The Other Side of Solitude (story poem)

When I was in high school, I had a very serious intention to work just enough to save money for a boat, load it with various vegetable seed packets, a few fishing poles, and enough supplies to last a lifetime, find a tropical island and abandon mankind altogether. The idea persisted for years, especially when I was working at jobs I didn’t care for or sitting in traffic breathing carcinogenic fumes. So I wrote this poem to put the idea to rest once and for all. The peace of solitude is delightful only temporarily. The spirit withers and dies without at least one other soul to share our lives with.

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I was on my way to work a while back,
just trying to earn a few lousy bucks.
I was running late again, as usual.
Why? Because L.A. traffic sucks!

To make matters worse, I was dog tired
and “dog tired” is the perfect description
because my neighbor’s mutt barked so much,
I couldn’t fall sleep without a prescription.

On weekends, when I might have caught up on sleep,
I was kept awake by all the neighborhood brats
screaming their heads off and bouncing balls.
The little suckers were always driving me bats!

Oh, and let’s not forget the other city sounds
like sirens, garbage trucks and leaf blowers,
chainsaws, car horns, and low-flying planes,
loud neighbors, jackhammers, and lawnmowers!

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I would tell you all about my wonderful job
but it was so bad, you just might start crying.
It was the most mind-numbing job imaginable.
If I described it, you’d think I was lying!

Coming home, stuck in traffic, as usual,
my mind would drift to my “happy place”,
an imaginary island where I would go
to escape from the city’s rat race.

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There, palm trees swayed in gentle tradewinds.
There was white sand and a turquoise-green sea.
But the greatest thing about my fantasy island
was that there was nobody else there but me!

I would daydream about exploring the tidepools.
My job could be inventing new kinds of fun
like surfing, diving, playing with dolphins,
and laying around under the tropical sun.

I was so lost in my fantasy, I didn’t see
the streetlight changing from yellow to red.
The next thing I knew, I was spinning around
and when I woke up, I thought I was dead.

A nurse was looking down at me, smiling.
She said, “Hello, there! How do you feel?”
The next greeting I got was from Mr. Pain.
Let me tell you, the agony was unreal.

It took me over six months to walk again.
By then, I was more convinced than ever
that the city would be the death of me yet
so I made a plan I thought was real clever.

I would quit my job, clear out my savings,
sell my house and everything else that I own,
then buy a small boat and some fishing poles,
find that island and live my life all alone.

I’d had it with struggling and busting my hump
at a lousy job that held no meaning for me.
Who says I have to contribute to progress?
The stupid hive wouldn’t miss one less bee.

There are hundreds of islands out in the Pacific
and a few that haven’t been found by Marriott yet.
The next thing I knew, I was at the helm of my boat
with only a map but no job, no boss, and no debt!

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I sailed for months and searched high and low.
I saw many islands that looked perfectly fine
but on almost every one, I saw human beings,
and I’d had enough of them for one lifetime.

I was starting to become very annoyed and frustrated
when off in the distance, through my brass telescope,
I saw a fertile, green island that looked deserted!
I shouted with joy and my heart swelled with hope.

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I anchored my boat and paddled the raft to shore,
then explored the whole island from side to side.
It was a true paradise full of peace and tranquility.
It was so beautiful, I just broke down and cried.

The next few months were harder than I had expected.
I had to build a hut that could withstand all the seasons.
But on nights when the wind would rattle the walls,
I wondered why I left and had to search for the reasons.

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Finding food was hard, too. The fish didn’t always bite.
I was so unskilled with a spear, I felt like a putz.
I got so hungry one time, I almost went crazy.
I mean, one can only eat so many damn coconuts!

Still, anything was better than sitting in traffic
doing two miles an hour in a square, metal tomb,
wasting my life at a job I truly detested
and seeing nothing but my own little room.

I felt like a modern-day Robinson Crusoe
living a simple life by my own blue lagoon.
I thought about my neurotic boss back in L.A.
working himself to death; that pathetic buffoon.

At long last, I found the peace and quiet I’d sought
while lying in the sand, surfing, tanning and such.
I enjoyed it for a while, but I gradually realized
that you can even have peace and quiet too much!

Businessman on Deserted Island --- Image by © Paul Barton/Corbis

The more time passed, the more I fought to remember
all the reasons I had run from the world of man.
I’d spent a year of my life struggling to survive
with nothing to show for it but a hut and a tan.

This caused me great sadness and confusion
because for years, I had dreamed of this place.
Who would have thought that after only a year,
I would be longing to see another human face?

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I missed conversations, and even the arguments,
though they had once caused me so much dismay.
I even missed the sounds of the bustling city,
the great din and clamor, and children at play.

I missed reading the newspaper in the morning,
though the pain there drove me out of my mind.
But how could I stop caring about my human family
or pretend that I’m not a part of mankind?

What was more noble? More virtuous and wise?
To hide there and ignore humanity’s plight?
Or to add my voice to the battle against evil?
To get dirty and bloodied in the good fight?

I spent a few months trying to convince myself
that I was just going through a homesick phase
but I started finding it harder to sleep at night
and a terrible loneliness enveloped my days.

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Finally, the peace on the island grew much too dark
so I pulled up my anchor and headed for home.
I had learned the first truth God Himself did of man –
That it’s not good for anyone to live all alone.

After six weeks at sea, the harbor approached.
The town was throbbing with life, garish and loud.
I docked my boat, and with a heart full of joy,
blended back into the crazy, wonderful crowd.

Top 25

The Honesty Bar

Photo: © Europen Parliament/P.Naj-Oleari
pietro.naj-oleari@europarl.europa.eu

Stop by our brand new concept bar!
It’s at the corner of Gone and Far.
In this bar, we make drunks think
of what is served with every drink.

You’ll find no Fuzzy Navels here.
No fancy names for wine or beer.
At their core, they’re all the same.
Just alcohol by every name.

Try the Rage if you’re a little mad,
Or Heartache if you’re feeling sad.
Or if you want to stay free and wild,
Enjoy our new Desert My Child.

If it’s truth you’re after, we deliver,
Like the ever-popular Destroy My Liver.
Why drown it? Embrace your sorrow.
Order the My Head’ll Hurt Tomorrow.

Delusion is all we refuse to sell.
Try the Fry My Last Brain Cell.
Why pretend to be an oak or pillar?
Have the delicious Marriage Killer.

Your perfect drink is on our shelf.
Try the Miserable or the I Hate Myself.
There’s magic in our drinks. You’ll see.
Have a What the Hell is Wrong with Me.

If you love honesty, we’re your venue.
You’ll find your true self on our menu.
There’s the Long Lost Love, of course.
And enough Regret to choke a horse.

You’ll be amazed at all we’ve got.
Like the I Can’t Laugh Without a Shot.
So step right in, don’t be so shy!
But if you are, try the Chance Gone By.

If you’re not a slave to envy, hate or fear
And just like an occasional wine or beer;
If you don’t languish in a neurotic stew,
This is probably not the place for you.

But if you do, our staff stands ready
When your nerves feel a bit unsteady.
We’ve got no cures but at least we try
To serve the truth as we help you die.

~ Mark Rickerby

Statues Are Not The Problem

Makes sense to me. If people (of any race) can’t solve big problems, they go after little ones. Their communities and personal lives may be in shambles, but dammit, they’ll get their Starbucks double blended, caramel drizzle, vanilla bean frappuccino right or it will be somebody’s head!

When we can’t solve personal problems, we go after impersonal ones. If people can’t fix the gang problem, drug abuse, drug trafficking, fatherless homes, the high school drop-out rate, street violence, criminality, and a completely shattered moral compass, they’ll just go beat up people and tear down a statue instead. That’s a lot easier, and may also be an outlet for the rage they feel over all those other, bigger, unsolved, chronic problems.

Has a statue of anyone ever stepped down off a podium to mess up anyone’s life? No, we do that all by ourselves.

I’m no fan of the confederacy, of course, and I wish slavery never would have happened in America, but  I keep in mind that America is the only country that ever fought a war, in large part, to abolish it at the cost of many lives. I remind myself that a lot of white people died in that war. I also remind myself that slavery existed in most other countries of the world at one time or another, and still does today in quite a few. I remind myself that slavery existed in Africa long before whites ever showed up. It didn’t start with us. But we ended it with a Civil War at the cost of 620,000 lives.

So as I watch people tear down statues, I wonder if they ever stop to think that – instead of trying to erase history – it might be wiser to take that energy and fight to add another little plaque at the feet of those statues that will teach children the Confederacy lost, that slavery lost, that hatred lost. That’s something to be proud of, and unique in world history. It’s true that forgetting history condemns us to repeat it. And destroying statues is what Islamic terrorists do. 

If America were a person with a voice, she would be able to say, “Yeah, I had some major problems, but I fixed them. It wasn’t easy, but I’m okay now. Not perfect, but a whole lot better than I was.”

How many of the people currently trying to destroy the evidence of America’s problems of the past can say the same about themselves?

Personally, I’d rather have a visual tool to teach my kids that the good guys won, let them see what a bad guy looks like, and have another reason to be proud of America for all she has overcome. I’d rather stand at the foot of that statue and smile, knowing evil lost.

The irony is that if every person on earth would get their own house in order, all societal problems would cease immediately. But “becoming the change we want to see in the world” is hard so, instead, as an outlet for all the frustration and rage people feel for not being able to change themselves, they just go out and smash something, or someone. Being paid by a political party to cause mayhem and division makes them not only fools, but pawns, too. 

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We can be better than this. We can be smarter than this. We can fight fascism without becoming fascists. We can embrace our past and learn the hard lessons it taught, or destroy it all and guarantee that future generations will forget and repeat it. 

 

Positive Thinking and All That Crap

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We are so bombarded by meme’s with inspirational quotes on all of our various forms of social media, they become white noise after a while.

Yeah, yeah, “I’m great and wonderful and I can do anything.”

Yeah, yeah, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone-it, people like me.”

As you more intuitive readers may have guessed, I’m afraid I’ve become a bit jaded by it all. Maybe it’s because I did all that. I ordered the Anthony Robbins tapes. I read the books. I said the affirmations. And maybe all that work did the trick because (not to brag or nothin’ but) I spend most days working my patoot off and feeling capable and confident. Maybe I just have the luxury of yeah-yeahing when I hear yet another amped-up, overly enthusiastic person jumping up and down and telling everybody they need to snap out of it because I’m no longer sufficiently down in the dumps.

But sometimes I can get a little negative about being positive. It’s more rare these days but it still happens once in a while. I just decide to let myself wallow in unpleasant feelings, as if I need to give them reign for a while so the me I like better can emerge even stronger again later. Let the wildfire of negativity burn the old, dead, fallen ground cover so sunlight can touch the soil again and allow for new growth. Something like that. Then again, I could be full of doggy doo-doo. I am not immune to the verbal gymnastics people do to protect their comfort zones, no matter how miserable they are there. 

Anyway, I was in that yeah-yeah mindset yesterday when a talk show came on TV with another motivational success coach guy. (I wish I could remember his name but I didn’t write it down.) I thought, “Ah, Jeez. Not another one” but I was in the kitchen so I couldn’t change the channel, which is a good thing.

Then he said something that made sense. Something I hadn’t heard before.

He said every day we should do three things upon waking –

  1. Repeat positive affirmations tailor-made to what we’re trying to accomplish. (He didn’t have me yet. Same old same old. Yawn.)
  2. Prayer and affirmation. Pray for what we want, then say thank you to God for sending it, the same way we would thank Amazon for getting a package mailed out quickly. (Even this didn’t win me over yet. Telling people to pray isn’t exactly unusual. It was the next one that got me.)
  3. Think of the things you know you must do but fear the most, then DO THEM FIRST. (Wham-o. That one alone is huge, but as a follow-up to the previous two, it’s humungous.)

The problem is most people who use positive affirmations and prayer don’t do anything else. They expect what they want to land magically in their lap. They don’t do what they know they should because, well, that stuff is hard! And prayer without action is as useless as pennies under a miser’s mattress. 

I’m going to stop before I’m accused of trying to be a junior Tony Robbins. I’ll just leave you to it if this sounds good to you. Here’s a good article to get you started on picking the affirmations that best apply to your life and goals. I hope (you make) all your dreams come true. 🙂

http://liveboldandbloom.com/09/quotes/positive-affirmations

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New Publishings

Hey Friends. Here are three new Chicken Soup for the Soul books featuring stories of mine. One is in stores (online and off) now and two will be available soon. They are:

The Dog Really Did That? – 101 Stories of Miracles, Mischief and Magical Moments. (In stores now.)

My story in this one is about my dog Charlie, a German Shepard mix we rescued so we could have a “guard dog” but who turned out to be so sweet, he wouldn’t hurt a fly (which is the title of the story.) We’ve learned a lot about tolerance and patience from Charlie, especially after adopting a second dog, a vastly smaller Morkie who spends the better part of most days chewing on some part of Charlie’s anatomy. He could end the torment any time he wants with one snap, but he doesn’t. He loves the little monster. She’s the mob boss and he’s the dopey bodyguard. 

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My Kind (of) America – Stories About the True Spirit of Our Country. (Available October 3rd.)

My story The American Team is about a Physical Education teacher in 7th grade who took a few minutes to reveal to all us kids, very artfully, how unique America is in the world. 

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Step Outside Your Comfort Zone – Stories about Trying New Things, Overcoming Fears, and Broadening Your World. (Available October 31st)

I feel a sense of providence at being included in this book because I once paraglided over the Swiss alps exactly like the person on the cover is doing. My story More Kindness Than Danger is about how we’re all just a little poisoned by entertainment, which is necessarily rife with conflict between people, and how that skewed reality can make us nervous about venturing out into the world. But once we get out there, even on the extremities, we find mostly what we have inside and what we give to others. Except for rare and extreme circumstances, the world is as open and loving as we allow ourselves to be. 

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If you’d like a signed copy of any of these books, please message me here. (The Dog Really Did That is sold out. Sorry!)

Here’s a favorite poem of mine that perfectly illustrates the message in my story in Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

The Right Kind of People
by Edwin Markham

Gone is the city, gone the day,
Yet still the story and the meaning stay:
Once where a prophet in the palm shade basked
A traveler chanced at noon to rest his miles.
“What sort of people may they be,” he asked,
“In this proud city on the plains o’erspread?”
“Well, friend, what sort of people whence you came?”
“What sort?” the packman scowled;
“Why, knaves and fools.”
“You’ll find the people here the same,” the wise man said.

Another stranger in the dusk drew near,
And pausing, cried, “What sort of people here
In your bright city where yon towers arise?”
“Well, friend, what sort of people whence you came?”
“What sort?” The pilgrim smiled,
“Good, true, and wise.”
“You’ll find the people here the same,” the wise man said.

 

Books, Nooks and Hiding Places

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When I was a kid and still today, I loved to find the most obscure, abandoned, neglected book in a library, then look for an equally obscure, abandoned and neglected place to read it. If no such place could be found, hiding under the bedsheets with a flashlight would do nicely. 

There’s something about knowing I’m the only one on earth reading that particular book at that particular time, and feeling that reading it is breathing new life into the words of some long-gone author. I also like to believe that artists somehow know when someone down here is appreciating their work, and they stop whatever they’re doing for a moment and smile. I hope so. 

When I first got on the internet and accepted the fact that it wasn’t a passing fad, and when I first read a book on the Internet, I concluded that a Nook or Kindle device has exactly none of the charm that an old, musty book has. All my fellow book-sniffers will know what I mean.

Have you ever picked up a book from the 1800’s and held your face deep into the inner binding, imagining your smelling not only the book but that time? Some remnant of a Little House on the Prairie-esque scene, with a family gathered around a solid oak table, saying Grace together, the kids peeking at the delicious meal and wishing dad would hurry up. Sure, it’s usually just paper and maybe a little mold, but the mind, like the eyes, has it’s own pareidolia, completing mental pictures and fantasies from very little information.

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Of course, there’s also the charm and romance of wondering who else might have owned the old book, seeing their names and the date written on the first page, or maybe the indentation of some note they wrote on the cover, and playing secret agent by placing paper on it and making it appear with a pencil. Even a mundane note about groceries can be exciting if it’s over a hundred years old.

 

Then there’s the ache. An actual ache I get when I look at those old, deteriorated books and think of all the time, effort and passion that went into writing them, how the writer labored over every line and the book as a whole, and how unfair it is that after so much work, he or she wasn’t magically granted a extra few hundred years of life on earth to enjoy seeing the delight it gave readers. I mean, it’s only fair.

For this reason, I don’t think ebooks will ever completely displace real books. The only “Nook” I’m interested in is the hiding place I read actual books in. But there is hope even for those of us who have succumbed to the ease of internet reading, in the form of obscure and forgotten archived pages deep in the internet’s basement. I usually find them when doing research on some obscure detail of a script. For instance, I found this page today while trying to find out the name of a newspaper in Coloma, California, in 1880, for research on a western TV show. 

https://archive.org/stream/california00giff/california00giff_djvu.txt

And as I knew I was the only one reading that particular page at that particular time, that old feeling came over me again – “This is mine for this moment.” Nerdy, I know. It’s the same feeling I got while exploring an old ruin alone on a lesser-known Greek island, or when I found an out-of-the-way corner deep in the Colosseum in Rome that none of the other tourists were interested in seeing, then settling in there and feeling history engulf me. Of having one thing for one moment in this overcrowded world that is mine alone. The humbleness and lack of importance of the thing (such as that forgotten web page up there) only makes its allure stronger. 

The internet has already become mankind’s greatest storehouse of knowledge. It’s a library with countless caverns, filled with everything human beings have figured out. Old books will always be loaded with charm, just like old houses, old cars, old music and old people, but cold technology can have charm once in a while, too, if we’re sensitive enough to divine it. 

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