Monday, December 04, 2006

Man Of Action

I'm immune to Sartre. The antibodies are invincible at this point.

My mental filing cabinet has fewer file folders hanging in it now than it used to. I apologize to no man for curtly rejecting enormous swathes of the intellectual landscape. People who are fascinated over two bong hit dissertations RE: pins; head; faeries thereon are not my kind of people any longer, if they ever were. If I can boil your raison d'etre down to one word-- "whatever"--then I've got no use for you. You're not a man of action.

Action. The word has shifted over time. Tectonically; slowly, but in a big way. Like the movement of a constellation in the heavens. What's the big deal with that, some might say --if they lived in an apartment and took the trolley. Other people look at the night sky because they must find their way.

The military connotation of the word "action" trumps all, or it used to, anyway. KIA used to mean something. Even if you avoided the K part. It still means something to me. I think the thing is immutable, and the word has shifted. Action! says the movie director. At least in the movies he does. I don't think they actually say that anymore. But it never was action. The poor Okie farmer sitting in the darkened theatre marveling over the Busby Berkeley musical -- he knew all about action. He had a very specific kind of sunburn, and his ribs showed a bit, and his hands were flinty from the constant caress of hickory and dirt. He didn't need more action.

I knew a man a decade or two ago. Not well. He was the pleasantest sort of fellow. He wasn't that much older than I, but he already had a wife and a bunch of kids, and his job was prominent and not of the striving-to-get-somewhere kind any more. He had arrived already, and was important in his walk of life.

He gave me his business card after I had known him for quite a while. I was shocked to find PHD at the end of his name. He didn't seem the type.

I'd been to his house, many times. There were, essentially, no books in it. I had always lived in a kind of nest of print myself. My abode, which was never permanent, was just a place to keep me and my books. My friend had a library in his house. They called the room that, anyway. There were no books in it.

I puzzled over that detail about the guy for a long time. His decisions affected a lot of people, and he was responsible for billions of dollars. People would notice if he didn't turn up one day. I had thought he was pleasant, avuncular, kinda jock-ish, and earnest. But those three little letters rankled somehow. He had autographed footballs on the shelves in his office, not books. I neither thought less nor more of him over this conundrum. The conundrum was mine, after all. He was perfectly well adjusted and successful. I do believe he was, and probably is, and will probably die--happy.

I never asked him about it, because that would be an inappropriate behavior for a person like me. Too blunt. But I rolled it over in my mind like a cud for a good long time. I understand it now.

In the military, and in football, and in construction, there is planning, then logistics, then action. Eisenhower is famous for saying: "A plan is worthless; planning is everything." Eisenhower was a football coach, and a soldier, and president of a college, and maybe the best administrator this country has ever produced. Eisenhower was of a military mind in all his dealings. He required that all proposals for action be put on one foolscap page before he would look at them. His detractors thought he was dumb. What he believed was that if you could not distill your idea to that format, it wasn't worth even considering action over it. Anything expounding at greater length than that was obfuscation. Eisenhower knew all about the endless planning, the torrents of type and paper required to run the largest things. But he likewise knew that sooner or later, someone who had given something a lot of thought, who had tempered his fancy with realism borne of experience in action--sooner or later that person had to write down: "I think we should invade France across the English Channel."

My friend-- acquaintance really; not more than that-- had been prepared his whole life to do what he was doing. He did not hesitate to participate in any activity that was required for the trajectory of his life to be determined. His PHD was a means, not an end. He was not preparing himself for more thinking with his thinking. But he certainly was preparing himself.

To act.


Tully said...

I apologize to no man for curtly rejecting enormous swathes of the intellectual landscape.

I'm stealing that for my file of truly meaningful and relevant sayings.

Huzzah, and amen.

SippicanCottage said...

It's my world. You're welcome to it.