Archive for December, 2011

human nature

Flower Shop, Riyadh Streets, Saudi Arabia © Jim Korpi

“Santa Claus is proof that children are more important than truth.” – Friend

Someone explained to me recently their theory about how men speak the truth and woman act in their true nature when drunk. In each case, I deducted, there is a repressed self only allowed to escape with a social lubricant.

It has always perplexed me how a few drinks can split the personality of a calm natured Dr. Jekyll into the devious Mr. Hyde. I’ve witnessed the transformation. A woman spoke with controlled elegance moments before shots of tequila and a truck-stop prostitute soon after. Or the time an inebriated priest threw a wine glass into a bonfire. The changes happened quicker than I imagined it took alcohol to enter the blood stream. It was as if the alcohol was only an excuse to carelessly take ones hands off the wheel and press down the gas.

Did Robert Louis Stevenson reveal the truth that in all of us lies a devil and a saint? If this is true, what does it mean when we say someone can “handle” their booze?

The United States attempted to ban alcohol during World War I, but the reasoning was so tied up in a mix of convoluted interests and the enforcement so relaxed that the end result was an increase in violent crime and an eventual repeal. It is said woman were at the front of the movement of prohibition because of the way alcohol affected the household.

Saudi Arabia and other countries with large muslim populations have banned the sale and consumption of alcohol. Mohammed says of alcohol and gambling in the Koran,”In them is a great sin, and (some) benefit for men, but the sin of them is greater than their benefit.” A thriving black markets fill the gaps.

expectations on man

Movement of Grass, Eastern Shores, Virginia © Jim Korpi

If I were a carpenter,
With calloused hands
And all to be expected of a man,
Would you still love me?

My grave and allotted soil
Will know only what I provide.
It asks not what I was, or what I am
But only for me to stay.

Am I not like the tree?
Whose limbs lose the burden
Of yesterday’s season, rest,
And birth new form.

The me who has been
Will no longer be.
Freed from the worldly,
I return. Reborn.
Naked, I hold no instruments
Of art nor the tyranny of trade.

I ask only for the breast
To feed me
And the warm comforting calm.

sticks and stones

Missing Duck, Goat Farm, France © Jim Korpi

They may not break my bones, these names, but they hurt.

Lately I’ve been haunted by the name wasichu (pronounced wah-she-chew). It is Lakota for “non-native” but has come to mean greedy, or “the one who takes the best meat for himself.”

My plate is full of meat, and I sit across from a Bengali whose tray has broth with few vegetables and a piece of bread. He sops up his broth, drinks his glass of steaming water, and makes his way to a job likely to last late into the night.

In the stores of Saudi one can buy soap for “skin whitening” or lotion with “skin bleaching agents.” I’ve gone from a town in Ohio with more than five tanning salons to a place where people are doing everything they can to look white.

Whites want to look dark to give the impression they’ve vacationed some place with a beach and had little to do but relax in the sun. Others bleach their skin to make it appear as though they are not the peasants in the field laboring. Both groups aim for the illusion of those privileged with leisure.

Martin Luther King Jr. hoped for a day when his children would “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” When will this day come?

looking up

Dippy, Diplodocus carnegii, Pittsburgh © Jim Korpi

“That’s the first time I’ve seen a bald eagle the whole time I’ve been here,” I realized out loud as I watched an eagle soar over the deconstruction of the Elwha Dam. The bird’s confident flight seemed to approve of what was happening below. It was my last day in a trip to the Pacific Northwest. “Have you been looking up in the sky at all?” Colleen asked. “Actually, I think I’ve been looking down most of the time I’ve been here,” I admitted. To this Colleen replied,“You’ve just been looking in the wrong place.”

She was right. For weeks I had been inside my mind reflecting on inner struggles. Meanwhile the world, complete with natural wonders, makes it’s rotations around a burning star and life continues.

Mahatma Gandhi once said a person is the product of their thoughts, and what they think they become.

practical idealism

Sun Bath, Annah, Estonia © Jim Korpi

“For all the frustrating mass movement toward banal self-destruction, I had the good fortune of being forced by circumstances to work at a corporation to get off welfare. I listened and watched the people there, somehow having the good fortune to see value in some of how they lived. In particular, and helped by reflections on my own self-destruction at an early age, I settled into a desire for a simple life and willingness to sacrifice a lot for it… Achievements pass quickly, like leaves scuttling along streets on blustery autumn days. On the other hand, in my experience eternity is made up of the relationships that stand the test of time.”
– A Friend

As more and more people I surround myself with trip over the speed bump of turning 30 and recognize the reality of 40, I hear a similarity of sentiment.

“Maybe my job doesn’t have to be this big meaningful thing that defines me,” a friend from California confided in a phone conversation that made two hours disappear in my six-hour drive home for Thanksgiving. “I’m beginning to realize that maybe it’s more important for me to find a job that pays me enough that I can do the things I want to do: travel to see friends and family, eat good food, take vacations, have a family…maybe…maybe I want to have a family some time soon.”

The “soon” of my friends begins to take on an immediate desperation in contrast to the “soon” of our 20’s hinting at a procrastination of decision.

“I’m a practical idealist,” a relative declared when I questioned him about taking his business in a different direction. The idea of a “practical idealist” baffled me. Each of these words seemed to lie about the other.

My own idealism often sweeps me up like a Pacific Coast current. With its “SAVE THE WORLD, NOW!” push-and-pulling unconscious undertow, it spins me in a off-course blinding white foam of not-knowing-up-from-down tumbling and washes me on the shores breathless and disoriented. Spitting the water from my lungs, I’m elated to have breath.

This humbling crash amongst the tides in the nature of myself reveals how practical becomes the adjective of idealist.