My Last Words: David Sims

[ Silence ]>>Sarah: Good evening. Welcome to the 2010
David London, My Last Words lecture series. As I heard a guest tonight
comment, I hope it’s as exciting as the Stall Wall made it sound. So I hope that you all
saw our publicity out. We’re so glad to have you. The My Last Words lecture series
started at Penn College in 2006 and renamed in 2008 to honor
former Professor David London who was appreciated in his
community and has many friends and colleagues still
at the college today and is a great honor to him to
continue the series in his name. I’m very excited about
tonight’s lecture. We’re glad to have you. And I’d like to bring to
the stage Sandy Grafius who is our student
nominator this year, and she’ll be introducing
our speaker. [ Applause ]>>Sandy: Thank you, Sarah.>>Sarah: You’re welcome.>>Sandy: There’s an ironic
feeling to this night. I’ve been asked to give a short
address to introduce Dave Sims, the Professor that I
nominated for the David London, My Last Words lecture series. The lecture renamed posthumously
to honor the gentleman who was not only my advisor
for my first two semesters here at Penn College, but
also my speech professor and a wonderful instructor. I know Dr. London’s spirit
is here with me tonight, his grading pen in his hand. When I received Sarah’s
e-mail telling me that Dave Sims had been
selected to give this lecture, I was so happy to see him
acknowledged in this manner, because he really deserves it. Then I read further into the
e-mail and discovered that I was to provide the lead-in to his presentation,
and thought, uh-oh. Since coming to Penn
College in the fall of 2005, as a very nontraditional
student, returning to my roots thirty-six
years after graduating from this same building, when
it was Williamsport High School, I’ve met many wonderful
professors, all were good teachers. Dave, however, surpasses most
of the others in his enthusiasm for his discipline and his
ability to inspire his students to go far beyond anything they
believed themselves capable of producing. Dave Sims is very down-to-earth
in his approach to literature and brings — and makes every
effort to instill his enthusiasm and a sense of wonder into
every class in literature genre. From poetry to drama,
he brings it all to life and takes his students
on the journey as well. Sims is who he is, an authentic
person without pretense. He goes outside the box, as
many of you already recognize. Anything else you may want to
know about him you may found — find in his Bio, which he may or may not be referencing
tonight during his presentation. Now, I want to invite
you into Sims’ world. He says, it’s a curious place
to visit, as for living there, it’s up to you to decide. He asked me to ask you to
just center yourselves, watch and listen for
the next five minutes. [ Applause ] [ Silence ] [ Music ] [ Silence ]>>David Sims: If you
haven’t figured it out by now, this
isn’t a lecture. It seems to me that — [ Pause ] — when you talk about death,
when you talk about life, when you talk about beauty,
when you talk about people who have come before us and
people who are coming after us, the last thing I would want
to do, if I took the trope of this particular exhibit or
this particular lecture series, would be to have a piece
of paper in my hand. Let’s to assume that we
have it written down; that we have it all figured
out; that we have it all wired, it seems to me that, that’s
not the way this works. It’s not business as usual. And I thank you all for coming. I look out there and I see
students from the past, one of eleven students. I see colleagues. I see people here who
saved my life, literally. I see people who I
could call as my boss. I see people here as
I call as my friend. We call things and
we name things and that’s always been
a struggle for me. I’ve never quite, all
my life, never quite fit in anywhere, but I made it here. My fifteen minutes of fame. Stall Wall Weekly [Applause]. It’s all downhill from here. [ Pause ] I have a lot to say. And my students kind
of know this about me. If we don’t have it
on a sheet of paper — and I love to read things — I’m going to read one thing
[Inaudible] tonight to sort of set in your mind
the distinction between when we open
ourselves up to the world — and I think when we open
ourselves up to the world, suddenly, it’s coming at us all
the time, bounces into my head, strikes me with its
beauty and its terror and its incredible wonder. [ Pause ] When you talk about death — [ Pause ] — and you struggle with it. When I was informed
I was nominated, I sat back for a second. And I said, man, do I
really want to do this? Do I want to stand up there in
front of people and say, hey, I’m going to give you my
personal read on this stuff? But I thought, there’s a trust
that goes on in education, and there’s a trust that goes on
between students and teachers, and as much as I try
to evade the system, evade the hierarchies, evade the
administration, evade the rules, I never violate that trust
between the students and myself. I try not to. That’s one piece that’s
floating up there, and the other piece
Sandy mentioned in the intro about Dave London. Death is not an abstract thing. For those of us in the
English Department, and I think that
in addition to — I’m sorry, the communication
composition in Literature Department,
because as my friend Walker used to say, you damn fascist. [ Pause ] Paper and the power of paper. Sentences that we could craft. So I’ll tell you what
I know about death. I struck the ground
hard and an explosion of white filled my skull. I didn’t blackout,
just winced and rolled. My glasses, lost somewhere
in the wet spring darkness. I sprawled on the cold earth
watching some light slowly diminishing inside my head. Blips from my breathing,
making jagged waves, dipping and rising, thinning
out at the edges. My heart beats, suddenly
growing loud, until at last, I knew I was still alive. The white light whirled
away into nothing, and my usual inner
monologue returned. Shit, I’m hurt. That was a bad one. I’m hurt. I should have
been more concerned, alone and far up
in the mountains. I wasn’t sure of anything
except, that, once again, I’d fallen, this time
from the porch railing. And there was pain
and the ground was wet and cold beneath my back. How was I to know that
I’d broken my neck. I’d never done that before. I don’t know how
long I lay there, but it couldn’t have been
more than a few minutes. The yard in front of the porch
sloped down toward the south, my head uphill toward the north. It had been raining
for a week straight, and the dampness seeping
into my spine wasn’t good. I had to find out if
my body still worked. The yellow bug light, that
illuminated the ground around me; but without
my glasses, I couldn’t see a damn thing. I reached out and
clawed around it until my fingers found
a chokecherry branch about a half inch thick. Without giving it a second
thought, I brought it up to my mouth and jammed it
far back, stretching the edges of my lips and clamping
my molars down upon the bitter wood. I chomped down for all I was
worth and forced myself up and over, until I was kneeling. What can I say? I watched too many
Westerns as a kid. I did what I had to do. It hurt. I bit through
the branch in two places, the ends falling loose. What words were in my head then? I’m still alive. I still seem to work. I was facing the porch, chin
nearly touching my chest, and dimly, I could see scars
in the soft mud from my impact. I still have the middle piece
of the branch in my mouth, and I ran my tongue across
the splintered edges. My knees grew cold. My neck was stiff. I couldn’t raise my head up
without feeling jolts of pain, but I sure as hell
wasn’t going to remain that way, always looking down. That was the instant
of decision. Centimeters from death,
my surgeon later said, it could have gone either way. If I’m crippled, I thought,
I refused to spend the rest of my life looking
at people’s feet. I need to look the
world in the eyes. This is going to hurt. Then I willed my head up. My cervical bones
ratcheted back into place. I heard them moving
together vicious and loud inside my skull. The whirling light returned for one quick explosion
and then passed. My head was level and I was
staring up at the porch. When I raised my eyes to
the top of their sockets, I could see the braided,
gold strings of my Arctic guitar
shining in the yellow light. That’s far enough,
I said to myself, and spat out the last piece of
branch; that will do for now. [ Pause ] A rendition of an
experience crafted, brought to a particular
sensibility, something that comes close,
but it’s not the thing itself. That’s always troubled me about
this journey that we all take. My students — some of you
in here have seen variations of this — I’ve been here for twenty years teaching
a variation of this. I call it the Wawa Baby. It’s the givance [Phonetic]. Sometimes I launch into
this cartoon analogies. And as I get older, people don’t
really remember the cartoons. Obviously, I grew up with
cartoons too, a lot of them. And I always loved the
Warner Brothers cartoon with that big goofy ass
stork comes floating around, and he’s carrying
this baby, right, and it’s an alligator baby, and he drops it off
in the sheep family. Everyone’s looking around going. So I say, okay. We end up on this
patch of earth. We get this sign wave in
which those tips of it, those glorious experiences. I look sometimes in the
classroom, and I say, people have you not had those
experience which have lifted you up out of yourself
that makes you reach up and say, yeah, Arigah! Arigah was a Inupiaq word. Hard to translate. But I was walking down
the streets of Point Hope, one of the Western most
villages up on the North Slope, and a beautiful woman named
Tuzzy [Assumed spelling], she later died of cancer not
long after that experience. There’s a myth, that six months
of darkness in the Arctic, but when you go to the Arctic,
its closer to about four. And it was in February,
and the sun comes up just over the horizon a little
bit, and Tuzzy looked at that. It was cold, about forty
below, and she says, Arigah! What’s it mean? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. [Varoom Sound]. And then as those moments, you
just want to slash your wrists. Times you want to
just say, that’s it, to hell with all this stuff. And in the middle,
getting up in the morning, putting your pants
on, going to work, feeding the dog,
and then you die. When you start talking about
that — my little notes there — and I tell my students I
really don’t care too much about what happens
outside that parameter. Everyone has their
belief systems. They’re yours. [ Pause ] I’m interested, obviously,
a lot of my concern about where these little
Wawa Babies show up, but I’m interested most,
I think, in that journey and how we navigate those
highs and those lows. Students seen variations
of this one too. It’s the other framework. It’s sort of walk it. People walk into my Com II
classes, and they say, oh, it’s going to be
about literature. And I says, this is
all about literature, just because it doesn’t
look like it. I think with all
of us, particularly in Western societies, have
this thing in our heads, our minds that we
say, I, me, my. I see the world. I fall off the porch. I’m hurt. Outward, inside
that circle, is our friends, our family, our children,
our intimates. Further out you go, we get
into communities; one more out, all those communities gather. We call ourselves this Nation. Right? A Nation of a
lot of communities. Further out, the world;
further out again, the cosmos. I don’t know about you, but,
sometimes when you sit there and you think about all
those particular lives, human lives operating at any one
second, any one instant, man, it hits me in the gut. It baffles me with
its wonderment, with its joy, with its terror. What do you do with it? [ Pause ] N. Scott Momaday, a major
significant influence in my life. Never met the man personally, but that’s the power
of the written word. I did see him back in the — back in the days,
the students say. The 1970’s, I was in eighth
grade, hopped on a bus, went down to the
University of Pittsburgh. Now you have to kind of
understand 1970’s, right, there’re some people here
that are very well aware of the ’70’s, and
other people, man, that’s ancient history, Sims. We’re talking today in my
Indian perspectives class about the activism going
on, 1968, Alcatraz Takeover; 1971, Wounded Knee II. My friend and office partner,
Charlie, told me a story. He went to the University
of Alaska, was in the dorms, and one day his roommate
left a note. Said, [Inaudible] guns. Get on the supply train, gone. Those days of activism in
which people said, you know, there’s something, you know,
come on, it’s Nixon, you know, there’s something wrong
with the society here. There’s something wrong. We can still have the
ability to change it, to change it as a group. So I’m on the bus, get down
there, walk into an auditorium, Bendheim Hall, a little
bit bigger than this — Momaday’s book, The Way to Rainy
Mountain, it just came out. — And he took the stage
and in this deep baritone, I knew suddenly, even though
I was only in eighth grade, that I was in the presence
of someone who is tapping into the source,
as the surfers say. My buddy John grew up in
California, and he says, when you get inside
that golden wave and you catch it just right, he
goes, that’s tapping the source. [ Pause ] I think it’s a profound quote. It’s probably something
that goes on in my head in one variation or another,
pretty much every day of my life, because I think
about it, and I say, okay. A word gives origin
to all things. Is that true? [ Pause ] I pulled that out of my garden. I didn’t want to
be alone up here. Look at that sucker. [ Pause ] Helianthus, the seed’s
growing, what’s known as the Fibonacci Sequence;
zero, one, one, two, three, you add the preceding
number of five. It’s amazing. I think they’re just amazing, because one of these little
guys, one of these guys, put it in the ground, ninety
days it turns into this. Man, if we could grow like that. And I look at the Momaday
quote, and I say, well, so I call it a Sunflower. I call it Helianthus. I look at the patterns
of these seeds, and I call it the
Fibonacci Sequence. Did the words give origin to it? [ Pause ] Gorzovinski [Assumed Spelling],
a Russian linguist, always said, you got to be careful
about words, because words by their nature are the maps. The map is not the territory. When I think about
that, and I say, well, if we have all these experiences
coming at us all the time, we need words to explain it. [ Pause ] Make sure I’m on here. [ Pause ] So anyone’s going to
talk to you about death and the spirit world,
if they tell you there, I wouldn’t trust
them for a second. Sitting in the audience,
right, someone’s going to tell you they’ve got
the secrets, the treats. I don’t have them, man. Oops. When it comes
to what, you know, what is this thing
inside people? Soul seems to laden a word. Energy, to tame. But spirit, I like. I like spirits and how — I like spirits when
they come in bottles. Right? We like spirits,
like Casper the Ghost. We like spirits, you know. I think that it’s
used, you know, — think about a kid that plays
a really good game of softball or something, and you see it in
their eye, you see it in music, you know, that someone
has that oomph, that essence, that
thing, that it. The minute you wrap words around
it, then you get into religion, then you get into dogma, then
you get into explanations. And I’m always concerned
about how those explanations and those words and
those answers that other people give you,
suddenly eliminate and isolate and don’t necessarily, for me, ever quite explain just
the beauty and the tragedy and the incredible
wonder of that little guy. Every spring I put — or
I got speakers on my porch and these birds come in and
they — I’d say the past five, six years they’ve been building
a nest right behind the speaker. So I kind of watch — and I
think they listen to a lot of Randy Newman that year. It looks like a Randy
Newman bird. I had Robbins who listen to
a lot of Monk and, you know, Coltrane and they — I
had these hooded eyes and walked around like this. I listened to Junior Kimbrough,
a blues player, and, you know, Nuthatches, real big fat
Nuthatches sitting there, just going. I love stuff like
that, you know. Watch how birds are
grown by music. Look at that guy. It was weird. They were up there singing and
there were about eight of them. It got so bad trying to lie
in my hammock and read a book and it’s like racket
and it’s, come on. The parents are going back
and forth, back and forth. They’re beat to hell. Finally, they kick this little
guy out, lands on the porch. I pick him up and
he bonded with me. I think he thought
I was his mom. [ Pause ] What’s neat about
it, he came back. And I think that so
often people come to — I want to say college alone, but
I think people come to every day with the sad static,
this is who I am. I’m going to bitch about
technology here in a minute in the modern world, but, you
know, part of this whole idea of headphones on,
right, big screen TVs. Yes, I’m in [Inaudible],
and proud of it. Right? But the whole sense
is it’s all happening if you pay attention. [ Pause ] Two questions, maybe
three, I have found to be very useful tools in
my life; that’s one of them. There’s the other one. So what? I break my neck. So what? A child is
born with Down Syndrome. So what? A service man
or woman dies in combat. So what? I’ve been
accused of cynicism. I’ve been accused of being too
harsh by asking that question, but I think of its
incredibly open-ended question. It’s one which calls out
for answers, it means a lot. Every one of those things I just
said, and the more you can think about it — I know there’s
people in the audience that have lost their mates, people that have
lost their children, people that have
lost compassion. It’s not so what? It’s like, answer that. Answer it. Tell me. And if you’re going to
tell me that, why do you use it? Words. But words can never
capture it, back to that one. Until you answer
the first question, whenever you face tragedy,
whenever you face despair, whenever you’re on the low end
of the Wawa Babies sign wave, you can’t answer that one. [ Pause ] So it takes some work to do that
and it takes linguistic work, I think, toying and testing and understanding whether a word
has the power that you want. That was the third question. It’s a pool table conversation. I was doing some of that
hitchhiking, that I referred to in my biography, spent
a lot of time actually, made enough money
to eat some days. And anyone who shoots pool, sometimes can witness
some impossible geometric and physical miracles, if
you’ve ever seen any of those, you know, one of those three
rail two ball combination bank shot, the guy doesn’t
even look at, you know. There goes my five
bucks, you know. Metaphorically, it
extends outward. And that’s another
one of linguist. Which would you rather
be, lucky or good? I’m a lucky man. I think we’re all lucky. [ Pause ] Now, to death. [ Pause ] Some day, somewhere, some one
will utter a sentence about us that will begin with
the phrase, yeah, last time I saw dot, dot, dot. It will become a memory. So — [ Pause ] — The last time I saw
Dick Eustis [Phonetic], he was an adjunct
professor, a beautiful man. He was standing at the East
door of the ACC building. And his daughter
was a piano player and she had just
nailed a major concert. The next thing I knew he
wasn’t there, died of cancer. That was the last
time I saw him. The last time I saw Pete Dumanis
[Assumed spelling] he was crouched on the west side of
the building by the light pole, tired, those Apache crouches,
like an old Masood, sniper, and he was tired, nodded Pete. Pete taught me a lot. [ Pause ] The last time I saw David London
I was sitting in his office. He was telling me about
how he had it all wired. I would step out and
move into retirement. I was telling him
about my friend, blood brother Musinski
[Phonetic], who just died at fifty-four. London, I always love
London’s quotes that came out of nowhere at
the right time. Dr. Pangloss, this is the
best of all possible worlds. The last time I saw Jack
Quinn — another great mind — he was limping across
from the parking lot. I stopped him, and I
said, hey, what’s up Jack? He said, I banged my foot. He goes, I’m still old enough where things just kind
of fix themselves. [ Pause ] The last time I saw Jim
Logue, when he was Jim Logue. These are names that I know
a lot of you don’t know, but if their presence is here, it’s one of the reasons
I’m doing this, to honor those who
have come before. He’d been playing a game
of tennis, and he said, my elbows a little stiff. I said, you’ll be
all right, Jim. Now whenever it rains,
I think of Jim Logue. Jim Logue always said,
I love it when it rains. And don’t ask me and don’t
tell me have a nice day. Nobody tells me what to do. Have a nice day. The hell with that. And the last time I saw my deep
friend Thomas J. Edward Walker the Third, Thomas, not Tom, hated it when people
called him Tom. You could only call him
Tommy when he was drunk. [ Pause ] He was sitting in his office,
and we were going to go get that last beer, that final, final at the end
of the semester. Something came up for him
and me both, never got it. I have more to say about
Tommy in a minute here. [ Pause ] It comes together somehow. I don’t know how, these forces,
these presences, My Last Words. [ Pause ] That’s four and a half
pounds of Jerry, my friend. [ Pause ] His sister entrusted his remains
with me, maybe a bad idea who — except he would love it — I was talking to my cowboy
friend Scott, and he said, yeah, well, you’ve got Jerry’s ashes. He goes, let me give
my old man a call. And he picks up the phone,
and he says, hey, dad, you still got that
cremation gun? I said, a cremation gun? He goes, yeah, I built
one for my friend. I had to shoot his ashes
out of a helicopter. It’s kind of like a potato
gun we were imagining. It was a great phone
call to listen to. Right? Dad, got that
cremation gun? Well, I guess that one worked. Okay. We’re still
thinking of sending Jerry up with some rockets
someday here. [ Pause ] There’s no getting around that. [ Pause ] There’s no getting
around that either. [ Pause ] Salsa. [ Pause ] Just ask the Pecan King. Putting Ned’s coats up there,
because I think Ned was the last to get out of the
department alive, and I want to follow his path. [ Pause ] Ned’s given me a lot
including a couple of classes, a lot of lessons about
staying sane, I guess, in a world which rapidly
shifts out of that. Thinking of a lot of people. I got to thank Keith Vanderlin
[Assumed Spelling] sitting up here in the front row. I never did that for you. But when I was lying
there with my broken neck, Keith Vanderlin came up and
he stuck a tablet under me. It was inverted like this, waiting for my neck
to fall into place. Vanderlin comes up, draw. Draw. Draw. Okay. Five minutes later they
said, oh, his neck wasn’t up. Take him in. Put a screw in, a
three inch screw, cool. Enough of that. So what? Now what? Lucky or good. Death. Harvest. I think we should
really watch this and these roles that we have. I love my craft, but
my craft isn’t just me. I think institutions
have a way of, as they say on the screen there,
somehow bypasses individuals and it has to happen,
no doubt about it. We can’t avoid them entirely, but what we can do is monitor
how deeply they come into us. That’s a piece of advice for
young and old, old alike, I guess, if you want it. [ Pause ] If you saw the opening
clips, that’s a Blue Spruce,
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00:41:04,556 –>00:41:06,366
used to be ninety feet tall. A wind storm comes in and
knocks off the third — the top thirty feet of the
tree right into the roof. I just put the roof on too. Years pass, get the other
thirty feet knocked down. My buddy Larry, my main
man, chainsaw guy, goes up, and he says, yeah, I’ve got this
crew and they’re going to come in with a bucket, and we can
take the whole damn thing down. Larry doesn’t like trees. He’s a logger, you know, so
it’s like, take them down. I said, Larry, leave
me about 30 feet. What the hell do you
want thirty feet for? I said, I’m going to turn
it into a totem pole. So you’ve got processes going
at — a story in itself. We live in a world now when
people say, there’s something in our DNA, that basically
says, okay, who we are, it’s already carved
into stone, right, it’s just no getting
around that. That’s my grandfather Joseph
Nemeth [Assumed spelling]. Joseph Nemeth was born in 1903 in a little town outside
of Budapest Hungary. He’s a classic. And I say this with no
negative connotations intended, old school honkey. He was a machinist. It used to drive him nuts. He came over to this
country in 1917, the classic immigrant
experience. He had learned his trade
as a machinist in metrics. He had to learn to shift
it over to American. He didn’t say much. But he taught me one of the
things about life and death when I was three years
— about four years old. I was pre-kindergarten. We had this cat named Sparky. I got her on the Fourth of July,
and we also had a goldfish. [Inaudible] going. Right? So there I
am four years old. I go down in the basement,
look at the goldfish bowl. The goldfish is floating
on the top of the water. I said, pap, the
goldfish is dead. Pap looks at me, and he
says, I’ll get the spoon. So I go over to the set
tubs by the washing machine, grab a spoon, get the
goldfish, give it to pap. He says, don’t give it to me. Take it outside by
the clothesline pole. This little baby, he takes it
out by the clothesline pole. He says, wait. Sure enough, here comes Sparky. Sniffs the fish, bites
it, eats its eyeball. Pap says, see how that is? Yeah. Good. Now go put the spoon back. Lessons. Right? I always sometimes ask people
what’s their first memory. Walker’s first memory — he says, I remember being
a little kid on a tricycle, and it started to rain,
and I was trying to dive in between the raindrops
so I wouldn’t get hit. If you want to know
something about a person, ask them what that
first memory is. And again, how does it linger? Does it linger in words? Were they told that? Can you test it? How else would they know? Is it something that they saw
on video, pictures, photographs? Or is it real? [ Pause ] He knew that. One story he told me
before he came over — born in 1903, I always
try to stitch out of the map of time for him. He said, he was about ten,
eleven, which would have matched about all that Eastern
European conflict. He said, he was walking
across the field and he was — I came across a whole bunch of
dead bodies covered with lime. And this guy pointed
a rifle at him, and said, help dig the ditches. And so he did. We have nothing to
complain about. That’s my daughter. You may have seen her at the
beginning climbing that rope. She’s a feisty young
thing there. That’s my gram. I called her Nonny
[Assumed Spelling]. Nonny taught me something
very useful about stories. Again, I was on my way to first
grade, and back in those days, they called them the
products of a broken home. Right? My mom shows back up at this old hunky
house, two kids in tow. She should have never
married that Irishman. I should have never married him. So I’m on my way to school
and Nonny leans down. She was a hard-working woman. She used to spend a lot
of time in the basement. She’d be sewing and I’d be
playing with clay, but she leans down [Inaudible], and says,
you know, if anyone asks you about your dad, tell
him he’s dead. [Inaudible], because it
wasn’t true, as far as I knew. But I liked what she
armed me with that young, to be armed with the
story, to recognize that suddenly people are going to be asking you
questions, you know. She telling me to lie? What is the truth? What is the lie at some point? I want them all. This is my third born son. I love that photograph. That Pit Bull, Dino. It’s up by the house, big rocks. He’s a courageous young man. That dog was a little testy. [ Pause ] I think we’re more than this
skin, more than those genetics. That’s where my — I think it’s
Georgia Moloch’s [Phonetic] whale from up in Barrow. He’s talking about whaling
today with my Indian class. And the whole sense
of the earth, there’s something pretty magical
about — for me, at least, witnessing traditions, and
people that come from traditions in which there is connectedness. I think one of the things
about American society is that we are — all of us feel
an absence, maybe I just speak for myself what that
absence is, I’m not sure. It’s nice to feel it
and see it, taste it. [ Pause ] I don’t know what that more is. Like I said, that’s something
you can wrap names around. That’s my daughter again,
oddly enough, she’s in Alaska. She’s got a neat gig. I talked to her a couple
of times this summer, living out of her backpack, doing trail work,
running chainsaws. I said, Case [Phonetic],
what are you going to do? She says, I don’t know. I’m not worried about her. I think that’s a lot of
it and people forget that. You know, finding it
out on the journey. You’ve heard it all before. [ Pause ] Now I get to bitch. I think things get lost,
and perhaps, I’m wrong. One of the things that’s
vanishing here, you know, some of these constructs,
people don’t quest anymore. You even think about GPS’s. We just got one for
our granddaughter. We have a beautiful
blended family now. She just turned sixteen. I’m glad to get to say this
now, because each day goes past, and say, I got to say
something about that. A student walks by,
and says, you know, leaves are the only thing that
smell good when they decay. I said, man, that’s
a great line. I try to think of something else
that smells good when it decays. I got to get that in there. A colleague of mine says, well, you don’t know life,
until you know death. I said, you know, yep. Because I would want
to stand up there. He says, why? It’s part of my life. I don’t want anybody to know. Questing. Anyway, back
to my granddaughter. We got her a GPS and the last
thing I told her, I said, nothing like that is going to take the place
of eight directions. And whether you have them or
not, some of the best times in my life I got,
because I got lost. Will. what is that thing? Necessary; more and
more necessary. Choice. Like I told
my kids growing up, turn off the damn
TV, unplug the phone. Do you need to put
the computer on today? It’s getting harder and
harder to do anymore, always that weight,
it’s supposed to make our life easier. Right? Concentration;
harder and harder. See it in research papers. Right? Oh, yeah, boom,
information from every channel. How do we discern? How do we discern
what’s good anymore? [ Pause ] I don’t have the answers. I just say these are
particular human activities that need to be nurtured. That one. [ Pause ] Classic old school philosophy. [ Pause ] Chop wood. Hall water. No matter what happens,
when it comes down to it, metaphorically speaking,
that’s what we need to survive. I think water, by its nature, is
a resource which we tend to take for granted up here, until
you get those droughts. Certainly, if you go out West, it’s a hell of a lot
more significant. Science fiction scenarios
suggests that someday Wars will
be fought over water. I respect water. I have an old farmhouse
that kind of keep — kept me alive over these years
and has a hand dug — twenty — well, it’s about a thirty
foot deep stone-lined well. Never gets much water,
unless it rains. One of the ways I
try to stay honest. [ Pause ] Last one. Everywhere you
look, if you listen close, there’s a story there. Some are better than others. I don’t think literature is
this abstract thing that sits in a book that people
study and take classes. I was leaving a class today. An older student comes in, and
he goes, what class is this? I think we’re talking about Little Red Riding
Hood and sexuality. He goes, man, I’m glad I took my
English class twenty years ago and my credits transferred,
don’t have to do that one. I think one of the things
that makes some stories better than others is that
classic E. Cummings line. [ Pause ] I tell students in many
ways, whether they listen or whether they get it or not,
I’ll just keep telling it, if you don’t work
to make meaning for yourself, guess what? It doesn’t matter, because
someone’s always waiting to serve it to you
on a silver platter. [ Pause ] It’s all about making
meaning for yourself. [ Pause ] [Inaudible] me, the
little Martian kid. It’s funny. I look at these photographs
when I was a kid and I’m always looking off
screen or off, you know, what the hell is going on here? [ Pause ] That’s when we got the ducks. We learned that ducks
could shit a lot. That’s my wife making
cookies at about three or four, a great cookie baker. That’s a coconut
shell, 1955 Evanna. There’s a story in that one. I go down — I spend a lot
of time at the thrift store. You might have gotten
that together. In fact, I have kind of a song, Another Good Day at
the Thrift Store. It kind of makes
my life feel good. Well, a lot of these images
you see, you pick them up, man, I picked this one up. My friend Scott says, why must
you always be drilling things and making things that you have
to beat with a stick, you know, those pre-embargo coconuts are
worth a lot of money on eBay. I hadn’t even thought of it. I get on eBay. It’s a joke. He laughed. Porch dwellers. [ Pause ] That’s the view. I talk about these two a lot. This is my daughter,
stepdaughter, however you want to define those roles,
Tiersa [Assumed Spelling] and her son Caleb [Assumed
Spelling], my grandson. He calls me grandpa Sims. He’s blind. [ Pause ] That’s a beautiful
picture in the sense of her entering into his world. She’s always taught
this boy, you know, just because you’re blind
doesn’t mean you can’t do something. She’s taken him bowling. He goes bowling,
shooting, archery. She says, at least you’ll know from your own experience
what the thing is when people talk about it. She used to cry when
he was little, because she’d let him walk. He was all banged
up, all bruised. How else are you going to learn? [ Pause ] He has an incredible
ability to listen, and he’s taught me
a lot about sound. I got him on the porch
one day, and I said, Caleb, sing me a song. Pretend you’re in
front of an audience and you could just nail it. He does Michael Jackson’s,
Man In The Mirror. He gets a perfect
pitch, perfect intuition. And I say, okay, let’s practice. I come back. And he does Stairway to
Heaven, perfect throughout. Didn’t miss a word. I wish I had that
kind of recall. That’s my wing man, David. [ Pause ] The old songs, the old
stories, it was an Omaha chant. [ Pause ] I always say why walk
when you could ride. [ Pause ] Yes, jackalopes do exist. My buddy say, Sims,
you ought to go down — do people know where
South of the Border is? It’s on I-95 in there. It’s one of the strangest
American places in the world. He’s been trying to twist my
arm for me to just stay there, like three days, and see
what I’d come back with, probably, something like that. When I stopped hitchhiking,
I beat the hell out of Volkswagens, ended
up doing a motor swap in a parking lot in
Madison, Wisconsin. And kept going up to Alaska,
a lot of Volkswagen stories. John Muir read a book called, How to Keep Your Volkswagen
Alive Forever, back in the day. I had it like a Bible. Talk about reading by necessity. And he always said, the opening
epigram on it was be kind to your ass, because
it bears you. So you’ve got to watch your
head with all of this stuff. [ Pause ] I’ll let you read that. [ Pause ] The Eskimo, the new PI people
have a word called, Kita. They say it to their kids. Let’s go Kita. [ Music ] Kyle, you about ready? [ Music ] [Singing] Well, they say the
Communist Party has died. And they say Mr.
Karl Mark lied. Well, I’m not so sure. They’re still the
rich and the poor and the historians still
have to choose sides. Well, I’ll take the
workers for sure. Don’t be fooled by my
cufflinks of gold. I’ll drive fast machines Never dress down in jeans always know who’s
been bought and what’s sold. I’m just a thorn in the side
of the man, a glitch, in Adam Smith’s insidious plan. A drummer and a teacher
and a poet and a preacher. I’m the arrows at
Custer’s last stand. [ Music ] Well, my grandfather
settled near Kane, a blacksmith by trade,
he carried the name. From the Emerald Isle
to the Titusville Wells, us walkers always
chased down the flames. Well, my mother, she
was born with a caul, old Irish from Tammany
Hall. So the son of a worker nailed a
mighty rich looker, spawned me and my iron balls. [ Music ] In the trenches of old Academe, I witnessed how all
those lies stream, from out of the mouths of
those suits just like Faust, and administrators
spouting off steam. So I labor with my
words and my books, try to remind these
young people of the hooks that the lucky ones dangle
while the coins jingle jangle, so be careful because professors
are sometimes crooks. [ Music ] Well, Joe Hill and Che Guevarra
came close to exposing the lies of their
capitalist ghosts, though their bodies were killed,
never gave up the will to tell people what we
need to hear the most. There’s more to be gained than
some job and people are more than just cogs trapped inside
some machine called the American dream, and education ain’t
like training some dogs. [ Music ] I’m just a thorn inside
of the man, a glitch in Adam Smith’s insidious plan. And a drummer and a teacher
and a poet and a preacher, I’m the arrows at Custer’s
last stand. That’s for Tommy boy and
all those other Warriors. Thanks for listening gang. [ Applause ]

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