From a Mule to His Rider

Grey Mule.To claim willfulness and intelligence is to waste words. To offer reasons or excuses is useless, barren.

Neither will do.

To assume I am slow and steady is to misread me. That is what leads to the surprises you seem to find so discomforting. Slow is the walk when you lead me somewhere of your liking with nothing more than assumptions and commands,  no matter how pleasingly uttered. Steady is nothing more than my practice in patience because we do not always communicate perfectly.

I am always waiting.

That is my nature.

What is yours?

Stubbornness is your word for an unrealized single purpose and toothy goal. My want is nothing more than to be. You may view my resistance as a weapon. I see it as a plea.

I will be your partner but never your property. Watch my movements, my glances, my quiet moments in the pasture. Be still, listen, watchful. This is how you will come to know my soul. Do this and we can be friends.

Let me breathe, seek out my own purpose, grow in wisdom and experience, be old and gracious.

Do this and we can be friends for all my years.

Respect my journey and I will take you anywhere on yours.

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Myers Briggs, My INTJ Wants a Refund!

Español: Tipo Myers-Briggs INTJ

A curse upon these houses: Carl Jung, Myers & Briggs, and my INTJ persona. Why do you torture me so?

You would think that being an INTJ, belonging to only 2% of the population, would feel pretty good, comfortably special. Think again. Think in terms of the Occupy Movement. Do you want to be in the 99%? I do. But, no. I’m stuck in the 2% and I owe it all to Jung and the Myers & Briggs conspiracy. Well, right back at ya, INTJ style!

Forget the specific qualities of an INTJ, or any other “psychological type.” Just take a look at the company they keep. Geez. It’s the “birds of a feather” argument gone sideways. Mostly.

I suppose there are a few groovy INTJs running loose on the world. But, there are some real losers in this group. I’ll try to give you a short, semi-balanced list.

Bobby Fischer. Yep, world chess champion, for a time. Also, a complete wacko who went so far off the deep end that he was lost forever. If it wasn’t for the good-hearted people of Iceland, Fischer would have lived out his last years on the Moon. Not for me, Bobby.

Mark Zuckerberg. Need I say more? Never push the LIKE button for this guy. If you do, he’ll probably sue you.

Dr. Isaac Asimov, head-and-shoulders portrait,...

Issac Asimov. Someone very cool, right? Someone we can all love, eh? Got to groove with one of his best INTJ quotes: Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do. Woops. Well, maybe that was just a little lapse. Let’s try again: The only people I ever met whose intellects surpassed my own were Carl Sagan and Marvin Minsky. Urg. Let’s move on.

John Nash. Ever see the movie, A Beautiful Mind? It made him look like a pretty nice guy. Just a little uncorked, but brilliant. There’s much more to the story. Do a little checking.

Stephen Hawking. OK, this sounds good. Hard to argue with this guy. However, he may have shot a bit high with his goals, like many INTJs. Here’s what he said: My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe. Try this one: Philosophy is dead. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. No problems with confidence, INTJ style. Humility still works in the real world.

Jane Austen. Obligatory. For me, boring.

Ted Kaczynski. Best known to us as the Unabomber. Man, this is nuts! How did he ever get into the 2% club? Someone must have given him a hall pass. No dinner invites for this creep.

Vladimir Lenin. He lived by his own words: Trust is good. Control is better. Just not my kind of guy.

Arnold Schwarzenegger. He was pretty good as the Terminator. When he got into politics he terminated himself because he couldn’t keep his waffle in the holster. Is this the best an INTJ can do?

Jodie Foster. Finally! Two thumbs up. If you don’t like Jodie Foster you need to go back home and re-take the Myers & Briggs test.

Chevy Chase. Yep, another winner, along with his INTJ friend, Dan Akroyd.

Lance Armstrong. Yikes! Back to the bottom of the barrel. Sorry about that.

A portrait of the Bohemian writer Franz Kafka ...

Franz Kafka. A little strange but captivating. Much more to my taste than that other INTJ, Ayn Rand. Well, on second thought, I guess they had a lot in common.

Stanley Kubrick. Right up there with Jodie Foster. If you don’t like Kubrick, you don’t deserve your Myers & Briggs test results.

Hannibal Lecter. I have no flippin’ idea how this guy made it onto everyone’s INTJ list, but he did. What can I say? At least his mask was pretty fun.

This is a good place to put the whole thing back into the trusty hands of the 99%.

Mrs. Zxy and Jane Maul Mr. Bill

Mr. BillThe headline sounds like something ripped from a check stand sleaze magazine except that it’s true. It’s also a common tale for anyone who has kids. Our hero, and victim, is Bill, my youngest kid. Today, he is an avid reader and published writer. But, it wasn’t always so. There was a time when everything went sideways.

Like most neo-adolescents, Bill was not fond of reading. In fact, he completely avoided it. I had seen this problem come and go with my other kids, so I wasn’t too concerned, at first. Many of these phases tend to work themselves out. Mostly, I didn’t want to force him into a pastime that I knew he disliked. I’ve never appreciated people telling me what to do so I assume others, including Bill, usually feel the same way.

Moving into his first year of High School, Bill drew a teacher, Mrs. Zxy, whose job it was to get him reading. As I recall, the class was about 25 strong, all new to High School, all new to each other, and probably most not interested in reading. No one would envy Mrs. Zxy’s job. I assumed she understood the perils of her role and was prepared to meet them head on.

Now, this teacher’s answer to a predictable reluctance to read was to throw Jane Austen at her class. Since our educational system is based on uniformity and collective adherence, this was a time-honored way of accomplishing the task. Throw out a classic, like Austen, and they will all become avid readers. The future would be secured. The predictable protocol would continue to reign as education king.

Talk about wrong-headed!

Portrait of Jane Austen

What in this universe of swamp gas would a neo-adolescent male find intriguing about Jane Austen? Sure, she was a literary luminary of the first order. Certainly, she was a classic author. But, where was the relevance? Mrs. Zxy may have been an expert in the Classics. Maybe. But she was older, mature, her education completed, her personal story line well into the process of being written. She was as far removed from adolescence as Mr. Scrooge, or so it probably seemed to her charges. If Mrs. Zxy would have asked, I would have been more than happy to explain to her that the Classics is not the starting gate for future readers. It’s more like the 1/3 mile post.

Anyway, I learned about the problem in the usual way, by talking with Bill. There he was, stuck with Jane Austen and trying very hard to please Mrs. Zxy. Bleak. We both knew that he had no choice but to carry on, to struggle through the Classics no matter his level of disinterest. I was secretly concerned about something else. Would this episode destroy his interest in reading, now and forever? It wasn’t what I wanted for the kid.

I thrashed around a bit, trying to come up with something innovative and easy to swallow. More pressure was certainly not the answer. I knew that the only way to engender a passion for reading was to get his attention, grab it outright, and never let go. But it wasn’t something I could do alone.

Carlos Castenada on Peyote. AKA, Why I Don't H...

At about the same time, the Carlos Castaneda mythos was making the rounds to a new generation. I had his first three books and enjoyed each. I devised a plan to just be seen around our house with the book in hand, or lying nearby. At some point, I banked on the assumption that Bill would show some interest. That would be my big chance.

He did, and he began reading. Bill liked Castaneda’s first book. He read it right through and moved on to subsequent Don Jan tales. Easy. He became a reader and, in later years, a talented writer. He survived Jane Austen and Mrs. Zxy. Like him or not, Castaneda became somewhat of a helper-hero in our family, one of those unexpected people whose work pushes you in a new direction.

And the moral? Two, really. The first is a lingering distaste for the uniformity of our educational system. But, that’s a soapbox topic and I won’t add to the boredom. The second moral is far more important. Readers need to be captivated, to become ensnared and moved, to live as participants in the story line. Failing that, boredom quickly sets in. For a young adolescent male, Jane Austen will never be the trick pony. Mrs. Zxy should have known that. Still, I don’t blame her too much. We need to take a big role in how our kids move through life. In the end, the job is ours.

Want your kids to read? Find out what moves them, what carries them through the pages. That’s how to create a reader. If you can help them read, you can help them write. The rest they will do for themselves.

The Leaky Writer

The Plumber

I’m not thinking about straight-ahead journalism here. Not news reporting, scientific papers, pure history or anything of that ilk. I’m thinking about the creative writer, the fiction author, the storyteller or the humorist. I’m absolutely talking about the poet and that special kind of writer whose genre cannot be defined.

I’m thinking about the story behind the story. It’s all about the leaky writer.

It’s cliche to even mention that all writers are ultimately writing about themselves. Sure, the thought is worn down, overused, just accepted as part of the writing game. But it’s also true and it’s an enormous slice of the reading experience, if you pay attention.

We read the story, the novel, the screenplay, whatever. We like it. The characters are compelling, the story line moves us in some way that we appreciate. But underneath it all, hidden behind every scene and each character who slides through the pages, lurks the life of the writer. It’s the leaky writer syndrome and it’s universal.

Sometimes we aren’t even aware of the leaky writer. His or her personal story goes unnoticed, camouflaged by the plot and the players. That other layer sleeps deeply and may never rise to the surface. Even in these cases, it’s there. It’s always lying in wait for the reader, for just that right and careful reader.

Creative writers are leaky writers. It’s not an intentional action, not some subtle plan designed to layer two or more stories into a single piece of work. In fact, the leaky writer doesn’t usually know he or she is leaky, at first. That subtle story comes out later, maybe in the editing process, maybe in a later draft. Sometimes the back story lies dormant for years or decades and only surfaces later in life.

Many excellent writers never recognize their own leaky writing. It’s an unconscious process, a free-form exercise in art and storytelling that just happens in the background. They write a single story but they are telling two, or even more. It’s their own back story that serves as the foundation for all they have created. It’s the very soul of their art.

Drip emitter

Do you recognize these leaks when you read? Sometimes they are so subtle, so diffuse, that they almost disappear. Still, they are lurking back there, just waiting to surprise you when you least expect it. These are the hidden treasures, the path that leads you back into the writer’s heart and mind.

When you write, do you see your own leaks? Are you even aware of them?

I’m not. Mine all happen in the dark and I usually don’t recognize them until much later, if at all. Sometimes, a close friend or lover can ferret them out, point directly at them, and slap you across the head with an outcome. Sometimes they just stay dormant, maybe forever. Even when they seem to disappear, they are critical to the writing process. It’s the heart of the art.

Does this happen to you? I’ll bet it does, all the time. If you’re a creative writer, you’re a leaky writer. In fact, if you’re an artist of any kind, you’re just filled with leaks, always working at least two story lines at the same time, usually unaware of what’s going on behind the scenes. Your art is at least half an unconscious process, a wonderful synergy that makes creation meaningful and fun.

Go back and look at something you wrote a while ago, maybe years ago. Read it for the hidden story line, looking for the leaks. Sniff out those little tells, that subtle tapestry behind the story you created inside your piece of art. Over the years, you’ll find your personal story in those leaks. You’ll discover a little more about who you are as a person and an artist.

So, the next time you read for pure pleasure, keep an eye out for those leaks. They are just waiting to be discovered. In them you’ll find the soul of the writer and his or her story.

Richard Nixon may have needed plumbers but you don’t. Keep loving those leaks.

A Hero On My Doorstep

Mystery

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Also, in all ages. The nice thing about heroes is that they never consider themselves to be much beyond the ordinariness of the rest of us. They go about their heroism quietly, easily. It’s the essence of their uniqueness, their strength. It’s how we know, in our hearts, they are true heroes.

Here’s one of my heroes. Can you guess his age? It’s all there to discover.

Sensible works. He likes to keep it real, to roll it around in his mind until it makes sense. Now, some things don’t fit perfectly, won’t yield to sense right now. But that doesn’t end the story. What doesn’t make sense today will probably do so tomorrow, or next month, or next year. Eventually, it all comes together if you just work on it. That’s called optimism. That demands patience. Who can resist that kind of thinking? Isn’t that the way to keep yourself on a steady path through life?

Intensity is fun. I feel it and I want you to feel it also. Life is an exercise in passion, not just thinking. Feelings matter. Passions count. Intensity magnifies experience, excites new ideas, is the mother and father of fresh thinking. It’s also contagious. Without the feeling, life can get pretty bland, right?

Freud's diagrams from 'The Ego and the Id' (1923)

Exit the ego. Life is not all about him. He’s just a player and he understands that role. Sure, life is personal. But it’s personal for everyone. Other people share that same feeling about life and he recognizes that reality. His ego is just right. Not too small to be painful, not too large to be overwhelming. It’s a good fit because it views others with their unique worth and role. He doesn’t need to scream to be heard. A whisper is good enough.

Trying will get you there. It’s all about moving ahead. Sure, the past provides important lessons, both fun and painful. But that’s not where he wants to spend his time. It’s all about the future. Getting there takes work. Trying works well, sometimes. Sometimes, not so much. But he knows you get nowhere without the engine running, without keeping on. Even first gear can give you a good ride.

Even bad times are good. There’s good stuff everywhere, he says. You just have to dig a bit deeper sometimes. Yep, it’s that old optimism thing at work again. That’s an infectious attitude, something that is hard to resist. Of all the gates in the world, small and large, each has a bit of a smile emblazoned on the lock, he tells me. This is the best part of looking back, remembering, mulling over those times. It’s a powerful form of inspiration. At the soul of everything there lurks some nugget of goodness.

Everything is interesting. The world is alive with fascinating people, creatures, events, encounters and possibilities. You can take any one of them, no matter how tiny or seemingly insignificant, and find a new point of interest, another view of it all. The jigsaw goes on forever and it’s forever fascinating. Want to talk about something? Go ahead, pick the subject. He has something to say because he knows there is always a small mystery sleeping behind the obvious. Life is full of endless surprises.

Nobody should suffer forever. Bad times happen, he says. We all get the bumps and bruises. But none of this goes on forever. We tough it out. We know there will always be the next moment, the next day, the next opportunity. No matter how badly it hurts, we will heal, someday. It’s the lesson of patience and the power that comes from always looking ahead, wondering about that next horizon.

No, he would never recognize himself as a hero. Just another one of us milling around, fumbling and discovering, wondering and hoping. He’s taking the ride along with the rest of us, working out the details along the way, always hopeful and forever interested.

But isn’t that a good definition of hero?

Lefty and The Pork

Happy PigWhen you’re nuts, a tadge wacky, usually out of step with the world, it’s a blessing to have someone with a steady hand on the tiller.

When you fumble all the social balls, writhe in group doo-doo, fear crowds and detest even small social encounters, it’s great to have a fun-loving social Adept at your side.

When you’ve buried your emotions in the Valley of the Kings, never to be found, it’s wonderful to have an accomplished archaeologist in your life.

When you need quiet, it’s the best feeling in the world to know you’re understood.

When you can’t accept yourself, the best friend is one who can.

When you can’t organize a single moment in your life, a top-notch strategic planner is a life-saver.

When you believe that no one in the world can stand you for another moment, the true friend is priceless, always present.

When you think you’re the flavor of the month, it’s your best friend who reminds you about all those other tastes out there.

Boo HooWhen you’re feeling downright bitchy and dark, it’s always good to know you have a place to hide.

When you’re writing, your best friend is the one who knows enough to leave you alone.

When you’ve finished the draft, it’s that single person who will tell you the truth, even when you don’t want to accept it.

When you laugh, someone is there to join up. When you cry, there’s always patience and good timing.

When you’re wrong, it’s good to hear about it, a real treat to learn the right way, even when it’s embarrassing.

It’s easy to listen to your best friend, even when she’s chattering up a storm. It’s all in the presentation. It’s compelling.

When you know you’ve been dishonest about yourself, it’s good to know that someone else knows.

When you’re talking pure doo-doo, it’s a friend’s gift to ignore you and just smile.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to love you because it’s the only thing in the world that comes without doubt.

Gregor loves you, too.

The Writhing Artist

English: Jack Kerouac by photographer Tom Palu...

Living to geezer-hood is pretty cool, mostly. Once you adapt to the usual failings that are natural partners of old age, once you settle into a good place with it, there’s lots of time to consider bigger issues.

Like, what about all those crazy artists? The writers, painters, sculptors, and an endless litany of other artisans? Why are so many of them just nuts, at least to the rest of the world? Why are most of them way out of whack with the common social universe?

Let me define the term a bit. I’m thinking about those individuals who don’t merely pursue art, who don’t simply love it and have a special talent, but who chase their art form throughout their lives. Those who just seem to be from another planet in the day-to-day world of routine-ness. I’m thinking about those people who would simply cease to exist without their art.

You probably know at least one of these creatures. I know that I’ve met many over the years. They live complicated lives, in their heads and hearts. There’s nothing simple or easy about the path they’ve chosen, or been driven toward. They spend much of their time in a peculiar world of pain reserved for only them and those of their ilk.

See if these qualities and quirks fit your definition as well as they fit mine.

Out of sync. The artist can’t keep rhythm to the marching music no matter how hard he or she tries. Usually, they don’t even hear the same music. Maybe they were born old, maybe they just can’t grow up. Their dance steps are all out of whack and you just can’t help noticing it when you meet them. The more time you spend with the artist, the more profoundly you realize they are always just a little out of focus, walkers out of time and place. They don’t have to work at this kind of uniqueness. This brand of un-sync-ability comes naturally. Most of them don’t thrive on the difference. In fact, they are usually not comfortable with it. Doesn’t matter. They are just out of whack with the world. They were born to their fate, or so it seems.

Emotional blender people. Artists are emotional beings, even when they’re not trying to express those emotions. Usually, the quiet ones are the worst. They are constantly awash in emotional themes, strong opinions, reactions, feelings, and sensibilities. Their emotional engines are constantly running at the red line maximum, even when they haven’t spoken a word in two weeks. If you have an artist as a friend or lover, you know this too well. You can feel it around them, encircling their life and often spilling over into yours. It’s the ham in their sandwich, the fuel in their engine, and it’s mostly uncontrollable even when it’s not expressed.

Halloween in New York

Socially maladjusted. Sure, there are exceptions to this little observation. But, not too many. Artists don’t usually do well socially. They tend to live at the extremes of social behavior. They may be flamboyant or just as easily become complete, speechless wall-flowers. Sometimes they are both in the space of five minutes. What they cannot do is get into the social rhythm of the reigning group of the moment. For whatever reason, they fail to put their square peg in your round hole. This is mostly unconscious. Many of them take to this mantle of awkwardness because, well, they just feel downright awkward in most social situations. They know it’s a threat to their otherwise semi-controlled, partially understood view of the world. But they just don’t know how to make themselves a part of the stage play. Secretly, they just want to go home or back to the studio and do their art. After all, that’s what life is all about anyway.

This side up. Yep, they’re fragile, these artists. Sometimes, very fragile. They remain vulnerable because they’re always listening and waiting for their muse, because their world is one of extreme colors, sounds and textures. They are an open door, even when they’ve shut themselves away from the world. Approach carefully or, if it suits, stay away until you have that invitation in hand. They can be easily damaged and remain in a critical state for years on end. Tread lightly, please.

Mouth malfunctioning. The artist is usually not a great orator. In fact, he or she will often be a master at putting hoof to mouth, stirring up doo-doo, and generally making comments or observations where they just aren’t needed. Remember the emotional component? Well, hoof-to-mouth has a lot to do with letting passions get ahead of sensible speech for most artists. They have an affinity for ignoring the most important conversations or interjecting silliness or randomness into otherwise “normal” exchanges. There is only one exception to the rule. Artist-to-artist conversations work perfectly. From an outsider’s point of view, the conversation may seem disjointed and nonsensical. To the artists inside the conversation, everything makes perfect sense. They are held together by a common passion and unspoken drive that has always been reserved for just them.

Love or hate. The true artist cannot leave you untouched once you get to know them, even a little. You will either love them or hate them. Well, perhaps “hate” is too strong. You will either find them interesting or you’ll just want to avoid them the rest of your days. They can easily grab you with their own passion and just as quickly give you a headache with their screwy ideas, inappropriate behavior, and disjointed view of your normalized world. The artist knows this also. In fact, the artists I’ve known often secretly fret about their unique ability to polarize the world around them. Some thrive on it, sometimes, but most wish there were an easier way, for them and you. It’s the nature of the beast.

The Old Man and the Sea

Head and heart lock-down. They’re locked inside themselves, these artisans and miscreants. They’re working from the inside-out while most of the world is doing things in a more civilized way. Their hearts are beating overtime, their brains are often on fire, they are in artist lock-down mode. They rarely come up for air. In many cases, they never escape the lock-down, not for an entire lifetime. That’s the central soul of their art and they dare not stray too far from their personal prison. If they should escape, the world outside would not suit anyway.

Happy or not. At some level, most are happy only when they are creating. The rest of the time is spent in discomforts small and great. It’s only in those moments of pure creativity, their tools in hand, their hearts and minds completely absorbed, are they truly happy. The rest of the time is spent trying to get to that secret place again and again.

So, do you know someone like this? Someone who is a true artist, born to run that race and only that race? You probably do. The next time you stumble across him or her, take a breath and a big patience pill. The world needs these artists and so do you.

If you can put up with the true artist you may have a friend or lover for life. They can give you that special kind of attachment reserved only for the artist. It’s passionate, determined, meaningful and usually forever.

They can just as easily drive you crazy, just like them.