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Monday, April 27, 2015

Harley King

This is a photo of my maternal grandmother taken in the early part of the 20th century. I remember hearing a story about my grandmother when she was a teenager.  She and a cousin snuck out of the house early one morning and went riding on horses.  My grandmother was thrown from the horse and broke her leg. Rather then tell her parents, she limped back to bed and pretended to be sick.  It took two days for her parents to discover that her leg was broken.

We all have stories from our childhood about our ancestors — the uncle who was a drunk and burnt the house down, the aunt who rode motorcycles and the cousin who died young.  As artists and creative leaders, we need to turn our family history into stories, poems and paintings.

May you be blessed with stories about your ancestors.  For in those stories, we can discover who we are and from where we came.

I wrote a story poem some 35 years ago about a story I had heard as a child.  I showed it to my grandmother when she was 83.  She told me the facts were not correct and she was right.  I changed the details of the story to protect the innocent.  Yet for me, my grandmother lives on in this story.  I discovered my ancestors through the process of writing the story.

Brother AL

He was a little bit of a thing —
knee-high to a grasshopper
as pa used to say.
But his hair was the funnier sight —
white as the coverings
women wear in church.
Been that way since birth.
He didn't seem to mind it, though,
until he met Ruthy Shonkwiler.
She was a big-breasted girl
with farmer's hands.
Seems he fell in love
the moment he set eyes on her.
But as things have a way of happening
in this neck of the woods,
she had her heart set on Stephen,
old Samuel Yoder's youngest,
tall as an oak
with hair the color
of a bull Angus.

Now, Alvin wasn't one
to let obstacles get in his way.
He would stuff pages
out of an old Sears catalog
into his shoes to make him taller
and he was always on the look out
for something to blacken his hair.

It happened one day
that Ma was cooking up
a big batch of prunes
and she set the juice out to cool.
Alvin, in his infinite wisdom,
thought that it was God's answer to his prayers.
He dipped his snow-white cap
into the kettle of juice
hoping to turn it black.
Well, let me tell ya,
it didn't work.
All he got was a lickin' from pa
and a hot bath and shampoo.
Ma, though, thought he should be taught a lesson.
Said if people don't like
what the good Lord gives them,
then the good Lord ought to take it away.
So she shaved his head
clean down to the scalp.
Embarrassed the poor guy to death.
Ruthy, I'm told, laughed and laughed.

Well, he survived somehow
and married, Eli's oldest, Sarah.
Together, they had a parcel of kids,
not a white-haired one among them.
Ruthy went off to college
and married some doctor fellow
from out east.

To this day Alvin refuses
to eat prunes
or order anything out of a Sears catalog.

May your ancestors live in your stories 
and reveal themselves through your memory.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Harley King

While I saw my first robin this year over a month ago, I am still reminded with each new sighting about the importance of the seasons.  The seasons are the touchstones of our lives.  They remind us of who we are and what we are all about.  This year has been a particularly hard winter where I live and people delighted in the coming of spring.  The seasons measure the passing of time.  

Our lives are also like the seasons.  Our youth is the spring of our lives — full of energy, excitement and enthusiasm.  We seek to discover the meaning of life and the world into which we are born.  Why are we are?  Who do we want to become?

In the summer of our lives, we settle into the world, mating and raising a family.  We find employment to pay our bills and hopefully, provide us with a sense of purpose.  The questions of our youth become less important as we are in pursuit of life's abundance.  Like the squirrels we are finding nuts and burying them for the coming winter.

In the autumn of our lives, we return to the melancholy of our youth.  We think again about the meaning of life and our purpose for being here.  We question and challenge the decisions we have made.  Have we settled for too little?  Have we given in too easily to the demands of life?  If our time in this life is limited, what changes do we want to make?

In the winter of our years, we know the end is near.  We can feel the coming death in our bones.  We will return to the soil from which we came.  We watch our friends and companions of this life pass on to a world beyond our grasp.  We live in memory of what has been — hopeful that our passing will be blessed.

The seasons have also been a touchstone of my creative life — beginning with the wild and crazy hopes and dreams of spring.  I wanted to be a poet and a novelist — a rich and famous world traveler.  In the summer, I chose to find a job to support a family.  Writing was relegated to the early morning hours while everyone slept.  In the autumn of my years, I have written thousands of poems and published little.  I am more interested in the process of creating then in fame and fortune.  Winter is around the corner and I find myself also drawing and creating art.  I wonder what will happen to my creative work after I am gone.  Will it disappear?  Or will it find a home somewhere?

In 1977, I published Winter Silence, my first book of haiku to celebrate the birth of my daughter.  The book was organized by the seasons.  In 2014, I read and recorded the haiku from that book.  Enjoy this short reading.

May your heart rejoice 
with the coming of robins in the spring.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Harley King

Maya Pyramids - Mexico       

My most memorable class in high school was American History my junior year, not because of the subject but because of the teacher.  He encouraged me to think.  In college, I took only required history classes and I could not tell you anything about them today.  History was not something that inspired me.  I came from the generation that spouted such slogans as "Don't Trust anyone over 30."

I did not discover the value of history until I was in my early forties.  I was taking a trip to Mexico with my family and decided to read something about the history of Mexico.  I read the book, The Conquest of New Spain, by Bernal Diaz del Castillo.  Diaz was a soldier with Hernan Cortez when he conquered the Aztecs.  He wrote this first hand account years later.  I was hooked.  I was soon reading other books of history as well as biographies and memoirs.

Buddha - Asia
History at its heart is about storytelling, not dates and names.  And history like all good stories has many lessons to teach if we are paying attention.  Nations and their leaders, unfortunately, have a tendency to repeat the mistakes of the past.  We never seem to be able to learn from history.  By the second or third generation after a key historical event, the lessons are being forgotten.

But history goes beyond nations and their leaders.  Artistic disciplines also have a history.  Beginning artists study past artists.  Beginning writers study great writers.  Beginning musicians study previous musicians.  Failure to know the historical roots of one's artistic profession will often lead to mediocre artistic endeavors.  As creative leaders we need to know from where we came.

The same is true in business.  If business leaders do not know the history their organization and their industry, they will make the same mistakes that their predecessors did.  History has so much to teach.  We need to pay attention.

And we also have personal histories.  Where were you born?  What was your childhood like? Do you know the history of your family? What mistakes did you make?  Have you learned from your mistakes?  Or have you repeated your mistakes again and again?

May you learn the lessons that history has to teach and pass them onto others.

Machu-pichu, Peru, Inca

Monday, April 6, 2015

Harley King

There are hundreds of reasons that we should believe in our talents.  As creative leaders, we should celebrate our unique visions of the worlds we inhabit.  We should be proud of our accomplishments and our victories.

Yet, many of us are plagued by self-doubt and a lack of confidence.  We feel we are not good enough.  Even when we are successful, we are afraid that others will discover that we are frauds.  We race through life hoping that the truth will not be revealed and that we can escape embarrassment and shame.

We fail to realize that we have many reasons to love ourselves.  We are so busy focusing on our mistakes and weaknesses that we don't ever discover the truth.  We see only our faults and failures.

Open your eyes and see beyond your mistakes.  Take a moment and give thanks for who you are and what you have been able to accomplish.  Count all the reasons you should love yourself.  Then accept the gift of talent that you have been given and appreciate your strengths.  Be confident.  Be strong.  Love yourself.