Please Listen



The Levee is Dry

The days come and go.

The months come and go.

The decades come and go.

I am at death’s door. We all are. So what? Who cares? Why have I even lived? My work? My daughter? No grandchildren. Who cares?

         The remainders of my five books (one published by a REAL publisher – 50,000 copies sold worldwide and translated into Chinese) will all be tossed in the dumpster a few years after I’m dead. So what?

         Am I depressed? Do I think about death all the time? Of course. Why don’t you? It gives my  life richness, vitality, color – I have an attitude of gratitude. For the flowers. For taking a shit. For the new baby next door. For that morning coffee. My friends are stumbling. Many fall. Hard. The end is near.

How about this:

“Rode in my car to the river; there was no water.”

What? Will that eleven-word sentence resonate across the world for decades? I don’t think so.

Or, Let’s try this:

“Drove my Chevy to the levee, but the levee was dry.”

         Let’s suppose I give you a maximum of eleven words. OK, please write something the world will remember, long after you are dead and gone?

“December 7th, a day that will live in infamy.”

“Give me liberty or give me death.”

“I have a dream.”

“Pull my finger.”

“Ask not what your country can do for you.”

“I don’t got to show you no stinkin’ badges.”

“To be or not to be, that is the question.”

“For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”

“I got a hot rod Ford and a two dollar bill.”

“I am not a crook.”

“You load sixteen tons and what do you get?”

“There’s a man with a gun over there.”

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

“I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s Farm no more.”

         Don McLean… midwestern misfit struggled for years playing music and writing songs and performing. Through it all, thousands of cultural events filled up the black box of his mind. With the death of Buddy Holly, suddenly – literally over a couple of days, McLean writes an eight minute song that reaches deep into the unconscious of millions of people around the world. The muse showed up.

         I have many friends who are writing their memoirs. Struggling. Spoiler alert: Nobody gives a shit. Well, maybe your adult children… maybe grandchildren. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Advice: just print a few copies. No reason to have 1,000 books getting soggy in your damp basement going nowhere.

         Just watched an amazing documentary on the making of “American Pie.” On Netflix. McLean had help from: musicians, engineers, producers, publicists. It took a village to make “American Pie.”

         Also, was just blown away by Anne Lamott’s online writing class.One take-away, among many: “Tension makes ’em turn the page. What is at stake?” Not to be missed. (See Book Passage, Corte Madera. It was recorded.)  A lot about memoirs. Keep writing. It will be shitty. BTW her father was a writer. Hmmm? Love these connections.

         My gardening friend Rachel had a father who gardened. My lawyer friend George had an aunt who was a corporate lawyer. My dentist’s father was a dentist. Our pediatrician, Bob, had a father and grandfather who were doctors. My wife’s niece, Molly, is an up-and-coming muralist. Her mother, Nicole, is a successful artist. Terry started The Joy of Cooking, a successful rock band of the 70s. Her mother was a dancer and her father played violin. Gloria Steinem had a grandmother who was a suffragette and testified before congress. My ophthalmologist’s father is a cardiac surgeon. The list goes on and on.

         My mother was a gifted writer. My father said to me, “Rick, people who speak well are successful. You should work on it.” Ha. So I like to write and to speak. Whdya know? The beat goes on. It means nothing. Our extra memoirs will be tossed into the dumpster by our children.  Why bother? The flowers in my garden bloom beautifully for a few weeks then die. So what?

Why a Chevy and a dry levee?

         The Chevy says working class. The levee represents dreams – all dead. Then he adds, “This will be the day that I die.” Not exactly a hopeful message. Why the wide appeal? Because it rings true. Like the blues, celebrating our despair somehow makes us feel better. McLean used metaphor to connect deeply with our lives. Our hopes. Our dread.

         The flowers will soon die. Yet, we have their almost painful beauty for a moment. We have each other… in the moment. Soon we will be gone for eternity. Let’s love this moment.

         I am working on my last presentation of a lifetime. It is about my book, Photographic Reflections. At the end, I pose a question to my last audience, “So what have I learned in 80 years, speaking, writing, making photos and video?” Wait… here it comes…

                  Put the chairs in a circle and listen.

         That’s it. The best gift we can give each other is to LISTEN.

         A scene from one of Ingmar Bergman’s movies stays with me. A woman is in a psych hospital suffering terribly. Her lover(?) husband(?) friend(?) is in the room. He sits with her in silence.

         Even though I know this is right, it is so hard. The devil makes me want to talk and tell my story. Wrong. Rick, no one gives a shit. What people DO give a shit about, is telling their stories. 

         Now days with my camera I listen to the flowers. I listen to a child’s painful face. I listen to the landscape.

         So what are YOUR eleven words (or less)? I’m ready to listen. What else do we have? Eternity is a long time.

10 thoughts on “Please Listen

  1. Becca says:

    No day but today. Life goes on…

    Had friends who measured ‘time left’ on the planet as NVYs. Net Viable Years… Thanks for your perspective, Rick

  2. Susan Page says:

    “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
    Dalai Lama

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