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No regrets. September 12, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Last night, I was watching the first season of Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.” (Thanks, Netflix!) But the pun in the series title brought to mind a conversation I’d had recently with an old friend. We were talking about the things we wished we’d done in our lives. Both of us wished we had travelled more. Looking back at our lives, both of us wished we had made other choices at certain points.

But there was a huge difference between us, what I’d have called a defining difference: Yes, there are many things I’d like to have happened in my life that didn’t happen. There are plenty of things I’d do differently, given a chance to go back and revise (such as becoming a gerontologist instead of an editor). But I’m perfectly happy with my life right now: our friend Ben, our little cottage, our beloved pets, my work, my little car, our wonderful friends, all of it.

Maybe I’d have done things differently in hindsight. And maybe things would have turned out differently. But things have turned out wonderfully, miraculously well given the choices I actually made. I’m happy, content to greet every day exactly where I am. I enjoy the little things and the big things. The sight of a hummingbird visiting our rose-of-Sharon flowers or the sudden appearance of a writing assignment, seemingly falling from Heaven. A yummy curry or pasta I’ve just made or the inspiration for the next new novel.

My life is real, and my life is full, whatever its limitations. No, I’ve never owned a new car. I’ve never had a bestseller or a movie based on one of my books (yet, anway). I’ve never owned that fabulous old stone house and outbuildings that I dream of. I’ve never had disposable income. I’ve never gone to Morocco or Normandy. But I have had the joy and contentment of greeting each new and beautiful day, surrounded by people, pets, and things I love, doing what I love to do—writing.

And I have all the vast resources available to us moderns to virtually live the life of our dreams. Craving a trip to Morocco, but lacking the funds to make it happen? Buy old travel guides. Listen to “Marrakesh Express.” Check out DVDs. Get Moroccan Style. Buy Moroccan cookbooks, a tagine, Moroccan spices like ras al-hanout and harissa. See if, since you can’t go to Morocco, you can’t bring Morocco home to you, wherever home might be. 

My friend expressed a different, and to me, wildly distressing, viewpoint. I realized this when I belatedly gathered that she was misinterpreting my own comments on our present reality through the lens of her own misery.  She kept encouraging me, insisting, that it was not too  late to begin living the life of our dreams. That however pathetic our present circumstances, at any moment we could change them by following our ultimate goals. Our limitations would magically melt away, and we would become whatever we dreamed we would be.

Oh, no. True, maybe all of us might have had more sense in choosing a career if we’d given more thought to its consequences and benefits, or had a gazing ball (or at least a Magic Eight Ball) that let us see what the future held. Maybe we’d have chosen our various partners more wisely if we could have seen past looks and charisma to the values that mattered most to us, or ignored our parents’ disapproval and followed our hearts. Maybe we’d have decided to have kids or had more or fewer kids or not had kids; pursued a talent that most people (including our parents and teachers) strongly discouraged; lived where we wanted, not where our corporations sent us; opted for a more authentic lifestyle; understood who we were and been true to ourselves.

But, even in the face of my own oblivion and cluelessness, I somehow managed to end up doing a lot of the right things, even when family, friends and the world all said they were wrong. I can wake up each morning and face the day, my home, and my family with joy, not anxiety, frustration, or depression. OFB and I own our little cottage home and battered VW Golf outright; we live a very modest lifestyle, but it’s debt-free. Every day, we do what we love most: read, write, garden, cook, learn, play with our pets, connect with our friends and families. No, we haven’t won the lottery. Yes, I wish we’d win the lottery. But until that day arrives, we’re living, not waiting.

My own life tells me that “To thine own self be true” and “Know thyself; thou can’st not then be false to any man” are the two maxims that matter. Carpe diem: Seize the day. Live for today. Be kind, be generous, be wise, but most of all, be sure of who you are. Live each and every day so that, at the end of it, you may have no reservations, but you definitely have no regrets.

           ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

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Take the money and run. August 5, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood occasionally get e-mails offering us “great” deals on travel to Morocco, to resorts in the Smokies, to culinary tours of Provence and Tuscany. Well, as it happens, we’d love to go on any of these trips, but we can’t afford to. And if the money suddenly fell into our laps, we’d probably spend it painting the house or buying a less-used car.

But it never hurts to dream. So, our friend Ben was wondering, what would you do if the lottery leprechaun suddenly showed up at your door with a check for $3000, free and clear? Would you:

* Take that dream vacation

* Save it for a rainy day

* Pay off your credit card

* Buy a membership in a golf course or country club

* Get something that’s needed fixing for a long time repaired

* Buy something you’ve always wanted but couldn’t justify paying for

* Attend a class or course, such as the Cordon Bleu or the Martin Guitar Workshop

* Put it in an account for your kids’ college

* Spend it a bit at a time on little treats: movies, music and books you’ve always wanted; luxurious yarns and handmade needles; expensive artisanal cheeses, wines, chocolates, and olive oils; choice perennials, bulbs, and shrubs for your landscape

* Treat yourself to long-anticipated trips to the City (whichever one that is for you), having fabulous meals and seeing concerts, ballets, special exhibits, plays, whatever (our friend Ben refuses to even speak the o-word)

* Take the summer off and travel cross-country

* Add a deck, water garden, pool, fence, terracing, or other major feature  to your landscape

* Finish the basement or attic

* Upgrade your appliances

* Get better insurance

* Buy a cemetery plot

* Get your own professionally designed and maintained website

* Buy more lottery tickets

* Get a medical procedure (voluntary or necessary) done that you’ve been putting off due to lack of funds

* Buy a horse, boat, motorcycle, ATV, golf cart, superbike, Segway, Vespa, or other preferred but nonessential means of transport

* Attend every model train, Star Trek, quilting, or other expo in your area of interest for a year

* Self-publish your book

* Learn a new career skill

* Spend it willy-nilly and be shocked at how fast it’s disappeared

* Pay your way into a celebrity event and rub shoulders with the stars

* Enjoy the perfect meal at a four-star restaurant, with expensive, exclusive courses and wines

* Stop clipping coupons

* Your own preference here!

Disclaimer: Our friend Ben has no idea how much it would actually cost to buy a cemetery plot or even a golf cart; we’re just fantasizing here.

What would Silence and I do with this little windfall? Probably something boring, sadly, like asphalting our parking square or fixing the plumbing. Or maybe we’d set it aside to pay this winter’s fuel oil bills so we didn’t have to keep the house at 55 degrees throughout the cold months.

But in our hearts, our friend Ben would buy a fabulous old Pueblo pot. Silence would take one of those courses. Or maybe we’d throw caution to the wind and take that trip to Morocco!

What would you do?

The end of my pirate days. April 1, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Poor Richards’ bloggers our friend Ben, Silence Dogood, and Richard Saunders are a bit pirate-obsessed. Not only do OFB and Silence have a big pirate flag flying in the backyard, our battered little red VW Golf, the Red Rogue, has a pirate fish on the back along with an “Aaarrrggghhh” sticker. Johnny Depp is our hero. We totally agree with the notorious comment, “A pirate’s life for me!” That’s why we were instantly drawn to the wonderful Future House Farm blog (http://futurehousefarm.blogspot.com/): Bloggers Kelly and Meg display a pirate flag on their masthead. Yeah!

Even as we write, we’re listening to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s wonderful “Stones in the Road” CD so we can hear “The End of My Pirate Days.” If you’ve never heard it, do: It will make you cry. But it’s so beautiful and profound. Other musicians with an essentially piratical outlook: Mark Knopfler, Jimmy Buffett. Dougie McLean. Sting. Bob Marley. Oddly, perhaps, Loreena McKennit.

“And those who need adventure,

They can sail the Seven Seas

And those who search for treasure,

They must live on grander dreams…

Buried all my dreams for someone else to find

In my pirate days…

If I’ve called his name since then,

It’s only been in dreams, my friend

So I came to the end

Of my pirate days.”

It’s a powerful song. It’s a sad song. Nobody wants to give up their dreams, especially not us piratical types. Surely our treasure is just around the next sand dune, just waiting for us to stumble on it. And surely, surely we will, very soon now.

Okay, and what if we don’t? Thinking about most real-time pirates’ fates, their lives were ugly, brutal and short. But at least they had dreams. They never gave up. (As they say in “Galaxy Quest,” “Never give up, never surrender!”) We believe in standing up to our dreams, in holding them and squeezing them tight. If they come true, fantastic. And if they don’t, at least we had them and held them. Surely that puts us way ahead of folks who simply give up.

Ben Picks Ten: Things I’d Like to Be September 12, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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8 comments

“What I’d like to be when I grow up” is such a fun game to play when you’re a kid. Our friend Ben thinks it still is. (Of course, some of us are more grown up than others.) So today, I’d like to give you ten (plus one, of course) things I think it would be really fun to be.

Note that defining criterion: fun. Maybe somebody thinks being a lawyer or a stockbroker or a titan of industry would be fun, but our friend Ben is not among them, so you won’t find the usual professions in this list. Our friend Ben loves life, so anything that increases the chances of my being separated from it, such as being a general, mountain climber, or explorer, is definitely out. Much as I admire Sir Richard Francis Burton, battling venomous snakes and insects, scorching deserts and tropical swamps, exotic diseases and ravening beasts is not for me. It’s enough excitement for our friend Ben to battle tomato hornworms, powdery mildew, slugs, and the occasional raccoon in the garden.

Ditto for that often-touted position, king of the world. Being king of the world, or any king, pharaoh, emperor, or what-have-you sounds like way too much work and no fun at all to our friend Ben. And there are always too many rivals lining up for the throne, with a cup of poisoned wine in one hand and a dagger in the other. World domination? Ugh.

Mind you, there are things that our friend Ben thinks would be a lot of fun that didn’t make the list, either. Winning the lottery, receiving a Nobel Prize (or two), and getting a MacArthur Fellowship spring to mind. Our friend Ben would be only too happy to receive any or all of the above. But these are things one gets, not things one is. Of course, you could always up the ante by putting, say, “Nobel prize-winning…” in front of any of the things that did make my list. Speaking of which, let’s get to it:

1. Paleontologist. Because fossils are so cool. Our friend Ben’s earliest memory is of sitting in my parents’ driveway in my diaper, separating out the crinoid fossils from the gravel. If we had that kind of gravel here at Hawk’s Haven, you can bet our friend Ben would be sitting out there today. Our friend Ben’s favorite fossils are trilobites, which are even cooler now that the actual paleontologists have found out that they were all bristly. I’m saving up for a super-bristly one.

2. Archaeologist. Our friend Ben actually almost became an archaeologist. I’d been fascinated by archaeology and the discovery of lost civilizations throughout my childhood, and had spent innumerable hours reading about the discovery of Mayan temples and the palace at Knossos and the city of Troy. I spent the summer after my sophomore year studying archaeology in England and participating in a dig at the Roman city of Verulamium, present-day St. Albans. Fortunately, it dawned on me just in time that archaeology was really just glorified grave-robbing. But I still love the idea of treasures in the earth, whether they’re geodes or onions or cities of gold.

3. Pope. Let’s face it, it would be fun to be the head of your own religion and be addressed as “your Holiness.” (“Vicar of Christ” has a certain ring, too.) Of course, our friend Ben doesn’t think it would be too much fun to be Pope these days—more like torture, probably. And there were plenty of other times when it wasn’t fun, either, such as during the reign of Henry the Eighth or during the Protestant Reformation. There was also the little problem of various rulers attempting to capture the Pope and/or the Vatican, a popular pastime among kings and emperors through the ages. But there were undeniably good times, too: the Renaissance springs to mind. It must have been amazing to have the greatest artists, architects, and composers of the day at your beck and call.

4. Artist. Speaking of which, our friend Ben envies anyone who can draw or paint exactly what he or she sees (in real life or in his or her head). Poetry, our friend Ben’s own talent, is an imprecise art at best: You create a work and hope that those who read or hear it are able to see what you saw. But with art, you can show them your vision unambiguously. Watercolors are a special favorite, and our friend Ben would love to have effortless skill with them.

5. Rock star. Yes, our friend Ben has the name of the band all picked out. Too bad I can’t sing, dance, or play an instrument, and especially not all at the same time.

6. Composer. While we’re on the subject of music, our friend Ben has always thought it would be fantastic to walk around like Bach or Mozart with glorious music filling my mind and pouring out of my hands. Our friend Ben is a poet, so I know the effortless ecstacy of pure creation, the gift of it, when you and your talent are single, not separate, one and the same. As Mr. Yeats puts it, “How can you tell the dancer from the dance?” When you look at what you’ve created and wonder where in you it came from, and you know, with awe, that you could not have been alone in that creation. I’m sure that natural athletes, the ones who don’t have to work at their particular skill but simply have it, are it, must feel like this, too, when they’re running or dancing or swimming or playing tennis or whatever it is they do, their gift. I would love to feel music that way.

7. Ping-pong champion. While we’re on the subject of sports, everybody has a favorite sport. Ping-pong (aka table tennis) is our friend Ben’s. Sadly, coordination is definitely not us, so you’ll never see our friend Ben in a ping-pong competition. I was never able to learn how to spin the ball, or counter an opponent’s spin. But games of aim are something I can do: hit the basket or the bull’s eye pretty much every time. Our friend Ben could send a ping-pong ball to any part of the table, have it touch down and ever so subtly slip off the edge, or hug the top of the net, then sidle down on the opponent’s side at the last possible second. Our friend Ben loves ping-pong because, unlike other sports I love, like horse racing and falconry, it doesn’t involve dominating another species. Yes, I would love to launch a falcon from my wrist, see it shoot up into the sky, and have it return to me, volleying down at warp speed only to pull up at the last second and settle gently on my arm. Yes, I would love to ride my own horse in race after race, breaking away from the field to win endless lengths ahead of all the rest. But I wouldn’t want to keep a falcon hooded and tied to its perch. I wouldn’t want to risk my horse’s life and limbs every time I raced him. Ping-pong is fun, and safe, and it still involves a show of skill. Now, if I could only learn to spin the ball…

8. Inventor. Our friend Ben loves to imagine the life of an inventor, with all kinds of games and gadgets and gizmos spinning around in your mind and taking shape in your hands. I often think of inventions myself, but since I’m completely mechanically inept, and not being a titan of industry, can’t command an army of folks who aren’t mechanically inept to flesh out my creations for me, I simply can’t get from A to B. My inventions are born and die within the space of my skull. But I admire all the folks whose inventions are born into the world and enrich our lives. While it’s true that many inventors have sold their wonderful creations to others for a comparative pittance, or have had to hand them over to the companies they work for and watch said companies become wealthy and powerful while they continue to slave away on their pitiful salaries, some lucky inventors have held on to their creations and reaped their just rewards. Rightly or wrongly, these are the ones whose names we all know: Edison and the lightbulb, Henry Ford and the Model T, Eli Whitney and the cotton gin, the Wright brothers and their airplane. But I like to think that all inventors enjoy tinkering so much that their work is its own reward, recognized or not.

9. Best-selling author. Our friend Ben is already an author, so I just have to get to the “best-selling” part. I can’t imagine a more delightful thing than writing novels for a living: doing something I love that brings enjoyment to others. Talk about fun!

10. Universal genius. Our friend Ben would love to be a towering genius like Ben Franklin or Leonardo da Vinci, totally engaged with life, interested in everything, excelling at everything. (We tend to picture Franklin as a portly old man, but in his younger days, he was a superb athlete on top of everything else.) The mind boggles. It’s interesting to our friend Ben that both these great men spent a good deal of their time and energy trying to make life better for the ordinary person. But it must have been a lonely life, living in a mind as far above those of the people who surrounded you as heaven is from earth. Still, our friend Ben thinks it would be worth it. 

And the bonus:

11. Cartoonist. To be able to capture the human condition with the stroke of a pen! If only our friend Ben could draw. Imagine creating Dilbert or Calvin and Hobbes or The Far Side or Maxine, or being Booth or one of the wonderful political cartoonists. It’s a talent most of us don’t even see, enjoying the cartoons without ever thinking of their creators. Our friend Ben never wanted to be a professor, but I would get a huge kick out of this gift, the ability to teach with humor in a painless visual medium.

So what did the youthful Ben want to be when I grew up, you ask? A pioneer, of course, like my hero Daniel Boone, or a Victorian naturalist, amassing huge collections of eggs and fossils and butterflies and mercy knows what-all, or the greatest poet of the age, since I came into that talent early (by age two). All told, I didn’t stray too far from my grand childhood ideals, either: I’m still a naturalist and poet, and am still living out my pioneer fantasies here on my one-acre Eden with my plants and chickens. My adult reality may not have achieved the scope of my childhood dreams, but I’m here to tell you, it’s still a lot of fun. How about you?