The Advantages of Being Useless

This essay is about learning how to be useless. As such, it dovetails nicely with a recent piece I wrote on these pages about striving for idleness. I agreed with Mark Taylor’s Buddhist notion that “idleness allows time for the mind to wander to places never before imagined and to return transformed.”⁠1 Being useless, like idleness, is often equated with being old. And, indeed, that is what I am. I spend a lot of time in reverie, which most would call idleness. I have to keep pulling myself back to the present. However, I’m not meditating but practicing what has been called the curse of …

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Living in Ghost Land

I recently got back from two months in San Jose, supporting Russet, whose son Austin succumbed to a malevolent brain tumor in January. It has been an extremely taxing, long haul for her, caring for him as he went downhill over the last year. After returning home, I’ve been dislocated in time and space, yanked around by a profusion of emotional climates as erratic as the weather, both here and there: From the frigid winter winds blowing across the stark whiteness of Jenness Pond to the feminine softness of mournful, foggy mornings in the Los Gatos mountains. It didn’t help when Coco discovered a dead …

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Is This the Beginning or the End?

I strive for idleness. My best ideas come to me not from hard work but from being unfocused, just lolling around. My creative life, such as it is, coincides with what Mark Taylor tells us in “Idleness Waiting Grace:” “Many of the most important thoughts are unintentional—they can be neither solicited nor cajoled but have a rhythm of their own, creeping up, arriving, and leaving when we least expect them.”⁠1 Certain seemingly inconsequential events stick in our minds. For me, one such thing is a TV commercial, from fifty years ago, about margarine: In the ad, Mother Nature, dressed in a gown of white and …

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We Have a Choice

Our lives seem to be fragmenting in the face of spiraling polarization and civil unrest. How do we find what’s authentic in this splintered world of wildly different truths? And what if authenticity, in the traditional sense, no longer exists? I muse on this question as I meditate on an exquisite, little waterfall near my house. The countless, disparate rivulets within it, rushing pell-mell in every direction, remind me of the incessant deluge of information pelting down on us each day—and the multiple realities they imply. In Mother Nature’s world, none of these individual rivulets represent the truth: it is only when they are incorporated …

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Covid shows, once more, who’s excluded from the American Dream

The media and disease experts tell us we must take personal responsibility to avoid Covid-19! Gov. Sununu, to no one’s surprise, has taken the same hands-off approach, choosing to treat the pandemic like we do other social ills, like poverty or homelessness, exemplifying our state motto: “Live Free or Die.” Indeed, some individual behavior is unconscionable, like folks refusing to wear masks and kids flocking to large parties. Yet disease experts stress that responsible leadership is essential because controlling this plague is beyond individual capabilities. That’s why it is so disheartening that after almost a full year, the federal government has yet to provide a …

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We are the first de-indigenized culture on Earth—and the last

Petroglyph of a couple, possibly Neolithic, in Sarmishsay, Uzbekistan. Detail of a photo by Stephanieadams99; from commons.wikimedia.org; Licensed under creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. by Jean Stimmell We take pride in our modern civilization for being advanced and forward-thinking while judging indigenous people as primitive and backward. According to Anthropologist Wade Davis, what we have accomplished is a “stunning innovation in human affairs, the sociological equivalent of the splitting of the atom⁠.” 1 For the first time is history, we have created “a new and original culture” that celebrates personal freedom over community and consumption as a way of life over sustainability. Our stunning innovation is an illusion comparable …

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