Atlas Shrugged – Revisited

It was during college in the 60s that I was introduced to Ayn Rand, first through The Fountainhead followed by Atlas Shrugged. She spoke to me then, as she did to many others, with a loud voice promoting individual rights over the collective rights of society, especially as ordained by a government. It was important for individuals to pursue their art, ideas, dreams unhampered by anything as long as that pursuit didn’t prevent others from doing the same. As a college student, budding artist, writer, this gave me the license to be as egoistic as I wanted as long as I didn’t harm anyone else.  This is a rather simplistic summation of my thinking about a very complex Ayn Rand, but for the purpose of this writing, it will do.

Atlas Shrugged came to mind recently with a strong enough memory to force me to “reread” it, courtesy of Audible, as I take long Florida walks to maintain my health. As soon as I got into the story, I thought, “Wow” Rand is speaking to me as clearly today as she was in the 60s, and I knew it was our current political climate that told me to take another look at the book.

Words.  Rand uses a voluminous number of words to tell her story.  Sometimes it seems too wordy, at least by today’s standards, but she does get her point across and leaves little room to question her meaning. That’s a good thing in a world of tweets, entendre and fake news. She repeats herself in many different ways by many different characters so that when you’ve finished, there is no doubt in your mind about what Rand thinks about anything.

Characters. Atlas Shrugged is peopled by a microcosm of the Universe, a compendium of types and stereotypes of a cross section of humanity. There are representatives of all occupations, all classes, the complete spectrum of intelligence. Rand includes everyone to show that her ideas leave no one untouched.  They are not just philosophical ideas for the scholarly inclined.  They are not just financial ideas for the bankers and wall street types.  They are not just social ideas for humanitarians.  The characters are frequently extremes, almost cartoon-like, to emphasize the seriousness of the threats she felt existed when she wrote the book, and I think exist today.

The book puts all of humanity, its people, its institutions, its endeavors on a continuum, extreme at one end by isolated individuals with only a pragmatic, utilitarian social structure and at the other by a conglomerate society where no individuality exists. Rand places at one end the creative thinkers, artists, inventors, without whom we would still live in the dark ages. At the other end she places the parasites and looters who steal from the thinkers for personal gain. Great wealth might be amassed on either end, one from personal effort and expertise and the other from trickery and manipulation based on the belief that those who have must share with those who have not.

Rand puts many, many words into the mouths of all of the people along the continuum in her story.  There are many lengthy speeches she has given both sides to clearly represent her feelings that the creators have value and the looters do not.

Listening to those words again after all these years makes me fear for the future of this nation. From those in power in our government, I hear the words of the looters in Atlas Shrugged. It could be the playbook they consult before tweeting, speaking, or testifying. The use of language, words carefully chosen to have ambiguous meaning or no meaning at all, but effectively delivered, has resulted in the election of people who don’t represent the majority of citizens, who consciously exclude portions of our citizens, and repeatedly demonstrate they don’t really care about truth, honesty or justice. The effective use of language on social media propogated by foreign powers has convinced many people that there is nothing wrong with using any method available to win elections, that because it appears on social media, it must be true.

And yet, Atlas Shrugged also has at its root hopefullness. Conditions in the world may worsen, and if they finally reach a point of no return, then Atlas may shrug and let the world fall. But even if that should happen, there will be creative individuals, thinkers, artists, inventors, men and women of integrity and honesty who will pick up the pieces and start again. The spirit that drives individuals to create art, music, literature, buildings or rocket ships will prevail against all the deception, manipulation or fake news from any source. Thank you Ayn Rand for reminding me of this.




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By Definition

Back in Alaska for the third time this winter, and coupled with the two years we lived here previously, I’m think I may be starting to understand the attraction of the mountains for me.  Maybe I’m just a slow learner, but every time I walked, hiked or simply gazed at the giants around me, I was filled with an energy that has defied definition – until now.

A few days ago I was riding along the curvy highway between Anchorage and Eagle River, pondering the continuous ridge lines, and it became apparent that the undulations of peaks and valleys represented a rhythm of sorts, and that rhythm spoke to me, a sort of mountain rap, wordless poetry. The peaks and valleys, crags and crevices, boulders and trees, now covered in white, accenting the sharp contrasts of Alaskan life marked the music that filled me with wondrous awe.

I find the extreme definition of landforms strangely comforting, a challenge always, but still warm and accepting. Ironic, I guess. It’s as if the inclusiveness of the varied landscape also allows for the inclusiveness of varied persons, and that includes me. Here I can be whoever I want to be; I don’t feel defined by the standards of those around me. And in this moment, I like that. I think for now that’s enough.


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Walk It Off

I didn’t think so at the time, but looking back at my childhood, the world was a pretty tough place.

I grew up in a neighborhood of very active kids and very “permissive” parents.  They weren’t permissive in the sense that we were allowed to do whatever we wanted and they didn’t care.  No, they cared a great deal about what we did; it was just that they always gave us enough rope to hang ourselves.  They permitted our failure to occur.  We had the freedom to fail  with the understanding that whatever the consequences were, we were to bear those consequences without complaint.

I was really a great system.  We made mistakes, of course, but we learned from each of them and they were rarely repeated.  Never make the same mistake twice, unless, of course, the positive side of the mistake was pleasant enough that it outweighed the negative effects of the consequences.

And so I grew up in an environment that valued toughness.  “Grin and Bear It” was a comic strip that my father enjoyed immensely.  All of the kids in the neighborhood grew up in similar households.  And one of the most important lessons that we all learned was never complain about personal pain.  No one cares.  We all had the same problems, so don’t bother complaining about how bad life was treating you personally.

Of course we could complain about the world, about teachers, about politics.  I was OK to be negative about almost anything except personal pain.  I remember my brother-in-law’s admonition to “be quiet or I’ll give you something to cry about.”  This would be delivered whenever one of us as a small child would start to cry or whimper about a small ache, pain, bump, or bruise.  No pain was worthy of tears because it could always be worse, so save the tears for something that really matters.

Of course, from that perspective, one could never cry because it could always be worse.  And amongst friends it was even worse than family.  I remember numerous bicycle accidents resulting in scraped knees and elbows, torn clothing, bloody body parts, and although the eyes might glisten with impending tears, none could possibly be released around friends.

“You’re OK, come on, let’s go” would be as sympathetic as anyone would be.  They had more sympathy and care about the damage to the bicycle than damage to the body.

This attitude was not limited to the kids in the neighborhood, but extended into the adult world as well.  I remember the reaction of coaches during athletic practice and contests. When a collision might result in a participant not immediately springing to his feet, the coach would do a cursory examination to determine if there were broken bones or extensive bleeding.  If there were none, the prone body was helped up and the coach would tell him to “walk it off.”

And that is exactly what one did to save face with both coach and peers.  And as quickly as possible, the athlete returned to the coach to get put back into the game.  But never a tear was shed regardless of the pain one felt.

“Walk it off” became a most effective mantra, not only for physical pain, but for emotional upheaval as well.  I remember many times when embarrassment, frustration or upset caused by the perpetual conflict of developing male/female relationships would be overcome by a long walk home.  I remember hanging up after conflicted telephone conversations and going for a long walk to clear the head, even in the midst of winter or during a rain storm.

To this day, I enjoy my walk.  There is something refreshing and even therapeutic about repeatedly placing one foot in front of the other.  A walk is not about the steps you took before, or the ones you’ll take in the next moment, a walk can only be accomplished right now.  Until I aged a bit, I didn’t realize how wise my family, friends, and others were as I grew up.

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Growing Up Tuff

I remember growing up in the 50s with a good deal of fondness. Yet when I think of specifics of those “happy days,” I picture our gang, and I picture the toughness that we seemed to develop in our neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong. We didn’t live in an inner city ghetto, or projects as they are depicted today. We weren’t extremely poor. We always had food, and we were clothed adequately, if not lavishly. Utilitarian would probably be the good word. In a day before discount stores, clothing was frequently hand me downs, or the Jake and Bill’s store downtown, or my mom’s discount at Black’s. I don’t really remember clothes mattering very much to anyone in our gang until junior high school.

I think of the neighborhood gang (we weren’t really a gang in the juvenile delinquent use of the word) and I guess economically I put us all on about the same level. Some parents had better jobs than others, but there were not great discrepancies that I remember. No one had a lot of excess, especially the Catholic families with many kids, paying tuition to go to the Catholic schools and all. They might have been the poorest.

And still I picture us as a tough bunch of little kids. There weren’t TVs in the early days, and even after a few of us had one, we didn’t spend much time watching. There wasn’t much on the TV. No, we spent most waking hours outdoors when we weren’t at school. Especially in the summer time.

After the last day of school, I remember removing shoes and socks, shirts and spending each day in a pair of jeans. There was no sleeping late, and as soon as a piece of bread and peanut butter was ingested, it was out the door, on the bike and gone until supper time. We might return at lunch time, but usually we would just go to someone’s house and grab what was available for lunch. I remember trying to time going to Ray’s on grocery shopping day. His mom would buy soft white bread and a jar of mayonnaise and that would be lunch.

We lived just two blocks from the river and that afforded us many woods and water adventures. We weren’t supposed to be there, of course, but we went anyway. It’s hard to keep little kids out of the woods and away from any body of water. I suppose we were all lucky that nothing bad ever happened to any of our gang. I only remember one drowning as a kid, and that wasn’t someone we knew. We were there for the dragging for the body and seeing the guy pulled out and into the boat. It was pretty ugly to see. It made an impression that probably made us more careful about not taking too many chances.

And yet we were great risk takers. The school playground was asphalt, and there was a basketball court that provided a bicycle racing track. We learned to modify bicycles for racing, replacing the front wheel with a smaller wheel than the rear and substituting a long pipe for handlebars. This allowed us to go faster and almost lay the bicycle down as we circled behind the basketball poles. There were, of course, times that we actually did lay the bike down and the pipe handlebars would dig into the asphalt spilling us, ripping elbow, knee and shoulder skin. Nothing serious. We healed. It only hurt for a little bit, and the glory of winning races was worth the pain.

From a very early age, a pecking order of toughness began to develop in our gang. We knew as kids who could beat who in a wrestling match. We never really got into punching each other, except with Ray’s 16 oz boxing gloves that his uncle gave him. Those things were so padded that we easily punched each other without any damage at all. But I think wrestling was the real trial in establishing the pecking order, and contests would occur at anytime, whenever anyone felt he had developed a new hold or maneuver that would permit him to win a match and move up in the hierarchy. Headlocks and scissor locks were usually the decision makers, and if you couldn’t avoid one of those, then you were pretty much done, and “uncle” would be your salvation.

Whenever a new kid moved into the neighborhood and wanted to become a part of our gang, it was first necessary for him to engage in a “fight” to decide if he was worthy and where in the pecking order he might fall. I remember in particular one kid, Johnny, who moved in during the school year. The first day he attended classes, we all started scoping him out. On the playground at recess, he was watched and sized up. He wisely stayed on the fringe, not being too eager to try and join.

At some point in the process, I don’t remember the exact mechanics, it was decided by the “leaders” of our gang that I was to be the one to engage Johnny is a wrestling match to see how good he was. It was a fearful thing for me, and I can only imagine how Johnny might have felt. But at that time, how he felt was not really my concern. During the afternoon recess, the challenge was delivered. We would meet after school in the field where we played football just down the street from the school.

Of course word spread that there would be a “fight” after school, and a fairly large group of kids gathered in the field. I suppose the gathering was not unusual for the neighbors to see as we often went there after school to play football, to run races, wrestle or just goof off. In any case, we weren’t too concerned about the neighbors and what they thought. I remember just being really fearful of this “fight.” Johnny was a complete unknown and while I enjoyed wrestling with my friends, I wasn’t sure how this would come out.

Rules were laid down by the leaders; it was to be a fair fight, whatever that meant. In our gang that pretty much meant that body punches were allowed but not face punches. For some reason, I don’t think I ever saw any of our group throw punches to the face. (Interesting!) We were instructed to begin and Johnny and I started moving about on the inside of the circle that had formed. We hunched over and moved around, watching each other for an opening to charge.

As always, the crowd pretty much dictated what was to happen. When they got bored with nothing happening, they would yell at us to get started. When that yelling got intense enough, I guess one of us would charge the other, and the plan was to try to knock, push, trip the other opponent to the ground. Once on the ground, of course, ideally you would be able to get him on his back and be strong enough to prevent him from rolling you off. Hopefully you would get his shoulders pinned to the ground and it would be over.

That’s not what happened with Johnny and I. We must have been fairly evenly matched in strength and skill, and we rolled around, first one on top and then the other. We tried headlocks, but the other was able to squirm out of it. We tried to get each other in scissors, but neither could hold it. And so it went on and on. In my memory, it was a very long time that we wrestled like that. Eventually, of course, we both got physically tired and the crowd got tired of seeing nothing happen. I’m sure we weren’t very exciting to watch.

In the end, we were both tired, and I think we both realized we were pretty evenly matched and that neither of us was going to get a decisive victory. I think the leaders must have come to the same conclusion, and the match was called a draw and at the same moment, we let each other go. We stood and shook hands, and it was all over. Johnny had earned the right to be a part of our group and I, at least, was not beaten in the process.

As we grew older, wrestling matches were replaced by weightlifting. The older kids in the neighborhood became the models for us to emulate. Wrestling and bike racing was for little kids. And then it was cars. The better looking the car, the faster, the hotter, the tougher it was and of course since you owned it, the tougher you were. However, having a hot car meant money, and that meant a job. So there were a lot of years in junior high school when you could only aspire to such heights. If you knew guys with tough cars, then you could hope to be tough by association. On some days they might even let you ride in the car and maybe get seen by others so they would know you to be tough. Pretty much a dream trip. Not very real.

I’m not sure we were tough by today’s standards. Today it seems that a measure of toughness is the hardships that you’re able to endure and overcome. We had hardships to overcome in the 50’s, it just seems a much more mental or emotional game today. I don’t think that makes it easier, just different. For me, I don’t dislike the memories I’ve brought with me from those “happy days” of growing up in a tough neighborhood. In fact, I stand up taller and thank my “toughness” for getting me through those days unscathed.

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I’m Not Superman

The nubbins of a eureka came to me the other day.  It was a friendly little nubbins – had a nice smile, an inviting smile but was as elusive as nubbins are want to be.  So here’s the gist of my moment.

The day had been totally convoluted.  Not a thing happened as I planned or anticipated.  Every moment was on the fly, and none of them were totally satisfying in the sense that I had reached any sort of equilibrium.

So out of this I heard myself cry, “I’m tired of trying to be Superman. I’m not Superman! I cannot solve the world’s problems.  I have enough trouble dealing with my own problems.”

It was then that the cute little nubbins made its appearance.  It smiled at my dilemma and held a mirror up so I could see what I was saying to myself.

The problem lies with the use of the word “problem.”  Too trequently we look at life as a series of problems needing solutions.  So we switch into a problem solving mode in which we try to find a way to fix some situation so it can disappear, and we can move on to the next item, the next problem on the “to be fixed” list.  God forbid that the solutions don’t come fast enough before the next situation comes to the front or that the fixes elude us altogether and another problem arises and another, and soon, very soon for some, we have complete meltdown.

At meltdown, we forget, we ignore, we deny the existence of “problems.”  By not focusing on situations as problems, the problems cease to exist.  That isn’t to say that the situation ceased to exist, but simply that our view of a situation as a problem ceased.  When we drop that label, it’s no longer a problem.

The word “problem” connotes a situation that causes dis-harmony in a person’s state of being.  As such, it is a negative and when encountered, we shift into Superman mode to right all wrongs, to fix the world.

If nothing is ever viewed as a problem, if it is simply a situation that exists and if we don’t claim ownership of the situation, but just deal with it with our given set of skills, then we can relieve the frustration we feel from the world being out of control, and we no longer have to be Superman to fix the world.

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One Man’s Search for Meaning

Today I write with the official status of 2018 Nanowrimo Dropout. Yes, I know. There are five days left in the month, and I only have about 16,000 words to get to 50,000. I could make it – if I want to write garbage, and at some points in my life that would have been OK. But not this year. Somewhere around 25,000 words, they stopped making sense. I thought I had a good idea at the beginning, introduced some relatively interesting characters, put them in some unusual situations and let them go. Things went well for quite some time, and then slowly it all ceased to be interesting and I found myself streaming words just to get my daily word count.

I think I’m at a point in my life where getting a word count just doesn’t count. I think at 73, I need to make sure that what I do has some meaning, makes sense. So, starting today, I resolve that except for morning pages that are meant to be cobweb clearing, I am going to write for meaning. I am going to search for clarity, new ideas, things I haven’t seen or thought before. I am going to attempt to write with a consciousness that adds a bit of significance to my life. If anyone else reads what I write and finds it of interest, that’s OK. But, if not, then that’s OK, too. I can live with that, but I can’t live with producing garbage when my mind is still capable of channeling meaning.

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Another Transition

I write again. Actually, that is misleading. I’ve been writing. Every day. I write again in this blog is an accurate statement. I found a couple of years ago that writing here helped me through the transition of moving to Alaska. Now I seek the same help as I face the transition of moving away.

My wife has been asked and has accepted the opportunity to make a career change that requires a move to Florida. It is a dream job and when the numbers are all laid on the table, it is a job that would only foolishly be rejected. I know that, and I support that. However, it doesn’t make the move any easier.

I’ve found in Alaska a spirit that speaks directly to me. It speaks from the mountains, from the trees, from the crisp, clean air. As I go on my nearly daily walk, it is not so much that I walk upon the land as it is that the environment draws me into it, beckoning me with a spiritual voice bigger than I’ve ever encountered. In two short years, I have discovered a home here, as much of a home as I ever had in Iowa, even after more than 65 years.

And yet I’m going to leave. I am going to let it go. I’m going to embrace the possibilities that this move has for me. When I consult my Oracle cards, they continually lead me to remember and honor what has led me to this point in my life, but to let it go, and let the spirit guide me forward into a new manifestation, an exciting, ever expanding universe where I may one day reach my full potential.

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A Beautiful Early Spring Hike . . .


Joined by a pair of swans!

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Spring Break!

Springtime beauty in San Diego!

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Chena Ice Bar

An Appletinii at the Chena Ice Bar!  Does it get any better than this>

An Appletini at the Chena Ice Bar! Does it get any better than this?

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