Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Transcendentalist Philosopher Extraordinaire

“So shall we come to look at the world with new eyes. It shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect, — What is truth? and of the affections, — What is good? by yielding itself passive to the educated Will. ... Build, therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

This piece is an extension of a paper I was contracted to expound on the intellectual significance of transcendental philosophy. Being currently employed at the “Freelance Writer” position listed on my Facebook, I took the opportunity to enhance my pantry with something other than Ramen Noodles, and meat from the “extended stay” section of the meat counter. A solid fifty bucks is, in many ways, a good day’s wage. If, that is, the day doesn’t last longer than an hour or two, which is the tenure of a thousand word essay in my skill set. Additionally, my decrepitude has limited me to sitting at my desk and playing at the computer on what looks like a nice autumn day. Today is a good day to…write!

Once at the keyboard, fortified by the protein elixir I used to break my fast, I discovered an indisputable irritant in my path to recompense. What in the name of all that is holy is “transcendental philosophy.” Being a man of letters (A.A.S, B.A.A.S, M.S., F.O.O.L.) it occurred to me that this particular assignment would require me to indulge in one or more of the academic undertakings for which I received those letters.(well, the F.O.O.L. is kind of standard equipment on this 1953 model) First, it required me to , well, think. A former colleague of mine was presenting an in-service presentation to the teachers where I formerly worked and when asked a question about how to accomplish what he was lecturing on he replied, “Use your college educated minds and figure it out.”

Well, this “college educated mind” likes to make a little better wage when I actually have to do something “educated.” The difficulty being that the activities resulting from using this knowledgeable intellect is most assuredly not going to fit in to my, arbitrarily self-imposed, time constraints. Oh woe is me, I actually have to do research and (Oh my God!) read some stuff. Oh, the horror!

After giving in to my lethargy and languor, I fled to the ultimate source code for the entire universe, Wikipedia, and its sidekick, Famous Quotes. As my buddy Jim, the Sancho to my Quixote at the University we attended would say, “Just give them big words and paper and the rest will come.” A viewpoint I embraced up to the point that I have done it so many times that I actually think that way. I achieved that level of comprehension with the goal of one day being the guy other people hired to write those “big words and paper” things, so what am I complaining about?

Wikipedia states that “Transcendentalists believed that society and its institutions - particularly organized religion and political parties - ultimately corrupted the purity of the individual. They had faith that man is at his best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community could be formed.” Upon deeper consideration, this train of thought appears similar to my own frighteningly simple view of the world. It is also the same view of many of my heroes (see last blog entry), and the same viewpoint of every radically liberal leader in the last one hundred years. Transcendental philosophy is really just hippieism.

The academic portion of the exercise led me to the reading of a few of the main proponents of this paradigm. They include:

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Charles Timothy Brooks, Orestes Brownson, William Ellery Channing, William Henry Channing, James Freeman Clarke, Christopher Pearse Cranch, Walt Whitman, John Sullivan Dwight, Convers Francis, William Henry Furness, Frederic Henry Hedge, Sylvester Judd, Theodore Parker, Elizabeth Palmer Peabody, George Ripley, and Jones Very.

While not personally cognizant of all these deep thinkers, I will have to admit to knowledge of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. Until today, Emerson was just a famous name to me, I have had opportunity to spend the afternoon discovering what my “college educated mind” should have learned in college. Freedom comes from within and is divine in nature and application.

The Concord Sage (Emerson) said: “All our progress is an unfolding, like a vegetable bud. You have first an instinct, then an opinion, then a knowledge as the plant has root, bud, and fruit. Trust the instinct to the end, though you can render no reason.”

Thoreau is the chief architect of a way of life that he became ensconced in abandoned. His legacy lasted to the point that famous rock stars deemed it necessary to give concerts to cease the bulldozers from leveling a portion of his wooded retreat to build a parking lot. I was not impressed until I read:

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. ”

Whitman, thankfully, is and has always been quite recognizable to me. I would say that he is my second favorite poet (the first is for another post), and until today, I really could not tell anyone why. It just seemed that he knew how folks should act. I had to sit through a college lecture and discussion about him one time and it made me flee from poetry for a long time. Being a true professor of English Literature, each word was dissected and approved as valid or vehemently disputed and scorned. I remember getting a “C” on a paper about Whitman to the same lecturer because it was “bland and unimaginative.” It was a simple one page report on a single quote by the poet:

“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on - have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear - what remains? Nature remains.”

I suppose my understanding that no matter what is happening in the world, the world is still going to be there when whatever is happening is finished. How dare I actually come to a realization based on the opinion of a famous and well respected humanitarian! I left that class and launched myself deep into such scribes as Stephen King, Tom Clancy, et al. it was when I decided to engage in a profession that concerns itself with educating and helping others that I got back to Whitman. Again, I awoke to a vital reality based on that same humanitarian:

"Love the earth and sun and animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others... And your very flesh shall be a great poem."

When I contracted to write the piece, I asked the guy if I could put it on my blog. “Sure” he said, “I’m going to use it to hand out to some students in my speech class and use it as a debate item. It seems as though I will never escape the academic part of life. Even though it brought my hourly wage down, I am still the better. I am not going to post what I wrote for the guy. It was just another “big words and paper” thing. Perhaps you deserve better:

“Wisdom is not finally tested in schools,
Wisdom cannot be pass'd from one having it to another not having it,
Wisdom is of the soul, is not susceptible of proof, is its own proof,
Applies to all stages and objects and qualities and is content,
Is the certainty of the reality and immortality of things, and the excellence of things;
Something there is in the float of the sight of things that provokes it out of the soul.”
Walt Whitman


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Superb Superman

“What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000 people!” So came the announcement by this character on the stage wearing a floppy old cowboy hat and an American flag inspired shirt. It was another time and, some say, another universe. At the 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair there were a group of folks that provided the services to the festival that, in reality, made it work. The Hog Farm, the oldest hippie commune in existence was hired to originally build some fire pits and trails at the site they ultimately took over the “human resource” section of the concert. They set up a free kitchen, coordinated medical care, and saw to the MC duties needed on stage.

The majority of the last duty fell to its leader, Wavy Gravy. An eclectic leader who had participated in the Beat Generation poetry scene in the 1950’s as well as many of the counterculture activities of the last sixty years. He bills himself as a clown and, in fact, has been a professional clown for many years. The original idea behind becoming a prankster was so that the police would not hurt him as he went about his business in the protest of many things, "Clowns are safe." By putting an absurd slant on situations, he has and continues to affect change in the world without the use of violence, aggression, hostility, or savagery.

The muse for this piece was a documentary entitled “Saint Misbehavin': The Wavy Gravy Movie.” Recently viewed when the electronic God in my living room with its three hundred plus channels had nothing on, and I found this gem on a Saturday night when the weather proved too cumbersome to circumnavigate. I am a child of the Woodstock Nation and the nostalgia seemed welcome at the time. Little did I realize that wistfulness would give way to enlightenment, a state of which I am in perpetually pursuit.

His birth name was Hugh Romney and he came to his beliefs as a result of viewing the state of the world around him. The 1950’s and 1960’s were turbulent times and much of the mayhem originated with what many called the “Military Industrial Complex.” To break ranks with society and stand against tyranny was considered, at the time, un-American and possibly criminal, hence, the issues with police and numerous arrests and incarcerations. The truth of this actuality was not that Wavy and his cohorts were un-American, but that they were probably the most American of people. Think back to our founding fathers. Were they not protesters that wore powdered wigs and spoke in absurdities?

An interesting fact about Wavy was that he volunteered for the military draft and was honorably discharged after 22 months in the U.S. Army. Not what one expects from a pinko commie who deserved to be in prison?

The film delineates the life of this Great American and it threw me for a loop. In a world of change and hypocrisy, the Hog Farm and their leader have not changed, or faltered in what they believe is an honorable and generous lifestyle. I thought to make this a feeling piece and speak of wonderful, love filled things. What I really discovered is a research piece as the best method of making a point. What follows is some, and I truly mean some examples of a truly American life:

From various sources on the Web; Wikpedia, Wavy’s homepage, the film, and various other sources forgotten in the face of the real information.

“Arriving at JFK airport they were informed that they had also been assigned the task of providing security at Woodstock. Gravy called his rather unorthodox security force the "Please Force," a reference to their non-intrusive tactics at keeping order ("please don't do that, please do this instead"). When asked by the press what kind of tools he intended to use to maintain order at the event, his response was "Cream pies and seltzer bottles."

“Camp Winnarainbow is a circus and performing arts camp which conducts summer sessions for kids and grown-ups alike.” The adult camp is just like the kid's camp, except "You get to stay up late and don't have to brush your teeth. You can even procreate if you aren't too loud," said Gravy.”

“Seva is an organization that prevents blindness and restores sight in Nepal, Tibet, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Tanzania, and Guatemala. Due to the current economic malaise, Seva is "desperately seeking funds" in order to further its works with hospitals to promote wellness in the United States as well as less fortunate countries. The organization is already responsible for helping millions of individuals in regaining their sight as well as tackling other social problems. In an attempt to raise funds, Seva is organizing an acoustic set featuring the Grateful Dead members Phil Lesh and Bob Weir as well as offering signed instruments that will be available on EBay. "It's a great organization, for the price of a movie ticket, you can restore someone's sight," said Gravy.”

“Through his various organizations Seva foundation and Camp Winnarainbow he has offered help in solving global social problems and offering individuals to unite to accomplish common goals. Whether it's curing blindness in less fortunate countries or teaching juggling, Wavy Gravy is considered in some eyes to be a saint in clown shoes.”

These activities are just an example of the work this giant has performed over the years. His commitment and drive has never wavered and part of that is the simple approach to life he champions. When presented with complex issues he continually goes for the uncomplicated. When teaching children at the camp, he takes on the persona of “Smartbo.” With an elephant trunk for a nose he makes reference to the Disney film “Dumbo” and tells the kids not to be a dumbo but to strive to be a “Smartbo” like him.

He looks for the positive and accentuates the compassionate. At Woodstock with its crowded conditions and foul weather he announced to the crowd, “We must be in heaven man! There is always a little bit of heaven in disaster area!”

“It doesn't seem as though the hippie ideals of peace and well-being toward fellow human beings will be allowed to die on Wavy Gravy's watch.” This is a consensus among those who know him and admire him. What’s not to admire? He is seventy five years old and has been in his business for over sixty years with no apparent sign of slowing down. Want to meet a True American Hero? Meet Wavy Gravy. I leave you with a little more of this Saint in Greasepaint.

“Wouldn’t it be neat
If the people that you meet
Had shoes upon their feet
And something to eat?
And wouldn’t it be fine
If all humankind had shelter?”
Wavy Gravy