A Man of Letters and Action

People ask, “How have you become a man of both letters and action?”

Ah. I am pleased that they have asked, so that I may share this wisdom with you.

A man of action without being one also of letters is like a sword that is never sharp.

A man of letters without being one also of action is like a flower that never blooms.

And it is so.

The two great gifts I received upon my graduation from high school were these: an unabridged Random House Dictionary of the English Language, and a McCullough chainsaw with an 18-inch bar. I first read the dictionary from cover to cover, pronouncing, understanding, memorizing and savoring each word. Only then did I pick up the chainsaw and cut down a mighty oak, and from this oak I set myself the task of using the chainsaw to carve 10,000 toothpicks. (I still have quite a few if anyone needs toothpicks.)

In this way I prepared myself to become a man.

I WILL MENTION only one teacher from my early life, Mr. Thomas Salvati, principal of Oak Glen High School. One day he observed me doing nothing, caught in a moment of unthinking inaction. He took me aside and imparted this advice.

“When you have a moment with nothing to do, use that time to polish your shoes.”

Ah. So simple, yet so profound.

A description of how I spend each day will help you to understand.

I awaken at exactly 3 a.m. I need no alarm clock. I simply tell myself before going to bed to awaken at that time. Upon awakening, I assume the lotus position on a 30-by-40-inch geometric border tufted rug (washable, $23.74 at Target) and spend half an hour cleansing my mind of unworthy thoughts. Sometimes it takes an hour. Sometimes it takes all day. But it must be done before anything else of value can be accomplished.

I then eat a single unwashed raw potato, skin and all. In this way I reconnect my body to the earth.

Only then, my mind cleansed and my body reconnected to the earth, do I set about the day’s tasks. On some days I write. On others, I study: philosophy (Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius, Snoop Dogg); history (Herodotus, John Toland, Keith McClung); spirituality (Dante, Bunyan, Joel Osteen); classic literature and poetry (Leo Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Rod McKuen.)

On other days, I work my body, cutting down trees and making them into the things my body needs to live: firewood, lumber, rough clothing. Sweating is essential. Even in the dead of winter, when the temperature is below zero Fahrenheit, I must sweat, for in sweating and voiding, the body is cleansed.

I eat when I am hungry, consuming only fish and wild animals, along with nuts, berries and honey which I accept as gifts from the land. (Though sometimes I treat myself to a package of Pecan Sandies from the Sparkle, the whole thing at one sitting, if I’m feeling a little down.)

I go to bed when the sun sets, and fall asleep instantly by telling myself out loud, “Go to sleep,” and then clapping my hands one time. This I learned from a lamp.

WHO ARE MY MENTORS? There are many: roots, clouds, birds, small mammals. Each has a lesson to tell me, and many are valuable, though some just say, “Don’t eat me!”

I will mention three human sages whose thoughts have guided my thoughts: cartoon character Lucille Van Pelt, who said, “The dreams of night prepare you for the day that follows,” the poet e.e. cummings, who demonstrated the equality of all things by writing only in lowercase, and fitness guru Richard Simmons, who taught me the healing power of Spandex.

There is one other: Bernie Fineman. He taught me that in photographing others, I am actually photographing myself. Long before the word was coined, he showed that every picture is a selfie.

Now that I have written, it is time to go chainsaw something.


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