Letter to Michael March 23, 2011

compost on my garden–getting ready for spring planting

We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.

R. Buckminster Fuller

“We are continually faced by great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.” Anonymous


For the past month I have been traveling, mostly in North Carolina doing residencies in schools.  Though I love this work, it means that I am missing home and often trying to figure out where to eat in strange lands.  If I am very lucky I stay with friends, but more often, I am on my own.  While at a terrific residency  at Rosewood Elementary School in Wayne County, K&W Cafeteria became my home away from home–a place of vegetables, and no plastic utensils.

Weekends seem to have been time for laundry with fleeting glimpses of friends, a basketball game or two, plus hunting down the Trout Lilies which are blooming along the Eno River.

one of this spring’s last Trout Lilies along the Eno River

For the past weeks, I have been listening to the stories of the tsunami in Japan, feeling horrified by the destruction, sorrow for the many deaths incurred, and a frustrated feeling of wanting to do something.  Here is the thing–a 9-point earthquake which has shifted our earth’s axis and the tusunami which came after it are out of our control–yours, mine, all of us.  We feel powerless in the wake of such devastation.  The tectonic plates of our very own earth shifted and this has happened.  Where I live here in North Carolina, a 3 hours drive to the Atlantic Ocean with the sun shining and green buds on trees everywhere, I have been feeling both distanced from this disaster and overwhelmed.   What can I do here?  Nothing?  About the tsunami, probably not.  But I am reminded again and again that it is the things that I CAN do, however small, that are important.  For me, in the whirl of travel and residencies, it has been putting compost on my garden and watching the tree limbs change in color from stark grey to muted shades of brown and green and orange and red, as their leaves begin to unfurl.  It has been to dodge single-use plastic, and see every-day that I can do this.  In stores, there is usually a glass or fresh option, and these days with all of the new food trucks around, I can even find take-out food in brown paper bags!  For you it might be riding your bike somewhere instead of driving, or stopping to show a new young child in your life the flowers of spring as they unfold.  Walking forward, and as one of my meditation teachers has said, softening ourselves into the things we must do, keeping active, moving along, in delight and joy when it is easy, and with courage and kindness when it is not.

Below I am posting R. Buckminster Fuller’s letter to Michael, a 10 year old boy who wrote to him in 1970.  It is in his book “The Critical Path” but I have also seen it in newsletters and introductions, and when I am teaching, I often read it at the end of a class.  From my early 20’s as a young artist, I have kept this letter inside me.  As a heartbeat.  For me and for you.

Dear Michael,

Thank you very much for your recent letter concerning “thinkers and doers.”
The things to do are: the things that need doing: that you see
need to be done, and no one else seems to see need to be done. Then
you will conceive your own way of doing that which needs to be done — that no one else has told you to do 
or how to do it. This will bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has
acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or imposed by
others on the individual.
Try making experiments of anything you conceive and are intensely interested in. Don’t be disappointed if 
something doesn’t work. That is what you want to know — the truth about everything —
and then the truth about combinations of things. Some combinations
have such logic and integrity that they can work coherently despite
non-working elements embraced by their system.

Whenever you come to a word with which you are not familiar,find it in the dictionary and write a 
sentence which uses that new word. Words are tools — and once you have learned how to use a tool
you will never forget it. Just looking for the meaning of the word is
not enough. If your vocabulary is comprehensive, you can
comprehend both fine and large patterns of experience.

You have what is most important in life — initiative. Because of it, you wrote to me. I am answering to the 
best of my capability. You will find the world responding to your earnest initiative.
Sincerely yours,
Buckminster Fuller

After re-reading this letter, I kind of want to end with a big vocabulary word for me to learn and you to look up—-Humm, here is one I just learned….Olefin….Look it up, or not, I certainly had too, and am now ready to do what Mr. Fuller said, or so I hope.

Meanwhile, here’s to mud between your toes and spring beauty in bloom.

There are lots of blooms on the small peach tree beside my driveway. which originally sprouted from compost.

Ruth April 15th, 2011

Thank you for posting this letter. It was just what I needed to hear. I have printed it out so I can see it every day.

bj fusaro May 29th, 2011

I just read this posting today and I love this letter. I too am going to print it out so I can read it often.

Chris Bray November 14th, 2011

I have been studying Critical Path and Cosmography off and on for past 16 odd years , I to printed out the letter to Michael all those years ago, and have mesmerised It. Should be presented and facilitated in all Schools. Stil finding it difficult getting my mind (head) around Buckys thinking, but get a huge buzz from reading and rereading his books

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