Three Words to Live By

Three Words to Live By

Rusted Ship - Que Sera, Sera

When I lived in Key West in the late ’70s, early ’80s, a well known local contractor, whose name now eludes me (a fraction of a brain cell thinks his first name was Carl, but I have zero-percent confidence in that), was busted at sea in the Gulf of Mexico smuggling some large quantity of marijuana from the Yucatan. When the Coast Guard boarded his boat and arrested him, he had just three words to say, which were quoted in the press: “Que sera, sera.” What will be, will be.

His nonchalance in the face of the facts impressed me at the time. More than that, though, those three words, que sera, sera, struck me as three good words to live by. And today, perhaps more so than ever.

Whatever it is, whether a rare disease, getting hit by a bus, a ratty relationship, financial ruin, or getting busted at sea with your major stash, you just never know what’s going to happen, much less usually can do fuck all about it. I was listening to an interview the other day with a woman whose 12-year-old daughter, along with a friend and the friend’s mother, was killed in a car wreck caused by a drunk driver in New Zealand, and seven years later she’s still learning to deal with the loss. It’s hard to imagine a bigger loss or something more unimaginable to deal with, but there she is, dealing with it. If that’s all we can do, then it’s worthwhile doing it. Que sera, sera.

Following the spirit of que sera, sera, to its logical conclusion

The spirit of que sera, sera has led me, these many years after my Key West sojourn, to where I am today. For some time now I’ve come to see myself as an outlaw. Not a criminal, mind you. An outlaw. There is a real, if subtle, difference between them. It’s not that I go out of my way to antagonize the authorities or that I commit mayhem. I believe anyone’s right to pursue their interests ends at the tip of the next person’s nose. But as is said, you can’t drive down the road without breaking some law or other. That’s just a fact. In that sense, we’re all outlaws, even if we don’t realize it or call ourselves that.

It shouldn’t come as any mystery to anyone above the age of five that laws have little or nothing to so with justice, what is right or wrong, or any other kind of logical justification. They’re political creatures, and as we know, political impulses and politicians come and go and have interests, often self-serving, that generally have no touch with reality. In that realm of reality, I suppose there is some reason people drive by my house doing 55 in a 45 MPH zone, but do 45 out on the highway where the limit is 55. I just don’t know what it is.

So when I say I’m an outlaw, it’s both a recognition of reality and a kind of claim to the moral high ground, such as it is. It’s really an assertion of my own individuality, my loyalty to self above the artifices of the law or the state, much less the politicians. Life is simply too short to do otherwise.

I do what I believe in, what I want to do, what I feel is right, regardless of what some politicians, or even society at large, think is right. A kind of passive version of civil disobedience. There is plenty of civil law I adhere to, mostly in the breach, partly by design. Unlike a Hillary Clinton or James Comey or Joe Biden, I don’t do things that threaten the national security or the preservation of what passes for national justice or enrich myself at the expense of the country. I just live my life as I see fit, and so that alone probably qualifies me as an outlaw, and I proudly claim the title. Mostly I just don’t pay much attention to the law while not going out of my way to be a nuisance, much less menace.

I’ve held the belief for most of my adult life that even if there wasn’t a single law, most people would adhere to a code — perhaps something akin to the Golden Rule — that would promote civility. Of course, there would be those who take advantage of that and prey on everyone else, just as there are people in our jungle of laws who do the same. While they might cheat on their taxes or park in no-parking zones, things that are legal constructs, most people don’t murder or steal because there are laws against those things. No, they don’t do those things because they inherently believe they’re the wrong things to do.

What does any of this have to do with writing?

What does any of this have to do with writing? I was waiting for you to ask that question. It has everything to do with writing. One must free one’s mind from the constraints of “legality” to free one’s writing to roam unfettered, to get to the heart of things, to fly. Staying within the lines, the legal strictures, the hum-drum of normal life will constrain one’s vision, one’s imagination, and consequently one’s writing. Even if one is not a writer, this is a guideline for how to live your life. Is life any more satisfying towing every line rather than freeing oneself and, as a result, obtaining that elusive sense of freedom? Do we get more than one go-around at life, more than one chance at happiness and enjoyment and pleasure and experience and accomplishment?

I was going to venture into some blather, like the quote alleged to Hemingway but which he not only didn’t say, but criticized: “Write drunk, edit sober.” Let’s be real. Writing, the actual mechanics of writing, is hard work that demands precision and structure. But that doesn’t mean the ideas that go into it need to be constrained or limited, whether by orthodoxy or the desire to please or by a failure to see over the horizon, to perceive what lies there.

It is that special vision, that insight or understanding or empathy that comes from seeing beyond the simply visible, that empowers our writing, that raises it about the mere mundane. It is what motivates so many writers to strive, to keep at it, to reach for audience, to seek immortality. And sometimes, it takes being an outlaw.

My old poetry mentor Marguerite Harris from my Woodstock days, which predated my Key West days, would say, “When in doubt, leave it out.” Other good words to live by. So, with that admonition in mind, I’ll end this here. But don’t forget, because it’s the truth: Que sera, sera.

Featured image, La Famille at Sea, by Trace Hudson via Pexels. Used with permission.

This piece also appears on my Substack, Issues That Matter. Subscribe here, and there, and share the piece.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.