MARCH 20, 2016


Happy Solstice to all! This is one of two days in the year when the day and night are of equal length. Supposedly. My Weather Underground almanac says that the day is twelve hours and ten minutes long today, which doesn't compute. A lot of things don't seem to be computing these days. I'm not going to worry about it, the days are obviously getting longer, whether or not they are doing it according to schedule. I could have worked until 8:00 outside tonight if I had felt like it. Yes, we are warped by daylight savings time, but where I live is near the western edge of the time zone so daylight savings is more like real time here. And yes, technically, that should be daylight saving time, not savings. The old Indian says white man thinks he can make the blanket longer by cutting a foot off the top and sewing it on to the bottom.


All I know is I hate going thru this twice a year. Last week I went to Big Rapids and dinked around waiting until an hour before closing time to stop by a couple of businesses on my way home. When I got to the first one, it was closed for no reason that I could see. When I found the second one closed I was starting to hear Twilight Zone music playing. Some guy came out after I had rattled the door and peered thru the window. As it turns out, I had forgotten to reset my watch. The only sane people in this country are the Hawaiians, the Arizonans, and a few ornery farmers in northern Indiana, all of whom refuse to observe daylight savings. Savings.


One advantage of daylight savings is that I don't have to get up so early to feed the birdies. Yes, I know, it's exactly the same time to those birds, no matter what my clock says, but somehow it feels a lot better to be able to sleep until 8:00 than to struggle up at 7:00, tho it's fast moving back an hour earlier. I'll pay for this next fall. My old dog and old cat don't know the difference either. They start crying and complaining according to their own schedule, and it is not my favorite way to start the day. The other morning Ralph, my old dog, woke me up at 6:00 crying loudly and pitifully. For reasons best known to himself he had wandered back into one of the back bedrooms, which I have kept open this winter, and fallen down on the slippery wood floor, and couldn't get up.


I know the feeling. I also know the feeling of being frustrated with life and wanting things to be different. But I really try not to cry and complain all day long. I had to restrain myself from sending my cat on to his heavenly reward this evening after listening to his loud complaints about the food and the service all day. "I'm dying here, I'm starving, feed me! No, not this awful tunafish, bring out the good stuff! I had this yesterday. This place stinks! You stink as a provider! I'm unhappy! Make me happy! I know they make gourmet cat food in little bitty cans in a dozen flavors and I deserve it. You're taking terrible care of me. I'm a victim here, someone help me." This guy is definitely pointing out my deficiences in following Jesus in a spiritual quest. I ended up screaming at him and wanted to do worse.


The dog is 16, the cat is 18. That's a good long life for a critter. Long enough. There are some lessons in life I could do without. And where these critters leave off, my wife takes over. It is my understanding that I knew what I was getting into when I signed up for this lifetime. What was I thinking? Really, people, all I want to do is gather firewood, tend a little garden, haul water. That's it. That's enough. Maybe keep a few chickens, a few goats if I feel up to it. Well, I guess that's enough crying and complaining from three old geezers living in the same house.


I read a lot this winter, wish I could have read more. I read three books about Janis Joplin. Back in the day I didn't pay a lot of attention to her. Some folks spoke of her as the white Etta James. I figured if you wanted to listen to that, listen to Etta James, but there's no accounting for white folks. When she died in 1970, I was living out in the woods in Oregon and starting my twenty year career as a treeplanter. I sort of knew who she was, wasn't impressed, don't know that I was aware when she died, or if I was it made no difference in my life.


I feel different now, some forty-six years later. She was only 27 when she died of a heroin overdose. That brings up the picture of a strung out junkie getting pretty much what they deserve, but it wasn't like that. She was on the verge of growing up and becoming a significant singer in the blues tradition, and tonight as I write this fifty years after she got going, I am listening to blues on the radio. It is a classic, timeless form of musical expression for the human condition. People who think the blues is about being sad need to expand their horizons.


Janis was four years younger than me. Back then, four years made a lot of difference, it was almost like a generation. She grew up in a Texas town much like where I grew up in Michigan. Segregated, conformist, study hard, get an education, raise a family, don't make waves, don't rock the boat, listen to your elders, and keep things just like they have been. Works for a lot of people. Didn't work for Janis and it didn't work for me.


People didn't know what to make of me back then. A lot of them, the only thing they could think of to hurl out the window at me along with a beer bottle was "Castro" Well, that's coming around again as we speak. But by the time I was in college, the perjorative was Beatnik. The Beats, Kerouac, Ginsberg, and others, never thought of themselves as Beatniks, that was something the newspapers and commentators thought up. I never thought of myself as a Beatnik, tho I was called that often enough. Four years later Janis called herself a Beatnik.


And she was. She listened to folk music and jazz. She dressed in black, an early form of Goth. She was rebellious and counter-cultural. She was searching for truth and reality and herself. I'm with you Janis, a little ahead, but not so far. I wonder how different my life might have turned out if I had run across you back then. Not a productive way to think, but I succomb to the tempation from time to time.


If you look at the pictures, the videos, of Janis when she was at her young prime, you would identify her as a hippie. She dressed that way, she was right there in the middle of the San Francisco uprising that gave us Flower Children and also gave me a place to live out in the woods in Oregon for twelve years. It didn't last. Janis never did stop thinking of herself as a Beatnik and that is important in understanding her. She went beyond the superficialities of dress and manner, but retained the basic Beat philosophy of freedom and liberation and the search for truth and becoming yourself.


What killed her was success. You become popular as a musician, you become a name, and you beocme a slave to contracts and recording and concerts. Some people can handle it, some find it a lonely life and a grind. Heroin can become the loving friend that welcomes you home at the end of a day of intense ups and downs. I am very grateful that I never met this seduction along the way. It wasn't much more than having a few drinks at the end of the day for Janis at this point in her life. She happened to hit a week when the heroin was super strong, uncut, and the usual lab test of her provider was absent, and it killed her. Along with half a dozen others.


Alas, Janis, in a way I wish I had made some other turns in life and had ended up in the same neighborhood as you. I know we would have connected. My ego would like to think we would have really connected and that I would have saved your life and mine with it. That's pretty silly. Even if it would have happened, I might have gone down with you. I need to be thankful for what I have and how I've got here.


I have a poster of Janis on the wall out in the shop in my barn. She's pretty fine. She wasn't always fine. Doesn't matter. I ordered another poster the other day  What's with this white chick from the 60's who died too early? She called for folks to discover who they were and to celebrate it. She questioned authority. She paved the way for a lot of people who came along behind her. There's a documentary movie out on her life today, these many years later.


Three old geezers living together in a strained relationship of complaint and frustration and mutual recrimination. Two of them just wanting better food and service, bitterly, and one of them pining for a woman who would be 73 years old today and likely complaining about the food and service. What's wrong with this picture?