August 21, 2016
Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
Third week of August in 2016
Cooler, breezy days – afternoon thunderstorms - clear skies at night –
and a full moon this week.
All In The Family was a situation comedy that ran on CBS television for 9 seasons – 1971-1979 – and is regarded by many as one of the best television series of all time. It’s creator, Norman Lear, is considered a creative genius. The program and its cast won just about every award the TV industry had to offer - for good reasons.
The show seemed to get at the core of the ordinary lives of ordinary people.
The audience thought, “That’s us. A situation comedy.”
And the laughs in the show were echoed by the saving grace of the laughter of the viewers at themselves.
Alas, I never saw the program – didn’t have a television in those days, and no time to watch it if I did have one.
Now, thanks to media innovation, I can view the entire series on my computer.
And that’s what I’ve been doing every evening for the last few weeks.
I’ve been watching the re-runs because I want to go to bed laughing.
And I do – but I also go to bed thinking.
All In The Family broke ground in addressing almost every social concern usually avoided on television at the time: racism, homosexuality, women’s liberation, rape, religion, miscarriage, abortion, breast cancer, the Vietnam War, menopause, impotence, and ignorance.
Moreover, the program did it through comedy provided by the unlikely combination of a working class blue-collar bigot named Archie Bunker and his dingbat wife, Edith.
The program seems timeless - as relevant now as it must have been at the time.
The issues raised by the program remain unresolved.
They are part of the news of this day in August, 2016.
A small-but-important detail in the series caught my attention.
Archie Bunker’s chair.
Physically, it was the pivot point around which much of the action revolved.
It was a featured presence in almost every episode of All In the Family.
Many comic incidents in the program focused on Archie’s reaction when someone else sat in his personal chair. Whenever that happened, the barometric pressure
in the room became as intense as if one of the characters had passed gas.
It’s such an ordinary chair – drab and worn - not a fancy leather lounger with all the variable positions – no built in massage features or electric controls.
It was soiled and stained, and not so solid that it could not be broken.
In one episode a leg of the chair was cracked off when Archie’s son-in-law sat down heavily in it, and through a mix-up at the repair shop, it was sent to the dump, where an artist found it and included it in a gallery show, where Archie finally found it and reclaimed it – as an essential part of his identity, not art.
That’s double funny now because the actual chair from the set of the show is on display in the Smithsonian as an important item of Americana.
Archie Bunker’s chair became an icon.
A totemic representation of the focus of one man’s identity.
Edith had a chair, too, alongside Archie’s, but it wasn’t so precious to her, and
she often gladly offered it to others to sit in.
The word “chair” has power and suggests authority.
“The Chair recognizes Mr. Jones.” “She is Chairing the meeting.”
Chairman or, sometime, Chairwoman – or simply, least sexist, The Chair.
The physical object has become short-hand for recognized leadership.
Homo-Chair-man might be a replacement for our category of Homo Sapiens since we spend so much time sitting in them – the species that mostly sits.
I, too, have my chair – two, in fact. (see my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum
As far as I know, nobody else has ever sat in either one – not while I was present.
But I only think of one as My Chair.
I’ve sat in that chair to read, to think, to nap, to listen to music, and to eat.
The chair is my space – my retreat – my refuge – my sanctuary.
It’s not just a chair, but an existential focus of my daily-ness.
Never a day goes by that I don’t spend time in that chair.
It’s a sacred place.
Come to think about it, there are other things and locations that define this sense of mine and me.
My place at the table where I usually eat.
My cereal bowl.
My coffee cup.
My bathrobe and slippers.
My favorite belt.
And my desk and my computer.
(There’s another personal chair there, too, but I’m not attached to it.)
There’s no monetary value attached to any of this.
It’s all both worthless and priceless..
Nobody else really wants what’s truly mine or values it.
These things are simply part of the rituals of my day, and my sense of well-being.
It’s true that I don’t have my room.
Sometimes I wish I did.
Teenagers have a need for “their room” but they don’t have a personal chair – for them, their space is usually the middle of their bed.
It’s rare for an adult to say, “This is my room.”
I suppose a woman may think of the kitchen as her space – just as a man might think of the garage or the basement or a workshop as his.
But it’s not the same as “My Chair.”
I can even say I know where “My Grave” is – my final place of repose.
The site was purchased years ago, and that’s where my ashes will be buried.
What’s left of me will sit in a hole in the ground.
I actually visit it from time to time to remind myself of my ultimate destiny.
I get some perspective there on ultimate reality.
Finally, a room of my own.
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August 13, 2016
Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
Second week of August, 2016
Cooler, breezy days – clear skies at night – just right for taking a look at the Perseid meteor showers in the early morning hours between August 11 and 12,
And I did that – celestial fireworks first class! Wow!
(A piece of advice, as an aside before we plunge on – if you are being driven mad by the single kamikaze fly in the room that seems drawn to you and only you, don’t lose your cool and try to smash it with the fly swatter when it lands on your computer keyboard.
You can delete a lot of work that way.
Besides, now you’ve got a piece of icky fly mush stuck between the keys.
Wait - wait – j u s t w a i t . . . for it to land on a hard surface. Then, WHAP!
Just saying . . . )
(Perspective: This meditation began last Sunday when I looked for the news of the day in my shelf of books of poetry.
Even though I’m not all that religious, I try to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest. Even God did that, according to the book of Genesis.
A day off from the usual daily habits of my work week restores sanity.
Poetry is a good door into another way of being and thinking for my Sabbath.
So, last Sunday I went through the door, and I’ve stayed there over in the land of poetry for the rest of the week, reading and thinking about poems.
Don’t know why, but, then I don’t have to know, do I?)
* * * * *
To begin with, here’s the first poem from the first book I picked up last Sunday –
a kind of rhyming secular prayer for the day:
O Karma, Dharma, pudding and pie,
gimme a break before I die;
grant me wisdom, will and wit,
purity, probity, pluck and grit.
Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, kind,
gimme great abs and a steel-trap mind,
and forgive, ye Gods, some humble advice –
these little blessings would suffice:
to beget an earthly paradise,
make the bad people good –
and the good people nice -
and before our world goes over the brink,
teach the believers how to think.
Phillip Appleman wrote that.
* * * * *
If you browsed around where I live, you might be surprised at the lack of books in my library. Visitors are sometimes surprised – “Where are your books?” they ask.
Well, I actually do have a library – with a huge number of books of all kinds.
But it’s in downtown Moab – called the Grand County Public Library.
I don’t want to maintain or live in a book cemetery – I want books I’ve read to have an ongoing life - not collect dust on my shelves.
So I contribute most of the books I’ve read to the care of the GCP Library.
If I want or need them, I know where they are.
The books I do keep are those that I want to read again –
There’s even a shelf for books that I want to read again and again and again.
Most of them poetry.
Yeats, Auden, Sandburg, Neruda, Collins, Oliver, Bukowski, Lear, and on and on.
Maybe 200 volumes – monographs, collections, and anthologies.
Most are well-marked – underlined and starred and annotated.
These are all Used Books – well-used books – by me.
It doesn’t have a “Use-By” or expiration date on it.
And I’m often intrigued when I open a volume of poetry I’ve not considered for a while to find new poems I had not marked as important before –
And to find poems I once marked as important and now don’t know why –
And to find new meanings in poems I once thought I had understood,
And – best of all - to find poems I cherish still – after many re-considerations –
ones I wish I could memorize if I had that kind of spongy, facile mind-meat.
My high school English teacher, Miss Louise Gayle, insisted we memorize poetry – mostly classic stuff, the meaning of which was lost on a sixteen-year-old pubescent man-child who just wanted to get out of school and become a dude ranch cowboy.
Even though I complied to pass English and please Miss Gayle, I hated having to memorize poems that I really didn’t understand or care about.
But now – now - I still remember many of those lines of poems I disdained.
They come back to mind like the music of songs I once knew.
How I wish I had stored a lot more in my memory bank . . . .
* * * * *
Sometimes I attend poetry readings or contemporary poetry slams.
Not often – because so many poets are not talented at reading their work.
Their oral skill does not match their skill with the written word.
But, still, I go.
More than any other reason just to be in the same room with those who appreciate poetry, who write it, and understand why it’s important.
I know these people are out there in my daily world – but they don’t wear POET or POETRY READER on their T shirts. There’s no real Poet’s Uniform.
And even in a room full of them, it’s not like being in the midst of a gathering of
jockeys or professional basketball players. Poets come in all sizes and shapes.
Poetry reading occasions reminds me that the poetry people are around – and I am not alone in my passion for the art of poetry.
It’s said that there must be thousands of unknown poets – but every poet is known by at least one person – himself – and he writes poetry to know that person better.
(When I’m work up the passenger list for my version of Noah’s Ark, poets will have priority - along with musicians.)
* * * * *
Me? Am I a poet? No – not yet . . . .
Do I write poetry? Yes, but I’ve only published a few poems, and regretted it later.
Whatever the poetry gene or aptitude is, I don’t seem to have it.
Which is to say that I haven’t found my own voice in poetry form – not yet . . .
These are the times of “aps” – and I wish there was a poetry “ap” –
Not an “ap” for my phone or computer – but for my mind.
If I knew where to search, I’d go looking, find it, buy it, and stick it in my ear
or swallow it whole.
When I look through the scrap pile of pieces of poems I’ve written, I don’t see anything I’m proud of or think worth letting free in the world. Not yet. . . .
But notice the words “not yet” – the wrestling with words toward poems continues.
I’m not waiting for that period of life when I have lots of free time, lots of energy, and no distractions.
That’s called death.
The poems must come before that.
Poetry can be like sprinkling gunpowder on your life and throwing on a match.
That’s the kind of poetry I want to write – sooner rather than later.
Words that start fires and give off light.
Why don’t I take a course in writing poetry – go to workshops?
I tried that once – stuck it out a couple of weeks and dropped out.
Taking a college course in writing poetry felt like studying autopsy techniques because you love people.
Most poets say, “First get out into the world – engage it with all your senses, and then take that down into the workshop of your soul and forge a poem out it.”
I subscribe to that advice.
* * * *
What I like about poetry:
Poetry doesn’t have issues of fiction or non-fiction.
Nobody asks of a poem, “Is this true?”
Nobody demands of a poet, “Did that really happen or did you make it up?”
Nobody fact-checks a poem.
And there are very few editors involved in poetry – the poet does that work.
Poetry is language dependent – hard to translate from one to another.
Poetry is reader dependent – a collaboration between the poet and the readers,
who must read between the lines, wrestle with the meaning of words, and bring
their own life to add to the understanding.
All poetry is translated by a reader into his own personal language.
Poets are comfortable with sharing and borrowing – I don’t mean stealing or plagiarizing – it’s a communal attitude toward mutual inspiration.
Poets take a burning coal from a poem and carry it on to set fire to their own.
And most poetry isn’t copyrighted, anyhow.
It’s hard to make a living as a poet – but it’s not about the money.
Poets can’t make a life without writing poems – writing poetry is about being alive.
Poetry has forms and frames, but poetry has no rules –
If you put down some lines and say, “That’s a poem.”
It’s a poem.
* * * * *
“Poetry is philosophy’s sister – the one that wears make-up.”
So said Jennifer Grotz
“Poetry is language returned to its once magical state. The words are surprised to be there. Some seem relieved – others embarrassed. The poet has brought them out
of the orphanage for a day at the beach.”
Billy Collins, the poet, said that.
* * * * *
I began this meditation with poetry, and I’ll end that way:
The last two stanzas of “Courage” – by Anne Sexton:
if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.
when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you’ll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you’ll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.
* * * * *
In fairy tales there’s often someone who is a buyer of magic beans.
Jack and the Beanstalk comes to mind.
He’s an optimist, to say the least. He takes the beans home and plants them, cares for them, and waits for them to sprout, grow, and bear fruit or miracles, and takes the consequences.
That’s me. A buyer of magic beans.
A reader of poems to take, carry away and plant in my mind.
Always hoping that the beans will reproduce, and I will become a purveyor of magic beans myself.
The poems I planted are still growing – and harvest time is coming.
Someday you may meet me on The Way, asking,
“Want to buy a bean? Grew them myself.
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August 07, 2016
Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
The first full week of August, 2016
Still hot, hot, hot – with ongoing thunderstorms most afternoons,
and gully-washing rain last night.
Most men think they can repair almost anything – they just need tools and time .
“How hard can this be?” is a Man’s Mantra – “I can fix it.”.
Women friends laugh knowingly when I say that.
But I have the secret of repair success: right attitude – right adhesive.
Hence this meditation:
“Every situation contains opportunities.”
Epictetus, the Greek philosopher, proclaimed that 2,000 years ago.
And I get by on a daily basis keeping that in mind.
I believe it.
And that belief explains my newly acquired blue jean cut-off shorts.
I have them because I dropped a favorite bowl and broke it.
(Confused? Don’t give up – sense is coming . . .)
I’ve eaten my morning cereal out of that bowl for umpty-ump years.
It’s a hand-thrown ceramic dish – Japanese – one of a kind – roughly glazed in shades of orange and white and black – looks good – and feels good in my hands.
Alas . . . it is no more.
Broken into puzzle pieces when I dropped it into the kitchen sink.
But . . . not so many pieces for me not to believe I could repair it.
I have the necessary stuff to do the job.
Or, more precisely, I have a supply of a variety of epoxy adhesives – and Super Glue – plus the handyman’s invincible confident attitude.
How hard can this be? I can fix it.
A brief digressive sidebar:
I like working with epoxy because it’s the closest I ever come to doing chemistry. It’s a two-tube process: One contains epoxy resin, and the other, contains polyamide resin, amorphous silica, and amine curing agents.
The tubes are combined in a clever, fool-proof device that looks like something you might use to vaccinate a cow.
The procedure is simple: cut off the ends of the tubes,
plunge out an equal amount of each liquid goop onto to a clean surface,
and then – here comes the glitch – “mix the portions together thoroughly with a small, clean, discardable stick.”
Ha. Right. Do I have a supply of small, clean, discardable sticks handy?
And I did I even consider that need before I pushed the plunger?
And so began the emergency drill – Stick! Stick! Stick! Need a stick!
Before the epoxy goes bad.
The first place to look is that drawer in the kitchen where all the odds and ends and leftovers of former projects get tossed and mixed together – just in case I need them – someday – and today, someday has come –
but, of course there are no sticks in the mix.
I did find a small cheap screwdriver – discardable – one I could do without.
Worked, too – for the catalytic co-mingling part of the exercise.
(Alas . . . I got so absorbed in getting the epoxy on the broken edges of the bowl that I set the screwdriver down on the kitchen counter –
where it is now - permanently bonded.)
Now comes the tricky part – putting the pieces of the bowl back together and holding them in place while the fast-setting epoxy does its work.
But I can’t really do this with one hand – even two – (maybe with four?)
In frustrated urgency, I smeared the goop onto the bowl fragments with my fingers, while cradling the reconstruction in my now gooped-up hands.
The pieces of the bowl would not stay put while I worked - of course.
(Don’t know why I thought they would – this is not my first time at this.)
Damn, damn, damn!
So. I stopped. And retreated from the field of combat in the direction of wisdom.
I sat down in a chair, leaned back, closed my eyes to take a deep breath or two, and give myself time to recover my composure, placing both of my hands on my jeans in the knee area . . .
(You see what’s coming, I suppose . . .)
When I was sufficiently mentally collected to try working on the bowl again,
I started to get up . . . and staggered forward in a crippled crouch.
I had bonded my hands to my jeans.
And I do mean bonded.
“Quick Set” means exactly that.
I won’t try to tell you how I finally got disconnected from my pants.
Words fail me.
Only a video would give you an idea – but you can imagine . . .
A contortionist might not have done any better.
And now, finally, you know why I have a new pair of cut-off jean shorts.
Which I am wearing now as I write.
As Epictetus wisely said, “Every situation contains opportunities.”
The bowl is trashed – beyond salvaging.
Because, for one thing, I dropped it again in mid-repair.
And for another thing, some of the pieces are stuck to the floor.
Acetone and scrubbing with steel wool removed the epoxy from my fingers.
And, in time, will get the screwdriver and bowl fragments unstuck.
And, undaunted, no doubt a new opportunity will arise for my do-it-yourself handyman skills.
Nitwits are hard to discourage . . .
Unfortunately, there is one more black mark on my personal nitwit record.
All is not lost, though.
I got a comedy routine to write about.
And the experience set me thinking about glue and bonding:
We Homo Sapiens have been utilizing glue for a long, long time.
Archeologists say there is evidence of the human use of adhesives going
back at least 200,000 years – employing the bonding aspects of tar, tree resin, milk,
and the products from boiling animal tissue and hides.
The first known written reference to adhesives was in Greek, 4,000 years ago.
My own history of adhesive use goes back a ways, too. (use and mis-use, that is)
Jars of white paste in kindergarten – (tasty on Graham crackers, by the way.)
Elmer’s glue – the all-purpose white glue in the little squeeze bottle for crafts.
CA cement - Cyanoacrylate glue – the clear, fast-setting stuff in tubes for making model airplanes – ( using it in a small, unventilated space got me a little high.)
Rubber cement – coating my fingers with it and peeling it off , rolling it into little balls and lighting them with matches.( Not edible, but wonderfully flamable .)
Spray adhesive in a can – sure to stick paper to paper and make everything around the project sticky.
And products that feature non-permanent bonds – Band-Aids, Post-its, masking tape, duct tape, and Scotch tape – small wounds, Christmas gift wrapping . . . .
A long-time use for all these adhesive products – glued by memory into my mind.
Glue has been a part of my ongoing life – and continues to be.
Now – thanks to the wizardry of industrial chemistry, I have on hand and at the ready 7 kinds of epoxy, 4 versions of Super Glue, 3 types of Gorilla-brand wood glue – in forms of quick set, slow set, repositionable, gel, and liquid.
I can stick anything to anything else – permanently - mostly.
Well . . . maybe not anything.
I don’t have an adhesive that will bond a fractured family back together.
I don’t have the cement that permanently binds trust to love.
And I don’t have the glue that will mend a broken heart.
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July 31, 2016
Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
The end of July, 2016
hot, hot, hot – with thunderstorms every afternoon
Back home after my 9 week European jaunt – in a reflective mood.
When I walk out at night I have a clear view of the stars - because I live in one of the places in the United States with the least amount of light scatter from human enterprise – in the mountains of the high desert of southeastern Utah, twenty-five miles from the nearest small town.
It’s just plain dark outside at night where I live.
The essay that follows is the result of sitting on my porch last night – thinking about the overwhelmingly fine experiences of recent weeks in Czechia -
And looking up – looking out – and looking in . . . .
Where is home for you?
People often ask me that – especially when I’m traveling.
They are usually simply enquiring about where I live most of the time.
Or sometimes they want to know where I was born, where I grew up, and where I go when I say “I’m going home.”
Home is a power word with wide meanings and broad implications.
It has potency like words such as love or mother or God or country.
And the secondary uses of that word have power of their own.
Think homeless, homesick, homerun, homely, homework.
The idea of home provokes nostalgia – a sense of roots, beginnings, belonging, and contentment – a feeling of ease and comfort and acceptance.
For many of us, at least, that’s true most of the time.
But for many others it provokes bad memories, despair, disappointment, and fear.
Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again,” and many people
wouldn’t want to.
There’s a big difference between being homesick and being sick of home.
A long analytical article might be written about all the implications of home.
But I’ve only set out to give a personal answer to that simple question:
Where is home for you?
Where is home for me, Robert Fulghum?
I’ll give you an answer that begins way out in the space I looked out at tonight
from my porch swing.
Not a day passes without new images of the Universe being posted and made available on-line to anyone with a standard computer. I usually begin my working day by linking into Astronomy news on the web to see the latest photos.
These pictures are taken by telescopes on Earth and in orbit, or from satellites launched to explore deep space. Cameras on mobile units like the Mars landers, ranging around on our nearby planet, are also occasionally focused up and out to add to our knowledge of space.
Anyone can easily access the observable Universe from their computer.
And I do – almost every morning.
It’s a way of getting a deeper perspective on where and who I am.
My response is always amazed astonishment – at being confronted with the infinite complexity beyond my wildest ability to imagine or comprehend.
Add the background concepts of Dark Matter and Dark Energy to the mix, and it’s easy to believe astronomers and astrophysicists when they say we can observe and understand less than four percent of the apparent Universe.
Yet, I and my planet are as much a part of that as any other stellar object.
As impressive as these outward views are, the images that draw my attention are those taken looking back at the Earth from way out there. The tools of astronomy offer us a unique frame of reference for our place in the Universe.
A recent photo of the Earth from Saturn is a provocative example.
Our planet is a barely discernible blue dot, hardly distinguishable from an uncountable number of other stellar objects.
From even further out we are lost from view – part of the vastness that we call the Milky Way – the edge of our galaxy - which itself is only one common complex among an infinite number of other galaxies.
We are hardly noticeable and of little consequence in even the observable Universe, much less in the far-flung reaches of the Universe we can’t see.
The tiny blue dot is all we really have – Earth – our home planet.
Despite our most ambitious desires to fling ourselves outward in space exploration, the human race as we know it now isn’t going out there to explore or set up camp on another planet anytime soon – if ever.
Whatever our science-fiction fantasies, reality roots us here.
I am an Earthling and will always be.
More and more I answer the essential question “Where is home for you,”
by saying that wherever I am on Earth is home for me – it’s an idea inside me about who I am that I consciously project onto where I am.
Home is not the place I came from, or the place I’m going to, but a feeling –
I choose to feel at home wherever I may be.
Tonight I feel at home looking out at the stars from my porch swing.
At home as a citizen of the world.
At home as a creature of Planet Earth.
At home as a tiny speck of fragile life, on a tiny blue dot whirling through infinite space and time.
It’s good to be home . . .
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July 24, 2016
Third week in July, 2016
Pack Creek Ranch, San Juan County, Utah
hot – 105 degrees – with thunderstorms in the afternoon and overnight
My apologies for the delay in communicating – but the last days in Czechia were
too richly full to find time to write- and then I flew home – 9 time zones away.
My body has returned to Utah, but my mind and spirit are still on the way.
It’s Jet lag – the older I get the more discombobulating it seems to be.
My inner communication as I write is like the delay in a very time-lagged long-distance phone conversation – what I am thinking takes a while before it comes out of my mind and on into the computer – and even then it’s garbled.
The inside of my head feels like how overcooked broccoli looks.
Hence this new posting may be a bit untidy, but I want to catch up and put a punctuation mark at the end of all the writing and thinking I’ve collected in my final week in Czechia.
I began this on Sunday, July 17, after a truly astonishing engagement at the major summer festival in Ostrava – and I’ve added to it on the way home via Prague and Amsterdam.
As I write, it’s 3 in the morning – I’m wide-eyed awake after 12 hours of the BIG SLEEP needed to regain functionality.
Not a bad thing, really – the full moon is up when I am and it’s cooler at this hour of the day. And a single coyote is singing far off in the deep silence.
Onward. . . .
CZECHIA FOUR – (beginning Sunday, July 17)
After five weeks in Czechia, I am about to depart.
Not for “home” – because I begin to think of “home” as wherever I am at the moment – and I’ve certainly felt at home here with the Czechs.
In 6 weeks I’ve been in 38 cities and towns plus Prague, with 49 performances of my presentation with the Listovani actors.
There have been 3 appearances on national television, with too many other interviews with newspaper and magazine media to keep track of.
I’ve traveled by plane, train, bus, tram, subway, motorcycle and on foot – covering too many kilometers count.
Exhausting – yes, but deeply satisfying.
I’ll return to Czechia – I signed a contract for another book – for Fall, 2017.
On my Facebook page you’ll find many photographs – some are self-explanatory – some have no explanation – and some need elaboration – you’ll have to decide which is which and what is what, but here are some clues:
1. Crowds – I take photos of Czechs who come to see me as a way of emphasizing that I have come to see them – they smile and laugh and wave. This is a small sample from hundreds of images.
I tell them that when I am a long way away in time and space, and wonder who will read what I’m writing, I can look at the photographs and remember – oh yes, those smiling, waving Czechs.
They have become real to me – and because I was there in person, smiling and waving back, I have become real to them.
So that when they read my books, they can think, “Oh yes, I remember him.”
This mitigates the solitude that often goes with writing.
And bridges the gap between writer and reader.
2. There’s a photograph of me with Ondrej Kobza, who I met in Ostrava.
He’s the man behind the distribution of pianos in public places in Prague.
Successful in business, creative in his commitment to public service, and imaginative in what he might do next.
His character is apparent in the photo.
Mischief mixed with smarts – seriousness of purpose mixed with foolish joy.
I hope to become one of his co-conspirators when I return to Prague.
3. There are three photos of me with a lady I met one day while walking and window-shopping in my neighborhood of Flora in Prague.
I passed by a small shop specializing in tea and spices – the smell wafting out the open door said, “Come on in,” and so I did – just to look around and enjoy the exotic atmosphere.
Suddenly, this substantial woman appeared in front of me – tears streaming down her face. “Are you . . .?” – “Yes, it’s me . . .”
And she came unglued – began shaking and sobbing.
She blurted out that she owns and has read all my books – even stood in line for two hours once to get my autograph.
She never ever expected me to walk into her life, but here I was.
And, as you see from the pictures, I ended up holding her in my arms while she wept – with me in tears as well. Like an emotional reunion of old friends.
The lady and I could not be more different in appearance or style of life.
The costume she wears out into the theater of the world is far more dramatic and colorful than mine.
Her life and mine only cross somewhere in the way we think about ourselves and our place in the world – we connect in profound – but invisible ways.
As I left, she said, “Please don’t forget me.”
I have not – and will not.
We’ve become real to one another.
4. The cup. It’s mine. The photo is of a substantial plastic container, complete with a hook to hang it on your belt.
The Colours of Ostrava Festival has a serious commitment to being environmentally responsible. So the idea, focused on the beer-drinking capacity of Czechs – is that when you buy your first beer, you also buy your own cup, use it all during the festival, and take it home as a souvenir.
This eliminates a major source of throw-away trash, and makes it clear that everyone is responsible for a cleaner environment.
That’s a lot to ask of 40,000 people at a week-long festival of music and ideas.
But – and here’s the lovely point – everybody gets it and does it.
When I first saw the cup and didn’t know its purpose I thought the Czechs were all ready to drink beer at any moment. That’s probably true, but they are also ready to keep the faith with a saner, cleaner world.
5. Sculpture? No that’s a three-sided urinal - a Toi-Toi – for men – placed around the grounds of the Colours of Ostrava – taking the place of a Sani-Potty closet to save space.
The Czechs are comfortable with the fact that men need to pee, and nobody thinks anything of having a quick and easy way to do it.
I must admit that standing in a sculptural kiosk doing my business with two other men just around the corner from me – and in full view of the passing public – well, that takes some getting used to.
But if you drink your share of beer, it’s a handy way to dispose of it, and I admire the Czechs for their practical and comfortable way with a normal human function. (I’m told – but I didn’t witness this – that, at night, even young women managed to use the device – well, why not?)
6. Photo of me with lovely lady with wearing a T-shirt with the message, “WHATEVER” printed on it.
In an onstage interview in front of a huge audience, the moderator and I got onto the subject of the messages that people give to others when they go around in the world – by their dress, costumes, actions, and demeanor.
I noted that many people even wear their message upfront on a T-shirt.
Mottos, observations, political positions, favorite rocks stars, pets, etc.
And lo and behold, there was this young lady in the front row with a big smile and “WHATEVER” on her shirt.
So I wondered out loud what she wanted to tell us.
Her image was flashed up on a huge screen for everyone to see.
Big laugh. From the audience and her as well.
Afterward, she came by to say hello and get a book signed. She even sat on my knee to have her picture taken.
I apologized – “Hope I didn’t embarrass you .”
“Oh, no,” she said, “I’m a strong Czech woman and can handle whatever.”
I won’t forget her, either.
I got her message.
7. Photo – of my guide and nanny at the Colours –holding my beer cup and a salty bread stick fried in lard. (mine – one way of bonding with the Czechs.)
Anna Janistokova – eighteen-year-old high school student from Ostrava who speaks four languages fluently and is wise beyond her years.
Her task was to get me from place to place on time, take care of whatever I needed, and to make sure I got around the festival events and back to my hotel.
She had the confidence of a battle tank commander and the grace of a lady-in-waiting of the court of a queen.
She even took me home to have lunch with her family in a nearby village – that’s her mom and dad and two younger sisters with her in the picture.
Classy young woman with no limit to her future, I think.
Another unforgettable Czech.
(Her dad will come visit me in Moab in September.)
8. Czech tree climbers – the round, smiling group in white T shirts.
Twenty-two years ago, on my first visit to Prague, a group of members of the International Tree Climbers Association – of which I was also one – showed up at an outdoor press conference and hauled me up in a big tree for the event.
It was one more way I knew I would like Czechs.
So they all showed up again last week at an evening event – wearing their old climber’s T-shirts. We laughed ourselves silly over the events of that first encounter. Neither I nor they spend much time up in trees these days, but we have kept the memory in our scrapbooks of fine times, and no doubt will meet again.
9. The tall guy in the red hat, arms upraised, exuding enthusiastic energy, is Lukas Hejlik – King of Improv – master of multi-tasking - the mighty leader of the Listovani Players I toured Czechia with.
He’s a brilliant actor/director – unsinkable in his stage projects and personal life. We lived and traveled and performed together nonstop for 5 weeks and never had a cross word or a bad moment. He’s becoming a star of stage and TV, but it hasn’t gone to his head. We’ll hit the road again when next I’m in Czechia.
10. A timeless picture – two lovely women sitting in an old iron bedstead under the trees at an afternoon picnic way out in the countryside on the grounds of a deserted church.
One is a former London fashion model – the other builds her life around horses – she’s an amateur polo player.
But for the moment, they are simply mothers breast-feeding their babies while the picnic goes on around them.
Such an elegant and natural image of the sacred ongoing-ness of the human race.
Perspective – some final thoughts:
Several times in my Czechia adventure I was asked in interviews or audience encounters if I was an optimist or a pessimist.
My answer: I’m a realist.
While it is true that I eagerly and relentlessly look for evidence of the good and positive in the human endeavor, I don’t overlook the negative facets of human existence.
I think of it in the same terms astrophysicists use to puzzle about the universe – there’s all this dark energy and dark matter that we can’t understand or account for.
But we keep trying to figure it out.
One cannot ignore the reality of evil in human history or present times, but it’s a mistake not to see the delicate balance provided by all the good stuff.
You have to look for it – and notice it – but it’s there, and life is not worth living if you don’t include it in your view of yourself and your world.
I say this in view of my recent encounter with the Czechs.
I’ve reported the plus side of my experience, fully realizing they are fully human, with all the failings and flaws that implies.
I don’t want to seem naive my view of the Czechs, but it’s clear that in that small country with all its hard history that something noble and fine has prevailed more often than not, and to be in their company for six weeks has been an inspiring honor.
For all the kindness and friendship offered me, I am deeply grateful.
I will not forget.
I’ll be back.
Here are three links to peruse – too much to include in this essay, but inspiring in the overview of a remarkable cultural endeavor on the part of the Czechs.
link to Google Search, Images for Colours of Ostrava
Link to this site for an overview of Melting Pot – Ideas Without Borders
Link to Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/robertleefulghum/
link to this story