Wisdom from the Old and Unexpected
You never know where it’s going to come from. The other day I’m sitting in Hungry Jack’s with the sweet little, just down from Queensland father of the bride. What can you do but ask, Nu, what do you do? Well I’m glad I asked. This humble, easy going, let me get you a milkshake kind of guy is the retired 2nd in charge of the Queensland police and his insights into crime and handling it were unforgettable. Unforgettable in part because no one talks to him about it and you just know that he’s a very smart, but hidden, cookie. How many very smart, but hidden, cookies are there out there wandering around getting people milkshakes? The other day I photographed a Holocaust survivor, Auschwitz no less, baking her Slovakian cherry cake. Same thing, only cake instead of milkshake, a mountain of wisdom and a wonderful woman to say the least.
What’s the message? Two things. The nobody in front of you may be Mahatma Ghandi out for a walk. And the other thing is it may be worth remembering the wisdom they drop at your feet. It can come in handy.
Here’s some of the ones I’ve remembered. Firstly from the greatest, kindest and definitely funniest man I’ve met, Dad.
1)Gring ist pischen im Bod.
What this piece of poetry says, in Yiddish, is that it’s easy to pish in a warm bath, everything else is hard. This was Dad telling me that the good things take effort and if anything be thankful for difficulty, it’s the only door to the great things.
2)The Truth is the Best Lie.
Dad was a joke a minute, loved by all kind of guy and his delivery style was giving the bad news as if it was good news. And people loved it. I remember someone was trying to sell him wine from Germany. This was selling wine to someone who wouldn’t touch Maraschino cherries because of the 1% alcohol content. The sales guy asked if Dad had any questions and Dad said yes, I do, How do I get rid of you? What I learnt from Dad is that if something is important it’s better to spell it out and almost invariably, the listener will appreciate it. And a ton of later trouble is avoided.
3)Bikes and drugs
I was in Living Valley Springs, last hope for the fat, health resort in Kin Kin near Noosa. Pausing for a break between enemas and the celery whip I was sitting with an old lady who the day before I’d seen chase a snake up a hill, kill it and then wander back down without raising a breath. In this place it wasn’t remarkable, there was an 80 year old guy who used to run into the Noosa waves with his surfboard and there was no such thing as an infirm fading old person. And they all had voices like opera singers and a no old age for me attitude. Well, I was sitting next to the snake killer and I told her I had no idea how to keep my kids off drug in their teens. She looked at me the same way she looked at the snake and said, One, teach them the meaning of the word no. When they’re teenagers and difficult times start to happen if they’ve only known instant gratification they’ll be be more likely to reach for instant gratification in the form of drugs. ‘No’ will prepare them. 2)Always welcome their friends into your house. Later when your kids aren’t telling you anything you can get to them through their friends who will probably like you. 3)Encourage sporting activities. Teenagers who play sport are marginally less likely to take drugs.
This all sounded really smart to me so I said do you have any idea how to keep them off motorcycles and she said, Simple! Buy them a car.
4)Prepare your hobbies
In the same place there was a suspiciously happy looking older guy and I asked him what it was. He said to me how often do you do what you have to do and how often to you do what you want to do? I said 95% what I have to do. He told me old age was the opposite. It’s 95% what you want to do and make very, very sure you really have something pre-prepared, something that makes you leap out of bed with anticipation after you’ve finished your working years. This may seem obvious but I’ve seen inactivity after retiring or inheriting, inactivity that was looked forward to as life’s greatest goal, make people utterly miserable. And they hang on to believing that inactivity is a blessing. Well, as Mr Kin Kin told me, it’s not.
5) The cure for a bad time is a good time
In our thirties one of our friends was known as The Shri Baba Ghanouj. This was a combination of Sai Baba an Indian seer, just like this guy and baba ghanouj, a Lebanese dish which he was prone to consume by the bucket. The Shri Baba Ghanouj would solve all our problems usually with some variation on the cure for a bad time is a good time. What it meant was that if you’re up to your neck in problems, no love, no job, no joy, no matter what, pick yourself up, go and have a good time or at least try and have a good time and then go back to the problem and something helpful will just pop up. A lot of the time there will be no need for a solution because the problem just disappears anyway. And TSBG was right. He said, You can spend a hundred hours a week at $200 an hour on the psychiatrist’s couch or you can say the mantra 10,000 times and it won’t make you happy. The thing that will make you happy is getting out there. And in the middle of troubles it may not be easy to get out there and look for fun but refer to #1 ‘Gring ist pischen im Bod’
6)You don’t get nostalgic for what you’ve done, you get nostalgic for what you haven’t done.
We used to go to actor’s parties because one of the guys was an actor. We certainly impressed those actors friends of his, us three, the Bar Mitzvah photographer, the pet vitamin pill mixer and the electrolux salesman. Yes we did. At one of the parties I was telling Angela Punch McGregor’s husband how I always got choked up when I watched the movie Hair even though all I did during the hippie times was watch from a safe distance and he told me you don’t get nostalgic for what you’ve done, you get nostalgic for what you haven’t done. What I gleaned from it is that if life presents you with something and you decline it you can spend a long, long time regretting it. Save time, jump in.
7)Don’t trust group emotions
The actor’s father was a Holocaust surviving, fighting in the forests as a partisan, incredibly charming, good looking, larger than life hero type. He was like Count Dracula but wise, fascinating and not interested in your blood. I used to sit and listen to him because he had war stories that would curl your hair, straighten it and then curl it over again. He’d tell us about the leadership of the Czech Communist Party a lot of whom he knew extremely well and murderous SS men he’d been pre-war friends with who showed a kind side. Stories like that, nothing expected. The end of each story always finished with how normal nice people will change when they get swept up in a group and watch out for that change. Definitely worth knowing that one on a personal, career and political level.
8)The apple rarely falls far from the tree
From an American photographer. If you need to make a snap judgement about someone, whether you can trust them or something like that, look at their parents or their kids. If their parents or the kids are reliable, or kind or trustworthy then it’s very likely they are too.
9)Left, Right, it matters much less than smart
From my brother. Gil says that in politics there should be someone with a big sign pointing to world’s best practice. Where things work brilliantly and ideology comes second to brains. He has dozens of examples where healthcare works, retirement incomes are ensured, people are prosperous because some politician was smart and quite often borrowed from the other side’s playbook. Gil’s been on about this for years and it looks like a good idea.
10)How to choose your career.
From Mr McLaren head of The London School of Economic Science responding to a question from David Mane. He said look at people who are successful in the area you’re considering and who are 65 years old. Look at what they’ve got and that is the fruit of all their labour. Who knows with career? Things change, sometimes totally and you change too and sometimes the process is more important than the result. Photography may not be about a wheelbarrow full of money but it certainly is one enjoyable profession. It’s just that it’s an extremely good idea to have an idea about what’s at he end of the tunnel and adjust accordingly.
11) Love is power
Back in the hippie days I was introduced to a Burmese priest who was a wanderer around the Burmese jungle. He’d look you up and down and then do Kali Ma from Raiders of the Lost Ark by examining your heart. He took a look at me and told me I was onto something with the way I’d joke my way out of trouble. He said that in Burma the jungle is full of crocodiles, snakes and spiders and your wandering priest would be lucky to remain alive for 5 minutes without protection. I assumed he meant a Sherman tank but no, he said that if you loved the crocodiles, snakes and spiders they would stop considering you as pâté because they loved you back. He said that basically kindness is disarming to those who are out to get you. It’s not as simple as grabbing your best joke book and tossing out the good ones while the hoodlum is chasing you down the street. It’s more about ignoring the small jabs because you’d rather get on with what you love and I’ve found the Burmese priest was right. Not easy but again see #1.