Tom Durkin multimedia writer-editor-photographer
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Choose your groove carefully

 “You’re going to live your life in a rut, so choose your rut carefully.” – Dr. Bill WTF?! Is that your best advice to graduating high school students? This is the season of tediously platitudinous commencement speeches. Designed to inspire, they rarely do. Mostly, they’re just boring with a few good jokes. Some commencement speeches, however, can be downright dangerous, like, “You’re going to live your life in a rut, so choose your rut carefully.” This depressing, uninspiring speech made me angry and defiant. And it affected me deeply, negatively influencing a large part of my life. It was 1965, and I was graduating from high school in Salina, Kansas. The only thing that stood between me and grand new life at UCLA was a high school diploma – and the only way to get that diploma was to show up for the damn commencement ceremonies. “Dr. Bill’s” little homily was an anathema to me. For most of my life, I’ve refused to be trapped in a rut. And as a consequence, I’ve learned that living a rut-less life makes for a bumpy ride. And people get hurt. People I love. Despite my aversion to ruts, I did try out a few, and some were very nice; others, not so much. What I learned from life down in the ruts is that it’s pretty much impossible to live your life in a rut even if you want to. Ruts turn into quagmires, they split apart, or progress just paves them over. Deaths, divorces, and disasters happen. Cancer, domestic violence, and bad craziness wreck your rut. People get fired, laid off, quit or watch helplessly as their jobs just disappear, like making buggy whips or writing for a living.  So, Dr. Bill not only gave bad advice, he was wrong. To promise that life would be great if you just chose the right rut was a cruel lie. Even more so today than 50 years ago, your chances of living in a lifelong rut are about negative zero. Do I have a better commencement advice than Dr. Bill? Yeah: Don't listen to your commencement speech. No, that's not fair. I've heard some commencement speeches are actually good, and they're on YouTube. Hell, maybe my two college commencement speeches were better. I don't know. I eschewed attendance. My problem is that I was blessed with a particularly bad commencement sermon. Yes, "blessed," and yes, "sermon." Dr. Bill wasn’t really a doctor, just an Ed.D. and D.D. – a teacher and a minister who cursed a bunch of impressionable teenagers with a soul-killing malediction. I can't blame Dr. Bill for all the mistakes I've made in my life, although his ill-begotten counsel informed a lot of my bad decisions. . Lately, however, a song by country music outlaw Ray Wylie Hubbard has offered me an antidotal solace to Dr. Bill’s commencement jinx. Quoting blues singer Howlin’ Wolf, Wylie sings, “Get out of your rut and get in the groove.” Yeah, that’s advice I can live with! My groove is writing, and I really don’t care what rut I’m in as long as I get to write about it. I still detest Dr. Bill. He's probably dead now. I hope they buried him a deep, narrow rut and paved it over. May he spend eternity in that rut, without even enough room to spin in his grave at my words. Tom Durkin - 6/16/16