On a Little Pond Outside of Atlanta – Musings from a Bubba

By Craig Jones, New England RC

OK, full disclosure. I talk out loud to myself. It helps me think things through, and I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. I walk along, I talk to myself about what I see, and I write down notes for later. I do like the sound and the feel of words in my mouth and that reminds me of J.R.R. Tolkien, pretty good company, and how he loved to say the middle-earth and elf languages aloud, for the physical sensation and the joy.

I could be talking in sort of a conversational way about whatever has just come to mind, but I could also be reciting poetry or lines from a movie, which I love to do. One minute I could be reciting the opening monologue of The Big Lebowski and later, for some reason, one of the “Locker Room” speeches in Henry V. Like the one that begins: “He which has no stomach for this fight, let him depart. His passport shall be made and crowns for convoy put into his purse. We would not die in that man’s company that fears his fellowship to die with us.” T

That speech also has the immortal “we few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” among so many others. I have lines from Moby Dick and can recite The Cremation of Sam McGee and lots more.

So, I could be doing that, too.

But you could never really tell, when you see my lips moving, and – I promise you – if you didn’t know this little quirk of mine, it would be easy enough to assume I was a well-dressed homeless guy who had spent one too many nights sleeping on the warm grates outside the Boston Public Library. Maybe a guy who nips a little from whatever empty beer and vodka bottles he can scrounge from trashcans.

I started calling it “soliloquizing,” the way Hamlet does, or how Spaulding Grey used to just do his long monologues like Swimming to Cambodia. That seemed to lift it in my mind to another level, a level beyond “homeless guy mumbling.” 

But, then I had occasion to reread Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and found my new hero. None other than Santiago himself, the old fisherman. Here’s what the author wrote:

He did not remember when he had first started to talk aloud when he was by himself. He had sung when he was by himself in the old days and he had sung at night sometimes when he was alone steering on his watch in the smacks or in the turtle boats. He had probably started to talk aloud when the boy left. But he did not remember.

Then Hemingway notes:

It was considered a virtue not to talk unnecessarily at sea and the old man had always considered it so and respected it. But now he said his thoughts aloud many times since there was no one that they could annoy.

And finally, he writes:

“If the others heard me talking out loud they would think that I am crazy,” he said aloud. “But since I am not crazy, I do not care.”

My sentiments exactly, Santiago, right on, man. I’m not crazy, so fuck it.

And that is how I came to be standing alone here by a little pond outside of Atlanta.  I have walked and Santiagoed my way here to get some perspective on the Bubba and get some holy distance from the men with whom I have been in such close company for days.

Turns out that another observer in another century at another pond described what I’m looking at right now, but I can’t recall his words. I have left the perimeter road that circumscribes this camp, I am pondering this southern (Georgia) pond from its bank, where the rough outdoor chapel has been located, and I am mounting a raid on the inarticulate. I do remember that TS Eliot said that. I’m thinking how much the mist lifting off the water looks like wispy ghosts and noticing how the bugs dimple the surface and how that heron acts like he owns the place.

It’s like the Dormouse said in Alice in Wonderland – “muchness” – you know you say things are “much of a muchness.” That’s how I feel. Jesus, how can I get all of this down, how can I honor the charge we’ve all been given to “bring this back home?”

I’ve been walking slowly, stopping to scribble a few notes, walking some more, scribbling and Santiagoing. And I’m here now, searching for a handle, I guess, trying to get this all down in some Kerouac frenzy before I get back in the RV for the trip back to New England.

Gawd, where do I start?

Maybe it’s here, at the end. Or, is it the beginning? Britt Williams suggested that it is the latter, even in a “closing” ceremony, and that’s the context he held.

When I left Denali in May of 1986, it could be fairly said that in some ways my climb was just beginning, though the physical ascent and descent were fait accompli. I am still climbing it, drawing inspiration from it, nearly 30 years later. Mountains are of course natural metaphors. It’s a solid idea. The same thing happens with respect to the Men’s Weekend, the LD or any number of other transformational weekends. It starts when you sign up or even think about registering, and it ends, well…when? 

So, in that sense, the Bubba, our Bubba, is just beginning.

All I can think to do is write down some rough notes, maybe to be further fleshed out later.

I see a T-shirt that says: “How would Thorne be?” and I remember Kurt and all he left behind for us.

I eat boiled Georgia peanuts, get bitten by red Georgia ants, see the red Georgia earth and scrape it from my shoes, and I remember the great Atlanta men and how our lives are all still braided together and how Treadwell and I did the same Men’s Weekend together and are both 61 and have May birthdays.

In the events big game, I declare to the Blue Team (“Blue Man Group,” I guess) that, as chosen leader, I want to win this son of a bitch and it feels good, like Nook saying in Bull Durham, “I fuckin’ love winnin’. It’s, like, better’n losin’.”  It feels good to say, “I want to win,” and it has implications all over my life.

I wonder if the leadership training at this event, through the medium of the Legacy Game and the immediacy of its lessons, is as good as, or better than, whatever could be found anywhere in corporate America. 

I ponder the 24-year path that led me here to this circle of 160+ men and how men’s work can be so easily misunderstood and risible and of what Michael Fowlkes said regarding the jerk line and how the mature masculine man knows when to step over it and when not to, and I think of that T-shirt I saw at work that says “From the outside looking in, you can never understand it; from the inside looking out, you can never explain it.” 

And also Michael said that when men get together and work out their shit it’s pretty much always socially unacceptable and messy. And I takeaway how important it is to have great men’s teams where this can happen and not bleed out where it shouldn’t.

Looking up at night I search the sky for the same Orion I can see 1500 miles north. Makes the distance between men seem pretty small.

Like other “convicts” I still have my jail tats from my time in stir when the capricious gods of the legacy game rumbled and boiled like Zeus and banished me.

I notice that I feel braver with other men around me.

I love the easy mix of sage smudge and cigar smoke and wood smoke.

I’m always thinking: “Where’s my shit?” like when I was on Denali.  It’s easy to lose shit.

I loved learning that Doug Rubin, our CFO, is a Red Sox fan. That bodes well for our working relationship.

I see this large circle of men and I think: “We are MDI.” There is no “out there” or “us and them.” MDI is us, and I need to bring that home. 

I keep wandering, I keep thinking, I keep talking out loud, and I am filled up with how cool it is to have all of these men around me, making me stronger. And, as Fowlkes suggested. I am “basking in their greatness.”

I look up what that other watcher at that other pond said. Thoreau, it was, observing Walden, and he wrote, “The mists, like ghosts, were stealthily withdrawing in every direction into the woods, as at the breaking up of some nocturnal conventicle.”

Our conventicle is breaking up, heading to the four directions, yet we somehow carry it with us as we go.

In that same classic work, Henry also noted that “Little is to be expected of that day, if it can be called a day, to which we are not awakened by our Genius.”

I guess in MDI, we might more commonly use “greatness,” instead of “genius,” but the advice is still sage. 

Let’s be awakened by our greatness every day.

Thanks, Bubba, for pushing us further in that direction.

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