Why Me? Why Write? Why Now? Why Not?

The Me is Doug Curran…Douglas M Curran…Douglas Metcalf Curran. Douglas is Celtic for “dweller by the dark stream”. Curran in Gaelic means “little spear”. And Metcalf? Scottish for “I met a calf”? Hey I don’t know! I don't have all the answers. I'm still trying to get the questions right. At least I seem to be a spear fisher by some dirty water. Or maybe I'm a Druid. And that Curran thing may not even be as Irish as my Irish American wife, Colleen Fitzsimmons, hoped it was when she married me. Ok, I might be a Viking. It's like this. I was reading this book, The Lion Of Ireland, see, and the author, Morgan Llewellyn, recounts a last battle between Brian Boru and the Viking invader king, to regain Irish dominance again throughout the island and kick the fureners out. The Viking king's name? Olaf Cuaran? Cuaran? Curran? I'm a Viking now, so I am? And a descendent of one of those marauding and murderous pillagers and plunderers? I've never pillaged a thing in my life...well, maybe a book or two from somebody. I'm really just a gentle giant who loves books and music. Ok, I bought a sword recently, but only as a wall decoration to enhance my Irish family history coat of arms! Honest! Viking, Schmiking, so rest my Irish soul! Or my wife will have my old bald Irish head!

August 30, 2009

What's the big idea?

With all the Kennedy hoopla in the news lately, I thought I'd add my two cents. I've never cared for the Kennedy lifestyle or politics much, but I did watch Teddy's funeral and felt touched by the many tributes, by his kids' and grandkids' comments, by the glorious music and the interesting gathering of distinguished guests - and I do feel he was a much beleaguered guy as the youngest of nine, had a bigger adversity load than most ever have to carry with all the tragedy in his life, and I salute him as an American who gave a significant part of his life in public service to his country.

As I listened to his niece, Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger, on NPR tonight talk about her uncle and the Kennedy legacy, only recently having lost her own mother, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of the Special Olympics, I was impressed by what she said regarding the early Kennedy expectations by the family. Their parents would ask them if they had any ideas. Ideas? Yes, ideas for change, for bettering their station, for improving their society and the people around them, big ideas - like changing the world! Ever had any big ideas?

I know some of my kids have good creative ideas and have expressed them in significant little business, musical and artistic ventures. Very techno savvy! Some ideas are borne of their education, some from just their struggles and tensions with society. I hope they continue to grow intellectually though, read more, be on top of the news and be able to study ideas more - and not acquiesce to some of the shallow, mind-deadening aspects of this brave new world they live in that can deprive them of freedom if they are not vigilant. I appreciate my wife's intellect too, her great work ethic and compassion for her special ed kids.

I didn't use to think I had any ideas in my early life. I was an ADD kid whose mind wandered in class alot - so I must have been thinking of something, but it wasn't usually what the teachers wanted me to think about. As I grew and matured, started having some bigger life experiences, traveling the world as an LDS missionary to Brazil and then to the Far East and Europe as a performer for BYU shows, getting masters degrees in English and American Studies, having some success in the entertainment world, my mind expanded, my questions started forming better, I started having larger interests - and now, at 67, while my body is having more pain and slowing down, my mind races with ideas, too many to write and think about sometimes, almost paralyzing in their volume, some from books, scripture, poetry and prose, newspapers and news magazines, from tv news, from listening to talk radio a lot, though not too many people around interested in discussing them with me.

So I heartily subscribe to the Kennedy prescription for full lives and public service. Get some ideas! Try some ideas out! Think and ponder and write good ideas down - something I learned from an essay by Sterling W Sill many years back, having an idea bank, like a planner or journal or anything you can write on and capture ideas that continue to germinate or jump out at you and save them, think about them, use them.  Some may be worth a lot of money, I thought. But at least, it can give you a "life of the mind", something many Americans today seem to be without, abdicating to toys and technology instead of a mind-expanding  study of history and ideas, among other things.

Yes, I have read a little of Susan Jacoby's book recently, "The Age of American Unreason", in the intro of which she talks about the whole problem of anti-intellectualism in America. She makes mention of John Kennedy, coincidentally, who though an educated Harvard man, had the common touch in his quest for the presidency over Adlai Stevenson, who was a little too polished and even "snooty" to connect with the people. She continues, "The public was right:Kennedy was no intellectual, if an intellectual is, to borrow Hofstader's definition, someone who 'in some sense lives for ideas - - which means he has a sense of dedication to the life of the mind which is very much like a religious commitment." But if most presidents didn't live up to that definition, I want to! That's me! I love ideas, thrive on new ideas, always have my antennae up for new ideas and my radar ready! So think big - what's the big idea today? I'll keep them coming as long as they keep coming to me!

August 13, 2009

The sucker punch...

It can come out of nowhere. You think all is well, everything's fine, nothing can go wrong, go wrong, go wrong...you get kind of cocky about life even. You are so self-assured, so self-confident, so willing to accept the planets in their orbits, God is in his heaven and all is right with the world, so we want to think. Then something happens. Anything can happen to unsettle and uproot and disturb our quiet and predictable universe, the life we keep trying to make perfect, the totally special life we think we deserve, the good life, the American Dream, whatever kind of life we imagine to be without flaw or blemish. I like Scott Peck's book,The Road Less Traveled, for its opening line especially. "Life is difficult". He found as a counselor that there would be more people able to cope with life and not go crazy if they just accepted the fact that life is not nor ever will be what we want or expect or hope - it will be hard and we will be dealt curves and twists and convolutions like we never imagined. And what will we do about it? No, we don't have to live in a shell to avoid it. And no we don't have to just take it either. For me, life is a test of faith, of living for an unknown but benign future, of getting up after we fall, of praying and seeking answers and asking for divine as well as earthly help, not trying to make it alone - and not having so much pride that we either think we are above adversity or don't have to accept help to deal with it. We are here to serve and to be served - to learn and grow and understand that we are in a refining process that never ends, a journey of eternal progression that is fraught with pitfalls and stumbling blocks and joyful successes too. So when the sucker punch comes, and it will many times, we aren't so proud that we deny it and are humble enough to roll with it and come up fighting, not each other, but whatever adversarial influence is out there to maybe take us off our path briefly, that path we are trying to forge out of life's wilderness, that will show itself as we keep struggling....and oh yeah, our daughter Megan ran off to Idaho and got married the other night. But it's ok, it's a good thing. She's 37, divorced, needs a good man and we think she got one in James "Kimo" Tucker! Congrats you two. The Hawaiian reception comes in a few more weeks! And we refinanced yesterday and got a 5.375% rate instead of the 7.75% rate we've been living with for years. So see, persistence pays off and some adversity can be overcome in time. But it will always be there in one form or another...so don't try to avoid it or it will hit you like a sucker punch!

August 5, 2009

That's about the size of it...

I was thinking about tall and short people in the shower today, how size isn't always fair, but that all the advantages don't always go to the tall, in fact maybe rarely so, unless you play in the NBA. There's that song by the King Singers, "Short People Got No Reason To Live"(tongue in cheek)...but hey, even though I'm tall and so are my kids, look at all the short folk successes: so many famous actors probably average 5'8" and under and yet they look so big on the screen - Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, even Robert Redford...Danny DeVito is probably famous because he IS so short. And then there's Martin Short. And what about actresses like Elizabeth Taylor...and Elizabeth Taylor...and. uhh(total blank) - well my wife rode down the elevator with Barbara Streisand once at the Plaza Hotel... teeny weeny! I'm sure you can think of more. I remember my BYU President when I went there as a freshman, Ernest L Wilkinson, a famous lawyer before that for winning big Indian settlements against the Government ...about 5'6, but tough? He'd shake hands with every student as they came through the registration line - thousands of them - and give a shake that felt like he'd milked a lot of cows. Then when we were all assembled, he'd do 100 pushups. Little man syndrome? Maybe, but I wouldn't want to tangle with him. So of course, it's all relative - talent can come in all sizes, shapes, colors. It's the size of the heart, the spirit that really counts, eh? And I was talking to a nephew this past weekend who had a lot of that as well as talent in high school as a 5'7" quarterback. But after getting no playing time, he finally asked his coach when he was going to get his chance and was told, "When you can see over the line." When I got my chance to sing with The Lettermen in 1969 and 70, it was partly because the tallest of the guys at 5'9" retired and was replaced with a guy who was 5'11". I had been considered before but was too tall. But when another one got sick who was 5'8", I was now considered as his temporary singing replacement, because I was 6'2" and the remaining original singer could wear elevator shoes that would put him up to 5'10" to create more uniformity in height. Plus, I think he enjoyed the view. Crazy. It's only when size is a deterrant to mobility that it matters - and right now...it matters. Yeah, we're talking about girth here... and oh, my aching knees! And that's about the size of it...

August 2, 2009

Fish oil and crossword puzzles...

My chiro guy said to take more fish oil, a lot more, and that fish like anchovies and some others I can't remember right now are great Omega 3s that are supposed to be excellent brain food ...and oh yeah, a good crossword puzzle ever hurts either. So I give you a previous column I wrote when Colleen and I were fixated on puzzling and have only recently returned to this intoxicating pastime whilst she is enjoying her teacher summer vacation for a few more weeks and I'm still job hunting, not having had a vacation in years...

Always a Crossword! (My Puzzle Daze) – By Doug Curran

Now that I’m older and “wiser”, I have a lot more questions than answers. Like what is one of the ways to save your marriage from infidelity and Alzheimers?. No, it’s not watching CSI, because all those versions are starting to look like one big gross cadaver party just to keep you transfixed. No, even doing family history can bog down in the mire of correspondence and research standstills, though we are always up for filling in another family group sheet. So, my wife and I have discovered a boon that has revived many a dull evening or outing or dinner or drive, and has virtually eliminated a cross word between us – and I’m talking about…the Crossword Puzzle!

All of a sudden, we have a new interest in life and all that vast array of trivia it provides, because now we can gather it all into one little crossword puzzle and capture it and mull it over and cogitate and deliberate and scrunch our faces and furrow our brows with good reason. We are now in hot pursuit of the answers to the darnedest verbal quagmires we have encountered since trying to understand our eight kids’ first words. No this is heady stuff and we are on the verge of an addiction for which there might have to be a new 12-step recovery program! It is even starting to affect our dreams and cause us to refer back some days to word problems we couldn’t solve then and now can remember an answer for – without even having the puzzle in front of us!

I don’t know how it started exactly, that’s how sly and insidious an addiction it is. We were just into it before we knew what hit us. But now, instead of seeking the Sports page or the Food page or the TV programs or the Movies first – we go right to the crossword puzzle at night, hidden in the Classifieds in our Orem/Provo paper or on other pages sometimes, and can’t feel totally fulfilled and self-actualized until we have given it our best shot. Usually one of us starts it first, then hands it over to the other, like it is some kind of tag-team wrestling match. We can feel the pressure mount to finish it in one night, because we know there will be one waiting in the next day’s paper. And we relish the anticipation more and more. But if we really can’t finish it, or if we get lost in CSI or now NCIS lab intrigue again, trying to solve their mystery before they do, we will leave it by the tv chair in case we actually finish one and need another to keep us busy till we finish that one too .And now we’ve gone so far as to buy a book of puzzles because we can’t wait for the ones in the newspaper.

And as we build up a residue of uncompleted puzzles, we start leaving them around the house to finish, wherever we might park, like in the bathroom. But we can’t forget to keep a pen or pencil handy or it will be very frustrating just looking at it and not being able to write. And we also leave them in the car so we have one to do while we’re driving or to take with us into any restaurant we might be stopping at or into the doctor’s office. But we don’t throw them away either, because if we actually finish one, it’s a trophy – and if we can’t finish one, it’s a challenge to overcome. We actually spent our last anniversary dinner at a restaurant doing separate crosswords, because we found one in a USA today in the waiting room, in addition to the one we brought - and telling our young recently-engaged waitress that this was what she had to look forward to in aged married life.

Recently, we ate out at a little greasy spoon we had a “twofer” coupon for and just by chance found a copy of the same paper there that had the puzzle we had brought with us. This was a double bonus, because now instead of just competing with the puzzle creator, we could now also compete with each other, eating and competing, competing and eating, chomping and scrawling and trying not to cheat by looking at the other’s puzzle. This worked out pretty well, because I finished just a few squares ahead of my wife. But we did miss the conversation and the teamwork, which is half the fun. It was actually a little too quiet and pensive – yet, I didn’t mind doing it on my own too, because I didn’t have to keep asking her to repeat something or other to help her find the answer.

It’s really more difficult for me to give her my answers when she gives me verbal clues than it is to just see it, because I can play better off the other visual clues, go quickly to the Across and Down and cross references to try to solve it faster. And we start learning a lot about each other too as we do just one puzzle together. Like she will often go for the first impulse she has for an answer – and it’s usually wrong. She’s so impulsive. But she’s already written it down – in ink! So then when she gives it to me and I see a better answer, the right one of course, then it is very hard to correct it and it make a big inky mess and is usually very hard to decipher clearly. But she often sees an answer I don’t too, before I do, and it’s crazy how giddy and overjoyed we get with each other at getting it right. It’s pretty sick.

And it’s amazing how validating to my manhood it is for me to be able to finish a puzzle she just couldn’t figure out. She’ll go off to bed leaving me with the scars and wreckage of a puzzle she’s worked and worked at and fretted and fumed over for awhile. And when I go through it and correct a few mistakes and actually get it done, I like to reverently leave the completed puzzle by her nightstand as she sleeps, so she knows in the morning there was a way to finish it, and that all her iffy guesses that were giving her such frustration could actually be resolved and left without loose ends. There’s nothing more calming than that in this universe, eh? I can’t fault her for trying though, for her tenacious problem-solving attitude. But if I can make her world just a little more peaceful and coherent, I’m all over that. And she’s certainly smart enough too, with a masters degree in Special Education, and teaches classes in English and Math.

And though I have masters degrees in English and American Studies, I don’t like to seem like I’m trying to show off or show her up in any way. And I’m not trying to be smug or cocky either – much. But I might have a little more patience and unwillingness to just throw my first thought down on the page and try to make all the other words fit around it. And I might do it in a lighter pen or erasable pencil so I can clean it up before it gets so inked up it can’t even be deciphered anymore. No, I think I take a little more time, check the cross words that integrate with it, search my mind for more possible meanings, get those Acrosses and Downs working more in harmony with each other, before I commit everything I have in my mind to that page. Yeah and I’m humble too. But I can still get as frustrated as hitting a bad golf shot, which is why I don’t play golf, when I can’t figure something out, though it’s so obvious – or it’s something I’ve never heard of and I want to sue whoever put that puzzle together.

In any case, doing the crossword puzzle has been a way for Colleen and I to join forces against a common adversary rather than quibble and quarrel adversarily ourselves over the usual unimportant things. We can tax our brains to the max and practice more patience with each other when we are both dumbfounded and mystified. We’re getting better at skirmishing with words, finding out that there are some tricky phrasal verbs to contend with, and that there are still definitions of things we have never heard of in this miraculous world of things and thoughts. How long will we stay on this kick before we find something else to occupy us? As long as they don’t repeat too many clues and we keep having grandkids to play with as alternatives – and if, like life, we don’t have too many Acrosses and Downs. No strain, no brain - and take about 3000 mgs of fish oil every day too...