Remembering Robert M. Pirsig


“Robert M. Pirsig, whose “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” a dense and discursive novel of ideas, became an unlikely publishing phenomenon in the mid-1970s and a touchstone in the waning days of the counterculture, died on Monday at his home in South Berwick, Me. He was 88.” – New York Times

I’m not a philosopher, so I’ll leave it to the philosophers to put Pirsig’s philosophy of Quality into perspective. I never met Pirsig, so I’ll leave it to those who knew him to talk about what they talked about and what it meant to them.

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

Nonetheless, my memories were personal because–even though I didn’t subscribe to Pirsig’s passion for Quality (as he saw it)–I felt like all of his sentiments surrounding it were things I was then in the process of discovering; or, as the sages who believe we know everything before each earthly incarnation suggest, remembering.

As I looked out the windows at the landscape from my coach seat in the Empire Builder and saw Minnesota, North Dakota and Montana flying past, I had to smile because this was the route Pirsig took on his motorcycle. Except that he said seeing such sites through a car window was pretty much just more TV. The train window views weren’t real because I wasn’t inside those views.

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

He believed the journey was more important than the destination. So did I. I still do. I loved the train, but I also preferred the experience from my motorcycle trip in the Rockies or perhaps from my 6,000 miles in an open-topped Triumph TR3. Mountain climbing and walking were even better. So, I believed that experience trumped books and sages and presumed logic.

“We’re in such a hurry most of the time we never get much chance to talk. The result is a kind of endless day-to-day shallowness, a monotony that leaves a person wondering years later where all the time went and sorry that it’s all gone. ”

Today we’re even in more of a hurry. Perhaps TV dinners and instant coffee were the first omens of the world to come. Hurry up and wait: we said that in the navy. Now we’ve gotten rid of a lot of the waiting thanks to satellite TV and the Internet. By any real definition of the term, quality has suffered.

Pirsig’s work had a profound influence on my thinking. It still does. There was a time when my ideas were called “New Age.” I disliked the term because the ideas it included were very old, presented in today’s terms. One might say the same thing about many of Pirsig’s ideas; though he presented them in such a monumentally different way, they had more impact than the dusty manuscripts in the forgotten section of the library.

“Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.”

That sounds very parental, doesn’t it? So, I expect many of today’s young people would say, “hell that’s the kind of crap my father and grandfather tried to get me to swallow.” Perhaps they did, but you didn’t understand what they were talking about.

I used to work at a place where my sarcastic comment about the general work ethic was that “a half-assed job saves time.” Just get the work out the door. If it doesn’t last, it’s somebody else’s problem down the road.  I think a lot of places consider that work ethic to be the guiding force of business and industry and, hell, maybe even literature. If so, they need to get a copy if Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and repair themselves.


The subjectivity of literary taste and who’s telling you what’s good


“Taste is subjective. It is built from our personal experiences, our values, what we have read and watched and listened to all through our lives, and even stuff such as gender, race, nationality, and so on. Taste is political. Most of us would prefer our art to simply reinforce, rather than challenge, our worldview, so we tend to read writers who share our backgrounds, our values and so on. We create little artistic bubbles and don’t question them nearly enough.” – Jessa Crispin in Enough David Foster Wallace, already! We need to read beyond our bubbles in The Guardian

I’m an old white man. But unlike a lot of other white men, young and old, I disliked David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel Infinite Jest so much, that I couldn’t even finish it. That’s rare for me. I was taught to clean up my plate and to finish the books I started. No matter, this book was like collard greens simmered in squid ink with a topping of chocolate-covered ants.

But, I digress. The point of Crispin’s article isn’t simply that women and some men are tired of white men telling them they must read Infinite Jest because “it’s important,” it’s that for years the elite of literary critics were eastern-based white men who had so much in common with each other in the small bubble where they lived and read and formed opinions so similar that they tended to recommend the same books that–when it came down to it–supported what they believed about literature and life.

In short, they created the canon because they told the rest of us what’s good and what’s not.

Times are changing in spite of the fact that Americans read a notoriously small number of books from outside the western world. But, we’re seeing more women and more non-Caucasians in the mix of books reviewers are finally reviewing, writing about and recommending.

Perhaps that means more readers are listening to new advice. Perhaps that means there’s more diversity in the origins of the printed word.  I’m sure my reading habits support my own world view; it’s just that my world view is (and has been) at odds with the eastern white men pontificating from their little literary bubble.

We all like what we like. That’s fair enough. But when and why did we start liking what we like? Perhaps those snobbish white men whispered in our ears without our knowing it.

Crispin’s article is a reminder that we all need to be more adventurous when we read. It’s not like that adventure is going to brainwash us into people we no longer recognize in the mirror. We’ll probably change, but for my money, change beats stasis and more of “the same old same old.”


National Parks Boast a $34 Billion Boom as Budget Cuts Loom


from the National Parks and Conservation Association

Record-visitation pumps billions into national, local economies in 2016

WASHINGTON – National park visitation generated $34.9 billion for the U.S. economy in 2016, a $2.9 billion increase from 2015, and supported 318,000 jobs, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced today. The number reflects the significant, positive economic impact national park visitors have on gateway communities, including sales, lodging and jobs, as well as the impact on the national economy as a whole.

Read the rest of the press release here.

Acadia National Park in Maine. © Coleong/Dreamstime.

It’s widely known that our national parks are having infrastructure problems because funding has been so insufficient that keeping roads, bridges, structures, trails, and emergency and communications systems up to date is impossible.

Like infrastructure needs outside the park system, allocating money to roads and bridges isn’t sexy in spite of the fact that we see periodic reports about the number of bridges, dams, locks, levees and other vital transportation and safety structures and systems that are below par throughout the country.

Writing for SmartAsset in January 2016, Amelia Josephson said that, “According to the NPS, the nearly $3 billion appropriated for the NPS budget falls short of what’s needed. In May 2015 the park service said it had delayed $11.5 billion in necessary maintenance in 2014 due to budget shortfall. Although national parks charge fees, these fees are not nearly enough to fund the national park system, which is why the NPS depends so heavily on Congress’ budget appropriations.”

A small fraction of this money can be made up by friends of the parks organizations that raise money and fund discrete projects within the parks they’re associated with that would otherwise fall outside NPS’ spending. But this is like bailing a lake with a thimble. It does help, but the overall park’s system continues to fall behind.

Cheating the parks isn’t just about nature, protected areas, and outdoor recreation. It impacts the local economies as well–generally those within 60 miles of a park. As the NPCA press release notes, park visitation doesn’t simply bring money to the park, but also to gas stations, camp grounds, stores, restaurants and hotels in the surrounding area. Those who visit national parks tend to stray longer than random tourists who make brief stops at roadside attractions and less-well-known tourist destinations. Of course, park service employee salaries add to the “new money” brought into the regional economy from the park.

Cheating the parks and other public lands is cheating the future, and not just the environment on which we all depend even if we never go out and visit it. It reduces the value of the country in terms of assets and makes the ultimate loss of parks, or parts of parks, more and more likely in the future. We can pretend it isn’t happening just as many pretend there’s no such thing as global warming. That’s the head-in-the-sand approach. We can do better.



Briefly Noted: ‘Coyote Stories’ by Mourning Dove


In the spring of 1930, Colville [Washington] author Christine Quintasket wrote to her non-Indian colloborator, Lucullus McWhorter, offering reassurance. “I am going to the mountains again in August,” she informed him, “when flowers of mystery are in full bloom, and then I shall ‘do my stuff.’ Our book is going to be a success. [My] Indian beliefs will prove it.” As these words suggest, Quintasket applied her ancestral training in support of her contemporary aims: to advocate for her Colville people and to preserve their collective culture. – Laurie Arnold in “Montana The Magazine of Western History, Spring 2017

Quintasket (1884-1936), who wrote under the name Mourning Dove (Hum-Ishu-Ma) is known for her novel Half-Blood: A Depiction of the Great Montana Cattle Range (1927) and her folklore collection Coyote Stories (1933). Both books are still available today.

Her novel was the first to be written by an Indian woman with an Indian protagonist. The novel explores the challenges faced by native American mothers who were married to white fathers. Greatly edited by McWhorter without Quintasket’s knowledge, the book did poorly.

Coyote Stories is a collection of tales Quintasket heard from tribal elders, including her grandmother. In his foreword to the book, Chief Standing Bear wrote,  “These legends are of America, as are its mountains, rivers, and forests, and as are its people. They belong!” Coyote stories sold well and received much critical acclaim.

Publisher’s Description (2013 edition)

Wikipedia Photo

A powerful force and yet the butt of humor, the coyote figure runs through the folklore of many American Indian tribes. He can be held up as a “terrible example” of conduct, a model of what not to do, and yet admired for a careless. anarchistic energy that suggests unlimited possibilities. Mourning Dove, an Okanagan, knew him well from the legends handed down by her people. She preserved them for posterity in Coyote Stories, originally published in 1933.

Here is Coyote, the trickster, the selfish individualist, the imitator, the protean character who indifferently puts the finishing touches on a world soon to receive human beings. And here is Mole, his long-suffering wife, and all the other Animal People, including Fox, Chipmunk, Owl-Woman, Rattlesnake, Grizzly Bear, Porcupine, and Chickadee. Here it is revealed why Skunk’s tail is black and white, why Spider has such long legs, why Badger is so humble, and why Mosquito bites people. These entertaining, psychologically compelling stories will be welcomed by a wide spectrum of readers.

Jay Miller has supplied an introduction and notes for this Bison Books edition and restored chapters that were deleted from the original.

According to Laurie Arnold, “As a child of the 1880s, Quintasket was a member of the first generation of Colville people who needed to be bicultural in order to maintain Native community ties and to control their participation in a Western world that was trying to overtake and assimilate them.”

As the Handbook of Native American Literature by Andrew Wiget notes, the Daily Oklahoman wrote in 1934 that Coyote Stories represents “a spiritual heritage that can never be replaced.” A. B. Guthrie said in the Lexington Kentucky Leader said that Mourning Dove is an effective storyteller with “a fine simplicity of expression.”


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of two Florida folktale novels, Conjure Woman’s Cat and Eulalie and Washerwoman.


Subscribe to our newsletter and receive a free book


Thomas-Jacob Publishing is offering free copies of Melinda Clayton’s novel Making Amends to those who sign-up for our newsletter via the InstaFreebie site. This offer is good through the end of this month.

Just enter you name and e-mail address, and then choose the file type you want: MOBI, EPUB, or PDF.

We promise not to send you a deluge of stuff. We hope you’ll like what we do send: announcements of new books, a few poems, and a bit of news.

I enjoyed reading Making Amends. Here’s the publisher description from Amazon:

On a beautiful fall evening, in the middle of a game of hide-and-seek, five-year-old Bobby Clark is kidnapped by his estranged father, a shiftless man with a history of domestic violence and drug abuse. Bobby’s twin brother Ricky watches, terrified, from his hiding place behind the bougainvillea, while mother Tabby, who also struggles with addiction, lies inebriated on the living room floor. Bobby isn’t seen by his loved ones again until a fateful morning twenty-five years later, when video of his arrest dominates the morning news. He has been charged with the murder of his father, but before the trial can begin, he manages to escape. As Tabby and Ricky absorb the news of Bobby’s return and subsequent escape, Tabby is convinced he’ll come home to the quiet Florida street from which he was taken so long ago. But when events begin to spiral out of control, she’s left to wonder: is a child born to be evil, or shaped to be evil? And in the end, when it’s time to make amends, does it really matter?

I hope you enjoy the book and the Thomas-Jacob newsletter. The next issue should be out near the end of this month.







“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Springtime and Easter bring thoughts of renewal as nature–and, perhaps, men–leave the often misunderstood darkness of Winter. That this brings many of us a reaffirmation of our spirituality, regardless of the name of our religion, cannot be doubted. Or, perhaps if can be doubted, but for many of us renewal is as natural as the seasons.

Symbols of renewal. Wikipedia Photo

Carl Jung, in his Red Book, referred to the spirit of the times as a force or set of forces that drew men into the temporal clutches of popular thinking. We often lose confidence in ourselves because the spirit of the times often seems so chaotic, fragile, focused on expedient ends, and sometimes predicts that one kind of doom or another is all the future holds.

It’s hard to ignore the spirit of the times because it’s our common currency. Yet, it sows doubt and can lead us to believe that renewal is something for another time eons into the future or am experience many steps or miles away from wherever we appear to be stuck at the moment.

The spirit of the depths, as Jung called it, appears as madness and insanity to those trying to live “properly” within the consensus spirit of the times. Yet that spirit contains all the great truths, everything that can be known about the cosmos and the Creator behind it and within it. We’re afraid of it and believe its truths are beyond us. So, we often speak of our spiritual journey as a lifetime or multi-lifetime trip. We look for destinations that “matter” and “steps that seem important” and experiences that seem to hold the keys to transformation. It’s vain to think otherwise, we believe, because the spirit of the times continues to lead us to believe that important goals take years to accomplish, and who are we to find the creator in a moment?

And yet, I cannot help but think that spiritual renewal–unlike the clock-like cycle of the seasons–has no timetable. Perhaps we rush hither and yon without grasping how we are changing and why we are going one place or another. While Springtime and Easter remind us of renewal, I rather think it’s always an eye blink away–whenever we’re ready. There’s no hurry: we’re ready when we’re ready, though it seems that we deny how close it may be by brainwashing ourselves to think it’s far away.

Like the “force” in Star Wars, it’s with us always. We’ll hear it better if we can tune out the loud and clamoring voices around us that tempt us to follow one fad or political party or spiritual journey of the moment.  That’s when we finally grasp that we’re already at the place where we’ve been going.


National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund

The National Parks need your support, and your Representatives’ and Senators’ support of this bill before everything in the parks ends up broken, closed, offline, and dangerous due to lack of funding.

S. 751

To amend title 54, United States Code, to establish, fund, and provide for the use of amounts in a National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund to address the maintenance backlog of the National Park Service, and for other purposes.

March 28, 2017

Mr. Warner (for himself, Mr. Portman, Mr. King, and Mr. Kaine) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources


To amend title 54, United States Code, to establish, fund, and provide for the use of amounts in a National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund to address the maintenance backlog of the National Park Service, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


This Act may be cited as the “National Park Service Legacy Act of 2017”.


(a) In General.—Chapter 1049 of title 54, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

§ 104908. National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund

“(a) In General.—There is established in the Treasury of the United States a fund, to be known as the ‘National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund’ (referred to in this section as the ‘Fund’).

“(b) Deposits.—At the beginning of each applicable fiscal year, there shall be deposited in the Fund from mineral revenues due and payable to the United States that are not otherwise credited, covered, or deposited under Federal law—

“(1) $50,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2018, 2019, and 2020;

“(2) $150,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2021, 2022, and 2023;

“(3) $250,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2024, 2025, and 2026; and

“(4) $500,000,000 for each of fiscal years 2027 through 2047.

“(c) Availability Of Funds.—

“(1) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in paragraph (2), amounts deposited in the Fund shall be available to the Service for expenditure without further appropriation.

“(2) UNOBLIGATED AMOUNTS.—Any amounts not obligated by the date that is 2 years after the date on which the amounts are first available shall be credited to miscellaneous receipts of the Treasury.

“(d) Use Of Funds.—Amounts in the Fund shall be used for the high-priority deferred maintenance needs of the Service, as determined by the Director, as follows:

“(1) 80 percent of amounts in the Fund shall be allocated for projects that are not eligible for the funding described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (2) for the repair and rehabilitation of assets, including—

“(A) historic structures, facilities, and other historic assets;

“(B) nonhistoric assets that relate directly to visitor—

“(i) access, including making facilities accessible to visitors with disabilities;

“(ii) health and safety; and

“(iii) recreation; and

“(C) visitor facilities, water and utility systems, and employee housing.

“(2) 20 percent of amounts in the Fund shall be allocated to road, bridge, tunnel, or other transportation-related projects that may be eligible for funding made available to the Service through—

“(A) the transportation program under section 203 of title 23; or

“(B) any similar Federal land highway program administered by the Secretary of Transportation.

“(e) Prohibited Use Of Funds.—No amounts in the Fund shall be used—

“(1) for land acquisition; or

“(2) to supplant discretionary funding made available for the annually recurring facility operations and maintenance needs of the Service.

“(f) Submission Of Annual Proposal.—As part of the annual budget submission of the Service to the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the Committee on Appropriations of the Senate (referred to in this section as the ‘Committees’), the Service shall submit a prioritized list of deferred maintenance projects proposed to be funded by amounts in the Fund during the fiscal year for which the budget submission is made.

“(g) Congressional Review.—After review of the list submitted under subsection (f), the Committees may provide for the allocation of amounts derived from the Fund.

“(h) Project Approval.—

“(1) IN GENERAL.—Except as provided in paragraph (2), if, before the beginning of a fiscal year, the Committees do not alter the allocation of funds proposed by the Service for that fiscal year, the list submitted under subsection (f) for that fiscal year shall be considered approved.

“(2) CONTINUING RESOLUTION.—If, before the beginning of a fiscal year, there is enacted a continuing resolution or resolutions for a period of—

“(A) less than or equal to 120 days, the Service shall not commit funds to any proposed high-priority deferred maintenance project until the date of enactment of a law making appropriations for the Service that is not a continuing resolution; or

“(B) more than 120 days, the list submitted under subsection (f) for that fiscal year shall be considered approved, unless otherwise provided in the continuing resolution or resolutions.

“(i) Public Donations.—To encourage public-private partnerships that will reduce the overall deferred maintenance costs to the Service, the Secretary and the Director may accept public cash or in-kind donations by including on each list submitted to Congress under subsection (f) after the date of enactment of this section each project, regardless of the priority ranking of the project, that costs—

“(1) less than $2,000,000, with at least a 33-percent non-Federal cost-share component; or

“(2) equal to or more than $2,000,000, with at least a 25-percent non-Federal cost-share component.”.

(b) Clerical Amendment.—The table of sections for chapter 1049 of title 54, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

“104908. National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund.”.