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I’m no sage, but I suspect we’ll hear a version of this refrain over and over again in 2012: People should get more involved!

It’s one of those unquestioned axioms of modern life that people should be involved, that they should be engaged in the world around them. Apathy, we are told, causes problems and allows them to fester. It’s much better to be on the problem-solving side of the street.

But what if the opposite is true? What if people are simply too involved, too engaged? What if that is the real problem? We insert our two cents wherever they’ll fit. If they don’t fit, we’ll make them.

Of course, that’s an easy thing to say from a position of relative material comfort. But think about it for at least a second or two. What if we let things be instead of trying to always make them what we think they should be?

Let it be. It works as a song, but it would be a piss-poor campaign slogan. Or would it? We think of the phrase as implying some kind of hands-off approach: “Oh, just let it  be, will ya?” Economists may be familiar with the French version: “laissez-faire.”

But if you listen to the words (the English ones), they suggest a more active result: Let it BE. In other words, let it be what it is, or what he is or she is or they are. Our temptation is always to meddle, to control, to impose our will, to give our advice.

There’s no good time to stop, to resist the temptation. There’s just the courage to try.

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So I’m going to use the question of “What is Happiness?” as an intro into teaching freshman writing this spring. I wonder why I never thought of it before, and I’m curious to see how it pans out. Aren’ t you?

The news cycle has mostly moved on from discussing alleged links between violent political rhetoric and the Tucson, Ariz. shooting. And the spectacle of our legislators sitting boy, girl, boy, girl, er, D, R, D, R, will further move us beyond it.

Nonetheless, let’s postulate this as  one of the reasons we react so strongly to the alleged links: If media and messages can make someone do that, what other, smaller things can they make us do? In other words, the discussion beckons us to question the source(s) of our own thoughts and desires, and that’s not something we really want to dwell on. And if we do dwell, we don’t want to stay too long or venture beyond the poles of conventional wisdom.

A clever invention, but it doesn't light up all by itself.

How much of us is really us, and how much comes from outside, whether it’s all those Smurf cartoons we watched as children or that odd tension we recall from our childhood homes?

There’s no easy answer, so it’s inevitable that our national attention will move on to something else. Human motivation is just too complicated. But you don’t have to be crazy to acknowledge that we hear other people’s voices coming from our own mouths sometimes–namely, the voices of our parents. But if we are honest, we can likely name other voices as well.

 

 

My goal today is to get better at sitting and typing even if I have nothing to say, hence the title of this post. Really, things could go either way. I could produce a placebo, or I could plumb some unknown depth.

The wrench is both a help and a hindrance to thieves.

Then I began looking for pictures, and wrenches seemed to predominate. So, they call the work plumbing, yet it involves a lot of wrenching. That seems fitting, somehow. But it doesn’t offer me any place to go. So, I will move to another interesting chapter in Tales of a Pathfinder, the 1920 memoir of highway pathfinder A.L. Westgard.

In this particular chapter, Westgard spills a great deal of ink describing the many languages he encounters in hamlets and towns across America. Here is his take on a Norwegian man, living in western Illinois, who spoke no English:

The wonder of it was that he had lived right on that land for forty-two years. As the country was settled almost exclusively by his countrymen, he had never learned English, though he had been a productive citizen for a generation and voted regularly at every election.

Westgard, an immigrant himself, was undoubtedly a sympathetic audience not given to flights of outrage over someone voting yet not being able to speak English. Ironically, however, Westgard’s work as a highway pathfinder helped connect those pockets of people speaking Norwegian, German, Italian and Spanish–no doubt ratcheting up pressure for everyone to learn English.

 

 

 

We are very focused on pinpointing the tiniest flaws in our physical selves, and the fate they may portend. What if we spent half as much energy searching for the signs in our souls and on our planet?

I’m just going to start typing this year and see what happens. It’s the least I can do. A wise writer told me on New Year’s Eve that I shouldn’t wait for the right time, and I’ll add that I shouldn’t wait either for lightning flashes of inspiration.

Inspiration is a momentary shaft of light shining through some tiny crack in the walls we all erect around our true selves. The light is useful for the illumination it provides. But it doesn’t, in the end, tear down that wall. And that is the end goal, n’est-ce pas? That takes something more substantial, something more like work.

So here is what I want to work on this year: a story about a couple that drove across country in a GMC truck in 1916. It took them more than a year to get from Seattle to NYC and back again.I believe they kept a diary and that the diary is somewhere in Seattle. So, one of my first calls of 2011 will be to hunt that sucker down.

The writing teacher in me wanted to write “hunt down that sucker,” since you shouldn’t separate verb phrases. But what the heck. It’s a new year.