Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Lessons from our pooches in living life to its fullest

Willow The Best Dog There Is™
My friend Wally Conger writes about his furry friend Cheyenne's unceasing enthusiasm for eating the same kibble every day for years.

I think if we pay attention, our canine companions teach us many things about making the most of our finite time on this planet.

Wally had one of those a-ha moments while preparing the meal for Cheyenne the other day:
Don’t you wish you could harness her kind of passionate eagerness for each day?
Because as someone whose name I’m too lazy to look up once pointed out, expectancy is the atmosphere for miracles.
Even the little day-to-day stuff you take for granted can bring inspiration and opportunity.
Read the whole post here.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

I just want to go my way

One of the great characters in contemporary fiction is Capt. Malcolm Reynolds, owner of the cargo ship Serenity in Joss Whedon’s brilliant television show Firefly and the film named after the ship. At a pivotal moment in Serenity, Reynolds meets his main adversary, a nameless assassin we know simply as The Operative, and during their conversation comes an electrifying exchange that sums up Reynolds’ character in 11 words.
Operative: I have to hope you understand you can’t beat us.

Reynolds: I got no need to beat you; I just want to go my way.
Consider how powerful a message those words convey. I don’t need to convince you that my way is right and yours is wrong; I simply desire to live my life on my terms and let you live your life on your terms, as long as we do no harm to each other. There is plenty of room on this vast world for both of us.

The Operative’s response is that Reynolds can go his way if he surrenders a friend to be harmed; for Reynolds, of course, this is an unacceptable condition. There always seems to be someone who wants to place conditions on freedom.

How much grief occurs because someone decides it is not enough to live and let live: Some people must be beaten and not allowed to go their way. Six billion unique human stories on this planet; imagine if we all agreed to let those individual stories play out, restrained only by a prohibition on doing harm to others.

Monday, July 29, 2013

While you can

So much to say, so much to do …

We all have the same number of minutes per day, but we don’t have the same number of days. We know how many minutes per day we have; we don’t know how many days.

Fret not over the reality that your days are finite; what can you say or do that is infinite, that lasts, that will still be making its impact when you are gone?

Say it. Do it.

Say what you can, do what you can, while you can.

And fret not that you could have done more: You did this.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Cup plants in bloom

We only went to the store once, about five years ago or more, and I keep wanting to go back. The place specializes in native wild prairie plants of Wisconsin, like the cup plant.

I was charmed by the story of the cup plant, so named because the cup-shaped leaves hold water after a rainfall, providing a source for insects and other beasts. The late-summer blossoms were a bonus.

The cup plant planting was the most successful among the flora we brought home that day. I planted about six of them along with about six of another, red-flowering plant, but I didn’t notice that the cup plant grows to about 6 feet tall, and the other plant did not, so the smaller flowers got overwhelmed.

The original planting is in the upper left-hand portion of the photo. Over the years seeds have slowly allowed the plants to spread, until now we have a veritable grove of cup plants. Red the gardener is tempted to cut them back, but I am the Wildflower Man and defend their right to migrate.

This is my favorite time, when the cup plant flowers begin to blossom, although it alarms me a bit because it hardly feels like “late summer” at this point. Actually, I have a new favorite time.

That day we also brought home a couple of scrubby little things called compass plants. For three or four years, they dutifully issued forth some interesting but inauspicious green leaves every season, sort of like elongated oak leaves close to the ground. But two summers ago, one of the plants shot up an incredible, 7-foot-high stalk that broke out in yellow flowers, and the next summer the other plant did the same. It was like the ugly duckling of foliage, producing not much to look at until suddenly one day a swan.

The compass plant stalks are up; one is at least 7 feet high and the other about 4 feet. One of these days soon, the flowers will emerge. I can’t wait.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Rest of Me

Sleepiness has overcome the house. 7:23 a.m. And no one stirs. Even the dog lifts her head and struggles to keep her eyes open.

Quiet. Blessed quiet. The tick of the clock is the loudest sound in the room. I can hear the scratch of the pen against paper.

No electronic drone of conversation from miles away. No motors or engines. A smattering of bird calls.

The sigh of the dog, suddenly impatient, awaiting – what? attention? food?

To one who sits and waits all of the time, the joy of sitting and waiting is lost.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Country roads call to the old warriors

Gibraltar Bluff Road now
The first time I ever noticed Door County, I was living far from here and heard about people unhappy with plans to remove grand old trees from the edges of state highways in Northern Door. That discussion has reached the town roads now, 25 years later.

Wally and Rita Brandt loaned me a framed photograph they have of a path through a woods. It’s a dirt road, barely more than a one-lane driveway with a little grass growing between the ruts left by tires.

It’s a beautiful photo, but my breath was really taken away when Rita said, “That’s Isle View Road before they paved it.”
Isle View Road then

I suddenly understood what led Norb Blei to write an ode to Isle View, “The Death of a Country Road,” which begins, “It was the kind of road one came upon unexpectedly, and because there was a quietness to it, a mystery, you followed it wherever it might lead.”

Isle View Road, of course, recently got a repaving all these years later, after literally years of discussion and arguments about whether to make the asphalt ribbon 18 feet or 20 feet wide, and how big the shoulders should be, and the “clear zone” on either side of the roadway.

I drove Isle View again last month after the gravel was down, but not the pavement, and found myself thinking that the 18-or-20 debate seemed like splitting hairs.

That same day I introduced myself to Garrett Bay Road, which the town of Liberty Grove is tackling next. It’s a modest, pleasant road, through open fields, up and down hills, through forested land, and of course along Garrett Bay. Once, I understand, it was the main road between Ellison Bay and Gills Rock. It’s still peaceful and quiet.

The Liberty Grove Town Board seems to have learned from the acrimony of the Isle View Road debate and is listening carefully to residents’ concerns. As a casual observer and lover of old stuff, I frankly didn’t see any real need to repave Garrett Bay Road, let alone widen any of it, but I was there to enjoy the ride, not study the wear of the asphalt.

The threat to country roads seems to have migrated south, where it sounds like a dug-in Gibraltar Town Board on July 3 mostly dismissed the pleas of property owners unhappy with the 42-foot-wide swath that Gibraltar Bluff Road now wanders through, with rustic Cottage Row Road now in the sights of the clear-cutters.

These clear zones along the road allow you to drive faster and see deer and other potential obstacles well in advance. But why would you want to drive faster along these roads, except in an emergency, and do you build a road for every day or for the rare emergency?

Red and I had a discussion after the Fish Creek fireworks after I opted for “the road less traveled” getting home and took Cottage Row Road. We crept through a crowd of people as they walked to their cars parked along the road, which wasn’t built with a parking lane.

There was barely room for a car to get by, and newly started cars pointed north had to wait for the line of southbound cars to clear before they could make much progress. It was very slow going.

If there had been an emergency, it could have been a disaster. But there was no emergency. The road eventually cleared. And Cottage Row Road became Cottage Row Road again.

Red saw the clogged traffic and the mob and thought it might be prudent to find a way to “modernize” the roadway while preserving its character. I saw the old stone walls and the big trees and thought how lovely a country road is, just as it is.

After the July 3 meeting Alan Stover, a Gibraltar property owner from Brookfield whose family has been paying taxes on a bit of Gibraltar Bluff Road since 1935, wrote a letter to the board as a member of the original ownership that established the southern half of that road.

“The area was heavily wooded and we wanted that canopy of trees to remain,” Stover said. “We wanted a scenic path that followed the contour of the land with a certain meandering style adding to the beauty of the ‘subdivision.’”

Stover noted the board’s response that the clear zone “doesn’t look that bad” and observed, “That answer shows even they concede it’s ugly.”

And he recalled the fight back in 1988 when 10,000 signatures asked Gov. Tommy Thompson to scale back the Wisconsin 42 project: “Where are the old warriors that stood against dumb ideas?”

The Stovers can’t vote in the town of Gibraltar, but say “it is not a reason to disrespect our views.” I don’t vote there either – my own stake in Door County is not far from the welcome sign along Wisconsin 57 – but I can and do advocate for a little sanity in protecting the lovely back country roads that bring so many people here in the first place.

Cross-posted to Door County Advocate

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Recommendation from a friend of 6-foot rabbits

Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be” - she always called me Elwood - “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.

Elwood P. Dowd
By Mary Chase

Monday, July 15, 2013

TANSTAMT: There Ain't No Such Thing As Multi-Tasking

I heard someone say the other day there’s no such thing as multi-tasking.

What this phenomenon is – “doing several things at once” – is really a constant shifting of attention from one project to another. One moment this item has your full attention, and the next moment that item has your full attention, and the moment after that an entirely different item is on your radar screen. Then you rotate around and this item has your full attention again, then that item and the entirely different item, and so on.

But is it your full attention? It takes a while to get into a rhythm on any task. Do you really get fully into that rhythm before you stop abruptly and work on something else? Would you be better served by focusing entirely on the first item until it is completely addressed, then moving on to the second one, and then the third?

Because you don’t have the time taken in the constant start-and-stop of momentum to deal with, perhaps it would be more efficient to “single task” the to-do list. Allot time to each of the tasks, but work them one at a time rather than “all at once.” The way the brain works, you’re really doing them all one at a time anyway, but with a scattered focus.

I suspect Curly in City Slickers had it right: The ultimate secret is: “One thing. Just one thing.”

Friday, July 12, 2013

‘Creative processes are like stew’

Sara Groves
I have a book-sized, faux-leather-bound journal that I write in while sitting in the easy chair four feet away from the computer screen. I write in it with a quaint little device called a pen.

Our computers and smartphones are the most amazing tools that have emerged in my lifetime, but I think there’s a downside to staying plugged into them constantly.

Around the time that I launched into what became my novel The Imaginary Revolution, I began taking regular time to sit with the book full of blank pages, using it to think and create without electronic assistance. Some of my better ideas, essays and stories have flowed from the pen and into the paper journal before being translated into electronic bits and bytes.

One of my favorite creators, Christian singer-songwriter Sara Groves, addressed the need to unplug in an interview about her album Invisible Empires, and specifically the song “Obsolete,” where she writes in part, “Are you and I an apparition/Flickering up on the screen/Sending out our best transmissions/Waiting in our velveteen?/Tell me you can really see me.”
“I was trying to process my own feelings about technology – which stresses me out. It makes me feel like I’m not doing enough. In a way you're aware of what everyone is doing on their best day. Everyone is putting themselves out there, everyone is advertising, everyone is Madison Avenue for themselves. I have a hard time with that. I have a hard time doing it for myself – Troy [her husband and business partner] does it for me.

“I’m not on Facebook. When it came out I felt a divine message - I very clearly felt the Lord say, ‘You’re not going to get to do that. Right off the bat I’ll set you free.’ Part of me wants to do it, but there’s a bigger part that feels relieved.

“‘Obsolete’ is a reflection on ‘what are we doing?’ Not to say that the Internet is of the devil, but I hear people say things like ‘I couldn't live without my phone or the Internet.’ I don't want to demonize everything, but I do believe that we worship the things that we made with our own hands … Eugene Peterson talks about doing slower things, which are actually the way that your brain is made. I’ve been reading articles about the rapid-fire influx of information – that just the ding on your phone tells your brain that new information is coming and you literally lose your train of thought the moment that bell rings. Your brain is hungry for the new information, but the way your brain works the creative process are interrupted.

“Creative processes are like stew; they have to come to a boil. It’d be like trying to cook something but turning the oven on and off. I’ve been feeling that recently – having difficulty writing and feeling peace. I feel frenetic. A lot of this record started with the idea of ‘Obsolete’ and it's a very precious song to me – my favorite song on the record.”
Give yourself permission to walk away from the screen and turn off your phone. It doesn’t have to be for a long time – just long enough to think things through and reacquaint yourself with yourself.

Free yourself from the electronic web for a while, and dream.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

10 good questions

• What will you do with the time that's left?

• Why are you here?

• What is the best use of your gifts?

• How can you make the world a better place?

• How can you make your life a better life?

• What makes you happy?

• What makes you free?

• What gives you life?

• What are you going to make?

• When are you going to make it?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

One memorable Independence Day

We found the best place to watch the Fish Creek fireworks Saturday night, but it’ll probably never be quite the best place ever again. That’s the funny thing – and the fun thing – about life: Each experience is a mixture of elements that will never quite mix the same way again, because of the infinite variety of ingredients.

In this case, those ingredients involved a car leaving its parking space two blocks from the water just as we drove up, so after a short walk we had blundered into nearly a front-row seat for the big show.

After what has seemed like weeks if not months of weekend work on our new house and yard, Red and I chose to spend a few hours enjoying Door County, which was the ultimate purpose of building here in the first place. We dined in Baileys Harbor, where the temperature along Lake Michigan was a good 15 degrees cooler than our hot bayside yard, and then went over to catch Fish Creek’s famous Venetian Boat Parade and festival-ending fireworks.

From our vantage point we could see a group of young ladies in dark suits, which appeared to have electric lights built into them, clamber into a boat decorated with Christmas lights. With a whoop and a holler, they pulled out of the slip and headed toward the parade staging area.

We could see the lighted boats gathering in the harbor as the fireworks barge was slowly pushed from the shore. When the time came for the parade through the harbor, we could see the dark-suited ladies, or more precisely we saw the lights, which made them appear to be stick figures dancing in the night. Bringing up the rear was a stately yacht decked out in lights, including U.S. flags on the bow and a fully lighted Christmas tree on the stern, with a powerful sound system booming “America the Beautiful” over the water.

Promptly at 10 p.m. the fireworks began. And it was quite a display for the next 20 minutes or so.

What most made it memorable was a bit of serendipity. We happened to have camped our yard chairs near a young couple who just loved fireworks. Loved them. The woman especially was delighted by every red glare of the rockets and every bomb bursting in air.

It was like having a color commentator describing the show: “Oooh. Crinklies. Cracklers. I like those – and those. That one’s like a bow tie. Oh, a perfect circle, or maybe it’s more of an oval. Whooo! Here comes a big, big one. Oh! Waterfalls! I like the bright sparklies. Ooh, nice: Boom! Ooh! A little surprise at the end there.”

She seemed to react to every explosion and appreciate each blast of light. Her companion punctuated her enthusiastic chatter with an occasional “More! More like that!” or “Oh, that one’s coming all the way down to the water.” 

This was, indeed, one terrific fireworks show. The grand finale was as grand as independence itself, a crescendo of sight and sound that kept coming and kept coming until it flamed itself out to a hearty roar that seemed to come from every nook and cranny along the shore. The pyrotechnicians even launched a few extra fireworks at the end, as an encore. Beautiful!

The ingredients mixed perfectly. It was a beautiful, calm evening along the water; the crowd was big but not oppressively so; the fireworks display was spectacular; and we had an entertaining narration from a truly appreciative narrator. I should have turned around and told her how much she had enhanced the show, but as crowds do everyone melted away into the night so quickly.

We hope to return another Independence Day weekend and do it again, but it’s hard to imagine the ingredients mixing so perfectly again. That’s why memories are so precious.

Cross-posted to Door County Advocate

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Assault of the imaginary hobgoblins

Every day comes a new example of H.L. Mencken’s imaginary hobgoblins. You know, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

The whole aim of practical politicians is to tap into fear and offer up a solution that involves putting your freedom into the hands of overlords who know better and can protect you. Of course, they don’t know better, and they can’t protect you.

I look through my book of notes to myself and see an occasional reflection of each day’s imaginary hobgoblins which didn’t come true. Remember on New Year’s Eve, Congress or President Obama (depending on who you believed was being obstinate) was going to drive the country over the fiscal cliff? In April North Korea was going to launch a nuclear missile any moment and there had been a bird flu outbreak in China. The proposed solution in each case was a government action or new regulation of some sort.

For the upteenth time, my journal quoted Tom Petty: “Most things I worry about never happen anyway.” And they don’t. They even drove over the fiscal cliff a few months later, and the average person barely noticed.

But that doesn’t stop the craven from trying to make you worry, so that you will place your freedom in their hands, clamorous to be led to safety.

They can’t and won’t protect your freedom or lead you to safety. Freedom is a state of mind, and when you trade it for some bit of external security, you have already lessened it.

Refuse to be afraid. Free yourself.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Hiding in plain sight

"What folly not to breathe the air, walk with unfaltering step in open country, find water in a flood; not to discover God, not to savour Him, not to perceive his bounty in all things!"

Jean-Peierre De Caussade
Sacrament of the Present Moment

Friday, July 5, 2013

W.B.’s Book Report: Unicorn Western

It began as a laugh among friends. It has evolved into a nine-novella epic with the promise of two more epics to come. The story of how Unicorn Western came to be is almost as much fun as the actual story.

Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant are two-thirds of a podcasting team that meets weekly to talk about writing and self-publishing. One day the other third, David W. Wright, took exception to Platt’s stated desire to write a western someday. Too much trouble, too much research needed to make it authentic – for example, do you know what color was the smoke from those old six-shooters? Hilarity ensued.

The solution to Wright’s objection: Put a unicorn in the story. That way when people question what appears to be an unrealistic detail, you can respond that this isn’t the real Earth: “If we’ve filled the world with unicorns, I’d say we can do anything we want!”

 A few short months later, the joke is a series of novellas available as ebooks separately or in ebook and print as Unicorn Western: Full Saga – a sprawling tale of magic and prairie justice that spans decades and pays homage to at least nine films along the way. (Because I need an occasional break from electronic screens, I opted for the 690-page book.) There are plenty of in-jokes and winks that will bring a knowing smile or a laugh-out-loud to people familiar with the films and The Self-Publishing Podcast – my favorites are the prophetic owls – but the story creates a mythology all its own and stands up as a rousing yarn despite its goofy origins.

This is not Atlas Shrugged or even Lord of the Rings – the main thing it has in common with those works of literature is its length – but the payoff is definitely worth the long ride; the authors entertain and make you care along the way. Unicorn Western is the reader’s equivalent of a summer blockbuster movie, well worth the time invested and leaving you with anticipation of the sequel(s).

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Independence Day

It is customary on July 4 to reflect on the founding of the United States of America and the precious words set down in their Declaration of Independence, but I have no words better than those of Thomas Jefferson:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
 Last July 4 I posted what amounts to the manifesto of The Imaginary Revolution, the book I was writing that tells the story of two revolutions, one that merely replaced one tyrant with another, and one that brought true change. Here is a link to that document.

The bottom line is that freedom is the default setting of a human being. Government does not grant you freedom; you were born with it. A government may be formed with the intention to secure that freedom, but government is also the most powerful tool for crushing freedom by force. In the end, however, no one can take your freedom without your consent, because freedom is a state of mind.

As I wrote around this time before the 2008 presidential election, "Freedom is not about having the right ruler. Oh, wait, yes it is. Freedom is understanding that I am the boss of me."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The spirit of Norbert Blei remains in this place

They came to remember; they came to praise; they came to celebrate a man; they came to celebrate this place, and they came to remember the man who described what a special place it was as it was becoming what it is — often with alarm, always with love.

Saturday was a beautiful Door County day, the gardens at Peninsula Players Theatre were growing lush in the early summer sun, and the highways were comfortably filled with travelers on their way to a destination and friends coming here to pay tribute to Norbert Blei, who died April 23 at age 77.

As the Rev. Michael Brecke put it, Blei was a newspaperman, teacher, artist, poet, and critic, “calling us to task when we stopped loving the land and the water in this place,” and a writer.

“He wrote about the characters in this place and then became one,” said Brecke, who also noted Blei’s gravestone reads, “Find me in my books.”

And for an hour or so, they did: Each of the speakers who shared personal experiences about how he had moved their lives also read a bit from his books.

When Tim Stone first came to Door County, he was told by the locals that “if we ever had a prayer of being one of them, we had to read his books.”

And in Blei’s books they found wisdom — Robert Zoschke read “It’s good to pause now and then and see where the hell you were at” and advice not just for writers but all of us — “the important thing is to get the work done.”

They spoke of the man who would write in his converted chicken coop and teach about the writer’s passion at the Clearing and sit at the counter at Al Johnson’s with a cup of coffee, listening and talking.

“I know that there is a coffee table in heaven and I know that they may have a seat for Norb, but I’m sure he’ll elbow his way in and take over in a short time,” said Annika Johnson, who brought along one of the family’s goats named Beelzebub.

“I love his words, I love his voice, I love his mustache,” Julian Hagen said simply before launching into his song “Northern Light,” and Jeanne Kuhns sang “A Song for Norb,” and Pete Thelen and Jay Whitney led a rousing rendition of Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” adopted to Door County.

Stone noted that when the Clearing was struggling for survival in 1985, Blei wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune, “Door County’s Clearing: A Secret School in the Woods for Adults,” the reservations began to come in and Jens Jensen’s amazing vision was secured for another generation. There was much talk about the iconic teacher who worked hard to prepare his classes and stayed late at the Clearing to give each aspiring writer personal attention.

But then Bridget Buff came up, and her voice struggled against the tears as she talked about the man who would read to her as she sat in his lap, and make enormous breakfasts and walk her to the bus stop, and mail letters to her even when they lived in the same house, and how “he loved winter and I did not.”

And that was when we remembered the legendary icon was also a man who loved his daughter and his son Christo. The poet who captured the soul and the people of Door County was also a daddy; in fact Norb Blei first came here in 1969 to give them a special place to grow up.

“His home, his heart and his spirit are here forever, and he wouldn’t have it any other way,” Bridget said.

Nor would we.

Cross posted to Door County Advocate

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Enough with the grouping already

The world is plagued by injustices and people who seek to gain by inflicting evil on others. To a certain extent we empower them by fearing them and even by becoming angry at them.

Masquerading as leaders, they are sad and sorry people whose goal seems to be to subtract value from the world. They don’t recognize the inherent worth in every human life — they see only masses to be manipulated and grouped and categorized by skin color or language or gender or habits. To these people every member of a group is expendable and interchangeable.

Defy them: Fight the training that says you can draw conclusions about someone based on the group. See the individual.

Look at you, for example: Others try to define you by the company you keep. But your world view does not march in lockstep with every other person in your group, or else you are a zombie.

You resent when someone accuses you of X because “you believe in Y and everyone who believes in Y also believes in X.” “But I don’t believe in X,” you object. Exactly. So why do you, yourself, lump individuals into groups?

You only have total access to one individual — the man or woman in the mirror — and you can easily see how many ways you are unique. Now, try to wrap your mind around the fact that there are 6 billion sovereign and unique human individuals on this vast planet, each of them equipped with his or her own world view to be explored and discovered. Dismiss them because they’re one of “those people” at your peril. You miss the opportunity to know and learn from some amazing individuals.

Try to shed the idea of “those people” altogether. She is this person. He is this other person. You are yet another individual, able to add value to the world. It’s individuals who accomplish great things.

You diminish the individual by making assumptions based on the group you perceive them to be in. “You’re just like all the others” is an insult because no one is just like all the others, nor are all the others just alike. Break the habit of grouping and discover the personhood of each person around you. Add value to your life by giving value to each person you meet.

Monday, July 1, 2013

It’s all in the percentages: Simple math and the ‘death of the middle class’

How do the rich get richer and the poor get poorer? It’s simple.

I still remember Mr. Damms yelling at our sixth-grade class back in rural New Jersey. He was so frustrated because the whole class was struggling with the concept of percentages.

“Only Bluhm and Smith and maybe Jones, they’re the only ones who get it! What’s wrong with you? You need this!” (I actually forget Smith and Jones’ real names; I only remember the mixed emotion of being singled out for praise and embarrassed about being picked out from the crowd. This was sixth grade, after all.)

I think back on that day when I see so many struggling with what amounts to misunderstanding percentages.

How do the rich get richer? In part it’s our insistence that everyone get the “same” pay raise, defined by percentages – 1 percent, 3 percent, whatever. When Joe Lunchbucket at $10 an hour get a 3 percent raise, he has 30 cents an hour more. Call it a 40-hour week and he’s getting a $12 raise. When Mary Manager at $40 gets the “same” 3 percent, she gets $48 more a week.

Mary used to get $1,200 more than Joe every week ($1,600 minus $400); after everyone gets a 3 percent raise, Mary gets $1,236 more than Joe ($1,648 minus $412). The gap between the highest and lowest wage widens – this isn’t an evil plot by the rich, it’s everyone agreeing that giving the same percentage increase across the board is fair. It’s math.

What Joe needed to do was ask for Mary’s raise – not 3 percent, but $48.

People have the opposite disconnect with taxes. Here, we say most people’s “fair share” is, say, 15 percent but rich people’s “fair share” is 39 percent. Why? How is it fair that the government confiscates 15 cents on the dollar from one taxpayer but his neighbor must pay 39 cents?

If you make $50,000 a year, your 15 percent is $7,500. If you make $1 million, your 15 percent is $150,000 and your tax bill is three times the gross income of your neighbor. But the math-challenged say that’s not fair: The tax bill ought to be $390,000. Why? What makes that fair, if by “fair” we mean equitable treatment?

Is it “fair” because the million-dollar earner has more to surrender? She earned it – who are we to decide the government has a better idea or a more worthy cause for spending her earnings? Do you even realize how absurd it is – when you have already taxed this person what amounts to six, seven, eight times the average person’s entire gross income – to say he has not paid his fair share?

When I hear the arguments for progressive taxation – which is not about progress at all in a positive sense, but is about taking progressively more as a person earns more money – I hearken back to that sixth-grade room and wonder if this is why Mr. Damms was so emotional.

If you don’t understand percentages, you think high earners don’t pay their fair share of taxes.

If you don’t understand percentages, you think it’s fair that all workers receive the same percentage increase.

If you don’t understand percentages, you think raising a sales tax from 4 percent to 5 percent is a 1 percent increase. (It’s 25 percent.)

If you don’t understand percentages, you think there’s a chance you could win the lottery, or at least your money back.

If you don’t understand percentages, you think it’s a great deal to receive a 5 percent reward from a credit card that charges you 27 percent interest.

If you don’t understand percentages, you may think the growing gap between the richest and the poorest is the result of the rich deliberately pushing you down. But you did it to yourself when you gratefully accepted the same percentage increase as your boss. Do that for long enough, and the widening gap should surprise no one – if you understand percentages.