that follows the Rio Grande river and the refuge. 

"Woods of the Apache" is what "The Bosque Del Apache" means. "Bosque" a word that is borrowed from Spanish, meaning the forest or woods, referring to the habitat found on both sides of the Rio Grande River.

Over 350 different bird species have been observed in the Bosque del Apache, where huge flocks of wintering cranes and geese are the refuge's most interesting feature.

The Sand Hill Cranes are large tall birds with long legs and necks. They pair up for life and usually have one or two chicks. These birds migrate from Canada, Montana and Utah in the winter and they will fly a chick South for the winter, to teach them the way, and encourage the offspring to be independent.

November to late February is the best time to see large numbers of birds in the Bosque del Apache when typically over 10,000 Sandhill Cranes and 20,000 Ross's and Snow Geese can be seen. Sunrise and sunset is the best time to see the bird while they roost in the refuge before leaving in the morning to feed or after returning from the fields in the evening.

We spent a couple of days at this refuge a few years ago in the late fall. We had been told by a friend to just watch the birds in the morning after sitting overnight roosting on the water and to wait for when the first ones takes off. When the rest then all at once follow the sky fills and that is the time for the best pictures.

We were excited and hoped to really see them all get up into the air at once but it turned out that the birds flew in several groups not just one.  .

The road edge near the roosting birds was lined with people holding big cameras with huge, expensive, telescopic lenses. Plenty of tripods topped with Nikon and Cannon camera where the lens alone can cost between $2500 and $12,000 and even more line the nearby road with professional bird watchers. Som had camouflage pants and jackets. 

Just like the birds, the people would move up and down the road in groups. One guy would break first from the group and then it seemed like all the others would follow.  

We did see some people, amateurs and first timers, just watching, like we were doing, so we found our way into their little groups. Us folks with the smaller lens, and even just with I-Phones, just didn't fit in and some walked around by themselves, so as to not be embarrassed.

It was mostly the men that had the "big" lens with extensions, and tripods. It also seemed like the women showed up a lot later and were standing in their own groups. 

We were one of the first on site at "The Bosque Del Apache" that special fall day, arriving early morning before the sun rose. When the light broke it was amazing to see how many birds were actually there. 

The birds, the professional photographers, and all those watching were a treat to see. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It Just Wasn't My Time

By Brent M. Jones

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I had 5 trips to the hospital for a heart attack between 2009 and 2016. Two trips were false alarms, but I still made it to the operating table 4 times.

The first trip was a complete surprise. I got up and started getting ready for work. The week before I had been in a group of volunteers that worked with older people and we were given instructions on what the symptoms of a heart attack were. I had a pressing pain in the middle of my chest, the inside of my arm hurt, I felt nausea, and just overall dizzy. I had made it downstairs and was sitting in the kitchen and just wasn’t sure what was happening, so I said a little pray and asked if what I had was a heart attack if perhaps I could recognize another symptom. Within a couple of minutes, I felt a cold sweat and so I went upstairs and told my wife and got into bed.  

The surprise of all of this started to sink in when 8 EMT’s arrived in my bedroom lifting me onto a stretcher and carrying me to the ambulance.  I just couldn’t stop thinking about how surprising it was that I was having a heart attack.  Laying on the stretcher I looked up at the lady EMT leaning over and taking care of me and said, “I just don’t understand why this is happening, I have run 13 marathons in my lifetime?” She looked down at me and said, “Maybe it is just your time.”  I didn’t laugh at the time.

Being wheeled into an operating room is frightening. They slide you over on to a cold stainless-steel table where you lay, almost naked, in the middle of the table. The room has a lot of people in it all seeming to be doing something important. The staff was young, professional and engaged in some good-natured banter was going on.

On my last trip to the cold steel table the first thing that caught my attention was that the music seemed to be a little loud. By this time I had my own personal heart doctor but he was not on site and when I met the doctor it seemed like he was so young he could have been my grandson. Every one was very busy of course and I just laid waiting for a drip anesthesia to be set up. From the comments and the volume it seemed clear that all those young folks walking around were enjoying the music in the background but and at least they weren’t staring at my naked and cold body. A young man came over and said he would get the anesthesia set up soon, a good thing I thought, but he wondered if I had some favorite music saying he would find it and play it. Well I still had my thoughts in place, so, figuring it was a long shot, I suggested Leonard Cohen. Not one person in the room had heard of him, nor could they find any of his music even though they actually made an effort to find him. I thought it was funny and might have chuckled, but I was out soon after that.

My last trip to the hospital was one where they again picked me up with the ambulance. For some reason the ambulance sat in our driveway in front of the house after I was in for a while. A fire engine crew and a support car team were there on site with us and several paramedics were regularly checking the back of the ambulance, and they each would greet me and ask how I was doing.  One of these guys seemed to have paused for a few minutes so I looked up at him and told him I still remembered getting help like this the first time I had a heart attack telling him about the question and the reply I got from the EMT nurse about it “being my time”. Neither of the two paramedics said a word or even changed facial expressions.  They just seemed like they had kicked into gear and was about some important business. I noticed that the one paramedic left the back door ajar as he left, I saw him go over to a group standing by the fire engine where they seemed to huddle and laugh, and then he went to a different group. I figure this was a good sign. The last heat attack event had a connection to the first. It still wasn’t my time.

 

Rust is a Passionate Color

By Brent M. Jones

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Rust is a passionate color, rich with warm-orange, brick-red, mustard-yellow and the combinations seem to be endless as one’s emotions are stimulated when fond memories come front and center. Rust lets us know that an old and perhaps otherwise worthless car, has a history and a story to share if your willing to listen.

When a really great restored old car is found you may find yourself thinking, "Wow, that car is so cool, that era was so cool." As you caress the car with your eyes the remembering "back in the days" floods your memories and sends you back in time. When you see the same type of car all rusted out you still may think of the time and place, but your thoughts will be deeper and perhaps longing with nostalgia.

The car seems to be still be alive, if only in the remembering. Will a rusted 55 Chevy take you back in to that time any faster than a restored one? The restored one may take you back to a particular car and time but perhaps the rusted version leaves your mind open to looking deeper.

The rusted-out car doesn't smell new. The doors (if they work at all) sound different if they close. The surface of rust may break and crumble if you rub your hands over it. Is it really a car or is it a spirit of a car?

The spirit of the car brings back feelings, memories and emotions and allows for that moment in time to transfer to the "now."

Rust is beautiful. Rust is the color of timelessness.Rust is a passionate color, rich with warm-orange, brick-red, mustard-yellow and the combinations seem to be endless as ones emotions are stimulated when fond memories come front and center. Rust let's us know that an  old and perhaps otherwise worthless car, has a history and a story to share if your willing to listen. 

Why Arthur Miller Wrote The Crucible

Why Arthur Miller Wrote The Crucible

By Brent M. Jones

See Review of The Crucible: by Arthur Miller in Review Section

Arthur Miller wrote The Crucible in 1952. World War II, had just ended in 1945 and it was during a time in which the United States was becoming increasingly concerned about the rising power of the Soviet Union. Paranoia was growing inside the government worries that the Soviet Union's communist ways would infiltrate the United States led to a significant amount of paranoia within the American government and Hollywood was becoming a target for Joe McCarthy. This article in The New Yorker,  appeared on October 21, 1996 P. 158. 

"LIFE AND LETTERS about the inspiration for and influence of Miller's play, "The Crucible," a reflection of the Communist witch-hunts of its time. Miller recalled the source of his creation while watching the filming of the new movie of "The Crucible." When he wrote it, Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Committee on Un-American Activities were prosecuting alleged Communists from the State Department to Hollywood; the Red hunt was becoming the dominant fixation of the American psyche. Miller did not know how to deal with the enormities of the situation in a play. "The Crucible" was an act of desperation; Miller was fearful of being identified as a covert Communist if he should protest too strongly. He could not find a point of moral reference in contemporary society. Miller found his subject while reading Charles W. Upham's 1867 two-volume study of the 1692 Salem witch trials, which shed light on the personal relationships behind the trials. Miller went to Salem in 1952 and read transcripts. He began to reconstruct the relationship between John and Elizabeth Proctor and Abigail Williams, who would become the central characters in "The Crucible." He related to John Proctor, who, in spite of an imperfect character, was able to fight the madness around him. The Salem court had moved to admit "spectral evidence" as proof of guilt; as in 1952, the question was not the acts of an accused but his thoughts and intentions." 

The more information we have the better it is to answer the question: Why This Play at That Time?  

The Good Wolf is Open to New Connections.

By Brent M. Jones

Which wolf do you feed? Is your heart and soul the real residence of your passion? Does loving what you do, or what your working on, attract creativity? Does it feed your soul? Something has to happen, that adds to what you have, for creativity begin and whatever it is that feeds your soul, opens the door to creativity becoming a "link in a chain' that the next artist will be able to build on .  

What is it that we love is the key question? Another important question is why is it that we love it? What does that love feed within us?

The story of the good wolf and the bad wolf is a good beginning to find this out. There are two wolves in this story, one good and one bad. The good wolf is patient, kind, unselfish, loving, loyal, honest, and all those good things we know are good.

The bad wolf is just the opposite, not patient, hateful, jealous, dishonest, mean, and all those things we know are bad.

Each of us go through life influenced by one of these wolves. Whichever one we choose will live with us, and influence all we do. So the important question is, which one, and how is it that we are the one that makes the choice. The answer is that the wolf that stays with you is the one you feed.

The bad wolf wants hateful things, not good. This wolf isn't patient or kind. The bad wolf is not interested in new things and won't attract creativity and doesn't want you to succeed. 

The good wolf wants to learn and is hungry for knowledge. He wants to see new things and to read and learn new things. He loves books and especially likes to read your daily journal and to do list.  The good wolf attracts more good, and new ideas are attracted to what you already know. 

In the book, "A Life You Love by Amy Tangerine", the book starts out discussing how to “craft a life and soul that you love”.  Amy asks “what is it that we love?”

A writer may love the characters in a story. A painter may love the object being painted. When something new is added creativity happens. A non fiction story can be come fiction, when even just one of the characters becomes a product of the writers imagination. Then when that new character interacts with the others the writer will have to listen to find out what happens next in the plot, and creativity takes place.

Sometimes it is the writers emotions and feelings about the current characters that become the motivation to find a new character.  The bad wolf doesn't want to let you look inside your subconscious for ideas, and instead teaches you to look instead for who to blame and hate. 

The artist who only sees things as not good enough will never listen close enough to have the art inform of what may not be seen at first.  The good wolf will teach you to look deeper than the surface and to listen

When we connect all that we have learned to our experiences, and then listen, the doors open. 

Thoughts about Nighthawks the Painting

By Brent M. Jones

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"Nighthawks, a 1942 oil on canvas painting, was inspired by Hemingway's short story 'The Killers,' which Hopper read in Scribner's magazine. Edward Hopper is considered by some as the most important realist painter in the 20th century in America. Even so is vision was selective and reflected his temperament

The painting, Nighthawks, tells it's own story of lonliness. 

The diner is a stand-alone building with long front windows with rounded corners on the glass itself that gives the glass a thicker and more confining look. It is late at night and the streets and other buildings look empty with their darkened windows, even more than just closed.

Silence seems to be part of the painting's message and is reflected inside and out of the diner.  The diner has no visible doors and thick glass which suggest that those inside are trapped. Unsettling are the yellow, faded and peeling walls.  The use of green outside on the reflected walk and around the window suggest unnatural light. Pale green fades to dark green near the buildings and confirms that the building is alone and that the people are isolated. The people inside the diner are not talking and they are not looking at each other. 

Most of Hoppers paintings are about how loneliness feels.  Loneliness connects to depression and anxiety, both things that Hopper suffered from.  Just being alone is not loneliness but having no connection with others is.  

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Hopper, a tall lonely man, said that he declared himself in his paintings. In the diner tall men in suits bend over, but still look tall.

Being alone in a city is something we all can relate to. Those feelings are captured and used by the author of this book, "The Lonely City, Adventures in the Art of Being Alone, by Olivia Laing" (see review).  

The book starts out saying: "Imagine standing by a window at night, on the sixth or seventeenth or forty-third floor of a building". The book also mentions this painting and author to explain the feeling.

See the Review of Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City click here

I have experienced that feeling 30 floors up, at night in a hotel room. When I looked out the window I could see all the other tall buildings and the lights in their windows and could see people in the closer windows. You knew you were surrounded with people but you had no connection with any of them. You were alone.

 

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Authors reflect a way of thinking

By Brent M. Jones

I was asked recently if I had read all (over 1000) of the books listed on the books read section on my blog?  Yes, I have read them, some several times. I didn't include political books, many on religion, success books, and many that I had read prior to 1998. So yes, I have read a lot of books, but compared to a lot of people, maybe not so many.

What happened in 1998? Well a friend told me the best book he had read was Louis L amour's, "Education of a Wandering Man". Prior to that I had never read any of his books, and had sort of looked down on western novels. I read the book and was really surprised. It was his autobiography and told of his travels as a young man, and about all the books he had read during that time. Wow! He read the deepest books, and it just really surprised me. In fact it inspired me - I decided from that day forward I would keep closer tabs on what I was reading and I started a list. I should add here that I have read some of his western novels since then and really like them.

Einstein said that if you want your kids to be smart when they grow up read them fairy tales. Pondering that, opened another door in reading for me. I had not read a lot off fantasy or fiction.

I have to admit I now love reading Stephen King. He scares me at times but I keep going back.  With all of the fiction he has written it is a little surprise that his book, "On Writing" is one of the best I have read on the subject. This book changed the way I saw his books. The writing skill of this author just jumps out at you in his books.

So can I remember what is in all of the books in that section? I find that they come back just looking at them, and thinking about one, brings several others back.

Some authors are so familiar that they become labels. Darwinian, Shakespearean, or Orwellian imply things that most understand. Harold Bloom is a literary critic that knows all the older authors that well and likely could imply labels of influence for them all. A goal I have is to be able to do the same and to in that way have them come alive and even talk to me. 

C.S. Lewis said “The good of literature is that we want to become more than ourselves, we want to see with others eyes, to imagine with others imaginations, to feel with others hearts, as well as our own.” He sad we become a thousand men and yet remain ourselves. When it happens you will feel renewed and reinvented.

 

 

 

Homeless are Now, Part of the Art

By Brent M. Jones

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Street art has become common and the walls of buildings may be a new venue for modern art.  The same photographers that capture street art often include in their pictures the street people.  Art and photography can inform us and tell us what is being felt.  If the homeless have blended into and become part of the art have they lost their humanness? Did the photographer take it from them?

Colette Brooks wrote the book, “In the City: Random Acts of Awareness”, She said, “that a city person is one who doesn't feel the need to finish a jigsaw puzzle, who relishes jagged edges and orphaned curves, stray bits of data, stories parsed from sentences half overheard on the streets”. She likely just meant those folks walking the sidewalks, going and coming all surrounded with people but no real connections to anyone. 

Is the homeless man now part of the street art less important as a human because he has been captured as part of the painting above? Is he still real and an individual? Will the art outlive him? Will it have more connections? Was his existence just a way for the photographer to tell us what he saw?  Did we take his "humanness" away from him by making him part of the picture?

The question were left with: do we see the homeless? The answer is not easy but the question is what is important.

Liberal Arts vs's Liberal Politics

by Brent M. Jones

If you were, or are, a liberal arts major does that mean your politics have to be liberal?  No, of course not.

Liberal arts refer to academic subjects such as literature, philosophy, and social and physical sciences, as distinct from professional and technical subjects.  As far back as Ancient Greece liberal arts subjects were felt necessary to enable a person to take an active part in civic life.

J.Paul Getty, the billionaire from the mid 1900’s, said it well when he said that he could teach a new hire accounting but he couldn’t teach them how to talk to people.

This blog is liberal arts focused intended to help get away from looking at daily routine in only technical terms but to consider thoughts and connections to enable further pondering.

The Dean of the Business School at Wake Forest recently said. “We have become so myopic in solving business problems that we don’t think about those problems from the perspective of other disciplines”.

Boston University’s assistant dean at their school of business said, "businesses want workers who have the ability to think, the ability to write, the ability to understand the cultural or historical context of whatever business decision they’re making”.   

Liberal arts can help you get out of where you are to somewhere new.  C.S. Lewis said “The good of literature is that we want to become more than ourselves, we want to see with others eyes, to imagine with others imaginations, to feel with others hearts, as well as our own.”

So whether your personally conservative or liberal, the good news is that more liberal arts will help you renew and reinvent yourself.