"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Thursday, May 26, 2005


I don't think I want to know a six-year-old who isn't a dreamer, or a sillyheart. And I sure don't want to know one who takes their student career seriously. I don't have a college degree. I don't even have a job. But I know a good kid when I see one. Because they're ALL good kids, until dried-out, brain-dead skags like you drag them down and convince them they're no good.
-Buck Russell (John Candy), Uncle Buck

If you have a strong stomach and ten minutes to piss away, by all means read "The Purpose-Driven Summer Camp" in this week's issue of Time Magazine (motto: "Thank God the White House isn't after us this time!"). If you do, you will find one of the saddest things I have ever read (emphasis supplied):
The laser-beam focus is fitting for the modern kid, contends Tina Krinsky, who with her husband runs Julian Krinsky Camps & Programs, based in the Philadelphia area. "For a child used to all kinds of technology, sitting by the lake just isn't enough anymore," she says.

I think that Tina Krinsky, were she preserved in formaldehyde, could serve as the type specimen for the species Skagus desiccatii (Russell 1989). If Ms. Krinsky actually has any children of her own - which I doubt, because parenthood would certainly interfere with her own purpose-driven life - I hope they have the good sense to run away and join the circus, while they are still young.

Here - let me show you something:
Tubbs Hill, Coeur d'Alene, ID

This is an aerial photograph of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. The top (north) part of the photo shows what we called, without irony or self-consciousness, "downtown." The body of water on the bottom (south) edge of the photo is the breathtaking Lake Coeur d'Alene. And that woodsy hump dominating the center of the photograph is Tubbs Hill:
Tubbs Hill is comprised of 135 acres of publicly owned land. It is largely undeveloped and only a few man-made elements are found in what is essentially an urban wilderness area., accessible only by foot. Tubbs Hill offers as great a picturesque scenery and tranquil setting as anyone could hope to find in a natural park.

I admit - I am no one's idea of a role model. I do not suggest that any child, most especially not my own, try to recreate my youth. If I had it to do all over again, I would do a great many things very differently - but I would not give up one moment of the countless hours I spent on Tubbs Hill, just "sitting by the lake," and Tina Krinsky be damned.

An incomplete list of things I did on Tubbs Hill over the years: I watched Independence Day fireworks there with my father, when I was very young. Later, I drank horrible, cheap wine there with my high school friends. I kissed Celeste DaCosta there one night, among the ponderosa pines, and felt giddy for days. Look closer at that spur poking out into the lake from the southwest edge of the hill:
A small peninsula, and a beacon.

I know this place well. I sat right here - day after day, but mostly night after night - watching the bats gorge themselves on moths, listening to the waves break softly against the rocks, learning the syncopated rhythms of the sunsets and the moonrises. It was here that I pondered mysteries big and small, sublime and ridiculous: God, love, fate, death, fear, sex, hope, and the Emerson, Lake, and Palmer album I was obsessed with at the time. It was here - right here, sitting on these very rocks - that I began, for good or ill, to get to know the man who would one day live in my skin.

But I must confess - really, I was just sitting by the lake. It sounds kind of disreputable when you put it that way, but that's the only honest way to put it. Compared to the kids in the Time Magazine article (my personal favorite being the ten-year-old with his own agent, spending a carefree week at summer camp learning how to do his own stunts), I excelled only at underachievement. And by no means was I "used to all kinds of technology," even though I had a pretty good Technics turntable and a great old Fisher tube-driven amp, and my parents had a trash compactor and an intercom system that could play the radio (AM or FM!) in almost every room in the house at once, and my friend Dennis had a "Pong" game and a TV with a remote control and Home Box Office. As I think back on it now, I guess it's no surprise that I wasted all that time sitting by the lake.

Parenting is ridiculously hard. As my mother was fond of reminding me, children don't come with owners' manuals. Mostly, we do the best we can, content in the knowledge that if we screw up now and then - well, therapists need jobs, too. We try to equip our kids with the skills and experiences they will need to thrive and succeed, and who can blame us if we sometimes lose sight of the big picture? But as I recall, it was Mark Twain who warned that we shouldn't let school interfere with our education, and I suspect that Christ, Muhammad, and Siddhartha each spent some time sitting by the lake during their respective sorties into the wilderness. Maybe they were on to something. I think that we could do far worse by our kids than to remember to set aside some time, before piano lessons and after Little League, to learn how to appreciate the sight of the moon's reflection dancing among the ripples.

And to Ms. Krinsky, I say "good day, madame."




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