Skip to content

“You’ve Seen Me in Town. . . .”

January 15, 2018

I received a comment to the previous post (and a somewhat related letter of mine about “Christine” to the editor of our local newspaper) shortly after it appeared, words that brought me to consider my own-what they said, what they implied, and where they come in contact with my credo “either you do it or you talk about it.” Christine had been a homeless person, whose long unidentified body had been found beside the highway in our small town.

“There are those of us in town,” my respondent said, “who don’t have the same problems Christine had, but have been living in fear for years, who have nowhere to turn who are afraid they could end up with a similar fate. When you wrote about seeing people with haunted eyes I wondered if you had seen me. . . .”

Perhaps I had.

“. . . and wondered if you could see in my eyes what I have been through.”

Perhaps I had not.

“People who live normal lives tend to either not understand or blame the person somehow for the situation they are in, or it is too awful to believe for most people to grasp. They think on some level the person deserves it, or that all families are loving and supportive and if not, it must be something of the person’s own doing—but they would be wrong in this assumption.”

I believe I have been.

“David there are people like me who need help who are terrified every single day, who spend so much time looking over our shoulder and looking for help and only being confronted by well-wishers who say they will ‘pray for you’ but offer no real help, even knowing how bad it is.” Such prayers are for the benefit of those who make them. Prayers are not, as my respondent says, real help.

“This is happening in your town, David, not very far from where you are.” Christine lived and died here ten years ago. This is happening today. In my town, in your town, wherever you happen to be reading this.

“I don’t even know if you, like everyone else, will wave your hand at me and shake your head and say’ that is terrible, we should be more kind to each other’. But some people aren’t kind. And some people are very scared, like me.”

What then is real help? When our own homes are filled, our own resources are limited, when we share what limited time and money we have freely, sowing it into the world wherever we feel it will do the most good, what then, when that is not enough?

When it only reaches some, but cannot reach all?

What do we do next?

Archie and G’girl: Homeless?

December 31, 2017

I sat down to lunch last week with a cheerful, gray-bearded fellow named Archie, and his little dog G’girl. They chowed down on ample helpings of roast chicken and roasted potatoes (G’girl from a paper tray on the fellowship-room floor, of course). They were of the homeless persuasion, I was not, having come to do my small part in serving the “Wednesday lunch” at this particular church.

I say “persuasion” because it seemed, for these two, a choice. Other than his somewhat unwashed and unkempt attire, Archie did not have the look of what I’ve come to expect for homeless people—worn-out, beaten-down, dazed and confused, like a number of the other diners at the Wednesday lunch He seemed pretty hale and hearty to me, well-enough fed and washed.

It was a little while into our shared lunch that he opened up and engaged in some conversation. I’m always curious about anybody’s lifestyle, but I didn’t want to seem overly inquisitive about his. G’girl got friendly too, after a while, stood up by my side for a chin-scratch.

“It’s hard work,” Archie said. “You think there’s nothing to it, that we’re lazy or something, but it’s hard work, sitting on the pavement in front of Safeway. People look down on you. I’m not doing anything, just sitting. It’s hard work. I don’t ask for anything, I don’t have a cup out, I just sit there with my dog. People come up and offer me a little money, or some food. Sometimes they’ll say, can you help me move some boxes? Or dig up my garden? Things like that. So, I earn a little money sometimes. I walk

Where? “Everywhere, one end of town to the other, town to town, state to state. I was up north this summer, heading south now.”

“Do you carry everything with you?” I ask. He gestures toward a backpack in the corner. “Everything I need is right there. I sleep in a three-piece. You know what a three-piece is?”

I don’t. It’s military issue, Marine Corps three-in-one bivouac: ground cover, sleeping bag, waterproof cover so you don’t get wet when it rains.

Where are you tonight? “Under the bridge, in the bushes under the end of the bridge. I saw a cop, going in there. He said, Go ahead. No one will bother you there.”

I had my own thoughts, of course. Archie seemed like such a bright, energetic, sober, cheerful fellow—why not put that to use, get a job, settle down, live under a roof?

But I could tell he didn’t want that. Who knows where he’ll end up next week, next year, next decade? I didn’t really want to know, and I’m sure he didn’t either. One day at a time. Not easy, but uncomplicated. We all need something different, find our happiness or don’t, settle with what has come our way and don’t feel the need to look further. Seemed to me, that Archie had found his place, same as I’ve found my own. Home—isn’t that the place we want to be?

As Good as Your Word: Promises made to be kept

November 28, 2017

Promises and commitments are the outward signs of mutual trust between parties, a shared understanding, and a bargain to be upheld at each end. A contract, if you will, whether written and signed, or verbal and committed over a handshake, to terms large and detailed involving the exchange of vast sums of money, or as simple as a plan to meet for dinner a few days hence. Or a proposal of marriage with a smiling acceptance on the spot, of all that marriage entails.

We cannot know what the outcomes of such contracts can be until they have been made and the specified time elapsed, and the fulfillments honored or not. But if there is no trust at the outset, no sense of honor extended from the very first negotiations, that all parties involved can be “as good as their word,” such contracts are likely to fail.

In 1914, Shackleton and Aeneas Mackintosh had an agreement that the Scotsman would take charge of the ship Aurora and the Ross Sea Party to set up a line of depots from Cape Evans to the Beardmore Glacier in Antarctica. And since there could be no further communication once the Ross Sea and the Weddell Sea Parties were at sea, the commitment must hold through all risk and travail, over the span of a year, bound only by a sense of duty and honor.

Both Parties, as it turned out, ran into overwhelming circumstances that irrevocably altered their plans. Shipwreck in the Weddell ice took the Endurance before her time. The Aurora, carried away by the ice, left a small party marooned at Cape Evans with barely enough to sustain themselves, let alone carry out their mission, to lay those depots on which Shackleton’s life would depend. (For the rest of the story, see Chapter Eight in “When Your Life Depends on It.”)

Neither party could know the fate of the other. The Ross Sea men, at enormous personal sacrifice, working in the field for nearly a year to fulfill their part of the bargain, had only their own sense of honor to drive them. But they did what they said they were going to do.

They were as good as their word. Are we?

Playwrights on Playwriting: Arthur Miller on “The Question of Intensity.”

November 24, 2017

“It matters not at all whether a modern play concern itself with a grocer or a president if the intensity of the hero’s commitment to his course is less than the maximum possible.

“It matters not at all whether the hero falls from a great height or a small one, whether he is highly conscious or only dimly aware of what is happening, whether his pride brings the fall or an unseen pattern written behind the clouds; if the intensity, the human passion to surpass his given bounds, the fanatic insistence upon his upon his self-conceived role—if these are not present there can only be an outline of tragedy but no living thing”

Arthur Miller quoted from “Playwrights on Playwriting: The Meaning and Making of Modern Drama from Ibsen to Ionesco” (Ed. Toby Cole, 1960)

Interview of Gus Tjgaard by Jean Bartlett

October 21, 2017

Born of Swedish parents in his father’s boatyard located on Washington State’s Decatur Island, one of the 172 named islands of the San Juan Archipelago, at the age of 13, Gustav Tjgaard was placed by his father aboard the five-masted American cargo schooner, The Vigilant. For the next five years Gustav served as ship’s boy between Bellingham, Washington and Guangzhou (Canton), China, under fearsome Captain Melberg. Gustav wrote about these days in his award-winning book, “Windjamming to China.” Pacificans know this author and illustrator by his anglicized name, Phil Carlson. Visit to read this interview.

Who’s on your team? More than you thought.

September 27, 2017

Who’s on your team? The question springs from a generality, an easily understood concept that in corporations, as in any organization made up of leaders and followers, the combined strength of the team in its members and its output is fundamental to the success of the project.

But in the specifics, we must all ask of ourselves, who IS on your team?

The team can be a military platoon, a corporate project endeavor, a legislative committee. . . . think of professional or collegiate sports, a condominium or a nonprofit board of directors, of academic research. . . . a family, a marriage. . . .

One way or another, like it or not, we are each of us members of a team. Most likely, a lot of teams. And the success of what we engage in together is inevitably bound up in how strong our commitment is to the project that we have—as a team—undertaken.

There are many examples in the annals of Antarctic exploration the reveal the strength of teamwork, where truly grand aspirations were adopted by the men in the field parties—often working under extreme privation and duress—were rewarded, in the end, by success.

That would be one of the reasons they call the years 1901-1916 the “heroic era” of Antarctic exploration.

Who’s in Charge? The Fundamentals of Leadership

September 12, 2017

The concept of “leadership” has a lot of currency these days, addressed in academic disciplines and institutes, and in countless corporate trainings and seminars. Regardless of the enterprise, there has to be some place in any management hierarchy that is indisputably the pinnacle, occupied by a person who is unquestionably recognized “the Boss.”

But that role is not necessarily one that any person can be molded to fill. Yes, there are techniques and characteristics that can be identified and reinforced, but there has to be something more, something that is inherent in a person, rather than a position.

In the canon of Antarctic exploration, there are those who envisioned, created, and completed the vast enterprises of these expeditions—Scott, Shackleton, Mawson, Amundsen, and others less well-known—who are taken for their leaders. Their names have achieved a justly warranted fame that outshines that of many of their subordinates, whose own signal accomplishments go mostly unheralded.

Who led the smaller, isolated field parties adrift in the vast Antarctic snowfields, many hundreds of miles from the relative security of the base huts? Lt. Michael Barne was (like almost everyone else in Discovery’s 1901-1904 complement) a total novice at exploring, but he led his handful of men out into the Barrier hinterlands twice, and brought them safely home with new discoveries. When Scott’s northern party were left to their own devices over the austral winter of 1912, it was Victor Campbell who provided a strong center around which his small field party coalesced and survived. It was Frank Wild who kept the marooned survivors of Endurance’s shipwreck alive in 1916 with a glimmer of hope that Shackleton would return to save them. On the other side of the continent, Ernest Joyce stepped into a role beyond his training when Aeneas Mackintosh was no longer strong enough to lead.

The exploration of Antarctica during the Heroic Era, and in every era afterwards, provides many more examples of those whose leadership was more a result of who they were, than of what they had learned.