Mr. Natural

April 21st, 2011

Once in a while I get sententious.  Skip this one if you’re not in the mood.

Okay, so now we live in towns and cities and for most of us scenery is something we see on television. But we came out of the natural world, and it’s got lessons for us. A lot of the time when we feel we’re stuck in our lives, we’re forgetting one or more of those lessons.

The improbable is always possible. Look at the platypus. The centipede. The seahorse. The fact that there are more species of orchid than any other plant on the planet. Nature thrives on the improbable. Do you sometimes look at your plans, your dreams, and say, “Never happen?” Well, put a sock in it. Your dreams may be improbable, but so are the potato bug and the three-toed sloth, and both of those are having an okay time. Do you seriously believe you can’t realize a dream that’s on a par with the three-toed sloth? Puh-leeeeez.

“Difficult” is a relative term. Long ago, earth contained one, and only one, continent, which we’ve retroactively named Pangaea. Naturally, since it was the one and only continent, it was surrounded by the earth’s one and only ocean, which we could retroactively call the Really Big-Ass Ocean. And then what happened? Well Pangaea broke into all the current continents and major island groups and they floated away from each other like big paper boats until they gave us uses for words like “Europe” and “South America” and “Tahiti.” Does that sound easy? No. Did it happen anyway? Yes? How? Through the persistent application of effort over time. And even though time is a lot shorter for us than it is for rocks, most difficulties will yield to the persistent application of effort over time. And exercising effort persistently over time can also teach us that there’s such a thing as good difficult. Writing a book, for example, is good difficult.

It’s possible to change course at any time. The fossil record is a chronicle of one life form after another plodding along for a while and then getting a better idea and learning how to skip or square-dance. Some of these new ideas, although they may have seemed modest at first, were game-changers. The backbone, for example. The backbone is such a good idea that it’s hard to believe that there weren’t any during most of the time life has been on earth. It seems like basic equipment, but in fact it was a late inspiration. The animals that embraced it learned to walk upright, some of them, and developed interesting brains. The ones that didn’t remained sponges and arthropods.

What’s the lesson? If what you’re doing isn’t working, change it. If change is life’s fundamental mode of finding its way, you can to it, too. Change the way you do whatever you do. Find a new center, or keep the one you have now and do whatever it is more often and with greater seriousness. Or maybe more joy. And it doesn’t matter that you can’t see when you make the change where it will ultimately lead you. The backbone eventually led to the invention of running shoes, bifocals, and the croissant, and who could have predicted that?

Cataclysms are also beginnings. A star explodes, scattering light and radioactivity and gas through space. And iron and carbon and all the heavier elements, and those things become planets around new stars and maybe interesting life forms develop there. A whopping meteorite slams into the Caribbean and raises a cloud of dust that, over tens of thousands of years, kills off most of the species on earth – but also makes it possible for mammals to get a new start up the organizational ladder. Without exploding stars earth wouldn’t be here. Without meteorites and mass extinctions, we wouldn’t be here. Every now and then, our lives slam into a concrete wall, and everything goes flying, some of it beyond recovery. That’s a GREAT time to start something new. Let’s develop a stupid metaphor. Your entire life has been dedicated to a one-person art form, epic abstract poems in which you rhyme license plates. The DMV implants little chips in cars and does away with license plates. Guess what? You don’t have to rhyme license plates any more. Look around. Surely there are thousands of things you’d like to do. Do one or two or three of them. You’ve been given a new beginning. Whoopee.

You deserve beauty. Look at the universe. Look at galaxies, moths, the human eye, any aspect of the water cycle, the shape of the hand, the fact that there are more species of orchid than any other kind of plant on the planet. Virtually everything natural is beautiful. Nature defaults to beauty. If you don’t have beauty in your life, you’re cheating yourself of something that’s your fundamental right. If I believed in souls, I’d say you’re endangering your soul. If you find yourself in this state of being, the first question is, “Am I seeing the beauty that surrounds me?” If you’ve tried and you don’t see any, but you recognize it elsewhere or in other ways of living, then go where the beauty is and/or change the way you live.

If you want to see what happens when someone excludes beauty from his list of priorities, take a look at Donald Trump. Look at that mouth. This is a guy who only goes outside on a golf course.

‘Nuff said.

14 Responses to “Mr. Natural”

  1. Tom Logan Says:

    I cannot read your blog posts without engaging that part of me that thinks. Thanks again, Tim, for pushing the “start” button and making me work.

    A friend of mine wrote: “Piece of mind is not possible without living in nature.” I believe that is true.

  2. EverettK Says:

    I knew it! I knew it!!! I knew you couldn’t let go of The Donald. Here you are, with a perfectly lovely column filled with all kinds of wonderful advice, and then you ruin it with the last paragraph. It’s like… it’s like… it’s like living through the entire 20th century and all the wonderful things that happened therein, and then getting George W Bush at the end of it all. Just leaves a sour taste in your soul, you know?

    But very nice column, lots of wonderful advice, Tim. Sheesh, maybe you should have an advice column in the newspapers (if they weren’t disappearing): Dear Timmy…

  3. Debbi Says:

    Never talk to me about impossible. How many people would’ve predicted that a self-published author would’ve ended up on the New York Times bestseller list? Ahem! 🙂

  4. Robb Royer Says:

    But Everett, where beauty is discussed to the point of near tears, there must be a moment dedicated to ugliness. It is balance. It is ebb and flow. The primal forces of nature, Mr Beale. And where ugliness is your subject, Trump’s mouth is an excellent place to start. That weird undulating, slithering, self distorting hole. Apropos of nothing, I once knew a lady who pictured herself a writer of comic songs who wrote a song called Donald Trump’s hair and actually put a picture of herself with Trump’s hair superimposed on the cover. You wanna talk about ugly. At lunch with a bunch of songwriters she was bragging that she actually got El Donald to autograph it which made her a lifelong Trump fan, and when I guess I wasn’t responding with enough enthusiasm, she turned to me with great accusation and said ‘what exactly is your problem with Donald Trump anyway?! After spitting my coffee across the room I mumbled something about ego without apparent cause, a perfect dwarf star of misplaced smugness, making a fortune by leaving others with tens of millions of bad debt… she wasn’t buying any of it. They’re out there people. The body snatchers. I hope when we say anything’s possible we aren’t including the ghastly prospect of that asshole being taken seriously as a president.

  5. Stephen Cohn Says:

    Do I hear the sound of a Buddhist?

  6. Rachel Brady Says:

    Beautiful piece, Tim.

  7. Suzanna Says:


    If, God forbid, you are snatched by aliens and we are left here grieving your disappearance I will hang onto this post for dear life and forever because in it is the essence of why I love you so dearly.

    Your intelligence, humor, your love for life, and deep understanding for that which plagues the creative spirit are all here. I don’t know how you did it but you did.

    Thank you, you are an inspiration.

  8. Bonnie Says:

    I have been doing a lot of my leisure surfing lately on a browser that doesn’t let me see the captcha picture, so I haven’t been replying much in here. But this post of yours reminds me of something I was struck by a couple weeks ago, when they were talking about shutting down the federal government for failure to reach a budget compromise. NPR was running a piece on the Florida Everglades and why everyone appreciated them so much. And I thought, it’s really the ultimate class war issue. First we determine that certain precious or unique spots in nature are too valuable to be privately owned; rather, they form a sort of collective patrimony for people who live in this country. But guess what is sacrificed first when the funds get tight?

    And on this and Tim’s prior post, he had been unaware when he posted that Gary Trudeau had been looking over his shoulder and picked the same target this week. I took it as proof that great minds think alike, but perhaps some things are just meant to be.

  9. EverettK Says:

    I know, Robb, and you’re absolutely right (of course). It’s just that… well… I used to play racquetball, then I ran, then disc golf. Now, my latest sport is Tweaking Tim. There seems to be a trend there, I seem to be moving from intense to sedentary. 🙂

  10. Peg Brantley Says:

    Printing this one out, Tim. Thanks.

  11. Robert DeVere Says:

    And only because I’m feeling contradictious, 😉

    1) The highly probable still might not happen. Nothing is a lock, no matter how much you want it and how hard you try.
    2) The ability to change course at will is an illusion–a useful one, but heavily weighted with self-delusion. Very few of us ever achieve it. Ask the smokers and drinkers amongst us. That some do, and even manage to lose weight in the process is both inspirational and confounding. I know you are a success story here, but that you are in such small company is the reality.
    3)Cataclysms are also beginnings, but mostly they are just endings. That the cockroach may inherit the world we leave behind in our destructive path to ruin is small comfort to anyone but the cockroach, who is too busy to appreciate the gift we offer.
    4) I’m trying very hard to be contrarian, but you may have frustrated that effort with “deserve beauty.” Still, I would suggest that the word “deserve” implies more spiritual existence than I subscribe to. I don’t believe in my own soul, and the jury is out on the rest of you. However, seeking beauty until you find it everywhere is hard to disparage as a philosopby. I live in the desert now and while most find it devoid of beauty, it takes very little to appreciate the real beauty here. It isn’t the beauty of flowers or trees and usually not even the beauty of clouds. It is stark, monotonous, harsh, and compelling.
    Ultimately, I hope your array of fans will note the difference in tone between your positive observations and my negative ones. Imagine how different the lives of two people who followed one or the other alone. Is it all about balance? How about Palin-Trump in 2012? A ticket everyone could hate.

  12. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, everybody — Wow, look at all the reaction.

    Tom, thanks for the endorsement and also for the quotation. I think that when Thoreau said, “In wilderness is the preservation of the world,” he was talking as much about what it does for our spirits as he was about anything else.

    Everett, meet Robert. His post and the mention of Trump make it clear that there’s a spectrum of possibilities here — I’m not talking about random acts of personal violence, such as a hit-and-run or a bad x-ray — and that, within those limitations, most of us can play a role in choosing which half of the spectrum we wish to occupy. (I’ll go into this in more detail when I answer Robert.) And also, the post was way too Mary Sunshine and it needed a twist of lemon. Trump is always good for lemon. (I actually find it comforting to remember he’s really a rabbit.) And if I thought I could make a nickel off “Dear Timmy,” I’d do it in a second. Maybe an online advice column with advertising from tranquilizers and Kleenex?

    Debbi, absolutely — and a huge armload of congratulations. Just don’t do an Amanda Hocking and desert your e-book fans. (I just declined a traditional publishing offer for the Junior Bender series.) And now you can tell me to mind my own business.

    Robb, that’s a brilliant rant and I wish (a) I’d written it, and (b) you’d asked me to post it as a blog all by itself. As adrift as this nation seems to be right now (let’s pat down more of those six-year-old terrorists at the airport, and by all means let’s spend our way out of the deficit) I don’t think it’s far enough adrift to take that asshole seriously. Just think of the video clips of him making an ass of himself, all available to anyone who runs against him. You could just do a “you’re fired” montage, with that dwerky little rabbit-paw gesture, and he’d be toast.

    Thank you, Rachel — I appreciate that. Praise is always in short supply, especially when one soaks it up as I do.

    Suzanna, if I get abducted by aliens, I just hope they put a seed pod under my bed first and leave one of them here looking like me. It’d be worth it just to know what kind of an ending he comes up with for THE GROWING YOUNGER MAN. Thanks, as always for being your own self.

    More later — got deadline bells ringing.

  13. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Back again, having missed the deadline.

    Bonnie, I wondered where you were. By the way, the check is in the mail, and that’s the truth. Anyone with a free minute should follow Bonnie’s link and page through the Trump Doonsbury strips, if only to see how Trudeau draws that hair. It’s hilarious from every angle. (But there’s a lot more to laugh at, besides that.) Trudeau steals from me all the time, by the way.

    Thanks for finding me printer-worthy, Peg.

    Robert — I love your reply. I can argue with you straight across the board, but of course, you’re as right as I am, which is to say that we’re both part right. What I was trying to suggest, especially in the points about improbability and changing course, is that nothing will ever change unless we overcome our fears and self-judgment and make an effort, acting as though the problem can be solved. If you don’t do this, you’ve lost. If you do, you may fail but you may also find another way to succeed. I absolutely do not believe that the ability to change course is an illusion all the time; in fact, I think it’s doable a significant percentage of the time — but not unless we get our asses in motion and do it. I don’t believe I’m such an exception — I’m a former alcoholic, a former addict, a former not-so-happy guy with a job. To get where I am now, which is a long way from perfect but still happy, I had to do something or NOT do something every single day for a long time and then keep doing it or not doing it for a lot more time, and I also had to turn my back on quite a lot of money, reducing my scale of living very considerably. None of that was easy, but I did it, and tomorrow I might wake up and decide that another change is necessary, whether I pursue it or not. The one thing that’s absolutely 100% certain is that the change WON’T come unless I give it day after day after day. Some people aren’t willing to do that, but I think that most of them don’t attempt it primarily because they don’t believe that things can be changed through anything they personally do. They don’t believe they have the power to improve their lives. And I think that’s very often not true.

    We’re completely together on beauty, though, and I personally think the desert is one of the world’s most beautiful environments.

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