Don’t get too excited. I searched every box, trunk, bag of tricks, safe, closet, and jelly bean jar that I have in my rusty old memory. I didn’t find much. In fact, the old saying is rather applicable, “The beginning of wisdom is recognizing just how much of a fool you really are.” The little pile of bottle caps and marshmallows that represent the sum total of my wisdom is infinitely tiny compared to the vast universe of things I will never know and never understand. I am a fool. I probably have no more wisdom than you do. But I have a different point of view. It comes from years worth of turning my ideas inside out, of wearing my mental underwear on the outside of my mental pants just to get a laugh, of stringing images and stupid-headed notions together in long pointless strings like this one.
Mason City, Iowa… where I was born. River City in the musical “The Music Man“.
One thing I can say with certainty, nothing makes you understand “home”, the place you grew up in and think of as where you come from, better than leaving it and going somewhere else. Federal Avenue in Mason City looks nothing now like it did when I was a boy in the 1960’s going shopping downtown and spending hours in department stores waiting for the ten minutes at the end in the toy section you were promised for being good. You have to look at the places and people of your youth through the lenses of history and distance and context and knowing now what you didn’t know then.
Grandpa Aldrich’s farm in Iowa is now Mom and Dad’s house. It has been in the family for over 100 years, a Century Farm.
The only thing that stays the same is that everything changes. If I look back at the arc of my life, growing up in Iowa with crazy story-telling skills inherited from Grandpa Aldrich, to going to Iowa State “Cow College” and studying English, to going to University of Iowa for a remedial teaching degree because English majors can’t get jobs reading books, to teaching in distant South Texas more than a thousand miles away, to learning all the classroom cuss words in Spanish the hard way, by being called that, to moving to Dallas/Fort Worth to get fired from one teaching job and taking another that involved teaching English to non-English speakers, to retiring and spending time writing foolish reflections like this one because I am old and mostly home-bound with ill health. I have come a long way from childhood to second childhood.
If “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is really true, I should be Superman now. I look like I’ve seen a lot of Kryptonite, don’t I?
Six incurable diseases and being a cancer survivor since 1983 have left their marks upon me. Literally. Little pink bleedy spots all over me are the mark of psoriasis. The fuzzy-bad photo of me spares you some of the gory details. The point is, I guess, that life is both fleeting and fragile. If you never stop and think about what it all means then you are a fool. If you don’t try to understand it in terms of sentences and paragraphs with main ideas, you are an even bigger fool. You must write down the fruit of your examinations and ruminations. But if you reach a point that you are actually satisfied that you know what it all means, that makes you the biggest fool of all.
If I have any wisdom at all to share in this post about wisdom, it can be summed up like this;
- Writing helps you with knowing, and knowing leads to wisdom. So take some time to write about what you know.
- Writing every day makes you more coherent and easier to understand. Stringing pearls of wisdom into a necklace comes with practice.
- Writing is worth doing. Everyone should do it. Even if you don’t think you can do it well.
- You should read and understand other people’s wisdom too, as often as possible. You are not the only person in the world who knows stuff. And some of their stuff is better than your stuff.
- The stuff you write can outlive you. So make the ghost of you that you leave behind as pretty as you can. Someone may love you for it. And you can never be sure who that someone will be.
So by now you are probably wondering, where is all that wisdom he promised us in the title? Look around carefully in this essay. If you don’t see it there, then you are probably right in thinking, just as I warned you about at the outset, “Gosh darn that Mickey! He is a really big fool.”