What a Great Line

I am currently reading the novel A Thousand Acres (1991), by Jane Smiley.  This is essentially a modern-day version of Shakespeare’s King Lear involving a father’s disinheritance of a daughter from the family farm (a 1,000 acre farm) and the destructive effects of deeply rooted, and long denied, family issues. This novel also is a powerful depiction of estate planning discord. [There are certain tragic elements in the novel that I fortunately do not see often in estate disputes.]

One line in this novel notably jumped out at me the other evening.  It refers to one of the farmer-neighbors named Harold who, often to the humorous and bemused talk of the other neighbors, marches to the beat of his own drummer, but who also is one of the most successful farmers in the community:

Here is the line referring to Harold:

It’s just that he’s [Harold] cannier and smarter than he lets on, and in the slippage between what he looks like and what he is, there’s a lot of freedom.

This line is powerful.  In contrast to Harold, many people are much too concerned about what others think about them. These people stifle their own freedom.

A tie between the above line and this blog post is that my great joy in lawyering is helping clients respond to the currents of life from a position of strength, power, and independence. Independence particularly in terms of having control over their lives, including preventing legal issues, disputes, litigation, not bowing easily to the expectations or judgment of others, and avoiding the time- and emotionally-draining interference and overreach by others.

In one of my earlier blog posts, captioned “Helping Clients Have Power;  Blog Post 2 of 3” (click here for this earlier post), I referred to two of the saddest characters in literature: Willy Loman in the play Death of a Salesman (Arthur Miller) and George Babbitt in the novel Babbitt (Sinclair Lewis). Each of these characters demonstrates so powerfully the sad, unhappy mistake of maintaining such a persistent, engulfing concern about what others think about them. The complete antithesis of power.

Finally, one ancillary legal point.  Liberty is the environment that (fortunately) allows us to be free;  Actually exercising our freedom in the above context is our own responsibility.

The late Robert Persig (4-24-17): Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Robert Persig, who wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, died yesterday (April 24, 2017). This book has had a continuing effect on me since my first reading during college. If I were asked to state in the briefest possible way why this book is so influential, my inarticulate attempt might be to say Persig compels us to examine, and more-fully contemplate, our lives rather than merely being swept along in a kind of half-asleep, herd-like, obsequious manner. And, that we possess an innate ability to sustain this level of self-reliance.

Immediately below, I am reposting my earlier 2013 blog post about Robert Persig and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance as a gesture of my continuing appreciation for him and his book.

My earlier 2013 blog post:

This is not a legal or tax post, in the event you wish to stop reading at this point. Rather, it includes a couple of key thoughts in response to my recent second reading of the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig. I first read this book during college.

For reasons I do not address more fully here due to my desire to keep this post short(er), this is one of those powerful books that affects readers permanently.

Among the many threads of thought in this book, two are the subject of this blog post: Quality. And Death.

As a trust tax lawyer, I deal constantly with both quality and death. Quality in terms of seeking to find the differences that make a difference for a successful, efficient, effective outcome for clients.

Death in terms of a great deal of planning for clients in anticipation of death and in handling numerous after-death issues and problems, both tax and non-tax. I have had a number of very likable clients die over the years. With strong nostalgia, I feel sometimes as though I am an undertaker.

As to quality, one of the aspects I enjoy most about lawyering is that many problems crossing my desk do not trigger immediate, easy, solutions or answers.

Rather, in most cases the idea, kernel, or thread of a solution or answer ends up surfacing in due course, unscheduled during day or night. It is the subconscious working of the mind that most often is the courier delivering these ideas to the forefront of consciousness.

Persig, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, discusses in a very convincing way the subject of “Quality” and “stuckness”, including his reference to this subconscious aspect of the mind, as follows:

  • “But now consider the fact that no matter how hard you try to hang on to it, this stuckness is bound to disappear. Your mind will naturally and freely move toward a solution. Unless you are a real master at staying stuck you can’t prevent this. The fear of stuckness is needless because the longer you stay stuck the more you see the Quality-reality that gets you unstuck every time. What’s really getting you stuck is the running from the stuckness through the cars of your train of knowledge looking for a solution that is out in front of the train.  .    .    .
  • It’s this understanding of Quality as revealed by stuckness which so often makes self-taught mechanics so superior to institute-trained men who have learned how to handle everything except a new situation.”

Back to my own comments. What I like about Persig’s notion of stuckness is that our accepting and relaxing into these stuck moments results in the most effective and successful way to get unstuck. This is in contrast to fuming, fretting, and remaining doggedly impatient or upset that you do not yet possess an immediate solution or answer.

Back to my reference to death. Persig’s son Chris, who at age 11 rode with Persig on the motorcycle trip described in the book, was stabbed to death 10 years later in San Francisco during a street mugging.

In the book’s “Afterward” that he added in 1984, Persig describes his persistent stuckness about his son Chris’s tragic death. This stuckness appeared to have no possibility of resolution:

  • “I [Persig] tend to become taken with philosophical questions, going over them and over them and over them again in loops that go round and round and round until they either produce an answer or become so repetitively locked in they become psychiatrically dangerous, and now the question became obsessive: ‘Where did he go?’ “

In an extraordinary, moving, and comforting passage within this Afterward, Persig gives a response to the “Where did he go” question. Persig’s response similarly is what I hope can ultimately be in line with my own reaction if one of my family members were to die.

Also, for me to include here the content and substance of Persig’s response to this question would fill up a much longer portion of this blog post. You can read the Afterward for yourself and draw your own conclusion about Persig’s response [Google: Afterward Zen]. And my own praise for Persig’s response to this death question is not to suggest other readers agree or disagree with the response.

Rather, in my view, and because universally we each ponder death from time to time, I personally believe Persig’s commentary – at least for me — is one of the more satisfying responses to this hard, difficult question.

This Book Passage Stopped Me in My Tracks.

The post continues my repeated theme:  That is, we all need to prioritize and value our finite time as an opportunity to enjoy life.  We ideally should expend as little time as possible on time-consuming (and financially costly) disputes, problems, difficulties.  Or, essentially we should prevent death by a thousand paper cuts.

My passion in lawyering is helping clients smooth the sharp edges and corners of life (with preventive planning, and if necessary, aggressive, strategic challenges to resolve disputes, litigation, etc.).  All this lawyering directed at giving my clients simply more time to enjoy life.

As an aside, the following excerpt from the novel Middlemarch, by George Eliot, stopped me in my tracks as one of the most succinct and powerful observations I have read in quite some time on this notion of our finite time and enjoyment of life:

 “…it is in these acts called trivialities that the seeds of joy are forever wasted until men and women look round with haggard faces at the devastation their own waste has made and say the earth bears no harvest of sweetness—calling their denial knowledge.”

from Middlemarch, George Eliot

Click here for my earlier post on how strongly I am impressed with Middlemarch.

Time is Not Money (BTW, I am reading Middlemarch by George Eliot)

The above title is both hopefully to bait the reader with interest in this blog post, and is a fundamental theme underpinning my view of clients and lawyering. That is, the value a client can obtain from getting good legal advice for preventive protection from otherwise losing valuable time. Time wasted dealing with legal issues, litigation, and the broad array of problems that in large part can be prevented. One can accumulate more money and stuff. But, universally, no one can get back lost time. Time is our only finite asset.

Now, why Middlemarch?

This novel powerfully reminds me to be aware of the passing time of life.  In a good way. Attentive to the interesting and worthwhile nuance of daily life. Not burdened with problems requiring costly legal help and wasted time.

Middlemarch, A Study of Provincial Life by English writer George Eliot.  She wrote this in 1870 or thereabouts.  Frankly, I expected this novel to be a dull Victorian era read, with my interest lasting possibly only a chapter or so.

To my pleasant surprise, I cannot wait each evening to get back to this novel. I am captivated by Eliot’s powerfully understated and astute commentary about the nuance of everyday life.

My next comment about Middlemarch touches on primary character Dorethea Brooke who has agreed to marry the much older Rev. Edward Casaubon.  Casaubon is a long-time, studious bachelor.

As merely one brief, fine example of George Eliot’s astute observations, Casaubon’s anticipation of marriage to Dorethea far outweighs his diminished actual response.  He can, however, vaguely only admit this to himself.

Here are a couple of Eliot’s observations about this situation that, to me, demonstrate her wonderful ability to convey these subtle nuances:

“He (Casaubon) did not confess to himself, still less could he have breathed to another, his surprise that though he had won a lovely and noble-hearted girl he had not won delight, — which he had also regarded as an object to be found by search.”

“Poor Mr. Casaubon had imagined that his long studious bachelorhood had stored up for him a compound interest of enjoyment, and that large drafts of his affections would not fail to be honored. Fully all of us, grave or light, get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act faithfully on the strength of them.”

Also, here is how I stumbled recently across reading this novel.   A woman Rosa Lyster recently wrote a web piece on Medium about her father rediscovering fiction when he read Middlemarch. He was an avid non-fiction-only reader.   She writes, in part:

I was visiting my parents for the weekend when he (her father) was about halfway through (Middlemarch), and he walked around the house like a man in a trance. His eyes were all misty, and he kept raising his hands to his head.”

I don’t take Ms. Lyster’s comment as an overstatement.  Check out her web piece.   It is worth the time.  Click here.








Power (Part 4): The Movie “Fight Club”

A theme I refer to often as a lawyer is “power”. [See my previous three posts on this topic.] That is, how can I help clients maintain greater power over their circumstances so as to have, what I consider, a more enjoyable response to life. A life not burdened by indecision, doubt, fear of what or how other people are reacting or thinking about them, etc.  In other words, greater independence and control.

Loss of control fuels anger very effectively. As a relevant aside, I heard on the radio this morning that today is Colin Powell’s 79th birthday. I am reminded of his great “Get mad. Then, get over it.” comment he made a few years ago on a talk show in response to him and his wife on their then-50th wedding anniversary.

I also grew up with many discussions and reflections on the topic of anger. My late father, who practiced law in Atlanta for 45 years, planted firmly into my two brothers and me the notion of “firm, but friendly”. He did not shy away from controversy nor from anger. For him the balance of anger in a firm but friendly manner was a constant aspiration that required persistent practice.

But, this practice is certainly, in my view, a better option than merely being compliant, weak, overly concerned always with what others think, and indecisive.  Two of the saddest characters in literature burned into my early consciousness are George Babbitt (in Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis) and Willy Loman (in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller). They each powerfully symbolize a compliant, weak, concern-always-with-what-others-think, indecisive character. Images of great unhappiness.

Now, why this blog post? One of my teenage daughters this past weekend wanted to watch a movie “that plays with your mind”.  She selected Fight Club (1999), with Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. The movie is based on the 1996 book with the same title by Chuck Palahniuk. We both thought the movie was compelling and extremely thought-provoking. We liked it.

So as not to be a spoiler, I say only two things about Fight Club for this post. One is that it touches extremely well on bringing the audience directly to the above Babbitt / Loman notion of lack of power and its resulting self-destruction. Two is that if you watch this movie, or have seen it before, ponder for a moment what reaction you have or had to it. The magic of the movie is how likely telling are the array of responses from viewers. Your response might better inform you about your own perspective of the above power / independent notion.

“I would be crushed, then I would be un-crushed.”

My two daughters and I had a spontaneous discussion the other evening about death, that to my surprise greatly eased my worry (as all parents have) about how our children will fare after our death.

We were talking about my new lawyer shoes that the salesman said would easily last two lifetimes. One of my daughters, in response, said: “Daddy, but you will not live that long.” I responded “You are exactly right, but I certainly plan to be around as long as I can.”

My daughter’s comment prompted me to remind my girls that it is likely inevitable I will die before they die. And, I said that although they will be sad and feel a loss, they will have the strength and ability to move on in life and not be crushed by my death. They will have the emotional durability to continue with life without being persistently burdened by my death, etc.  My oldest daughter then responded: “I will be crushed when you die; but, then I will be un-crushed.”  I replied: “What a great response!”

For purposes of this blog post, let me just say the attitude and responses from my daughters give me a great sense of comfort and repose about death. That is, my death and its potential effect on them. I am actually quite surprised at how strongly I feel relief after this discussion.

Also, my purpose with this blog post is not to try and compel anyone as to how they should think or deal with death, etc. But, death is a topic I believe needs to be openly discussed.

And, for me the ultimate, most satisfying perspective I know of about death culminates in a passage from Robert Persig’s fine book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. More specifically, the passage is about Persig’s son Chris who, at age 11 rode with Persig on the motorcycle trip described in this book, was stabbed to death 10 years later as a victim in a failed-robbery attempt.

In the book’s “Afterward”, that Persig later added after Chris’s death, Persig describes his own persistent “stuckness” about his son’s death. This stuckness appeared to have no possibility of resolution.

But, in an extraordinary, moving passage in this Afterward, Persig describes a comforting resolution to this stuckness about his son Chris. I believe Persig’s commentary is one of the more satisfying responses I have found to the hard, difficult question about death.

Click here for a link to Persig’s Afterward.

Change is Inevitable. Embrace It. Plan for It.

The essence of this post is that change is inevitable.  As a lawyer I try and help my clients accept and anticipate change by putting in place adaptable planning, particularly adaptability that later can kick in as needed without costly, lawyer / judicial oversight, etc.   As to change generally, my view is that we all should expect it and embrace it. Preventive planning is, therefore, a means of more cost-effectively smoothing out the edges of inevitable change.

This notion of change hit me yesterday strongly while I was reading the NYT’s book reviews. I was particularly drawn to the following couple of items, prompting this blog post.

The first is from a review (as one of the top NYT books of 2015) of T.C. Boyle’s novel The Harder They Come. Essentially about a father coming to terms with his violent son who is wanted by the law, etc.  Among several comments by the NYT reviewer applauding this book, I was struck by one of its themes described as “the dark fallout of ideological certainty and obsession.”

The second NYT book review that struck me is Dylan Goes Electric, by Elijah Wald.  This is about Bob Dylan’s revolutionary injection into the 1965 Newport Folk Festival of the electric guitar. The reviewer refers to this as Dylan savaging the then-acoustic sanctuary of the Newport Folk Festival stage.  Apparently shocking and greatly criticized at that time, Dylan’s “change” is significant in the history of popular music. Our music world, in my opinion, was greatly enhanced by Dylan’s change.  Here is a YouTube link of Dylan’s electrified performance of “Maggie’s Farm” if you wish to see footage of this event.  I recommend you watch it.  Click here.