Reflections on Crazy Wisdom

So far in this 21st century, much of our conventional wisdom has failed us. Crazy times demand a matching wisdom, and these are crazy times. That made it all the more strange that I couldn’t seem to write a followup piece to my last post, Crazy Wisdom is No Bull, which I thought would be the start of a series.

I’ve come to believe it’s because Picasso and the others I’d planned to feature were exemplars in their fields, people we think of as “special,” a breed apart from the rest of us. This is the opposite of the real point I want to make. The modern concept of “genius” was born in the 18th century. Of far more use to us now is the original meaning of this Latin word:

Genius of a family. Roman, 1st c. Photo by Luis Garcia, 2009. CC-by-sa-3.0

“In ancient Rome, the genius (plural genii) was the guiding spirit…of a person, family, or place. The noun is related to the Latin verb, genui, genitus, ‘to bring into being, create, produce’, as well as to the Greek…word for birth.” [1]

The genius of a man, or Juno of a woman, was similar to our modern idea of a guardian angel – a protective spirit as well as a creative guide to our individual destiny  and life’s meaning [2].

From this perspective the difference between you and me and the great creative spirits of history is not that they have a genius and we don’t. It is more a matter of degree – “The Force is strong in that one.”

Since none of us really believe that some white-hatted genius is going to ride into town and save us from ourselves, it is more important than ever for as many as possible to find their genius or juno within and begin to listen and cultivate its wisdom. Continue reading

Another great story rediscovered: Bamboo Charlie

Here is another inspiring tale that I bookmarked some time ago and then forgot.  Coincidentally, like the previous post, its subject is a uniquely creative folk artist.  I read about Bamboo Charlie in a memorial published in the L.A. Times in September, 2012.

Bamboo Charlie and his whimsical paradise

Bamboo Charlie and his whimsical paradise

Twenty years ago, a homeless Texan named Charles Ray Walker noticed a bamboo grove along a narrow stretch of land by the Los Angeles River in Boyle Heights.  The property owner told Charlie he could stay there if he kept the place clean.

On the strip of land, about 40′ x 200′, squeezed between a parking lot and a warehouse, Walker grew fruits and vegetables.  He carved stairs into the bare slopes and decorated them with hundreds of discarded toys and signs.  He built a shack under a tree, with a TV, bed,and sofa, and then he invited guests to visit: graffiti artists, children and their parents, musicians, police officers, and homeless friends.  He assembled a library out of salvaged books, including best sellers and one called The Semi-Complete Guide to Sort of Being a Gentleman.  Bamboo Charlie was featured on the front page of the L.A. Times in 2010.

"Bamboo Charlie"

During the 20 years he spent on the parcel, he collected cans for money, sometimes working late into the night. Duruing occasional trips back to Texas to visit his family, he operated a crane at a steel company. “I’m not going to ask another grown man for money. I never have, and I never will,” he said. “People expect that from a homeless man.”  

That pride may have contributed to an early death.  He suffered greatly from ulcers during his final years, but insisted he was fine when friends suggested he see a doctor. On Aug. 26, 2012, a young friend named Teyuca found him dead in his shack, of what the coroner determined was heart disease.  He was 61.

“I really think what he did was folk art, built out of scraps and things found, things that people gave him,” Teyuca said.  “He was a mad genius.  He had such a wild imagination.”