To The Best Of Our Knowledge is a program on National Public Radio. On the way to my ride Sunday they aired a program called “Poetry in a Troubled Time”. The program began with reactions to the pandemic, the “Troubled Time” to which the title refers. It opened with a pandemic poem by a writer in Lake Mills WI, which garnered national attention. I was riding to Lake Mills that day, so the program seemed apropos.

Charleis Bukowski wrote:

“all theories
like cliches
shot to hell,
all these small faces
looking up
beautiful and believing;
I wish to weep
but sorrow is
I wish to believe but believe is a
we have narrowed it down to
the butcherknife and the
wish us

Host Anne Strainchamps called the poem “pretty dark”. Charles Monroe-Kane took great hope in the phrase “wish us luck”. Strainchamps wanted the program to be about poetry “as a refuge, as a consolation”. Monroe-Kane noted, “…heartbreak is where poetry is. That’s where poetry comes in. That’s what it can do. Look, poetry also helps us in healing. You don’t need to be healed if you don’t have pain. You got to have an injury that need the healing, so there’s going to be a lot of injury in this as well.”

Edward Hirsch noted that all poetry is about death, in that it focuses on the ephemeral – “we are trying to save something that is passing.” Perhaps all of life is about death. Nostalgia is certainly about death. How much of our memory is an attempt to “save something that is passing”? To what extent is writing a blog the same – but a particularly ineffective form of trying to “save something that is passing”? We write and we post and (maybe) someone reads it on the day it is posted. While it is preserved on the internet, how often is it seen after those first days?

“Some things in life feel unendurable yet they have to be endured. They are unbearable, yet they have to be borne.” This was Hirsch’s purpose in writing an elegy to his son, but is also about life itself. We all encounter, at some time, something that feels unendurable, unbearable. Yet we (most of us) endure and bear and move forward in life. We don’t all write poems, but we endure. How do we move from endurance to embracing life again?

To what extent is embracing life embracing ephemera? I worked in radio in an era when it was not preserved. (I just listened to Sunday’s program and read its transcript to be sure I quoted people accurately.) What we did went out over the airwaves, live, at the speed of light. It came into your home instantaneously. The sound waves traveled to your ear and by then we had moved on. In the year 2000, my brother and I were each asked to reflect on our time in community radio – for him, the 1960s, for me the 1970s. He wrote “…you did it, you sent it out into the ether, and people heard it or didn’t. It was the ultimate in ephemerae, leaving a trace only in the minds of those who did it or heard it…”. I wrote “…the reason I enjoyed radio was its ephemeral quality. What I did went out over the airwaves and was gone.” (Neither of us knew what the other had written until the book was published.) Now I write a blog. Is it something about aging that I now try to preserve, not just experience, life? Or is life about sharing? Is it not enough to experience? Is it necessary to share that experience?

In 1976 or 7, I wrote in my journal: “It’s not the experience…it’s sharing the experience.” I was in the midst of something that seemed profound at the time. I was alone. I called a friend to come over. I knew then that the communication of the experience was as important to me as the experience itself. Communication….communion…community. Is it an accident that these words are so similar?


Adude I follow recently wrote “Without goals, we’re just meandering through life.” I looked up meander and found: “(of a river or road) follow a winding course”. I decided I was willing to cop to that.

If I’m in my canoe or kayak, would I rather be on a straight shot down the Mississippi, or following a meandering stream? I’ll take #2. On my bike, would I rather be on a road that cuts straight through on a grid pattern, or one that follows the contours of the land, a meandering stream, switchbacks through the mountains, or just the contours of hills and valleys? Gee, I guess I pick #2 again.

Is life a journey or a destination? As a destination, I guarantee you the destination is death. If you want to get there, I know a shortcut. I’m in no hurry. I’d just as soon meander my way there, stop and smell the roses, check out the view from lookouts along the way.

From my meandering, I’ve learned a thing or two about the necessities of life. Growing up I heard “food, clothing, and shelter”. What got me to look at that was my meandering. (Stop me if you’ve heard this one.) I started with food – first in restaurants and then in a retail grocery co-op. I left there for a low-income housing co-op. From there I went to a third world farming co-op, then a plumbing company, and then to a hospital. And that’s just talking about work, not life.

Along the way I learned about gravity. Water under pressure goes wherever you want it to go. Otherwise it falls down. Natural gas, if not under pressure, goes up. A building, if not constructed so that each part “falls onto” the part below (with the bottom “falling into” the earth), falls over. In martial arts, “the force” is gravity, not something mysterious from Star Wars.

Welcome back. If you read the post at the link, you don’t need the three paragraphs I wrote and cut. So the necessities of life, in my view, are: food, housing, (clean) water and sewage (disposal), health care, education, and community. Not bad for a life of meandering. And life is like a campsite – you want to leave it cleaner and in better shape than you found it.

But what about goals? It would be nice to say that I set a goal to explore the necessities of life and build a career by providing for those needs, but that would be a lie. I meandered into these.

As part of my job, I write goals with patients every day. They have to be functional, attainable, measurable, and time-bound. Do my life and leisure pursuits have to be that way, too?

On the other hand, I rode my bike across the country a couple of years ago. That was a goal. It required training. Training required a series of intermediate goals and actions taken in order to meet them. So I’m not poo-poohing goals completely. But goals are like wishes – they may have unintended consequences. When I hear that someone is “goal-driven” I want to barf. Hell, even my car isn’t driven very often. I’d rather not be driven. I’d rather have goals that are in service to me than to be in service to my goals.

I once went through a 14 day workshop. It was an ordeal. At the end, I couldn’t say much except that I’d gotten through it. I was miserable much of the time. I had trouble keeping my eyes open. I later figured out that the combination of ceiling fans and overhead lights made my eyes burn, and closing my eyes was more to defend them than because I was bored and sleepy. A baseball cap made a big difference. I took the 14 day workshop another time, and this time it was to do more than survive 14 days closed up in a room with a group of people. Surviving 14 days in a closed room doesn’t mean much.

And what do goals mean? Climbing Mt Everest might be a lofty goal. Reaching that goal entails a lot of money and a lot of sacrifice by a lot of people serving you who are not going to reach the summit. It entails a lot of garbage being left behind on the mountain. It often entails people dying. “Everesting” is a big deal now – climbing the elevation equivalent of Mt Everest, but doing it where you are. (So you could climb a 1000 foot hill 29 times – plus a little more if you’re a stickler.) Does that mean anything? Only if it does. In other words, any goal has the meaning you bring to it. Sometimes we as a society give meaning to something (so we keep track of who can run 100 meters the fastest). But is the setting of goals just an indirect means of attempting to bring meaning to life? (My life is meaningless, but if I can just accomplish X, that will mean something.) So do we give meaning to a goal, give meaning to life, experience that life (and our goals) have no inherent meaning (unless you experience that they do), and go on from there? Or do we recall when Flakey Foont asked Mr Natural, “What does it all mean?” Mr Natural’s response was, “Don’t mean sheeit.”

from hipcomic.com. Copyright R. Crumb