Monday, October 29, 2007

Let There Be Light

For the last several days—I guess because the temperatures in northern New Mexico are reaching lows that typify most winter days in central Texas—my thoughts have been on those glorious, frosty mornings that invigorate me. It’s still fall here at 7000 feet, although snow is on the mountain tops. The Aspens have just about finished their autumnal work, although the cottonwoods are showing off at lower elevations, including here in Santa Fe. I’ve made trips to Abiquiu and Cordova recently. The scene along the river is golden. I wrote what follows in early December two years ago. Memories are not limited to time and place.

December 6, 2005. Today, I was reminded of winter in an unexpected way. I had spent the night in Columbus with friends who own a bed and breakfast, where we enjoyed a fire both last evening and again this morning. Braced with coffee, good conversation and intent on a mission over in another county that had grown out of our conversation, I made my way through this entirely rural area of rolling hills, pastureland turned now to autumn yellow, and cattle. Seeing cattle in rural Texas ordinarily is nothing to take particular note of, although the site of a herd of Longhorns or Herefords is attention getting. I haven’t thought much about the visual impact of a herd of cattle, but on this pre-winter morning a herd of Gray Brahmans quietly and slowly making their way across an autumn yellow field captured my eye and caused me to pause, considering a digital memory. I was on a mission, remember, and though I was going down the road a little farther, I knew that shortly I would capture this Canon, or old-fashioned Kodak, moment.

My official business complete, I headed back up the road, wrestling with my camera bag, only to discover what I thought was a battery in need of a charge. “Damn!” I said out loud, probably adding a “Give me a break!,” discovering happily while trying not to run into the ditch that the battery wasn’t dead at all—instead, still in the charging device waiting to do its job.

Given the skiddish nature of Brahmans (in the northwest Harris County country where I grew up, I am accustomed to hearing that word pronounced “Braymers” or even “Brimmers”), I expected that I would have to step silently through the ditch to the fence line to avoid sending them into cattle-thundering flight. I had noticed at my first pass the virtually upright horns of many members of this herd. It was this notice that caused me to think of those Braymers I remembered on my grandmother and uncle’s place as I young child—old-fashioned Braymers. To my surprise, they stood quietly as I approached the fence, and seemed totally at ease with my presence and my camera. They stood in pose, heads held high, feet planted solidly in the frosty grass of this December morning, gray Brahmans against glistening light. Let there be light.

So often, pictures are disappointing, especially outdoor scenes, when on review we say, “Why did I take that? Oh well, I guess you had to be there.” Not this day. When I got home and loaded the images onto my laptop, I saw what I hoped I had captured—lovely gray cattle, some with horns reaching for the sky, others with horns that had been tipped, and some with no horns at all, all facing the camera proudly, curiously, dark hooves set against the evidence of winter to come on this sunny December morning. Let there be light.

Let There Be Light
Harold Hollis (Normangee Texas – December 6, 2005)

Friday, October 26, 2007

Reading Our Lives

As I head north on Galisteo to my casita, sometimes several times a day, my attention is drawn to the small sign at the edge of the Unitarian Universalist Church campus. “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.” Thomas Paine said that, and I like it. That was back in August and September, and I just assumed that it was a statement of what the UUC stands for and therefore permanent. When I returned to Santa Fe in mid October, I discovered that the sign had changed to words that ring equally true—“It is in our lives and not from our words that our religion must be read.” That’s Thomas Jefferson.

Recently while searching online at the downtown library, trying to find a DVD to check out, I dredged my mind for every popular film I could think of from the last few years, none of which I had seen during the theater run. As circumstance would have it, everything was either checked out, “in process” or some other state of being that I don’t recall. Finally, I went to the check out desk for the media department and asked, “Where are the DVDs shelved? Maybe I can find something there because every title I type in is unavailable.” Nothing caught my eye as I scanned the sparsely populated shelves. Then I spied Ken Burns’s piece on Thomas Jefferson.

A trip to the library isn’t necessary to find more information than you care to know about polar bears. The same is true, of course, for Thomas Jefferson. The internet—Wikipedia is my favorite—sits out there waiting to catch us up on the facts of our history that many of us have either forgotten, or maybe never really learned to begin with. I wonder how much a typical American with a high school diploma remembers about Thomas Jefferson. Although Jefferson was the third president of the United States, he chose not to include that accomplishment in an epitaph “written by him with an insistence that only his words and ‘not a word more’ be inscribed”:


According to Wikipedia, “when President John F. Kennedy welcomed forty-nine Nobel Prize winners to the White House in 1962 he said, ‘I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent and of human knowledge that has ever been gathered together at the White House—with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.’”[2] April 29, 1962 dinner honoring 49 Nobel Laureates (Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations, 1988, from Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy, 1962, p. 347).

Jefferson was raised in the Church of England, what became the Episcopal Church in the United States in 1789. However, he is generally known to have been a Deist. The religious philosophy of Deism derives the existence and nature of God from reason and personal experience, in contrast to theism, which characterizes Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and which relies on revelation in sacred scriptures or the testimony of other people.

According to Wikipedia, Jefferson was considered a polymath, the Greek term for a person with encyclopedic, broad, or varied knowledge or learning. Among his many talents and accomplishment are counted horticulturist, statesman, architect, archaeologist, paleontologist, author, inventor and founder of the University of Virginia. My head spins to consider that a single human being could be so gifted. What sticks in my mind today, though, and for the last two weeks since returning to Santa Fe, is that sign on the edge of the campus of the Unitarian Universalist Church, “It is in our lives and not from our words that our religion must be read.” And I can’t forget the words of Mr. Paine: “My country is the world, and my religion is to do good.”

Over the centuries wars have been fought, are being fought, lives lost or otherwise destroyed, all in the name of someone’s God. All we have to do today is click on cable TV, pick up a news magazine, spend time among the flock of our religion of choice, or listen to one of the politicians who boasts the God-given rights of his religion. We are likely to witness something elitist, separatist, judgmental or unfriendly in character. It might not happen in the pulpit, but it will happen. It might even be something as simple as failing to make a stranger or newcomer in church feel welcome.

As part of worship in the Episcopal Church, we exchange the Peace near the end of the liturgy. “God’s peace,” or “the peace of the Lord”, we say, extending our hand to our neighbor. Generally, people acknowledge those seated around them, but sometimes they make a special effort to move up the aisle, or to someone seated in another part of the sanctuary. In the small central Texas mission church where I worshiped for a few years recently, we pretty much made the rounds, shaking hands, but mostly hugging one another in God’s name. That was nice. What is more standard in larger churches though is a formal shaking of hands, except for those with whom you feel a particular closeness. It’s hugs for them. I’ve even heard people say that some don’t like the exchanging of the Peace. Maybe it’s too “new age”.

Last week I had a strange experience. I decided at the beginning of the week to make a calendar that included events at the church where I worship, including Morning Prayer on Friday. Seated and ready to participate, only three people present, the woman in charge welcomed me to St. Bede’s. I replied that I had been attending St. Bede’s for two months, sitting right across the aisle from her. As I recall, I had shaken her hand at least once during the Peace, maybe caught her eye and nodded my head as my lips moved, “God’s Peace”. I don’t think she knew what to say. It has been my experience at several churches over the last three years that people generally flock to their friends and family after the final hymn. At St. Bede’s, where I sit on the back row, and then stand to listen to the organist’s Postlude after worship ends, a few people have nodded at me, said “good morning” or offered their hand as they passed by. I’m still waiting for someone to come up to me and say, “would you like to have a cup of coffee?” Secretly, I think, “I am the new kid on the block”. Maybe someone is waiting for me to do the same. After all, it is God’s house, and it belongs to me as well, even if I am a stranger in a strange land. It is in what we do that our religion is read.

Reading Our Lives—Santa Fe, New Mexico (October 26, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

I am blessed, I am blessing

In the night, I understand.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

Can this be? Yes.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

Yet I wrest. Stop.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

Let me fall. Get up.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

I am wrong. No.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

In the day, my heart divides.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

Come share this bread. Tell me.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

I love you. I love you.
I am blessed, I am blessing.

I am blessed, I am blessing—Santa Fe, New Mexico (October 23, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Monday, October 22, 2007

Stepping Up

Do we ever get too old to make the same kind of transparent excuses we made as children? My dog ate my homework is a classic. Another one I used to hear, it seems from my colleague and friend Mark, was “my homework flew into the ditch as I was getting on the school bus”. Also from Mark, something he borrowed from the universe of published thoughts, “do good, and avoid evil”. I have experienced a lion’s share of hungry dogs recently, and I guess I have to acknowledge my own part in all of this. The experiences of children might be funny in the retelling, but for adults, well, the rose of innocence is already tarnished.

I have spent many sleepless hours in the middle of the night gnawing on things done and left undone. Stripped bare of the defenses that build up during the hours of consciousness, I have a well-rehearsed list of failures waiting to confront me and my pillow. I guess it must be the same for all of us. Somehow I find reassurance when I balm myself with the hope that some of the people who populate my world are giving pause to their own failure to step up, to take responsibility. Wanting others to shoulder what rightly belongs to us is an easy habit to form and a tough one to break.

Last summer, the outside mirror on the driver’s side of my truck was side-swiped on a narrow, heavily-traveled street here in Santa Fe. That could be just about any street. “Damn,” I stomped, on discovering it. I quickly felt responsible, although I couldn’t help but wonder what went through the mind of the guy who clipped me. I was parked against the curb, my truck and outside mirrors passed muster for Ford. The only reasonable thing I could have done to prevent my loss of $307 was either fold in my mirror (practical) or not park on a busy, narrow street (not so practical). It was an accident, if you believe in such, and what I learned from it stays with me each time I park my truck anywhere in a city that is rife with narrow streets and stingily marked parking spaces. I wonder if the guy who hit me even remembers the incident four months later, or did he just blame some unknown person who obviously didn’t know how to park his truck. I wonder what happened to his outside mirror.

Recently I bought a set of table legs, handsomely and typically crafted during New Mexico’s WPA arts flourish of the late 1930s. At the same yard sale I bought a slab of cottonwood, probably 20” wide, to use as a table top. “I wonder who I could get to put these pieces together,” I commented to a local guy who was junking with me that day. He quickly offered to craft the table for me. “Man, how painless is that,” I relished to myself. Oddly, after leaving the pieces at his place, he joked to me the next morning at the neighborhood coffee shop that I could make a gift of the table for his recently-acquired warehouse apartment. “It’s just stuff,” he grinned. I declined. Later that day I bought him a bit to use with his drill for joining the top to the legs. He’s not returning my phone calls, and he hasn’t acknowledged the note I left on his door a couple of days ago. He’s in town. His two Great Pyrennes were at home. “Damn,” I should have followed my gut instinct and collected the table parts that day. Maybe he’ll do the right thing, maybe he won’t. He really hadn’t done anything to earn my trust. I wonder what’s going through his mind.

I live at the end of a narrow and heavily-parked dirt easement. On any given day at least a dozen cars line the outer edges and so-called defined parking spaces of the easement. To consider this in any way a friendly parking situation is laughable. Introduce one vehicle parked in an unfriendly manner—the sign says NO PARKING—and the playing field suddenly becomes virtually inoperable. From the neighbor who brings in the foreign vehicle, a girlfriend sleepover who apparently has become a regular, well, the story just has too many details. Let’s just say that the dog ate his homework. It would be equally relevant. Rather than stew over it—I had left a note on the windshield as I squeezed my way out to go for coffee—my landlord suggested that I knock on the door, ask them to move the car and not park in NO PARKING again. Apparently they weren’t even home when I attempted to rouse them. I shake my head and chuckle when I think about the third time I returned home that morning, having decided to park on the side street rather than squeeze my truck through the narrow opening on the road to my parking space. Yes, Booth is one of those typical Santa Fe streets, made for vehicles the size of bumper cars in an amusement park. No fault, no blame this time regarding outside mirrors. There were no parking spaces. I wonder if my neighbor will have his girlfriend park on the side street now.

Someone has suggested that I’m sending messages to the universe inviting conflict. I’m ready to believe it, so in the middle of the night, when I’m caught off-guard, my defenses down, I try to practice sending the right kind of messages, and tonight at 3:00 a.m., I’m sitting at my laptop, working out the responsibility for the vibrations escaping my mind and messing with my world.

Stepping Up—Santa Fe, New Mexico (October 22, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Good Thing About Telling the Truth

“If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything.”
Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1894

A few years ago someone I know through collecting antiques said to me, “the good thing about telling the truth is that you don’t have to remember what you said”. Great words, don’t you think? At the time I didn’t realize that he was paraphrasing Mark Twain. He probably didn’t either. Unfortunately, the person borrowing Mr. Twain’s advice didn’t follow it.

We were together that Saturday because he had contacted me regarding a piece of Texas furniture he felt certain I would like. I made the drive 50 miles northwest of Houston to see a rare gem of a candle stand, supposedly “found” in Lee County, an area of the state known for some premier examples of 19th century furniture craftsmanship. I have to admit that upon first seeing the stand I gasped with pleasure. It was tall, folky and primitive, possessing perfect scale in dimensions, and even though it was painted with white porch enamel, the paint had been on the piece for a long time. Everything worked! The price was steep, $600, and my gut instinct told me that maybe this rare candle stand was a little too rare to be real. I had never seen another stand like this with a Texas provenance. I took the bait, and I took the candle stand home.

Anyone who knows me and my collecting also knows that I get pretty excited when I find anything that I think is wonderful, but especially excited when the piece is from Texas. Naturally, I shared my news with the few people who would have appreciated my find. My bubble was burst when on the following Tuesday I received a “thank you” note in the mail from—you know who—telling me that he had remembered his own finding experience relating to the candle stand a little differently. As it turned out, he had participated in a dealer sale in Lee County where dealers had brought merchandise gathered from various parts of the U. S. The bottom line, he couldn’t really attribute the stand to Texas. From Saturday afternoon until Tuesday…hmmm…I wonder when he wrote the card. Had the ink dried by the time I made it back to Houston? So much for the truth making life easier.

I don’t recall how much time passed before I had the courage to answer my one burning question about the candle stand. Most likely it was only a couple of months. The truth lay within easy reach. Under the lid of the stand, a piece of heavy paper was folded and lodged between the lid and the cleat that joined the pedestal to the lid. The cleat had been morticed into the lid, and over time shrinkage had caused the lid to become loose. The folded paper had been placed there many years ago in an effort to tighten up the lid, probably at the time the original blue paint was painted over.

A collector and friend visiting me in Houston announced on Saturday morning while we were having coffee, he still in his bathrobe, “let’s settle this”. So with candle stand in hand we headed to the garage for the paint remover. First, though, I dug the folded paper out of its paint-secured place, and on opening it found that it was a post card. Both sender and receiver were residents of Pennsylvania. It all made sense. Folky, graceful stand, lid morticed to the pedestal, square nails used in attaching the legs to the pedestal. Yes, too good to be true concerning the Texas provenance, but no stretch at all for it to be a wonderful, and perhaps rare, early, artful stand from Pennsylvania. The rest of the story concerning the candle stand isn’t really important. We removed the white paint, took the stand back into the house, where I had decided to enjoy it for its truth.

I kept the stand for a few years and sold it for a little profit to someone who wanted it because of its provenance. I told her the entire story. It’s been a long time since I’ve thought about this episode in truth telling. From the arrival of the “thank you” note through today, I have smiled a little while sighing with regret that any of us needs to mess with the truth. We all do it, I assume to gain ground or accomplish some end that somehow seems important, even necessary at the time. Working over the truth isn’t limited to straight-out lying, however. It happens any time we reshape reality to suit our own needs—lying, fibbing, exaggerating, telling stuff at someone else’s expense, regardless of the truth. Perhaps the greatest irony in this pathetic tale is the guy who brought me to the candle stand. He claims to be “born again”. “Born into what,” I ask. Recently I discovered that a secondary definition for “impeccable” is “free from sin: so perfect in character as to be incapable of sinning”. Something else I read recently offers as a life guideline that we “be impeccable” with our word, that we use the power of our words in love and truth. I don’t see any perfection in my own future, but I sure like being reminded that truth-telling is a big, old energy boost to my memory.

The Good Thing About Telling the Truth—Santa Fe, New Mexico (October 17, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Friday, October 12, 2007

Somestimes it is About Choices

"I cried because I had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no feet." I am blessed to be back in northern New Mexico, where the weather is cool and sunny, right now, that's all that matters. As I drove west from Santa Rosa and then across I-25 to Santa Fe, my eyes periodically caught the outside temperature that my truck can register. It dropped t0 79 just below Las Vegas...ahhh.

My landlady says that she and I will find out why we crossed paths. She also told me about THE FOUR AGREEMENTS by Don Miguel Ruiz. As I started this little book back in August, I thought, "here's another guy making a million off of a bunch of people who are clutching for a solution." Well, guess what, what I think doesn't really matter to anyone else. I read the agreements, and now they've gotten hold of me .

Be Impeccable With Your Word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.

Don't Take Anything Personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.

Don't Make Assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

Always Do Your Best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

For Yourself

Do what you do for yourself.
Don’t do it for me.
Tell what you tell for yourself.
Don’t tell it for me.
See what you see for yourself.
Don’t see it for me.
Go where you go for yourself.
Don’t go there for me.
Be what you are for yourself.
Don’t be it for me.

For Yourself—Abilene, Texas (October 11, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Leaving Money on the Table

People who deal in tangibles of one kind or another have a term, “leaving money on the table”. Real estate, personal property, and for the people that I’m spending quality time with as fall begins in Texas 2007, what we call antiques are moving across the landscape. No different than any other time when people are exchanging things that have material consequence, we are all at least a little aware of the money we leave on the table. Knowing this doesn’t exactly fill us with a warm glow. Accepting this, however, is probably healthier than any of us realize.

Somewhere along the way years ago I got into the habit of focusing my efforts on selling to other dealers. The reasons are simple, really. Dealers are the most reliable buyers. Generally speaking, they have more knowledge, they have a better idea of what they want, they have a sense of what they can get for the things they buy, and perhaps at some level they understand how much they will enjoy having a certain object in their lives for awhile. I am keenly aware of how much I like having around me the things that please my eye, that fill a room with an “ahhh”, and sometimes even smell good. If you have any memories of family times in an old house, you know that warmth. A hand made cupboard has that warmth. Run your hand across the surface of a table that holds the memories of 150 years of human community.

Leaving money on the table is a Catch-22, a quandary, and the price for doing business. Regularly I give myself little lectures where I say that I’m going to hold out for better money. Sometimes I like something enough that I just say to myself, “I won’t take less than—pick a number—for this.”

I sold a quilt two days ago that brought me great joy every time I looked at it. I had bought it “right”, as we say, and I had high hopes that it would fetch a few hundred dollars. This was its second trip to the semi-annual market I do in central Texas. On the last trip, aside from a couple of dealers with whom I set up, no one even commented on the quilt, let alone ask for a price. I had draped it across the top of an eight-foot-tall display panel where it could command attention. And when the market ended, I folded it and returned it to the laundry bag that had protected it since it entered the market in someone else’s hands awhile back.

My quilt, fanciful circles of vintage fabric, stitched onto a field of red more gorgeous than any other red I’ve ever seen, backed with a yellow the color of the most beautiful sunflower you’ve ever seen, is now in the hands of a really nice woman whose eye was “caught” from across the building, where the quilt was once again draped across the top of an eight-foot-tall display panel. Dealer/buyers with keen eyes and similar taste had been through our set up, and none of them had expressed an interest in this quilt. I had mixed feelings, bittersweet, as I folded the quilt, returned it the laundry bag, and accepted the buyer’s check. “That should have brought a lot more money,” even though I had made a very respectable return on my investment. Wall Street should be so good to me.

I watched her carry the quilt across the parking lot, holding it by the hanger and draped across her back, as the yellow backing with red stitching disappeared around the corner. She was accompanied by her mother and her own little girl—three generations of their family. The quilt is for her second home in the small, country town where we sell. Later that day one of the dealers who sets up with me said “that quilt should have brought a lot more money”. “Yeah, it should have,” I replied.

Well, it’s all just stuff. Name your poison. Suddenly in some part of the world a place gets hot, and the real estate market catches on fire. Outsiders with big money pay big money, and some people who have lived there for generations end up having to sell and move because they can’t afford the property taxes. So you say, “well, they got good money. They can buy somewhere else.” I say, “What’s your point? They didn’t want to move to begin with.” It’s just land to some people, but to other people, it’s their home.

In a small West Texas town, someone has inherited a bunch of stuff from an aunt, so they’re having a garage sale to get rid of things. A beer flat contains a wealth of junk jewelry, including a rare Bakelite necklace. The flat costs five dollars. Luck of the draw, you just happen to be on a driving vacation, six hundred miles from home, basking in the cool, dry air and sunshine of an early November day, roaming through neighborhoods looking for garage sales, and as it turns out, you just happen to know someone who later tells you after you’ve priced it, “I’d put a ZERO behind that 35”. Later you say, “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

A mother dies, and the family is forced to deal with all the earthly possessions she leaves behind. Odd, isn’t it, what people value. A water hose suddenly deserves to be transported 100 miles to a place that already has an abundance of water hoses. A sofa that never has been particularly comfortable and has no family history becomes a treasure. A quilt that was bought “right”, but was given as a gift instead of being sold, gets folded and added to a stack because it holds a memory. A quilt you bought and sold, that again caused you to laugh at Wall Street, won’t let go of you. So two years later you buy it back, and this time you have to put money on the table.

Leaving Money on the Table—Fayetteville, Texas (October 2, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Beautiful Man

Walk into my life, beautiful man
Don’t hold back, grip my hand
Walk into my life, beautiful man

Stand out from the crowd, beautiful man
Find new birth, catch my eye
Stand out from the crowd, beautiful man

Choose me from the span, beautiful man
Don’t assess, see my worth
Choose me from the span, beautiful man

Brush against my arm, beautiful man
Smell my face, taste my skin
Brush against my arm, beautiful man

Walk with me awhile, beautiful man
Breathe release, catch my dream
Walk with me awhile, beautiful man

Lean into my care, beautiful man
Trust your gaze, seize this day
Lean into my care, beautiful man

Beautiful Man—Fayetteville, Texas (October 3, 2007)
R. Harold Hollis