Robert (gurdonark) wrote,

I know why the beached penguin sings

This morning I landed at 5, slept a couple of hours, and then went into the office. Tonight my wife dined with our friend the vet. I drove to the Spring Creek Trail in Richardson for a nice walk.

The Spring Creek Trail features sidewalks running through deep wooded riparian creekside. As I headed back to my car while darkness slowly edged in, I saw a huge owl in a nearby tree. It had a rounded head, and stylish brown feathers. It flew to a farther off tree, and stood watching me, with big, owl-like eyes. Tonight I write about a watchfulness for ideas.

I like that place in between the theoretical and the purely pragmatic. I'm neither the sort of person with whom to entrust an instruction manual nor the sort of person to revel in an abstruse philosophy.

I'm instead somebody who watches for ideas, and tries to catch them in my talons. Let me illustrate this rather flowery metaphor. I like the theoretical twists and turns of legal principles. Have you ever seen a nautilus shell? Whorls upon whorls of order and logic, if one only understands the evolutionary patterns and the survival advantages of the arrangement. A nautilus, you see, is not a mere theory of geometric designs, but a living creature, suitable for a Jules Verne novel.

I love knowing little bits about lots of things. I don't mean trivia per se. I mean little "how to" things in the realm of ideas and pragmatic actions. I find in life there are well over the acceptable ratio of really first rate minds. Sometimes a few second rate minds are necessary to process and enjoy the ideas tossed into the ether by those of the first rating.

It's thus important to me to know things like "here is how to start a business" or "here's how to catch a sunfish at dawn" or "here is a resource on distance learning educational opportunities" or even "here is how to change careers".

It's not that I know very much about any given thing. With the arguable exception of insurance company insolvency law, I find that I know a very little about many things rather than a great deal about anything. Most of anything is in the library, you know, or, like jazz, can't be learned anyway. The thing instead is to know just a pinch of what it is useful to know, and know how to access what you know.

I notice that the latest profession to arise from the "personal motivation" industry is the job title of "coach". Personal coaches cheerlead, cajole, and brainstorm with one to help one solve various personal and career dilemmae. I think it would be fun to be a coach for other people, but infinitely more fun to just be a coach without portfolio.

I recognize that the desire to be "helpful" has its distinct dark side. After all, Lombardi, coach thyself. Time spent trying to acquire the profundity of a surface skimmer on a shallow pond might be better spent picking up the essentials in my car or making my art room into a pristine chess and book room.

But I'm not really interested in that "needy" helpfulness. Rather, I'm more interested in learning things that fascinate me, and then relating them from time to time.

I like that I have a job in which people come to me and ask for advice. It's sometimes advice that they almost cannot easily get anywhere else. But so often the advice I wish I could give is not the advice of torts and contracts, but the lighter advice about practical things.

I think in life everyone waddles through and muddles through, like some kind of penguin in patagonia. We're all supposed to figure it all out, although in some ways we don't have the tools with which to sort things out. I don't mean the tools of "great thoughts and pregnant silences". I mean the little nuts and bolts things.

I love the liberal arts, and I respect the sciences. I think the world of welding school, after someone I used to be related to
got the ability to earn a living in nine months and three thousand dollars. But formal education has its shortcomings.

I think that so many practical things are not really taught to people. You know, the basic stuff--how to buy a home, how to run a budget, how to save to pension, how to take care of one's health, and all that. In addition, there's how to be a caring person, and how to have a good family, and how to do the right things sometimes. Those are the things I want to learn.

But I'm not just on the lookout for "how to" things. I like any idea that I can wrap my mind around, and feel it leads something workable. It need not be literally pragmatic. How pragmatic is a poem? It just has to fit my inner ideas of what is real and practical.

Sometimes I deal with consumers who face challenges in their lives. Sometimes I notice that there is a great disparity between "expectations" and "reality". People often "expect" they should have a certain standard of living. But they don't calculate the costs and the sacrifices. I'm a fairly equal opportunity lawyer. I've evicted some, or, on the other side of the table, helped others regain their financial footing. I never mind whether I represent debtors or creditors. People owe, people are owed, it's just part of the system.

I don't mean to imply that people are always their own worst enemy. Notwithstanding the zeal of credit card companies who try to paint things otherwise when they seek to eviscerate our bankruptcy laws, some people get into financial trouble through literally no fault of their own. Medical bills for the uninsured cause massive financial dislocation, for example.

But sometimes folks are their own worst enemies. It's not just a matter of financial imprudence. It can be a world of choices. In my own case, I suppose, I am most own worst enemy when it comes to keeping my weight down. So many people do what they "would not do".

But I like the idea of learning little things that matter and then trying to share them. I like the idea of learning little things that matter just to hold them in my mind, like treasured little things. I am not sure I need to know the meaning of life, but I like that I can blunder my way through an oil change if I must.

For a while, it seemed as though every few years I learned to macrame. Why macrame? Call me a teen in the 70s. Each time, after another revelatory summer campish experience, I'd say "cool--it's so cool to know something real like this". But I never remembered how.

But I'm resolved to start watching for similar cool things in the undergrowth. I have big eyes, and talons poised to take them in. I'll absorb them, and then I'll be a truly practical man. Far better to be a penguin with skills than a mere caged bird, trying to sing the same little song, or merely a stuffed, trapped shirt.

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