Questions – Mostly Why!

QuestionFrom their Dark Horse Album, Nickelback sings, “If Today Was Your Last Day.”  The central theme discusses a principle I am struggling with, centered around a question, “Why do we wait?”  The song’s lyrics include the following:

“My best friend gave me the best advice
He said, “Each day’s a gift and not a given right.
Leave no stone unturned, leave your fears behind
And try to take the path less traveled by.
That first step you take is the longest stride.”

If today was your last day
And tomorrow was too late
Could you say “goodbye” to yesterday?
Would you live each moment like your last?
Leave old pictures in the past
Donate every dime you had?
If today was your last day.”

From the Live Like You Were Dying album, Tim McGraw, sings a similarly themed song of the same name, with the following lyrics:Rescued Butterfly 2

Said I was in my early 40’s
With a lot of life before me
When a moment came, that stopped me on a dime
I spent most of the next days lookin’ at the x-rays
Talkin’ ’bout the options and talkin’ ’bout sweet time
Asked him when it sank in
That this might really be the real end
How’s it hit ya, when you get that kind of news
Man what ya do
And he says

I went sky divin’
I went Rocky Mountain climbin’
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’ve been denying
And he said someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dyin’

The follow-up question continues, when will you finally start living big?

Why do we wait?

LaughterWhy do humans wait to begin living until they get a death sentence?  Look, I have lived my life as hard and as full as possible, not because I am dying, but to eventually be an interesting old person.  I remember sentiments from reading books as a kid, things like, “it’s not how wide or how deep you live that matters; it’s proving you lived at all.”  Or, “if you go through life without collecting scars and enemies, you’re a coward or worse.”  I do not understand about waiting for some earth-shaking revelation before you take time to laugh, be adventurous, explore, or forgive.

I talked to a person back in Ohio; his Father-In-Law dropped dead suddenly.  There were no health indications, no warning, no previous symptoms, just got up one morning, took a step, and fell down dead!  The man I was speaking to claimed this shook his wife, marriage, and family, but it would not change him.  He was rushing to a meeting for a job he hated, to go home to a family in turmoil, and he had no clue what to do.  Just a casual conversation, the man was not looking for answers; I would not offer advice.  I wished him well!Paradox

He had a long list of things to do in his “Some-Day” Bucket List.  When is someday?  I cannot find this as a day of the week on a single calendar.  Yet, how many times a day is a person dreaming of “someday” when they plan to start living?  Please do not get me wrong; I am not claiming we all need to be “Eat, Drink, and Be Merry for tomorrow we die” people.  I am arguing we might want to stop waiting for the bus to someday, to take us to a place called somewhere, so we can become people we refused to be all our lives.

Why finally start living big?

Ernest Lawrence Thayer wrote a poem I favored as a child called “Casey at the Bat.”  Not to ruin the poem, but the last stanza is essential.

“Oh, somewhere in this favoured land, the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout,
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out” [emphasis mine].

The land of somewhere, where people live like they never lived in real life, is that mythical place of rainbows, lollipops, roses, and summer bands. Casey at the Bat | Tolley's Topics

James Wilson wrote a sequel to “Casey at the Bat” titled “Casey’s Revenge.”  Again the final stanza holds a clear message for us.

“Oh, somewhere in this favored land, dark clouds may hide the sun.
And somewhere bands no longer play, children have no fun;
And somewhere over blighted lives there hangs a heavy pall;
But Mudville hearts are happy now — for Casey hit the ball!”

The final Casey poem is called “Casey 20-Years Later,” authored by Clarence P. McDonald.  The Mudville Nine were hurt; they needed a player to finish the game.  The coach appealed to the crowd for a player to come and play.  An older man from the crowd, unknown and unnamed, claims he knows baseball and can help finish the game.  The game continues, and the stranger comes to bat; he hits the game-winning hit and stands there and cried.  For the stranger was Mighty Casey, the man chided and derided by the crowd so many years before.

Mighty Casey at Bat - Welcome to Wayne Hunt Huebner 4 ArtI have always wondered what happened between the first, the second, and the third poems about Mighty Casey.  The humility it took to play again.  The kindness he showed to the audience and other players, the respect he showed to the umpire.  So many lessons, but the number one among them all, why are we not living larger, deeper, fuller?  Why do we worship sports heroes instead of being sports heroes?  Why do we settle for the daily grind when even in the daily tasks, there are things to discover, new things to learn, new experiences, and new methods of doing things that will surprise us if we but take a risk.

Growing up in Maine, I learned something the day I had 20 loads of laundry to complete, no dryer, and the temperature was dropping like a rocket sled on rails.  Did you know you can hang clothes on a line outside, in the freezing cold, and they will dry?  My fingers just about froze stiff, the laundry was freezing faster than I could hang it, and I had to iron a bunch of wrinkles out.  But, what a cool (pun intended) lesson.  The clothes came in dry, smelled of the Maine woods, wood smoke, and had a crisp smell that I cannot forget.Lemmings 1

On my 30th birthday, I was in Maine again; my wife bought a birthday dinner at Red Robin.  I had some great food that day, but the memory that stays in my head, clear as a new spring morning, was the table cube.  On this cube was a picture of a man, standing outside a plane hangar, looking for all the world as confident as he can.  The heading, “All I want to be when I grow up is an interesting old person.”  At this moment, I knew what I wanted to be when I grew old, an interesting old person.

Plant JokePeople had been asking me what I wanted to do or be when I grew up for years and years.  I never had a clue.  I had already been a fireman, a diesel mechanic, a truck driver, a shepherd, a dairy farmhand, a blueberry harvester, a paper delivery boy, been through the US Army and US Navy, as well as a trip through the US Army National Guard.  I had worked in call centers, been a general contractor, a business consultant, worked in multiple warehouses in different roles, and so much more.  When I turned 30, my wife and I had already racked up 20+ moves, traveled uncountable miles across the lower-48 states, and had some crazy life experiences.  The US Military had already sent me ¾’s of the way around the world.

But, I finally found what I wanted to be, an interesting older person.  Thus, when I hear these songs by Nickelback and Tim McGraw, I cannot understand why wait?  Why live large and adventurous only after getting a life sentence?  Why withhold forgiveness and forget the past only after it becomes apparent you are going to die?  Did you forget that everyone has a death certificate waiting?  Did you get stuck in a rut, put on blinders, and forget that life is more than just breathing in and out and turning food into mulch?Mediocre Joke

A Final Thought

Would you volunteer?  The poem “Casey 20-years later” is a perfect ending for this topic.  Especially with the question, would you volunteer?  Would you volunteer to pull some weeds for a neighbor?  Would you volunteer to shovel a little more snow for another person?  Would you cross a lawn and pick up a trashcan the wind had knocked around?  Would you volunteer to buy some groceries when the teller asks for more money, and it is clear that the person does not have enough?  Would you buy gas for a stranger?

Knowledge Check!The poems of Casey relate a tale of humanity and the songs of Nickelback and Tim McGraw relate that it is never too late to help someone unless you’re dead!  Why wait?  Why hold off on living larger, deeper, fuller lives?  Why not volunteer?  Why do we wait to act like we care until a few days between Thanksgiving and Christmas but spend the rest of the year not living at all?  These are just some random questions, two really good songs, three incredible poems, and my brain trying to make sense.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE BS: Literacy – Putting the “Art” in Literature Arts

Beauty of LiteratureMy high school experience included eight different high schools in four years.  Seven high schools on the Wasatch Front in Utah, finally graduating from Camden-Rockport High School, Camden, Maine.  During my high school career, I was unfortunate enough to be placed into several classes called “Language Arts,” “Literature Arts,” or something similar, plastic words covering the fact that I needed more English credits to graduate.  In my first “Literature Arts” experience, I was hoping to explore books, literature, and as a young bibliophile (book nerd) I was excited to study literature.

Freedom's LightShortly reality would snuff out the excitement.  Shakespeare is not the only author of note in the Renaissance period, and those other authors are easier and more fun to read.  Poems and poetry are not the same things.  Forcing high school kids to spend an entire semester on Emily Dickins and Edgar Allen Poe’s writings is sufficient to make suicidal depression seem like a jolly good time!  Not a single literature arts class covered Kipling!  Not a single class ever covered Aesop.  None of the lessons put the art in literature arts, which made the classes boring.

It has only been recently that I understood why these classes were designed this way.  I am still struggling with having my time and mental energies wasted in such a grotesque fashion.  Worse, being a young bibliophile, I had already been exposed to Emily Brontë, Hemmingway, Kipling (poems and stories), the Greek and Roman Myths, and so much more.

Love ReadingIn Junior High School, Crosby Junior High School, Belfast, Maine.  The school was ancient, used to be the high school until the district built a new high school.  Crosby Junior High was a gothic building, very imposing, but it had the coolest library.  On my first day in Junior High, I bet the librarians that before leaving, I would have checked out all the books, read them, and returned them.  I might not have gotten them all, but I explored every inch of that library, supplemented my reading from the Belfast Maine Library, and read books!  Lots and Lots of Books!

By this point, I bet most of those who will read, or glance through this post, are thinking, BORING!

Bear with me, please.

Where is the art in Literature Arts?

Reading - A JourneyBelieve it or not, you bring the art to literary arts.  Sure, authors will cast the story, set the stage, and prepare well to inspire you, but you bring the art.  For example, I can give you a paint set, a charcoal set, pencils, paper, canvas, and every other art supply available, but you have to wield the brushes, pencils, tools to create the masterpiece.  The fact that you, the student, are the art bringer to literature arts, should be the first lesson taught, but it is never mentioned.  It is sad that many people have been turned off by something that should have turned them on.  Worse, the second lesson in literature arts is the requirement for time with the materials to understand the meaning, grasp intent, and apply to a life of living.

Good TimberFor example, take the poem of Joseph Malins, “The Ambulance Down in the Valley.”  A political poem about how well-intentioned, people come together about a problem and perform an illogical action.  This poem has always left me laughing at the silliness of people in government.  Only lately have the townspeople’s hysterical treatment of the fence supporter been represented in real life, and the poem has lost some of the humor.

Three favorite childhood poems, the authors are listed with links to the poems, Ernest Lawrence Thayer, Grantland Rice, and Clarence P. McDonald, all deal with Casey’s singular topic at the bat.  A baseball series of poems that comforted me during my first horrendous year at little league baseball.  I couldn’t hit, I failed at catching, and only because my mother paid in full was I stuck playing an entire season of little league baseball.  That first awful year of baseball was nothing short of embarrassing!  The second year, I had improved, challenged, and won the position of catcher, and learned how to hit, after a ton of frozen fingers playing ball in the snows of a Maine winter.  I can honestly say, an aluminum bat in a Maine winter is no fun to grab!  But during those long hours remembering my first year of Little League, the poems about Casey at the Bat were always there, and that made all the difference.

Literary AttitudesWhen I was eleven, January, turning twelve in February, a person I admired introduced me to a poem that has defined, taught, and corrected me since that January day.  The poem “Good Timber” by Douglas Malloch.  Before this period and this poem, I never could tell the difference between a poem and poetry.  A poem changes your life; poetry paints pretty pictures.  The first poem, that first mental chord struck in life, what an experience.  How grateful I am to the man who introduced me to this poem, a potential meaning, and taught a young man how to feel.

I would bet dollars to doughnuts, for I love good apple fritters, that everyone has heard of the author Rudyard Kipling and probably have heard his poem, “If.”  When you bring the art to literary arts, this poem moves from poetry to poetic power.  As a kid, I never could understand some parts of this poem, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster – And treat those two impostors just the same.” I could not imagine triumph as an impostor, then I witnessed lottery winners, athletes, and Hollywood people, and the waste that occurs, and understood.

Why are literature arts hard?

Literay ArtsThere are three reasons.  One, literature arts is not just reading, but also writing, imagining, exploring the art inside you; but it is rarely taught in this manner.  Two, the age of the mind during literature arts is unprepared for drawing lessons from materials for application to life through reflection on experiences.  Reflection must be taught, and too often, reflection is refused as a topic in a classroom.It has taken a lot for me to find the poetic power in Kipling’s poem “Pharaoh and the Sergeant.”  In fact, I had to serve in the US Army and then enlist in the US Navy, to have sufficient life experience to understand.  As a side note, I wish England had said to France, “I must make a man of you; That will stand upon his feet and play the game; That will Maxim his oppressor as a Christian ought to do.” The world would have lost fewer people in WWI and WWII.

PenmanshipMy penmanship is deplorable, but penmanship is rarely taught anymore, considered a wasted subject, but in killing penmanship, the art in literature arts dies just a little more.  But what is penmanship, really?  Some will erroneously claim, penmanship is writing cursive.  Detestable ignorant blaggards!  Penmanship is the science of writing the symbols of language neatly, precisely, cleanly, and writing in a manner that is interesting to read.  As a K-12 student, penmanship meant cursive, and cursive meant I was going to suck!  Why isn’t penmanship a daily practical lesson for K-12 students?  Mainly because of the third and final reason literature arts is being murdered.  Three, reducing literacy through abusing literature arts was a design characteristic in K-12 Education since the 1860s and John Dewey; for he looked upon literate people and loathed them, and children have struggled ever since.

Literary FiendWe, the inheritors of intentionally designed poor education, must wake up, put on the work boots, and go to work learning literacy and literary arts. We are then responsible for teaching these lessons to our children so freedom and liberty can flourish and prosper again in America.  Literacy and literature arts is a fight we cannot afford to lose!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the photos displayed.