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Entries in Youngblood Brass Band (2)


Blue Highways: New Harmony, Indiana

Unfolding the Map

Making rapid progress to the end of Blue Highways, we stop for a while in New Harmony, Indiana with William Least Heat-Moon (LHM).  What is apparent to all of us, I think, is that a journey into the unknown, one where we don't know the road, might be a journey where we learn the most about the world and about ourselves.  To think that one of our first stops on this Littourati journey was just 10 miles north at Grayville, Indiana.  The circle is almost complete.  I find the Indiana state flag, at right, to be almost symbolic of this completion.  If you want to see where this little result of the attempt to create Utopia in middle America lies, please consult the map.

Book Quote

"Not far from a burial ground of unmarked graves that the old Harmonists share with a millennium of Indians, the mystical Rappites in 1820 planted a circular privet-hedge labyrinth, 'symbolic' (a sign said) 'of the Harmonist concept of the devious and difficult approach to a state of true harmony.'  After the Rappites, the hedges disappeared, but a generation ago, citizens replanted the maze, its contours strikingly like the Hopi map of emergence.  I walked through it to stretch from the long highway.  Even though I avoided the shortcut holes broken in the hedges, I still went down the rungs and curves without a single wrong turn.  The 'right' way was worn so deeply in the earth as to be unmistakable.  But without the errors, wrong turns, and blind alleys, without the doubling back and misdirection and fumbling and chance discoveries, there was not one bit of joy in walking the labyrinth.  And worse, knowing the way made traveling it perfectly meaningless."

Blue Highways: Part 10, Chapter 4

Downtown New Harmony, Indiana. Photo by Timothy K. Hamilton and hosted at Wikimedia Commons. Click on photo to go to host site.

New Harmony, Indiana

What is the point to know the way?

I'm sure that anyone reading this can point out a number of reasons why its important to know the way, and can reel off at least five.  Here's mine.  You don't get lost.  You save time.  There's comfort in the familiar.  You'll never have any surprises.  It's safe.  These are good reasons, but I have some good questions about them.

Yes, in knowing the way one doesn't get lost.  For instance, I knew backwards and forwards the roads around my hometown.  I knew how to get here and there.  When I lived in Milwaukee, I had all the best routes to this place and that in my head.  Same for San Antonio and New Orleans.  But what happened?  Once those routes were new.  I paid attention to what was going on around me, because I had to be aware.  Then, one day, I stopped paying attention.  I missed details in the surety of my route.  I ceased to notice little changes, so focused was I on getting from Point A to Point B.  I would never take an alternate route, and therefore I ceased to be surprised, to see new things, and I denied myself new experiences and a chance to grow.

Sure, in knowing the way one saves time.  It's not efficient to be driving or wandering about on streets that you don't know.  After all, if the goal is Point B, why visit Point C, D and E in the interim?  You have places to go, things to do, people to see.  But what happens when you take your time and explore?  You see things, meet people and experience things that you might have never allowed yourself to experience.  In all my life's journey, I have never seen much of a correlation between saving time and growing personally.

Of course, there will always be comfort in the familiar when one knows the way.  But my analogy here relates to bed sores.  When you look at a soft, downy bed, what do you think of?  Comfort!  That "aaahhhh"ness of pushing your head against a soft pillow, the warmth of the blankets surrounding you, that dozing feeling.  But what happens if you spend two or three straight weeks in bed?  That familiar feeling becomes your bane.  Without movement and change you develop bed sores, which are painful and difficult to treat.  Your comfort has suddenly become your curse.  We can always come back to the familiar, but we need change and new things to stimulate us and stave off an existential putrefaction.

Do you never want to be surprised?  Sure, there are bad surprises, and knowing the way will often mitigate the potential to be surprised.  The man with the machete hiding in the back seat of a car is not the kind of surprise any of us could want.  But how often does that happen?  Most often, surprises are the harbingers of change in our lives, and with change comes self-reflection and opportunity.  I've been surprised lately by many things.  A close relative's illness, a house that it appears I will buy, a nomination for an outstanding teacher award, and organizational shake-ups at my office.  Each has it's share of headaches and even heartbreak.  I hate to see my family member have to deal with a serious health issue.  The house has some maintenance issues that will cost money, as well as a major sewage issue that must be solved before I buy it.  To get the outstanding teacher award, I must write a teaching philosophy, track down letters of support, and find the class evaluations I filed away.  The change at my office has left me feeling unsure about my role.  But each change is a window of opportunity.  My relative's illness means that my family will have to change and may or may not provide a new avenue to dealing with our dysfunction.  Owning a house, after a lifetime of renting, will challenge me in ways I've never been challenged before and will be a new rite of passage in my life.  Just being nominated for the outstanding teacher award has given me new confidence in myself - imagine what I'll feel like if I win the award!  The change in my office will allow me to create my role, and maybe even expand it and my influence.  It may offer me a way toward further promotion and advancement.  It's all in how I choose to frame the surprises and the consequences that come with them.

Which brings me to the last reason for knowing the way that I want to question.  It's safe knowing the way.  Being safe is fine.  We all want safety and security.  But safety and security, while prolonging well-being and maybe even life, can become a prison.  People can hide behind safety and security and never allow themselves to see beyond the walls and disarm their personal defenses.  And what good is that?  I've been there, and I've decided that to experience and see things different than what I know, to open myself to other viewpoints and opinions, is the best way for me to grow.  It's earned me a reputation of being eclectic, maybe even a little weird in my tastes, but I like it.

New Harmony symbolizes the end of a journey of Utopians, who thought that they could tame nature and their own shortcomings, and in the strength of togetherness create harmony, unity and a sense of unchanging peace in the middle of a wilderness.  However, to grow we often need disharmony and disunity to provide us with challenges.  As the two utopian experiments at New Harmony prove, drastic and catastrophic change often messes up the best of plans and desires.  The people creating utopias at New Harmony planned their way, they had their philosophy, they created what they thought was safety, and they still couldn't overcome rapid moving challenges.  Had they gone in with flexibility, knowing that there isn't one way but many, and it's when we try to force things to conform to us rather than allowing ourselves to experience and adapt that we get in trouble, they might have survived.  LHM learned that his trip had meaning precisely because it wasn't planned, it wasn't familiar, it wasn't safe, and it sometimes wasn't comfortable.  He even got lost a few times, and found himself afraid, but he traversed the labyrinth of his journey, survived, learned and grew.  May we all allow ourselves, at least once in a while, the opportunities to get lost, make time, be uncomfortable, be surprised, and take risks.

Musical Interlude

I've used this song before, but I had to use it again here.  Youngblood Brass Band, featuring Ike Willis, with Something.

If you want to know more about New Harmony

Historic New Harmony
Indiana State Museum: Historic New Harmony
MaxKade: Historic New Harmony
Posey County News (news site)
Robert Owen and New Harmony
Town of New Harmony
Wikipedia: New Harmony

Next up: The End of the Blue Highways


Blue Highways: Somewhere on Cave Creek, Arizona

Unfolding the Map

Click on Thumbnail for MapSelf-esteem,'s all here by Cave Creek where William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) stops to camp and meets the Boss - who has a wealth of self-criticism to direct at himself.  I will relate some of my own struggles lately that coincide with this very topic.  Don't worry.  I don't go into a litany of my complaints, and it's all hopeful and positive!  Click on the thumbnail of the map at right to see where our camp is located.

Book Quote

" point was that what you've done becomes the judge of what you're going to do - especially in other people's minds. When you're traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don't have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.

"....I wanted to slap him around, wake him up. He had the capacity to see but not the guts; he mucked in the drivel of his life, afraid to go into the subterranean currents that dragged him about. A man concealed in his own life, scared to move, holding himself too close, petting himself too much."

Blue Highways: Part 4, Chapter 13

Cave Creek, in Cave Creek Canyon, Arizona. This is the creek along which William Least Heat-Moon camped in Blue Highways. Photo on "gatespassbear's" photo stream at Flickr. Click on photo to go to site.

Somewhere on Cave Creek, Arizona

I will warn you now, Littourati, that this post will be very personal.  Let me set up the context of the quotes above for you.  LHM, after finding what seems to be an impossible pass into the Chiricahua Mountains, and then passing through Portal which appeared to be completely empty, pulls in by Cave Creek to camp for the evening.  He is looking forward to quiet time and going over his notes.  He makes a campfire and begins to review his trip when he hears a noise.  It is a guy, who LHM nicknames "the Boss," camped nearby who is attracted to his campfire.  LHM offers the Boss some coffee and bourbon, and the Boss opens up about his life story full of "mistakes," mostly around his marital issues.  LHM gets annoyed and bored with the Boss' seemingly endless litany of complaints, and tries to close the conversation by yawning and saying he's tired, at which point the Boss gives a brief history of another person who camped in that spot while hiding from federal officials for offenses against American citizens.  Though this man was eventually captured and ended up in Oklahoma, the Boss claims that Goyathlay, better known as Geronimo, settled in his new life, took up gardening, became Christian, and wrote an autobiography.  If Geronimo, the lesson seems to say, can die successful and of old age after a life as a desperado, there is hope for us all.  One might take issue with whether Geronimo was successful as a prisoner and in exile from his people, but it's how the Boss expresses his lesson.

I say this will be personal because this entire set of passages seems to speak to where I am in my life right now.  The symbolism of Cave Creek is important because when I get down or emotionally fragile I go into what my wife calls "the Cave," a kind of mental and emotional shutdown that she can't penetrate.  Usually this comes about during a time when I feel like the Boss - that my life has slapped me around and that there is nothing I can do about it.  In a sense, I've temporarily given up fighting those forces on the outside that annoy or pain me, and on the inside that tell me that I have no business fighting.

I have been the Boss, endlessly mired in my own, negative inner conversation.  As I look back through the past year or so, everything that happened seemed to feed my own narrative about who and what I was, continuing my cycle of self-abuse.  It is a difficult spiral to break.  When I am in such a cycle, I seem to attract others who are mired in their own self-abusive cycles, but I don't recognize it.  About the time I was beginning to beat myself up for not being able to find a job in my field, for not having built an extensive circle of friends, and for not living up to my own expectations, I met a person who I thought might become a good friend.  I was drawn into this person's story of being a victim of others.  Little did I know that this person's interest in me was self-serving, the mask deceiving, and the heart uncaring.  I allowed myself to care about what happened to this person, got my ego wounded and I was emotionally hurt.  I also hurt people I care about during this period.  I now know that this is most likely a pattern in this person's life that has been repeated over and over in relationships, but when the illusion shattered it was like a smack in the face, and it fed my feelings of worthlessness, shame and guilt.  I enjoyed being someone worth this person's interest and I was hurt because I didn't understand that I was simply a tool to feed that person's need for attention, and nothing more.  I became mired in trying to fix the unfixable, against the advice of friends and people who care for me.  I wanted to at least try to put a decent closure to that relationship, but one cannot put closure on something that was illusionary only.  In the end, I became the Boss - constantly dwelling in my experience and reliving the pain over and over.   The experience wasn't all negative - I have been able to reflect on how I deny my true nature, and employ masks, smoke and mirrors by trying to be what I think people want from me rather than what I truly am.  What a huge letdown it must be to others when my masks drop and the charade is revealed!  If I present myself more truly, others will accept (or reject) me on my own merits and relationships that develop would be more authentic and much longer lasting, and ultimately, more meaningful.

But I have been like LHM also.  His trip was a way to leave his own past, mired in his breakup with his longtime companion, and get a fresh start and a fresh view of himself.  When we in better places in our lives, it is easy to want to literally "smack" people around for being mired in their problems.  LHM catches himself, commenting that he sounds like a "bioenergized group leader."  How many times have I felt sanctimonious enough to hand out advice to others about being positive and about being easy on themselves?  How many times have I advocated to people about getting rid of the physical and emotional trash in their lives and separating themselves from the things that cause them pain?  Yet, I cannot give myself the same advice - or at least I don't listen to it.  LHM shows that he is healing - he refuses to be drawn in by the Boss' attempts to gain pity and sympathy by relating all his problems.  I wish, in retrospect, that I might always have such clarity to see red flags and the strength to walk away from what I know is trouble.  I also hope that I may not be sanctimonious, but humble, because I know we all can be drawn into those spirals that cause us to be "mucked in the drivel" of our lives.

Littourati, this experiment in writing has been wonderful therapy for me.  It has been a creative outlet - the thing that brings me out of my cave and allows me to poke around in my "subterranean currents."  I hope you don't take offense when I say that I write these posts more for me than you.  I hope that occasionally someone finds something worth forwarding, tweeting, and liking or sharing on Facebook.  However, the act of putting my thoughts on these posts based on what I've read in these literary journeys, and putting into words my own feelings and experiences on various matters, helps me break cycles of self-destructive thoughts that have been ingrained since childhood.  I have done much that is admirable and good and have had wonderful experiences in life that rival the bad.  That realization has been the gift of my little idea and its expression in Littourati.

In the past week, I've started a class on creativity based on a system developed by John Dillon, who is leading the class, called the 20-20 Creativity Solution.  The premise is that everyone can be creative, but we don't allow ourselves.  Through creativity we can be happier people and live happier lives.  Dillon developed his formula through extensive familiarity with psychology and religious traditions, as well as his own history of creative work.  His practice involves 20 minutes in the morning, part of which consists of free-association writing, and 20 minutes in the evening where one reviews the day mentally in reverse.  One then chooses 3-5 things that happened for which one is grateful, and then a few things that one wishes had been different.  One gives thanks for the good things, and forgives oneself for the others.  The process is supposed to help keep the mind uncluttered with negativity and open it to the positives that then lead to creativity.

Self-forgiveness and being easy on oneself has been a common theme through the years that I have undergone therapy as a way to come to new understandings about myself, the difficulties I have faced in life, and the strength that I have had to draw on to overcome my obstacles.  So as I write this, I am grateful that I have this forum to be creative and reflective, and I am hopeful that some of you find something valuable in my musings.  In this case, I have no wishes for anything to be different except, maybe, to not give into my darker sides but instead accept myself as I am, and learn more of what I can be.

Musical Interlude

The Youngblood Brass Band was a happy discovery for me.  I love the brass band sound of New Orleans, and one day someone introduced me to Youngblood, which is not from New Orleans but has a good brass band sound.  This song, Something, really captures in musical form what I've written above.  I hope you like it.

If you want to know more about Cave Creek

There's not much, though it appears that the area is a real gathering place for Mexican birds which draw the birdwatching enthusiasts.  In terms of where William Least Heat-Moon camped, I have made my best guess on the Blue Highways Google Map and the Blue Highways Google Earth kml journey, based on the distance LHM says he traveled from Portal and that he forded the creek before pulling in to camp.

Road Scholar: Cave Creek Canyon Birding
usbackroads: Cave Creek

Next up:  Dos Cabezas and Wilcox, Arizona