“The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” 

Henry Jaglom says Orson Welles told him this over lunch one day. He explained that creativity comes from having to figure out how to do something, with an example being that you don’t have a million dollars to blow up a bridge (for a film) so you have to find another way to get the effect you want.

My friend Martha wrote about limits, and a rediscovered old friend Margie quoted her brother about limits in her book “More Than Meets the Eye: Exploring Nature and Loss on the Coast of Maine”. Her brother had ALS and was about to start using a ventilator. He compared it to SCUBA diving: “You need a lot of cumbersome equipment to dive, but it’s worth the view you get from deep in the ocean. I feel the same way about a ventilator – it will be cumbersome but worth the view.”

As a (former) diver, I could relate. I didn’t like the limitation of holding my breath to snorkel when I was in water where all the action was 30 feet down. The limit of being able to breathe for only 45 minutes was freedom, not a limit. While I felt weighted down on land (the lead weights on my belt had something to do with that), I was weightless in the water. It was pretty hard to walk in fins, but they sure came in handy down there.

Likewise, we often speak of someone “confined to a wheelchair”. The alternative is often “confined to a bed”, but we tend not to see it that way. In this case, “confined” refers to a past that is no longer here. The wheelchair provides freedom (from the bed) and mobility. It also grounds us in the here and now, not an inaccessible past. While it may be a relative limit (compared to walking, which is not an option when paralyzed), it is an actual freedom. We could say that our inability to fly is a limitation, but since we never could fly we tend not to see it that way. When the day comes that I can no longer ride a bike, will I remember and experience this truth, or only experience the loss?

A limit also gives you the freedom to explore within that limit. Is it a limit, or a framework? We live with gravity and friction every day. That limits us from the ability to fly or to travel at infinite speed. Then again, would we have any of our current sports without those two “limits”?

“Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”- “Squire Bill” Widener 1840-1920

Or as Si Kahn sang:

Also see previous post re: Django Reinhardt. Django had no use of the ring finger and small finger of his left hand. You wouldn’t know it to hear him play the guitar.

College

We all grow up with expectations. My parents made it clear that I was to go to Harvard or Yale on a full scholarship, as they had no money to give me and, even if they had it, they wouldn’t give it to me, as I was on my own once I turned 18.

I took that literally and moved out during my senior year of high school. I still had no plan other than to go to college, but I wasn’t going to be the doctor they wanted me to be, and I wasn’t going to Harvard or Yale. I applied to exactly one school. I got accepted and the plan was set in motion.

Over that summer I discovered a whole world that I hadn’t known existed. Suddenly I had a life; a life I didn’t want to leave behind. My car was in no shape to drive 2000 miles to school, so I pulled the engine and replaced the clutch so it could make the trip. Unfortunately, I didn’t do that until it was too late to drive out there before school started.

I booked a flight to LA, arriving without some of the bare necessities like sheets and blankets. I stole an airline pillow (back in the day when airlines provided pillows) and used towels for sheets until I could go shopping.

While I wasn’t stupid, being a student had not been my favorite pastime. It didn’t take long to realize that paying large sums of money to do something I didn’t enjoy was not a viable life plan.

It rained in late October. I went up to the roof of my building and looked out at the ocean. Two things struck me: 1) I could see the ocean, which I hadn’t seen from there for the previous two months, and 2) my eyes didn’t burn. I hadn’t realized my eyes had been burning for two months until they weren’t. That was the day I knew I was leaving Los Angeles as soon as the semester ended. The semester wasn’t a total loss – I gained two lifelong friends and knew what I wanted to do with the next part of my life.

I arrived back here and went back to work at the organization I left behind. I became Executive Director and stayed in that position until I shut down the organization and moved on. I started another organization with other folks and stayed there for the next ten years. It’s still alive and well nearly 40 years after I left it. My parents wondered when I would do it “for real”, which to them meant I had to be the sole proprietor of a business if I wasn’t going to be a college graduate and a doctor. Another ten years went by and I went to college when I finally had a reason to be there – a reason that was not “because you’re supposed to” or “because your parents want you to”. Did a college degree suddenly make me smart at 45? Nope. College is not for everyone and it is not the arbiter of intelligence. But you knew that, right?

In case you hadn’t noticed, his “deep thinking” is wrong, but he says it quickly and convincingly, which is usually good enough “back where I come from”.

Talking people down from bad trips was not something you learn in college classes (though I note that you can now get a professional certificate for guided psychedelic therapy for research – and soon to be therapeutic – purposes). Running a co-operative business required communication skills that were beyond what was needed in most schooling (and would an MBA have helped?). Being a plumber required a sort of three dimensional thinking that was different than that needed in school (and is taught via apprenticeship programs and on-the-job training). Working in the developing world required solving problems with the tools you had, not always the tools you wanted. Working in health care (okay, that was after college) required knowing how to use big words but also to know what those words meant so you could use small words when they were more appropriate (which is most of the time). Common sense and critical thinking are the major life skills needed in most endeavors. Are those taught, or learned? And what’s the difference? Discuss among yourselves.

So go to college if you want to and have a reason to. Do something else if it interests you more. Know that whatever you do, the odds of it sustaining you for the rest of your life are slim. Have a fallback position, or know how to think on your feet and change when the time comes.

Some of us are crocus and bloom early but not for long. Some are late bloomers like chrysanthemums. Some bloom repeatedly throughout the season, like some roses and lilies. Maybe your blooms aren’t showy. Like many trees, they come and go and many folks don’t really notice. Or do others just see you as a weed?

Bob Odenkirk (“Saul Goodman”) wrote the character of Matt Foley for Chris Farley while both were at Second City. I’m twice as old as Matt Foley, so I must know twice as much, right?
David Crosby 8/14/41-1/18/23

Thanks, Gramma!

My grandmother was a baker. Her cinnamon rolls were famous. She lived alone in Superior, WI, but stayed for a few weeks of the year with each of her daughters. She would never move in with any of them because she didn’t “want to be a burden”.

She taught my mom how to make pasties and my mom passed that on to me. (Finnish miners in copper country ate pasties, not just Cornish miners.) She tried to teach my mom to make cinnamon rolls, but measurements involved hands (handfuls, pinches) and seeing how the dough looked and felt. My mom, not a baker, had trouble with that, so the recipe died with gramma.

I didn’t start baking in earnest until after she died. In my 20s, I lived with two others and we baked bread every Saturday – sometimes as a group project, sometimes one or the other of us, but we always baked. One day we went for a walk to let the bread cool. We left a pound of butter on the table to warm up a bit. When we got home we found Weezee (one of the dogs) under the table with the pound of butter between her paws and one half-eaten loaf next to her. I’m not sure if she spread the butter on the bread or just alternated bites.

While I didn’t get gramma’s recipes, I did get her bread bowl. Being retired, I decided it was time for that bowl to get some work, so today it held the dough for a couple of loaves. (Yes, I know it’s “grandma” to most but that’s not how I ever pronounced it.)

Gramma’s bowl behind a still-hot loaf.

I tested it with a bit of butter and orange blossom honey. It passed.

You ain’t from around here, are ya?

Wisconsin Glossary

Bubbler: Drinking fountain. Here, we know that a “water fountain” is something you throw coins into when you make a wish, not something you drink out of. That would be disgusting.

Bubbler image from Oh Kaye at Flicker.com

Church key: combination bottle/can opener

hurch Key image from Sam’s Man cave

FIB: tourist, flatlander. In this case, specific to people from Illinois.We’ll let you figure out what the F and B are for.

Hotdish: Casserole

Parking ramp: Multi-level parking structure (Probably a “garage” to you, but we all know that a garage has only one level. If you go between levels in a multi-tiered structure, it is via a ramp.)

Pop: soft drink (AKA “soda” but here we know that “soda” is Club Soda – the stuff you mix with Scotch to make a Scotch and Soda; or, in the south, “coke”, which to us is “Coke” and a specific brand of cola beverage, but to them is any kind of pop.)

TYME Machine: ATM. (The first ATMs here were owned by the same company. TYME stands for “Take Your Money Everywhere”. “TYME”, unlike “ATM”, has to be followed by “Machine”.)

Uff-da: Sort of like “oy vey”, but maybe more versatile. Said to ” express surprise, annoyance, relief, exhaustion, disappointment, astonishment, exasperation and dismay”.

Yah (actually ja): Yes. We were told not to use this word when we got to school or they’d know we were (I was never sure what they’d know about me, but I knew it was bad) – I think lazy. It’s Norwegian. I wasn’t sure if that was bad to admit. In some circles it was worse to admit to being Finnish than Norwegian.

Wisconsin tends to be sort of a small town place. I learned some lessons moving to the Big City. Here is one of them:

All this and more is available from the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE). This is a project a friend of mine worked on about 50 years ago at the university here. It is a multi-volume dictionary, arranged by region, of course. It is still a work in progress, and now available online so it can be updated more frequently, but access is controlled by Harvard University. You have to have a subscription or an affiliation with an organization that has a subscription.

I’ll admit I didn’t look any of these up. They are just words I use that have earned funny looks. I just looked a few things up and I can’t believe other people don’t say them…like “supper club”. Is that really something other people don’t know? A supper club is a particular type of restaurant. They generally have Friday night fish fry, Saturday night prime rib, Sunday turkey dinner, and a salad bar. The salad bar should contain lots of cut glass bowls on ice, with things like three bean salad, potato salad, and pickled herring. There oughta be a piano bar or maybe a small combo playing easy-listening music. The bar better know how to make an Old Fashioned and know there is more than one kind. They should sell lots of Korbel brandy.

Or “shine”…do other people not know that this is a method of illegally hunting deer? You shine a light in their eyes, which makes them freeze in place so they’re easy to shoot.

“Sauerkraut”…really? You know what that is, right? Maybe I could see you not knowing kringle, krumkake, lutefisk, and lefse – those are all Norwegian foods. But you do know what German potato salad is, right?

Now I looked up all of the words I defined above and DARE doesn’t include some of them. Maybe I better tell them, eh?