The philosophy of trash

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 4, 2014 8:47 PM

I’ve mentioned before about my fascination with the discarded items often seen on the roadways, sidewalks and parking lots of the southwest. I have no doubt that these items, or their brethren, are also in the northeast and Midwest. We’ve seen countless shoes, which we refer to as lost soles, and gloves, know to us as idle hands; hats. There are often children’s toys, dolls, stuffed animals, matchbox cars, tiny army men.  Couches, chairs, tables and pillows. Ladders and tools. We’ve even found cell phones. Rarely do I see books, but today on our morning walk with Cooper there were three pages to a book lying in the parking lot we walk through on our way to another sidewalk. Kevin picked them up because it was paper; trash. He often picks up errant and obvious trash as we walk, depositing it into the various dumpsters we encounter in parking lots. I asked to see the pages and he handed them to me.

As Cooper picked his way through the bushes and along the gravel, stopping to sniff first and then to pee, I looked at the three pages, numbering 313 and 314, 317 and 318, 319 and 320. It was the beginning of a chapter called Issues: A very brief overview. Based on the page numbers, it was obviously at the back or end of the book. At the top of left or even pages, was the author’s name: M. L. Rossi. At the top of the right, odd numbered pages was The Big Picture.

A quick glance at the content showed some information about the world and defense and cars and oil and dirty politics. Sounded interesting.

“Do you want me to throw those out?” Kevin asked. I shook my head. “What are you going to do with them?”

“I think there’s a blog post in here somewhere,” I said as I tucked the pages into my pocket.

Here’s a little secret: I am constantly looking for a blog post topic. Sometimes they present themselves easily; sometimes I have to truly dig deep for something, anything to write about. And then there are the mornings when we’re out walking and I find something on the ground.

These pages, it turns out, are from a book entitled “What Every American Should Know About the Rest of the World: Your guide to today’s hot spots, hot shots and incendiary issues. It’s written by Melissa L. Rossi. According to the American Library Association Booklist: This may be the perfect book for paranoiacs, conspiracy buffs, fans of Michael Moore, and just anyone who thinks the people running the world don't have our best interests at heart. … Rossi's premise is simple: there are people and organizations running the world from behind the scenes of government and commerce, and us ordinary folks would be wise to know who they are. Rossi is an award-winning journalist who has written for Newsweek, Newsday, Esquire, George, MSNBC and the New York Observer. She has also written a number of incendiary books, evidently.

When we got home, I pulled the pages out of my pocket and smoothed them out on the kitchen bar. I found such nuggets as “Water Waster: Nearly three-quarters of water in the U.S. is used in the bathroom” and this: “Here Comes Santa Claus: The top three recipients of free U.S. military aid: Israel, Egypt and Colombia – together they receive more than $6 billion in giveaways.”

Note: The book was published in 2003.

I wondered who had been reading the book and why only these three pages were on the ground. What had happened to the other 397? I was also intrigued by the words The Big Picture. Rossi was obviously referring to an overview of everything that happens in the world in regards to weapons and arms and why it is such big business for almost all countries.

But The Big Picture could just as easily been about how we all fit together in this vast puzzle called Earth; how each piece has to have the exact ingress and egress so that the next piece can snap into place, making room for the one after that. People, animals, plants, buildings, cities, cars, states, provinces, countries; oceans, rivers, fish, reefs, ships and boats. Trash. The big picture is how we interact, how we react; how we fight, how we makeup. How we see art, how we make art. How we love.

In the first line of these three pages I found, the text reads: “Love doesn’t make the world go round, arms sales do.” Cynical and true. Whoever had these pages before I did, perhaps when they were still bound in a book, had crossed out “arms sales do” and written in pencil “music does.” I like that philosophy.

I think I’ll call it the philosophy of trash, and on this first Saturday of 2014, it’s one worth celebrating. 

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The allure and wonder of children's books

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, December 18, 2012 10:36 PM

I discovered children’s books at a relatively late stage in development. I think I was about 35. I’m not sure what finally made me realize how wonderful and insightful they can be, but I distinctly remember one Christmas when I decided that what I was going to get all of my clients was a children’s book that had something to do with either what they did or how they lived their lives. I went to Barnes & Noble and settled into the children’s section in the back of the store. I knew I was going to be there for a long time and I was right. I had at least 15 people I was buying for; that meant 15 different books.

I sat on the floor for hours, studying titles, admiring illustrations, reading the stories. I had three piles. One for absolutely positively. One for maybe we’ll see. The third for no way no how. The third pile consisted of books that were mostly too literal and too childish. I know it’s odd to think about since children’s books, by nature and title, should be somewhat childish. But many are quite profound. Many are perfect for adults. Though most are more of the Goodnight Moon variety and definitely for someone who’s 3 and not 30.

I found some wonderful books by Jamie Lee Curtis, some by authors I didn’t recognize. Many of those I chose had watercolor painting illustrations. I gathered up books on color, on questions, on love, on ideas, on creativity, on sharing. Some I bought were Caldecott winners; most were not. I wasn’t looking for award winners; I was simply looking for books that touched me, that talked to me, that rang true.

From Zen Shorts, by Jon Muth

The thing about children’s books is that most do ring true. You can’t be false with children, or at least, you shouldn’t be. You should be straightforward and lyrical, fun but not afraid to be somber, honest and real. Children have a unique way of knowing when something is false. It’s what I admire most about children. It’s what I love about them. Their truth, their forthrightness, their ability to see things for what they are as opposed to what they wish they would be. That kind of cynicism comes later but not much later. It begins before they’re 10, on average, and continues to grow, unabated, until children become adolescents become adults become children again.

Perhaps that’s what I like most about children’s books. They are cyclical. We all start out helpless; we all end that way as well, at least to an extent. It’s the cycle of life. The best children’s books have something to do with that cycle in some way or another.

When Bobbi graduated from Pepperdine University a few years ago, with her Master’s Degree in Psychology, I knew exactly what I was buying for her graduation gift. There was a party for the graduates and their families at a restaurant not far from here. Pepperdine is on the cliffs above Malibu, also not far from here. The restaurant is called Zin Bistro. Bobbi’s parents were in town for the big event. It was a small gathering, and we weren’t going, but we still wanted to be there. I went to my favorite children’s section in my favorite Barnes & Noble, sat on the floor and went through dozens of books. I couldn’t find one that rang true, though I found many that were lovely. I was about to give up. My mind had already started thinking about what else I could do. I started to panic, quietly. When I’ve decided that I know what I want to do and can’t find what I need, I get antsy; I get manic. I got up from the floor, I stood in front of the hardcover section, I turned around to face away from the books and then turned back. Something inside me whispered “it’s there, right in front of you.” This has only happened once or twice before, where I just get a feeling and know that I’m about to find what I’m looking for. The other time was when I wanted to find a 1961 Pebbles Flintstone doll for my sister at a swap meet. In the last row, near the last booth, there she was, waiting for me on a folding card table.

I reached out my hand and pulled Zen Shorts from the shelf. It was perfect. Bobbi loves Buddhism, her online name is zenspeed, The story is simple. A panda named Stillwater befriends three kids and teaches each valuable lessons to help them handle the events in their lives. He uses classic Zen teachings to challenge perspective on our own lives through emotions like anger, worrying and jealousy.   

Like I said, perfect. I bought it, wrapped it, and dropped it off at Zin Bistro before the party.

Maybe it’s because of the holiday, maybe it’s because of the horror in Newtown, but I find myself drawn to children’s books again this day. I find myself celebrating their wonder, their joy, their purity of spirit. There is no better way to live it out loud than through the truth of a simple, profound and simply profound tale.                              

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