We have a few suggestions to help you get the most out of each Proctor Charlie conversation. These suggestions may also be applied to any conversation you may engage most anywhere…

  1. Proctor Charlie conversations, and maybe many other conversations, are an opportunity for you to engage in a meditative experience. We suggest taking a deep breath before beginning to read (or beginning to listen).
  2. Read (or listen) slowly and deliberately. Consider any possible implications of the statement. (Note that Proctor Charlie may or may not agree with a given statement, but he has always found something of interest in the words or they would not be here.)
  3. Go back and read the words again, this time considering any implications implied by each hyperlinked word or phrase. (Note here that you are being encouraged to take someone’s words out of context. The fact is that Proctor Charlie only looks for very short but interesting bits of language. Most short bits of language are, in one way or another, out of context, which is exactly what can often make them so very interesting.)
  4. Now consider each hyperlinked word or phrase and ask yourself which might be the most interesting direction to take the conversation from here.
  5. Click away and then start over with Suggestion 1 above on the next little port of call on the unique conversational voyage which you have embarked upon. BUT FIRST consider contributing to the conversation. How would YOU have responded? OR you may have a favorite bit of wisdom you have heard or read that would contribute a different perspective. Any time you have such a notion, submit a suggestion. The Proctor Charlie Collective looks forward to enjoying your perspective.

Start a conversation…

Out of Context

We apologize for being out of the loop, with a couple of small exceptions, for the past year while we complete the first complete draft of our online “conversation through the ages”. The project eventually ran to more than 700 pages and we are still cleaning up errors and inconsistencies, but the site is at least now fully functional. Do read on here for some musings on the nature of the Conversation and click on a hyperlink to join in on the fun and fascination. If you do happen upon anything in error, or if you happen to be kind enough to provide constructive feedback you can use the “submit your own pieces of conversation” hyperlink for that purpose as well.

Why do I title this “Out of Context”? Consider this little parenthesis from the Suggestion Page: Proctor Charlie only looks for very short but interesting bits of language. Most short bits of language are, in one way or another, out of context, which is exactly what can often make them so very interesting.

For all we know for certain, our entire lives may be lived “out of context”. That may just be a notion to keep in mind as you go about today’s business…

Arguably, every utterance is a response. Whatever those very first human utterances were responding to, whether it might’ve been screaming before a charging sabre tooth, or maybe gasping in amazement at first beholding the world through newly aware eyes, or even clicking the tongue against the teeth in hopes of attracting the attention of a likely mate, or, as many may choose to believe, some worshipful word in some strange new tongue in response to a Creator Deity, whatever that first conscious utterance was, responding utterances were sure to follow out of the ever expanding chorus of the voices of creation.

Some such utterances and responses echo down through the ages, prompting ever more responses, some interesting, some amazing, some that leave us wondering what sort of strange universe such an idea could have sprung from.

The Proctor Charlie Collective attempts to connect significant utterances of all types across continents, cultures and time. We invite you to return to the home page and pick a place to start your conversation. It may take you in hundreds of directions. You may even wish to join in. You may just find your way home.

Note that this conversation is always under construction. You may use this link to offer corrections and criticisms or submit your own pieces of conversation for the editors to consider. When browsing the conversation you may simply scroll down on any page and select one of the default hyperlinks at the bottom.


The Gift of Dread 

(Existential Alley)

It’s now been a quarter century since Gavin de Becker first published The Gift of Fear. I admit I never have gotten around to reading the book, but my wife did many years ago and found it valuable. Other psychologists have spent a good deal of ink addressing irrational fear. From what I’ve gathered, de Becker was not writing at all in defense of irrational fear, but his subject might’ve been something more like pre-rational fear, which he encouraged us to pay attention to and use it to help keep ourselves “reasonably” safe when encountering strangers and navigating unfamiliar territory. That feeling of fear we might be experiencing at such times is not exactly rational, yet de Becker was encouraging us to treat that fear rationally.

What I am wondering about here is a somewhat related sensation I encounter from time to time which I have begun to name as “dread”. Others might be tempted to translate “existential angst”, but I have my doubts whether it is necessarily the same. In my own case, this dread manifests as a kind of burning feeling directly behind my lower sternum. It may be triggered when something suddenly goes “wrong”, often something as simple as losing something that is actually easily replaced, but more often it is prompted by a sudden break in an important relationship. However I have also had the experience of that feeling descending, it seems, from nowhere discernable.

To my mind, the main difference between fear and dread is that fear tends to be about something that might happen, whereas dread is more often about something that has happened or is happening. For this reason I would assert that most fear is irrational in the sense that some of us humans have a penchant for imagining worst case scenarios that never come about. Dread, in the sense that I am trying to communicate here, would seldom be inherently irrational, except that I suspect the feeling is out of proportion to any given situation which might be prompting it.

This brings up a gift that fear offers that I don’t believe de Becker touched on. It is true that this pre-rational fear may well serve to keep us out of serious trouble, as we learn in the book, but there is also the fact that without fear, whether rational or not, that most noble of human virtues, courage, would be quite impossible. This gift of fear may have somewhat of a corollary with our feelings of dread. If you can identify at all with the “dread center” I described, somewhere behind the sternum, perhaps you have also experienced a “joy” or even “ecstasy” center. I find that center, usually, in the same general area as my dread center. If no joy center comes immediately to mind for you, try to remember all the way back to lying in bed on Christmas Eve, or whichever annual celebratory event in your young experience that prompted intense anticipation, like a trip to Disneyland or the return of an absent parent. The dread I speak of evokes similar intense anticipation, except that it apparently anticipates some worst case scenario that I have not the imagination to consciously conjure. It is this very shortfall of imagination that hints to me of hidden gold beneath my momentary dread.

Courage does not live beyond the bounds of imagination, for our very fears have already fired our imagination with one or more worst case scenario, yet courage gives us the will to forge ahead anyway. What, then, I ask myself, is the corollary to dread which lives beyond my imagination? 

I had the experience at the age of four of being severely scalded down my back. The experience was horrific enough, yet it was tempered by the common human experience of “going into shock”. When we reach the limits of human sensory experience our sensibilities protect themselves from permanent damage by automatically shutting down. I suspect the same phenomenon occurs beyond the limits of human ecstasy. Could it be something like this experience which induces some to create an artificial drug-induced experience at the opposite end of whatever they might be experiencing or fearing at the dread end of the continuum? Why do so many of us literally risk our very lives as we willingly pursue such an escape?

How many mystics through the ages have hinted at wonders experienced for which they could find no words? And even then, the experience hinted at is suspected of being itself, little more than a hint beyond the mystic’s own ability to imagine, just as the patriarch closed his eyes as God’s Spirit passed, lest he look on the divine face and fall dead. 

Could it be that my sensations of dread actually expand my capacity to anticipate an unimaginable joy, perhaps even, someday, to experience unimaginable happiness face to face?

Housetop Musings – a Christmas guest blog

Up on the Housetop, a song repurposed, remastered, and upgraded by Lacey Brown

Musings by Jeanette Olson

Ho, ho, ho, who wouldn’t go…up on the housetop with Good Saint Nick? When I was a kid, this was a kiddy jingle that would be played incessantly on the radio along with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, All I Want for Christmas was My Two Front Teeth, and Jingle Bells. Silly 1950’s! My favorite was Jingle Bells. The other songs I was philosophically opposed to as they were nonsense songs. The other reindeer were mean to Rudolph. Two front teeth are not a present to wish for when there were so many wonderful toys one could ask Santa to bring! As for Up on the Housetop, what does it mean? Why is the song a question? No one would go up on the housetop with Saint Nick because he would never come to your house if you were sitting there bold as Shirley Temple up on the housetop! No question! And ho, ho, ho, who wouldn’t know? Everyone would know if you went up on the housetop! There are no secrets in my neighborhood! It is possible that I may have misheard the song lyrics and the question of who wouldn’t go was the only question in the song. And there is the fact that I thought Silent Night included round, virgin olives tender and bright which was a special favorite of mine. (I would put those glistening black olives on each of my five fingers and gently pull them off with my teeth and eat 10 at a go.)

Lacey Brown’s version of this song makes it clear that the question is who wouldn’t go. And that got me thinking. Would I go up on the housetop? Would children go up? Who was inviting us to go up? Santa Claus, or some other omniscient being? Could I be way up high on a rooftop with a magical person who delivers toys to children? What would hold me back? Fear? Disdain and lack of belief? I think about the people I know. I think they are the type that would go up on the housetop with St. Nick. The people I know are curious, hopeful, and ready to test theories on whether or not Santa Claus is real. Even their cynic wants to be proved wrong. I would be up on the housetop.

People who wouldn’t go up on the housetop lack imagination and are not grounded in reality. Like Trumpers and Q-Anons. St. Francis for sure would go up on the housetop. Jesus would go up on the housetop. My son Isaac might not because he is afraid of heights. But he is not afraid of magic so I think he too, would be up on the housetop. My mother, what would she do? For sure she would strongly suggest that I come down from up top. But, I think she could be persuaded to throw aside her fear and come on up. My dad would definitely be up on the housetop. 

My family is not a family of risk takers. Yet every one of them would go up on the rooftop for the magic of St. Nick. Except for Ned, or so he says. I know differently.

Once a Future…

Where do you suppose this youngster was headed fifty years ago? I’d say it was a mercy he had no idea where his little car would carry him just a year later…

It was the summer of ’72. That was a very intense summer. It was a summer of exciting and fleeting relationships. It was a summer of deep thoughts and tall mountains and hard work, strenuous physical labor. It was a summer long anticipated that took me completely by surprise. It ambushed me out of nowhere, yet not entirely without warning. The artist Roger Feldman warned me in no uncertain terms as he pointed out what a sheltered suburban life I’d been leading. Of course he was never specific and he needn’t be a prophet to see that life would soon be offering me new challenges. Most likely he’d used much the same language with any number of young men that summer as he led long strings of young people up and down the Canadian Rockies above the fjords of British Columbia. At the time I took the warning as seriously as any teenage kid would, but as it turned out, this warning was just specific enough to be at least a little spooky. Neither of us could’ve known what I would soon be facing.

It was a long hike down that mountain followed by an eight hour voyage back to Vancouver and then followed by an all night drive on to Seattle with my buddy the late Dave Jones at the wheel of Randy Couter’s old beater (that needed another quart of oil every few hundred miles). In the morning I sat at the kitchen table with Mom, Dad, sisters and brothers, all coming and going just as they had my whole life. I was fresh from a hot shower and sat going through my mail, feeling my tired, yet young, strong, hardened body radiating irrational confidence. The black rotary dial phone on the kitchen wall went off. Whoever it was that had been filling in for me while I was off on my mountain adventure had left a van full of newspaper bundles sitting out behind the office of the Eastside Journal. Those newspapers still needed to find all the eyeballs around town who waited impatiently to consume them. The next day was more of the same. Each day as full as the last with some physically demanding something or another, seemingly from dawn to dusk. And the next day and the next and the next more of the same. As each new challenge arose, for a whole long month, Roger’s warning would pop back into my sprawling adolescent mind promising bigger challenges yet to come as some force of the universe continued to toughen me up, mind and body.

Then one bright sunny August day I awoke to find the entire day sprawling out before me containing absolutely no obligations whatsoever. For that one whole day I could be the carefree kid once again. I hopped into my little red car and bounced off up the hill to the high school to engage that tough young mind and body in some of the vigorous touch football that had been going on up there all summer without me. An hour or so later I was crossing the field with the warm afternoon sun on my back and the sweet scent of cut grass in my nostrils. I tossed the ball in the air, snagging it again lightly as it fell. It was that easy motion of the kid at heart that had engaged males of any age or tongue, probably since we had learned that most anything might be flung into the air to some impressive, if not particularly useful, effect.

As the ball dropped lazily, once again, into my grip I spotted my sister Leanne walking hurriedly toward me from the parking lot. Even yet, after all these years, I’m always glad to see my sister, but that afternoon my smile quickly melted into something, I’m still not quite sure what, when I saw that she was crying. Once we came close enough she simply blurted out to me, as best she could, that Dad was dead.

My young soul was suddenly draped in an adult face as I dropped the ball and wrapped an arm around Leanne as we made our way back to the parking lot. All I could think was, “This is it!” But of course I could hardly know what I was talking about. That carefree kid is still in there somewhere, though perhaps, in a decades old body, pretending at life somewhat more carefully since those days. I still had so much growing up yet to do, but those are stories for another day. Maybe these decades later I can at least begin to shed a tear, for myself, for my dad, maybe for a thousand of our tough Norwegian forbears.

I do have a strange little postscript, however. Reaching out to Roger this week I found out that he too had lost his father when Roger was about the age I was when we had that short conversation there on the mountainside in the summer of ’72. Maybe I’ll get to hear that story.

fingers on the sunrise


On a virtual conference this morning my friend Jeff asked where exactly it was that I was off to on this retreat. I shot this image from yesterday morning back to him forgetting that I had “messed it up” by, forgetting the implications, snapping it through the window and capturing my own fingers reflected on the glass. He asked if he could paint it. When I see him again I’ll have to ask if he intends to paint my fingers as well the sunrise, the sound and the ferry dock.

But my original intent here this morning was “Reckless Respect” rather than “fingers on the sunrise”. Somehow, though, respect seems strangely consistent with the way my wayward fingers “innocently” bombed God’s otherwise perfect sunrise…

How can Creator seem to offer such reckless respect for creation? Is not the creation less than, or at least some subset, of the full reality and being of Creator assuming this original creator exists at all? I snapped this image through the window in vain hopes of capturing some moment in time as it slipped through my fleeting experience. Even though in my haste I didn’t even take the time to open the window, the moment slipped on by before I could even snap the shutter. Jeff wants to paint it anyway. Is Jeff, perhaps with the eye of an artist, seeing more in the image than I can see? Is it his desire to somehow capture more than just a moment in time? Or perhaps he would capture as well my ghost behind the image? Is his desire every bit as vain as mine? Could any such desire be not so much vanity as some faint reflection of the heart of Creator?

And yet there lies the question, the mystery. Has some Creator relinquished power to that creation, even at the risk, perhaps even the imperative, that the creation will be corrupted, even grossly corrupted in the hands of the created? Or perhaps such mysteries just may be evidence of a much greater power hidden beyond the limits of my own imagination. Is there some kind of unimaginable genius capable of remaining utterly and incomprehensibly good and compassionate behind, above, even beyond such a creation and beyond my ignorant questioning?

Truth, Knowledge, Love

…unless we love the truth, we cannot know it.

~~~~~~~~~~~ Blaise Pascal, Pensees

I picked Pascal, kind of at random, as a starting point for the website, yet a bit more of the significance of those words sunk in for me this morning. Of course for Blaise himself, as well as for many, many others, including myself for the majority of my life, we would equate truth with God, even capitalizing it: Truth, a name for the Divine Presence. What sunk in a bit for me this morning were my own limitations, the imperfection of my perceptions, knowledge, even my logic. I passed logic in college, but only with a C. My logic is only average, so why should I ever expect any better than an average knowledge of Truth, at least based only on my own level of intelligence?

So here Pascal throws the gauntlet down before me and challenges me to love something or Someone which or of whom I can have only an imperfect knowledge. I do, after all, have just a sufficient grasp of logic to extrapolate that I am no more likely to grasp Ultimate Truth by any other of my imperfect faculties.

As I take careful inventory of several decades of life I have to admit that my default response to anything or anyone with which I don’t feel I have a great deal of knowledge and control over, is fear – certainly not love. How the heck have I made it through to the point of a willingness to even blog on such a subject? The short answer would be that I’ve convinced myself, against evidence to the contrary, that I’m pretty good at faking it. So much, perhaps, for my pursuit of Truth and Knowledge, but I still wonder if faking it isn’t as reliable a pathway as any in my pursuit of Love?

Work, Rest, Refresh, Connect… in Rhythm with Life

The Vashon Island ferry dock: Vehicles wait to board for Southworth and West Seattle. Mount Baker graces the horizon.

Summer beckons and we are being teased with a return to Life. Few of us seem so foolish as to expect some fabled return to Life as We Know It. Life known is no life at all and what life we thought we knew before two winters ago is now a fantasy long gone, if ever it existed.

This morning I am witness to the rhythms of Puget Sound. Even on this calm inland estuary life takes its own course. Those who are always rushing to make the next ferry have never left the City. Watch the Ferryman. (Please grant me license from adherence to the correctness of the times. “Ferryman” just feels more poetic than any more correct term which comes to mind this early in the morning.) But watch them. They are not just “on the clock,” they are rather on the Clock. They are not just minding a strenuously negotiated union contract or some arduously calculated OSHA guidelines, they are pacing themselves according to larger rhythms, rhythms which may accommodate, for a moment, the rushing commuter or anxious vacationer, but most often gracefully and with the smile that follows a different reality.

Work, Rest, Refresh, Connect. These words presented themselves to me yesterday as I contemplated what this little retreat might mean to me over the coming weeks and months and years. In my typical ignorance I first greeted these with some misgiving as I dressed each up in the compulsive costumes of ideals and goals. But the Ferryman teaches me that the Rhythms of Life are not inherently distinct, rigid, demanding. These are not words so much as connotations, the rather more greedy stuff which once drove us from the Garden. These are Attitudes, not Life, much less Love.

The pace of the Ferryman embraces a sabbath rest between each step of work. The hand rests on the rail before the push. The foot rests on the gangway before the kick. The mooring rope rests lightly in the hand before it is pulled across the cleat. The salt air refreshes as the Ferryman works to connect, and in turn is connected with, shore and shore and person and person, Love and Life. Each all happen in rhythm and all in turn happens all at once together.

All are gift. All are Grace. Nothing of Life, nothing of this existence, demands. All is freely offered and may be gently plucked by us at any moment from the Tree of Life and savored for the eternity of that moment, but never violently charged at or greedily hoarded for some fabled future moment. soft web launch

Long time no type. To say I’ve been busy would be to state the obvious lame excuse. But at least I have a bit of something to show for my lame business. At last we have something here at beyond my little more or less monthly blogs. You may at last get a peek at a small sampling of the Compendium of Brief Wisdom which the Proctor Charlie Collective has been compiling for way too long now without a whole lot we have seemed able to do with any of it.

Unfortunately thus far there are barely a hundred pages you may browse through, but hopefully this is more than just one more browsing exercise. The pages are intentionally laid out and linked together to form conversational strings ranging from urbane, witty, down-to-earth, controversial, to even a bit ridiculous, but hopefully mostly wise in some way.

So sorry that most strings dead end pretty quickly at this point, but you are personally invited to help out, even if only a little, to nudge the process along. You should find a “Click here to suggest a bit of favorite brief wisdom which you have run across…” link near the bottom of any given page which you may select to make your own contribution or explore other ways to engage with the Collective.

In the meantime we will continue to crank out more brief wisdom.