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Lapham’s Quarterly – Memory

This is one of my favorites. I am fascinated by the passage of time and as this blog is a testament, to preserving memories. For me, memories are not only remembering what happened, but the feelings, emotions, environment and mindset at the time are all part of it. Where I think most people look back and see only silent, black and white film, I strive to see full surround sound color. This is not easy but there are certain things that help. The scent of a perfume, swinging on a swing, a certain song, alcohol, all serve to resurrect dormant memories as though they’ve jolted them alive with a bolt of lighting. I’ve come to realize however, that over time the full and vibrant color of my memories are fading. As I grow older the portion of my life I remember is shrinking and I am forgetting.

That is why this blog, aside from my family, is my greatest treasure. It is a recording of my life and contains thoughts, feelings and actions as they happened. When I re-read them I’m able to catch a flicker of my actual mindset at the time. If I didn’t have these entries then I would not be able to remember the mindset. It is no easy thing for the current version of yourself trying to remember a previous version. It is like a new operating system trying to recall the old operating system it replaced. Yes, for most, there are still a few files around but the old system is gone and mostly forgotten. For me, this blog is my backup of those old systems, separate from the one I’m using in my brain. I’m able to access these entries directly and thus my memories are much fuller and vibrant than they otherwise could have been.

I am almost 43 years old. Being able to access my past so directly through this blog brings up something sad. When I really think back and put myself in the past, there is a deep sense that what I’m remembering is a dead world, it no longer exists. Those people, events, places, entire zeitgeist of the time are all gone, they no longer exist. Those people are now very different people, different versions of themselves. Things people think, and things they do are all different. And so yes, given the right circumstances and concentration I can put myself back in those worlds but those worlds are static and lifeless. It is like Stephen King’s The Langoliers where a few people get trapped a few minutes in the past, in a time that is over. Then the Langoliers come to eat that world as its no longer needed. I enjoy being able to remember so fully, but it also brings greater sadness that those times can never be revisited.

I realize memory is fragile. I used to think that once you learned something it would stay in your mind’s filing cabinet forever. I learned in my 30s that that is not the case at all. It was easy to recognize this through reading books. After I had just finished a book the story was vivid for a while in my mind. But over the years I only remember a few main points of the story. Once I discovered this I started highlighting parts I found interesting and made a post of them in this blog. Therefore, when I want to re-remember a book I can just look it up here, read my entry and then I will remember the book much more fully. This blog is an extension of myself. I have so much material here I wonder if artificial intelligence would be able to create bot that thinks and responds the way I would. It would be similar to how deepfake needs a massive amount of images to create a very realistic video of a person. In the same way, perhaps my descendants will be able to chat with a bot version of me? Maybe in 20 years I’ll be able to chat with myself?

I’ve gotten off track a bit. As always, I’ve put my favorite quotations below and have added commentary.

What is memory and where is history? The questions have been shaping the hyperpolarized forms of American identity politics for the past thirty years, demanding removal of statues from public parks, freedom of speech from private schools, drumming up the sound and fury of the country’s culture wars, dividing we the people into militant factions of us and them.
The discord follows from the absence of a fable agreed upon, the asset listed in Plato’s Republic as the “noble falsehood” that binds society together in the swaddling cloth of self-preserving myth.

Every generation rearranges the furniture of the past to suit the comfort and convenience of its anxious present.

I found the above two quotes fascinating. We re-create our own history over and over so that it suits are present. We can never understand the past as it actually was, the memories and analyses will always be in flux. Just to try and get an accurate picture of the American past has been a real challenge. The history books in school never spoke of the atrocities committed upon the Native American. Those books said we were all friends! Similarly, Japanese schoolbooks whitewash the Japanese atrocities of WWII. And the American schoolbooks whitewash that America put Japanese Americans in concentration camps. Again, the deepfake example is applicable here. Deepfake requires a massive amount of photos to create a realistic fake video of a person. Similarly, we need read a massive amount of books from different sources to acquire an realistic understanding of the past. Current books will portray Native Americans in a very positive light while books from the 1700 and 1800s refer to them as savages. Well, which is it? The past is lost to us. The only way to try to gain anything more than a cursory understanding is to read, visit the actual place, speak with descendants, go to museums, and read some more.

Madison and Adams addressed the well-educated members of their own privileged class. Pain talks to ship chandlers and master mechanics and tavern keepers, to wives, widows and orphans.

This is no different from today. The Republicans speak to the upper class and the Democrats to the working man. The only difference recently is a massive amount of poor and middle class whites in America have a deep and innate need to feel superior. So they align themselves with the rich person’s party even though the policies work directly against them. I grew up middle class so Pain speaks to me. He is the only founder that I have read thoroughly. His ideas are Common Sense which is sorely lacking in America today. Having any sense certainly is no longer common.

Not to know what happened before one was born is always to be a child.

Departing life has made their names forgotten; it is writings that make them remembered. – 1200 BC: Egypt

Of course I’m going to love this quote; this blog serves to not only help me remember myself but for my descendants as well. Without these writings I would just be another name on a tombstone with only a few facts and dates to go with it. These writings are who I am and I’m hoping that through them I will live forever.

It is a general complaint among men of reading, and to many a discouragement from it, that they find themselves not able to retain what they read with any certainty or exactness.

Yes! That is why many years ago I decided to highlight parts of books which really speak to me and record them in an entry about the book. I’m then able to simply look up the book here and remember it again. This blog is a database extension of my own mind.

When a great orator makes a great speech, you are listening to ten centuries and then thousand men – but we call it his speech and really some exceedingly small portion of it is his. But not enough to signify. It is merely a Waterloo. It is Wellington’s battle, in some degree, and we call it his; but there are others that contributed. It takes a thousand men to invent a telegraph, or a steam engine, or a phonograph, or a photograph, or a telephone, or any other important thing – and the last man gets the credit, and we forget the others.

Yes, it is Zuckerberg’s Facebook and Bezo’s Amazon. Neither of these person’s riches would have been possible without the work of hundreds of thousands. Yet only they get the credit. This notion became a political issue when Obama referred to a similar idea in that it takes the cooperation of many to build things. The Right jumped on it and twisted it into Obama saying “You didn’t build that.” America is such a disgrace these past few years. This is what societal decline looks like and I have to say it is very depressing. The only safeguard my descendants is move to where people are more enlightened and ignore the stupid people, of which there are many. I am happy to live here in the Bay Area where most are enlightened beings. I’m also happy to mute the neanderthals who continue to be a presence through the magic of Facebook. Facebook has turned into more of a hindrance than an advantage these days.

The past is always in flux, surviving not in icily dust-free facade restorations but as a dynamic undercurrent – in the slope of hills, shapes of streets, breadth of squares; in lintels, shutters, courtyards; in habits and associations and prejudices; among working people and recent immigrants and the aged and a lot of youths who didn’t go through the career door; among what remain of vagrants and eccentrics and clochards; among a great many people lying low who remembered things.

I used these exact words of history being in flux above. I got that idea from this quote. It is interesting that the information we read and watch become part of our own thoughts. My very mind is built upon the ideas of millions. I didn’t build my own mind Obama, millions have built up human knowledge and ideas and these have shaped my mind. My mind is not my own, it was molded and shaped by everyone else. The more I learn, the more it continues to be shaped. Therefore is any thought in my head truly my own or is it a random data string spun off by thousands of databases in my mind exchanging information, morphing over time. Who am I? Just a product of an enormous amount of input over 43 years.

Troll – Neanderthal – Pg. 93

Folklore is often based in historical truth. Over countless generations these stories change and morph into something very different then what they actually were. They are shadows of the ancient past preserved in cultural memory repeated again and again until they are nothing more than silly children’s stories. But through the work of scientists and historians we are able to make connections and strengthen the binds to our past. And so I really enjoyed this connection on page 93. Trolls are a part of Scandinavian folklore and Scandinavians share 2% of their DNA with Neanderthals. There are reports from the 18th century of hairy wild men on a “the Swedish island of Oland” which “have led some scholars to speculate that a small band of Neanderthals may have escaped the extinction event thought to have wiped out the species around 30,000 B.C.

The connection therefore, is the idea of trolls is an ancient memory of Neanderthals in the collective memory of Scandinavians. This also hits me quite personally as I have more Neanderthal DNA than 71% of other 23andMe customers and it accounts for 2% of my DNA. The study of history is so very fascinating to me. I only wish more of humanity were able to do the same. If everyone could understand the past as well as travel and be exposed to other cultures and ideas I think we’d live in a much more peaceful world. But alas, humanity is still a bunch of monkeys itching to gather more things, have sex and generally just cause a mess.

Historians are left forever chasing shadows, painfully aware of their inability ever to reconstruct a dead world in its completeness, however thorough or revealing their documentation.

Again, a quote which formed ‘my own’ ideas as I wrote the beginning of this post and compared it with The Langoliers. The past is dead and I can only see it through the glass, no touching allowed. How I would love to go to the Grandview pool as a child again and fall asleep afterwards exhausted on orange shag carpet in front of a fan in summer. How I would love to travel back in time and visit my Grandfather when he was a young man, hang out with my own Dad as children the same age wandering around Grandview. I however don’t want to stay in the past, not unless I could have the knowledge and life experience I do now. It has taken a long time to get to this point and I have a strong grip on life, whereas in my youth life had a strong grip on me.

Minds are formed by language, thoughts take their color from its ideas.

The learning of foreign languages has been a major contributor in shaping who I am today. Through this study I learned that mind is absolutely shaped by language. Ideas cannot take shape without words to graft them upon. Ideas are ephemeral things floating around that really cannot be pulled down and grasped without the net of language. I wrote a post back in 2010 called Speak American – Fun Lesson in Language” which touches on this among other things.

You think you are teaching him what the world is like; he is only learning the map; he is taught the names of towns, countries, rivers which have no existence for him except on the paper before him.

I love this as it is so very true. Most education only focuses on the names, dates, places and expects the student to repeat it back. These things mean nothing to the student without more context. Explaining how the name came to be, that it is from Latin meaning “Land of the Franks” and that “The Franks” were a tribe of people is better but inherently means very little to the student. The only time it really comes alive is to travel to France, learn some of the language, be present in their culture, and experiencing their history through historical places and museums. But even then it is not enough. You must contrast it with other places. Go to Mexico and visit the temples of the Aztecs and the museums. See how different they are. Then read more history. Read of the English, Spanish, French and Portuguese competing with each other to discover and take over the recently discovered lands. Once these have been done then “France” and “French” will mean something. Until then, it is nothing more than a name for some place one hasn’t been and knows nothing about.

There was one teach in my past who could make words come alive. His name was Will Dryer and he would tell us historical stories of the words in mathematical word problems. He made learning come alive.

The image I have of my father continuously evolved over time, not only because my remembrances of him while he lived accumulated but also because I myself changed and my perspective altered as I occupied different positions in my family and, more important, in other milieus.

Another fantastic quote which encompasses one of my own thoughts that has formed as I’ve grown older. This is the idea you have of your own parents. At first, they are just your parents, those people that take care of you, scold you and are in charge of your life. The idea of parents is of an authority figure and ends there. In adulthood however, the image of authority figure evaporates and reveals a person who was also a child once, who wasn’t perfect and whose personality and decisions your able to analyze as an adult yourself. It is through looking at old photos and videos, listening to stories from

It is only in memory that we are the same person for others and for ourselves. At the age I am now, there is probably not a single molecule of my body that I had when born.

I have been away from my hometown for over twenty years. When I meet up with old friends I know very well the person they were. I don’t really know the person they’ve become. So I look towards those familiar traits and personality. Anything changed from twenty years ago seems strange and the passage of time becomes very apparent.

Since typical neuron proteins start breaking down within as little as two weeks after being formed, “every long-term memory is always on the verge of vanishing.”

It is odd to think that I cannot remember most of my life. It is the same as with books, I only remember the highlights. If I had the ability to recall each and every detail I may spend the majority of my time in memory of days gone by. Perhaps it is good that we cannot remember everything clearly as though watching a movie. We would spend too much time in the past and rarely in the present.

The discovery that “memories are not formed and then pristinely maintained,” as neuroscientists used to think, but rather “formed adn then rebuilt every time they’re accessed” has far-reaching implications: every time we think about the past, “we are delicately transforming its cellular representation in the brain, changing its underlying neural circuitry.” So a memory is changed every time it is remembered.
These findings upend the model of memory still held by most people, namely that memory “works like a video camera, accurately recording the events we see and hear so that we can review and inspect them later.” It raises questions whose answers may have far-reaching consequences.

Again, I learned a long time ago that in order to remember my own life I should write about it in this blog. What I didn’t know is that the things I do remember have changed as described in this quote. Do I even remember things properly? Again, this blog is an absolute treasure as the words are closer to the source than my memory of today.

We are so constituted that we believe the most incredible things, and once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavor to erase them. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1774

Religion, religion and again religion. Religion is full of the most fantastical of tall tales and billions of people will believe it. Science will prove it wrong and a billion people will do mental gymnastics either ignoring the science or making it somehow fit into their belief structure even if it is in direct contrast to what they have been taught. My disappointment in otherwise rational adults who cling to the absurdity of religion runs deep. When you’re a kid you think adults know everything. To learn this is as far as you can get from the truth has been an incredible shock.

American long-term memory is exclusive to American traumas. The rest of the world should simply “put the past behind,” “move forward,” “be pragmatic,” and “get over it.”

Humans are still tribal beings with an almost non-existent ability to understand any viewpoints other than their own. If people had a perfect ability to empathize as well as understand history we should have national mourning over what was done to the Native Americans and under slavery where every person would shed real tears and be put into a very dark gloom. But this is not the case. What sports should I watch next??

No place affords a more striking conviction of the vanity of human homes than a public library; for who can see the wall crowded on every side by mighty volumes, the worlds of laborious meditation and accurate inquiry, now scarcely known but by the catalogue, and preserved only to increase the pomp of learning, without considering how many hours have been wasted in vain endeavors, how often imagination has anticipated the praises of futurity, how many statues have risen to the eye of vanity, how many ideal converts have elevated zeal, how often wit has exulted in the eternal infamy of his antagonists and dogmatism has delighted in the gradual advances of his authority, the immutability of his decrees, and the perpetuity of his power?

How many scholars will publish books nobody will read today? There is so much knowledge yet the amount an average person will learn barely registers. So much knowledge yet with their precious time they choose to devour entertainment whether it is in the form of propaganda “news” or the latest waste-of-time show on Netflix. The idea used to be that ignorance was due to lack of access to information. Boy was that completely wrong.

“Let me tell you a story.” It would be the first time I heard this story, but not the last. “In our homeland,” she went on, “there was a reporter who said the government tortured the people in prison. So the government does to him exactly what he said they did to others. They send him away, and no one ever sees him again. That’s what happens to writers who put their names on things.

There is no antidote against the opium of time, which temporally considers all things; our fathers find their graves in our short memories and sadly tell us how we may be buried in our survivors. Gravestones tell truth scarce forty years. Generations pass while some tress stand, and old families last not three oaks.

The greater part must be content to be as though they had not been, to be found in the register of God, not in the record of man.

Gravestones do not tell stories. Those buried under them will be forgotten within 50 years. We do nothing more in this life running around doing things we deem important and then as abruptly as it began it is over. Time washes away who we were and what we did. In the end, does anything really matter? As far as I can see the only thing worthwhile in this life is to help and bring joy to others. The story of life: you’re born, you do a bunch of activities, you die, the end.

The night of time far surpasses the day, and who knows when was the equinox?

The thinking part of the human race, which is to say, about the hundred-thousandth part of it, had believed for a long time, or at least had often said it did,, that we had no ideas except those which came to us through our senses, and that memory was the only instrument by means of which we could join two ideas and two words together.

Again, are any thoughts or ideas in my head my own? Or is it simply the massive accumulation of data in my head interacting and reforming to create new combinations?

This it happened that in the middle of the night, every brain was dulled, so that the following morning everyone woke without the slightest recollection of the past. Some of the ministers who were in bed with their wives desired, by a remnant of instinct unconnected with memory, to make love to them. The wives, who very rarely had any instinct to embrace their husbands, tartly repulsed their disgusting caresses.

So memory is one of the culprits responsible for loss of libido! I suppose everything can get a bit boring and in need of change to make them really exciting again.

I figured people had to know the basics – World War II isn’t exactly east to miss. It was the largest war ever fought, the largest single event in history. Other than the black death of the Middle Ages, it’s the worst thing we know of that has ever happened to the human race. Its aftereffects surround us in countless intertwining ways: all sorts of technological commonplaces, from computers to radar to nuclear power, date back to some secret World War II military project or another; the most efficient military systems became the model for the bureaucratic structures of post white-collar corporations; even the current landscape of America owes its existence to the war, since the fantastic profusion of suburban development that began in the late 1940s was essentially underwritten by the federal government as one vast World War II veterans’ benefit. (Before the war there were three suburban shopping centers in the United States; ten years after it ended there were three thousand.)

This entry is simply that people do not know history, not even very much about the largest events in human history and even though those events continue to shape our lives today. We humans will run our course, living and not learning as Calvin once said to Hobbes. I like how they mentioned radar in this quote as my Grandfather mentioned it in one of his letters during World War II. Here is the link to that letter.

Decades after it was over, the war was still expanding and dissipating in our minds, like the vapor trails of an immense explosion

My friend suddenly had the impulse to ask a question that had never occurred to him in his entire adult life: “What was it really like in a battle?”
His father opened his mouth to answer – and then his jaw worked, his face reddened, and without saying a word, he got up and walked out of the room. That’s the truth about the war: the sense that what happened over there simply can’t be told in the language of peace.

But we continue to glorify war through our propaganda “news” channels, in video games and movies. This glorification of war is intrinsic to American society and cannot be separated from it. For me as a kid it was through G.I. Joe action figures. For kids today it is Call of Duty and every other movie that comes out. Somebody is always running around fighting someone else. However, for those that have actually been in war they know the truth. They know it so much it disfigures their own minds. There is reality and there is the lies we are all indoctrinated with.

No French citizen knows whether he is a Burgundian, an Alan, a Taifale, or a Visigoth, yet every French citizen has to have forgotten the massacre of Saint Bartholomew, or the massacres that took place in the Midi in the thirteenth century. There are not ten families in France that can supply proof of their Frankish origin, and any such proof would anyway be essentially flawed as a consequence of countless unknown alliances that are liable to disrupt any genealogical system.

The truth that there is no pure race, and that to make politics depend upon ethnographic analysis is to surrender it to a chimera. The noblest countries, England, France, and Italy, are those where the blood is the most mixed.

There is no ‘pure race.’ Now, through the magic of DNA testing perhaps we can finally make some headway into dispelling that stupid notion. We’re all part of tribes that were formed through the mixing with other tribes and DNA testing can prove that fact. What I’m looking forward to is the final realization that there were different types of ‘human’ races that also mixed to form who we are today. For example my own DNA is 2% Neanderthal. Science continues to make discoveries and I’m quite sure there are a number of different ‘races’ or lines of ancient humans that combined to make up what a “human” means to us today.

The memories of men are too frail a thread to hang history from. – John Still, 1930.

The most striking example is the activity of raising children, which reliably diminishes measured happiness, both from moment to moment and on the whole. Then why do people do it? This has been called the “parenthood paradox.” And its resolution is simple: people have children because doing so gives meaning to their lives.

Again, we are born, we run around doing things and then we die. The desire to have children is embedded in our subconscious. The instinct to reproduce is native to all living things. Humans being the most vain of all creatures have a need to invent more profound and noble reasons. But in the end, it is an instinct, a sense of accomplishment and purpose other than being born, doing things and then dying. I have children! I have a purpose! I am needed! Yes, for the majority, having children simply gives them something they deem worthwhile to do. For many women without children they will get a dog or cat. Again, they are fulfilling their own needs to care for something giving them a sense of purpose.

I know not what there is in perfumes that powerfully awakens the memory of the past. Nothing so soon recalls to the mind a beloved spot, a regretted situation, or moments whose passage has been deeply recorded in the heart, though lightly in the memory. The fragrance of a violet restores us to the enjoyment of many springs

I tried to think of a few scents which would jolt alive any dormant memories. Smell certainly is one of the most powerful in terms of awaking memories:


Freshly cut grass – Working on the golf course
Tulips – Spring, especially May in Ohio.
Vanilla – My first girlfriend’s perfume.
Wrestling room smell – Memories of high school will become very vivid.
Fish – Calle de Pescado in Toledo, Spain
Japan – Japan has its own particular scent. Japan smell reminds me of Japan of course.
Durian – Vietnam

Categories
Books

Lapham’s Quarterly – Night

It took me a while to get through this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly but was able to do so right as the spring issue arrived.

I was looking forward to reading this issue as night is peaceful, one can reflect and it comes with its own special energy as William Least Moon captures in his quote below.  I was hoping for more content on the mysterious power of the night but happily surprised by others that I hadn’t thought of.  One of these is the importance of being able to look up at stars and the universe that aren’t drowned out by light pollution.  I for one have never seen the Milky Way.  I’ve lived in cities all of my life but one thing on the bucket list is to get to one of the darkest parts of the Earth and gaze up at the stars for a few hours.

Here are my favorite quotes:

Such passages evoke the sensation of looking up at the stars at night and experiencing the vastness of the universe, of being made conscious of one’s solitude and one’s insignificance in contract to that immensity – a feeling that, as this issue makes clear, not everyone enjoys.  Gazing up at the starry sky can inspire in some a calm reassurance of oneness with the universe, a thrilling confrontation with the most basic existential questions, while in others it can induce an anxiety bordering on vertigo.

Looking up at the stars puts us in our place and forces us to reflect on the most important, philosophical questions.  Where are we, why am I here, what is out there, what is this creation and how was it made?  We’re so sure of ourselves here on this little rock in an infinite vastness.  Our lives are filled with tasks, chasing material items and so on.  But when we look up at the stars the big questions suddenly appear.

Beware thoughts that come in the night.  They aren’t turned properly; they cone in askew, free of sense and restriction, deriving from the most remote of sources.  – William Least Heat-Moon, 1982

The night comes with its own energy and in the silence one begins to think a different thoughts than those which come during the day.  I often awake at 3:00 AM and it is at this time my brain has not yet settled into its normal thought patterns and I’m most creative thinking of things I otherwise wouldn’t have thought of.  This is very precious to me and one of my favorite times of the day.

The uncertain position we all maintain in life asking when will violence strike, when will devastation occur, leaves us looking like the hapless swimmers at the beginning of each Jaws movie.  Innocent, tender and delicious.  Our legs tread water, buoyed by all that is right and good and deserved in this world, a house, healthy children, clean food to eat, love.  While that animatronic shark, a beast without mercy, catches the scent of blood and locks in on his target. – From “A Love Story.” Samantha Hunt.

We walk in a sense of false security as momentous events can take hundreds or thousands of years to happen.  But here we are, on a rock floating in very violent universe that could be destroyed by any passing rock, super nova all while we circle a black hole.  The rock called Earth we inhabit is continually changing and shifting on a liquid center that could erupt at any time.  We are putting poison into the atmosphere which is changing the climate.  But as we do not see these things right in front of us on a day to day or even yearly basis we ignore them.  The tsunami in Japan is a good example.  The ocean can be incredibly destructive when an earthquake occurs and we are learning in Japan and elsewhere that it is not a good idea to test nature.  Or for another example, California builds their homes in extremely fire prone areas, then fire occurs and the whole place burns down.  We live in a false sense of security.

Don Quixote fulfilled his obligations to nature by sleeping his first sleep, but not giving way to his second, unlike Sancho, who never had a second sleep, because his sleep lasted from nightfall until morning, proving he had a strong constitution and few cares. – Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes

I put this in here not only because Don Quixote is one of my favorite novels but also how he refers to sleep.  Before the light was invented people went to bed early because it was dark.  This early bedtime meant they would wake up often in the middle of the night, do some things and then have a second sleep.  With the invention of artificial light we can now stay up doing things very late into the night which means we only get one sleep.  As for me, I go to bed at 8 and thus wake up very early.  It is at this time I either decide to get up and do things or just lie there until I fall asleep again.

What are we losing by not being able to see the starry skies?  I think it’s difficult to imagine, but I think there are significant consequences.  Imagining worlds beyond our own horizon, just that cognitive ability.  How do you expect the kids to reach for the stars if they can’t see them?  – “Seeing Stars in Dripping Springs,” – Forrest Wilder

I’ve already mentioned this above, but being able to see the stars is extremely important.  Unfortunately those of us in cities are no longer able to.

But we are capable of improving ourselves, even in the use of our eyes – we see most when we are most determined to see.  The will has a wonderful effect upon the perceptive faculties.  – Maria Mitchell from “Observations of this kind are peculiarly adapted to women.”

In point of fact, once or twice, late at night, I peered so lengthily at my reflection that a creepy feeling came over me, and I put out the light in a hurry.  Yet next morning , while shaving, it would never occur to me to question the reality of my image – Vladimir Nabokov from “The Terror.”

But even toward nightfall, as soon as the candles are lit, the mind, like the eye, no longer sees things so clearly as by day.  It is a time unsuited to serious meditation, especially on unpleasant subjects.  The morning is the proper time for that – as indeed for all efforts without exception, whether mental or bodily.  For the morning is the youth of the day, when everything is bright, fresh, and easy of attainment.  We feel strong then, and all our faculties are completely at our disposal.  Do not shorten the morning by getting up late or waste it in unworthy occupations or in talk; look upon it as the quintessence of life.  Evening is like old age:  we are languid, talkative, silly.  Each day is a little life:  every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death.  – Arthur Schopenhauer, from Counsels

The early morning is my favorite time of day.  It is quiet and I see things clearly as my normal thought patterns have not returned just yet.  I am able to get a lot done as the time is free of the distractions that will occur with when the daily routine starts.

In these dreadful wastes of perennial ice and snow, man feels the force of the superstitions of past ages and becomes willingly a worshiper of the eternal luminary.  I am certain that if our preparations for greeting the returning sun were seen by other people, either civilized or savage, we would be thought disciples of heliolatry.  – Frederike A. Cook from “Through the First Antarctic Night.”

I like this entry as it refers to the old fears which humanity had for millennia about the dark.  We’ve forgotten most of these now that artificial light is everywhere.  But it is theses old fears that still reside in our subconscious that by sitting next to a fire give us comfort.  Why does the fire make us feel this way?  It was a source of protection, keeping the terrors of the night at bay.

The British made a striking observation about the bush people:  their eyes, wrote one colonist, were “little inferior in optical power to small telescopes.”  Another said of them that “the eye operates with a precision and force, which a person who has never witnessed the like would scarcely be disposed to credit… They will often discern with distinctness what others require a telescope to distinguish.”  For these native inhabitants with their telescopic vision, the stars were already close. – Holly Haworth – The Fading Stars:  A Constellation

I like this as it involves the evolution of humanity.  We now spend a lot of our time watching things that are close to us.  We no longer need the far sight of a hunter, or of a star gazer.  We’ve forgotten what it is like to be able to see as nature had intended.

It is not just the clock or capital that tries to fool us into believing the world has gone topsy-turvy.  Electric light does, too, but it never creates a convincing form of daylight:  pineal glands are the body’s lie detectors, refusing to believe that the overhead fluorescent of a predawn Walmart is the sun.  Night workers are sicker, more depressed, and die earlier and with more stress. – Anne Boyer from “The Fall of Night.”

Artificial light can never take the place of sunlight.  Stepping into the sun after months of bad weather is the time this is most realized.  It gives us comfort, produces chemical changes in our bodies and makes us feel good.  Artificial light is dead and gives us no greater benefits than allowing us to simply see what is in front of us.

Tonight I’ve watched

The moon and then
the Pleiades
go down

The night is now
half-gone; youth
goes; I am

in bed alone – Sappho, A poem, c. 600 BC

 

Categories
Books

Lapham’s Quarterly – Water

It has taken forever and a day to get through this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly.  This is not because it was a bad issue but rather these factors:

  1. Work
  2. Kids
  3. Karate
  4. Nintendo

Reading has just taken a back seat as all the great times for reading are usually taken by requests to play for the kids.  I will surely miss their younger selves when they’re older but I will appreciate the time to actually read.

God is temperate.  He is the lawyer of the humble.  The poor are creatures of God.  And money is a metal created and valued by man.Carolina Maria de Jesus


I
In old age
I’m back 
to childhood pleasures.

A bowl in the ground
Just add water- 
it’s a pool!

Throughout the night
frogs croaked
till it dawned,

as they did 
when I fished
as a child at Feng-K’ou.

II

Who says
you can’t make a pond
out of a bowl?

The lotus sprig 
I planted not long ago
has already grown full-size.

Don’t forget, 
if it rains
stop in for a visit.

Together we’ll
Listen to raindrops splash
on all the green leaves.

III

Come morning, 
the water brightens
as if by magic.

One moment alive
with thousands of bugs
too small to have names,

Next moment 
They’re gone,
leaving no trace,

Only the small fish 
this way and that
swim in formations.

IV

Does the bowl
in the garden
mock nature

when night after night
green frogs gather
to prove it’s a pool?

If you choose to come
and keep me company
need you fill

the dark with noise
and endless squabble
like husband and wife?

V

Say the bright pond
mirrors the sky
both blue.

If I pour
water the pond
brims.

Let night 
deepen
the moon go

how many stars 
shine back
from the water!

  • Han Yu, “The Pond in a Bowl, Five Poems.”

 

Pearl Diving in the Bahamas

  • Bartolomé de Las Casas, from A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies.

I didn’t include any particular quote on this as it was the entire article which had an effect on me.  It was about how cruelly the Spanish treated the natives, making them pearl dive until they died.  They’d surface, then get punched, or held under the water without any rest until blood came from their mouths.

I spent six months in Spain studying when I was a student and I fell in love with the country.  It was quite another feeling when I read how awful the Spanish were when they were an empire.  They were Catholic yet treated the natives in this way.  Here in California I read how they would lock the native children away from their parents who were in forced labor so they wouldn’t run away.  Junipero Serra has his name on so much here in California for starting the mission system.  But as it comes to light how cruel the mission system was there is talk of taking his name down.

So Spain, the empire was a monster.  It spread filth, disease and cruelty throughout the world.  And you know what?  I did the same as seemingly every other empire that has ever been.


The feeling of remoteness, of the profound solitude, added to the sentiment of beauty; it was nature in her first freshness and innocence, as she came from the hand of her Maker, and before she had been signed upon by humanity – defiled at once, and sanctified by the contact.

The sun had set in that cloudless splendor, and that peculiar blending of rose and amber light that belongs only to these climes and Italy; the lake lay weltering under the western sky like a bath of molten gold; the rocky islands which studded its surface were of a dense purple, except where their edges seemed fringed with fire. 

  • Anna Jameson, from Winter Studies and Summer Rambles in Canada.

On the other side of Ceriso, where the black rock begins, about a mile from the spring, is the work of an older, forgotten people.  The rock hereabout is all volcanic, fracturing with a crystalline whitish surface, but weathered outside to furnace blackness.  Around the spring, where must have been a gathering place of the tribes, it is scored over with strange pictures and symbols that have no meaning to the Indians of the present day;

  • Mary Austin, from The Land of Little Rain

I love this piece.  I love learning about ancient civilizations or just the whispers about them.  It amazes me to think that farmers still turn up arrow heads as they till the earth from a people that have been in this land from before recorded history.  What a beautiful land it must have been too, out in nature with no pollution, or cities.  The silence pierced by the wind or the cry of an eagle.  I like to visit places this entry describes and turn all my thoughts to the people that had lived there for tens of thousands of years, people we’ll never know anything about.  I try to hear their voices on the wind, see traces of them on the rocks.  I feel a slight connection as though their spirits are calling out to me.  A profound emotion wells up in my body but the whispers are too faint and I’m only left to wonder as the clouds pass overhead and the lizard scurries over the rock.


I hard the old, old men say, 
“Everything alters,
And one by one we drop away.”
They had hands like claws, and their knees
Were twisted like the old thorn-trees
By the waters.
I heard the old, old men say,
“All that’s beautiful drifts away
Like the waters.” 

Williams Butler Yeats, from In the Seven Woods

Everything changes.  In the quiet of the early morning I wonder how it is that I’m 41.  The old were young once and were like me, but now all I see is the gray hair and that we do not have much in common.  Their experiences are not my experiences.  We are born, we grow old, and we die.  How I would love to speak with my ancestors when they were young.  To hear their hopes, dreams and fears.  But I cannot and so the closest I can come is by watching historical shows on Netflix.  I want to know them and what they went through.  But they are gone and I have work.  And so the sun rises, tasks are done, another day ends.  And one day my descendants will read these words and wish they could talk to me.  That will not be possible so I leave them this writing to let them know I’m thinking of them.


I stayed two days in the Indian village, where women busied themselves with various tasks, while their infants slept suspended in large wicker nets hung from the arms of a purple beech.  The grass was covered with dew, the wind carried with it the scent of the woods, and the native cotton plants, spilling over with white capsules, looked like white rosebushes.  The breeze rocked the children’s aerial cradles almost imperceptibly.  From time to time, the mothers glanced over their shoulders to see whether their children were still asleep or whether they had been woken by the birds. 

  • Francois-René de Chateaubriand from Memoirs from Beyond the Grave.

Again, I long to be among those that are long gone.  I want to hear their stories, sing their songs and know them as much as possible.  All that is left are stories of them in a magazine.


I simply think that water is the image of time, and every New Year’s Eve, in somewhat pagan fashion, I try to find myself near water, preferably near a sea or an ocean, to watch the emergence of a new helping, a new cupful of time from it.  I am not looking for a naked maiden riding on a shell; I am looking for either a cloud or the crest of a wave hitting the shore at midnight. 

  • Joseph Brodsky from Watermark

This hits home.  I too make a trip to the ocean on New Years Eve to take a picture of the last setting sun for the year.  It is a marker of time for me, of time that is passing too quickly.  I look out over the ocean and realize I’m getting older.


Maybe we shall never be really safe until we learn to feel, in an almost physical sense, that every nation is destined to have its day, and that there are not, in any absolute sense, greater or lesser civilizations but rather a succession of flowerings.

  • Claudio Magris, from Danube.

There is no logical reason fro the existence of a snowflake any more than there is for evolution.  It is an apparition from that mysterious shadow world beyond nature, that final world which contains – if anything contains – the explanation of men and catfish and green leaves.

  • Loren Eiseley, from “The Flow of the River.”

A river passing through a landscape catches the world and gives it back redoubled:  a shifting, glinting world more mysterious than the one we customarily inhabit.

Unlike a lake or sea, a river has a destination, and there is something about the certainty with which it travels that makes it very soothing, particularly for those who’ve lost faith with where they’re headed.

At times it feels as if the past is very near.  On certain evenings, when the sun has dropped and the air is turning blue, when barn owls float about the meadow grass and a pared-down moon breaches the treeline, a mist will sometimes lift from the surface of the river. 

  • Olivia Laing, from To the River

“At times it feels as if the past is very near.”  I feel this when in certain spots where ancient people lived, or in the very early morning.  I feel as though there is a veil and if I could only step through would find myself in that time where it still exists.  I call into question the very nature of reality and wonder that if there is a multiverse, the Native Americans are still there with their children on the hammock and songs being sung.  The past is a thing of fascination for me.


What did seventeenth-century European artists know of the marshes?  They modeled their arks on the merchant vessels that cruised the Pacific, not the craft of the marshes.

Noah would have dressed like a marshland boatman with a head scarf, not with the finery of a Renaissance Italian duke. 

Nicholas Pelham – A New Ark

What did they know of the marshes?  What do people today really know of Christianity?  I find it to be a fantasy, one that has hold of a great part of humanity.  They cling to this fantasy, otherwise intelligent people simply following tradition with no real investigation.  The priests molest child after child and yet the population offer up more children still.  I cannot understand this and there really is no one to talk to.  Religion holds more power over people than friendship or family bonds.


We are forced to acknowledge, on a much larger stage, what human beings are:  creatures of dust and ash, who, though made mostly of water, don’t flow esoterically but rather congeal in lumps under the rain.  Prophets called for us to free ourselves of the tyranny of social strictures and ascend to the plane of pure thought.

Sarah Ruden – The God of Running Water

Great entry to end this post upon.  I have freed myself from the tyranny of social strictures and have decided that meditation, pure thought is the way to understanding the something greater.  Rambling priests annoy me.  I sit in meditation in the early morning, emptying my mind of thoughts and trying to uncover what it is that I still do not see.

Categories
Books

Lapham’s Quarterly – Fear

I don’t believe ‘enjoyed’ is the right adjective to describe how I felt reading Lapham’s Quarterly – Fear.  What is the right word if you continually want to do something yet it causes anxiety and fear while you do it?

It is not that reading this edition made me afraid; it is that it called attention to the abundant anxiety in my own life which was exacerbated in reading about the anxiety and fear of others in this edition.

I often mention briefly the anxiety in my own life in this blog.  However, I am also quick to point out that it is most likely due to my work as an Account Manager such as in this post from January 2016.


Link: https://www.mcurtin.com/2016/01/journal-entry-january-5th-2016/

Excerpt:

Confidence is also what helps shake off this persistent anxiety on my shoulders that lasted for most of 2015.  I handle very large accounts and I have to ensure we never lose them.  In four years at this position I’ve never lost an account and am the only one, perhaps in the entire 64 person national team – that can say so.  When I think about anxiety I’m reminded of a movie by Ben Affleck called “The Company Men” where Ben is an Account Manager and says a line that stuck with me when he was working as a carpenter remembering what it was like at the corporation:

At my old job I was
scared all the time…
Quarterly cost reports,
young guys coming up.
Losing an account, or
who’s getting ahead of me

This quote is very true regarding the life of an Account Manager.  You’re only as good as your last sale and god forbid if you lose any account.  There is always one more report with your numbers where you’re ranked.  Any report in the past where you’ve done well is forgotten the next day and your job is never safe depending on those numbers.

End excerpt


In examining my own anxiety, I realized it more than just my job; it is a mosaic of existential factors as well as internal fears.  Here they are:

  • Work – As mentioned above this gets top slot.  I have a responsibility to my family and any failure in work would result in swift consequences for our wellbeing.  I have a portfolio of customers and losing any one of them results in real and immediate affects to my paycheck.  This anxiety is persistent and success does not alleviate the amount of anxiety since the marketplace is constantly changing.
  • Climate change – I put my faith into scientists and can very clearly see that the planet is warming and will have humongous consequences, especially for my children.  Climate change will cause large changes that we can only guess at now but I imagine will involve mass migration, wars over resources (lost ie. water and found ie. Arctic drilling).  I also now have accustomed myself to checking the air quality – something I used to take for granted – and am shocked to learn that it is usually ‘moderate’ here in Pacifica.  I had thought we had very lean air due to our proximity to the ocean but it appears not so.
  • Politics – With the election of Trump it seems progress has not only halted but that we’re going backwards.  America is no longer to be admired, we’re losing allies, science is trying to be muzzled, and it seems a very large part of American citizens – those who elected Trump – are complete nincompoops.  I don’t think it is realized just yet how damaging this all is; but the more I read the more I realize how many mistakes have been made through the decades and that we’re really just bumbling through it all.  But to top this all off, we now have the threat of nuclear war and a President, who no intelligent person would put their faith in, capable of actually making it happen.

The first item, work, is something that I can control and can put the anxiety away in a box fortified by confidence.  It resurfaces from time to time but is nothing I cannot handle, especially when I get my exercise and the dopamines are flowing.

The second two are existential problems that actually do threaten our very existence.  What drives me mad about these two is that a very large block of Americans don’t seem intelligent enough to realize that these are real and have real consequences.  They shine a light on the deficit of critical thinking skills and that a good part of American culture is no more sophisticated than Monday night football and Jerry Springer.  It is very disappointing.

These existential problems are things I cannot put in a box and contain.  They are persistent, ever present and there is next to nothing that I can do about them except think about possible preparations both short term (nuclear war) and long term (climate change).  By long term understanding which geographical region would be the safest from flooding/drought/war and others.  My only defense here is to enjoy life, learn, practice mindfulness, meditate and just ‘be’ as fully as I can.

And with that, here are my favorite excerpts from Lapham’s Quarterly – Fear along with my comments.

People living deeply have no fear of death. – Anaïs Nin

My thought here is that when you ‘live deeply’ a serenity eventually overtakes you and you see tiny glimmers of the truth.

Again, it is common knowledge that the movement against the fluoridation of municipal water supplies has been catnip for cranks of all kinds, especially for those who have obsessive fear of poisoning. – Richard Hofstadter, from “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” 

I highlighted the passage above because I learned of this conspiracy while searching the deep web.  Just for entertainment I was looking for secrets, for the meaning of life, aliens, whatever.  I came across a post that mentioned fluoride as well as the pineal gland (check pineal-eye on this Wikipedia entry).  Well, I don’t believe in these things but was glad to find an actual reference to the fluoride conspiracy from a source long before the internet.

So, go in peace, my dear man, and henceforth do not judge the life of any man until you have learned more of the facts. – From The Deeds of the Romans circa 1300 England

This is a piece of advice to take to heart.  We all judge, judging in my opinion is a basic instinct for survival:  we cannot sit down for coffee and a chat with every passerby to understand whether or not they are a danger to us.  We have to make a snap decision based on experience and instinct.  But aside from that and on a deeper level, every person has a story;  they were born, they were cared for as a baby – otherwise they wouldn’t have survived – they most likely had friends as well as family; here in the USA they probably went to school, had teachers, there are those that know their story, know there is some good in them.  And now they do what they do based on their life experiences as well as mental capacities they were given.


A native of the United States clings to this world’s goods as if he were certain never to die; and he is so hasty in grasping at all within his reach that one would suppose he was constantly afraid of not living long enough to enjoy them.  He clutches everything, he holds nothing fast, but soon loosens his grasp to pursue fresh gratifications…… 

He who has set his heart exclusively on the pursuit of worldly welfare is always in a hurry, for he has but a limited time at his disposal to reach, to grasp, and to enjoy it.  – Alexis de Tocqueville, from Democracy in America. 

This is even truer today, in the year 2018, than it was in 1835.  Capitalism is the name we give to our system which is better described as unbounded consumption that is never satisfied.  The only way our system works is to continually increase:  increase production, increase consumption, sell more, buy more, the numbers must always go up.  And so this environment has created a populace that marches to its steady consumer drumbeat with only a few realizing that life is best lived with less. It is the experiences that inherently give life purpose and meaning, not some material object which you own.  This idea goes directly against a basic fiber of American culture which is always to attain more, to never be satisfied with what you have.


and in every job I’ve had since, I’ve always been afraid I was about to be fired. – Joseph Heller, from Something Happened

This is built into the job of Sales and Account Managers put there by management.  It is an integral part of the company kool-aid; sometimes barely perceptible when times are good but overpowering when times are bad.  It is part of a the American corporate contract:  I do well you pay more or there is the threat that I will leave; I do poorly and you’ll fire me.  There is no more loyalty in the old sense, no matter how many ways HR tries to spin all the employees as ‘family.’  I wish corporations would stop calling their employees ‘family’ when that is the least fitting way to describe the environment.


They have demonstrated more potently than any argument, demonstrated beyond question of a  doubt, the appalling dangers and enormous effectiveness of popular and theatrical demagoguery.

They have cast a brilliant and cruel light upon the failure of popular education……

For Mr. Orson Welles and his theater have made a greater contribution to an understanding of Hitlerism, Mussolinism, Stalinism, anti-Semitism, and all other terrorisms of our times than all the words about them that have been written by reasonable men.  – Dorothy Thompson, “Mr. Welles and Mass Delusion.”  

I’ve written before how disappointed as well as surprised and shocked I am to realize how daft many of my American countrymen are when the majority attend at least some schooling and the universities are unparalleled to any other time in human history, yet basic critical thinking skills when it comes to politics and religion seem to be nonexistent.  Trump was elected and the vast majority of Americans are religious.

The quote above on the incident that Mr. Orson Welles caused clearly show that while part of America is absolutely genius (Nasa, Google, inventors of all stripes, science, etc) the majority of the population is not and is easily persuaded whether it be in believing Martians are attacking or Trump would be a good leader of the country.


We (Calvinists) filled more or less the same place in the European imagination that Islam does now, one difference being that the Christianity now assumed to be under threat on that most secular continent is merely sociological and cultural, in effect racial, and another difference being that there was no ideal of tolerance and little concept of due process to mitigate the violence the presence of our ancestors inspired….

If someone had asked a citizen of Lyon, on his way to help exterminate the Calvinists, to explain what he and his friends were doing, he would no doubt have said that he was taking back his city, taking back his culture, taking back his country, fighting for the soul of France…..

At the core of all this fear, real or pretended.  What if these dissenters in our midst really are a threat to all we hold dear?  Better to deal with the problem before their evil schemes are irreversible, before our country has lost its soul and the United Nations has invaded Texas.  We might step back and say that there are hundreds of millions of people who love this nation’s soul, who in fact are its soul, and patriotism should begin by acknowledging this fact.  –  Marilynne Robinson, “Fear.”

Yes, but what is new?  The Calvinists and Protestant Reformation did change the character (soul?) of Europe quite a bit!  People don’t like change; they like the familiar, tradition and cling to what they’ve always done.  I think Ms. Robinson is arguing from the position that since Calvinism and Protestants are now part of the traditional character of Europe it is safe to use in defending another recent change to the character in the form of Islam.  In other words she says Calvinism didn’t turn out so bad and has become who we are so won’t it be the same with Islam?  In 100 years or so they will integrate with our beliefs and customs and part of their religion and culture will integrate with us.

Well, the problem is again, there are many who do not want this change.  Yes, it would be nice if we could time travel to the future, find a beautiful mixed woman without a headscarf speaking beautiful French, Arabic and English who has never believed in the fairy tales of religion and who tells us, see, everything works out very well!  But if we could also travel back in time then we’d meet those people who are absolutely aghast at what Europe has become.  They would point to the fact that they should have never let those natives from the colonies into their homelands!  To see England not be Catholic, the horror!!!

And so, using the fact that Protestants are mainstream now when they were persecuted before and everything turned out alright as a reason to accept Islam now just doesn’t sit well with me.

This doesn’t mean I’m against one or the other, quite the opposite!  For me, the world, its people and beliefs are constantly in flux.  I enjoy learning as much as I can about these changes:  from voices in the Middle Ages dabbling with the Cathar religion to Mormons today knocking on my door and trying to get me to convert, I realize we’re all just trying to get to the bottom of this great mystery of our existence.  For me personally, I have not experienced a revelation yet that dissuades me from believing that all religion “is a plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion, extending all the way back to a fabrication of a few non-events.”


The most important role of managers is to create an environment in which people are passionately dedicated to winning in the marketplace.  Fear plays a major role in creating and maintaining such passion.  Fear of competition, fear of bankruptcy, fear of being wrong, and fear of losing can all be powerful motivators.  – Andrew Grove from Only the Paranoid Survive.

Spoke about my own anxiety in the workplace above.


it is sobering to realize that, according to reliable observers, the Russian image of the U.S. is the mirror image of the American image of the USSR today.  Each side sees itself as peace loving and honorable and the other country – or at least its leaders – as treacherous, unscrupulous, and bent on world conquest……

However, as long as mankind clings to the conviction, reinforced by millennia of experience, that the superior destructive force is still the ultimate arbiter of conflict, the specter of universal destruction can never be exorcized.  – Jerome D. Frank, from “Atomic Arms and Pre-Atomic Man.”  

Yes, the USA and USSR saw each other as the baddie but my thought has always been that the bad country is that which won’t let their people leave if they would like.  We’re free to leave the USA if we choose, those in the USSR could not.


I began to feel a terrified pity for the white children of these white people:  who had been sent, by their parents, to Korea, though their parents did not know why.  Neither did their parents know why these miserable, incontestably inferior, rice-eating gooks refused to come to heel, and would not be saved.  But I knew why.  I came from a long line of miserable, incontestably inferior, rice-eating, chicken-stealing, hog-swilling niggers – who had acquired these skills in their flight from bondage – who still refused to come to heel, and who would not be saved.  If two and two make four, then it is a very simple matter to recognize that people unable to be responsible for their own children, and who care so little about each other, are unlikely instruments for the salvation of the people who they permit themselves the luxury of despising as inferior to themselves.  Even in the case of Korea, we, the blacks at least, knew why our children were there:  they had been sent there to be used, in exactly the same way, and for the same reasons, as the blacks had been so widely dispersed out of Africa – an incalculable investment of raw material in what was not yet known as the common market.  – James Baldwin, from The Devil Finds Work.

This is perhaps one of my favorite quotations in the book.  As I lived abroad, learned languages, studied history and became more critical in my thinking I was able to form my own opinions on many global events over the past 100 years or so.  In the USA our teachers tell us that the wars in Vietnam and Korea were to “contain Communism” and leave it at that.  They taught us that Communism was all bad and we were all good and so doing anything and everything we could to stop the bad system of Communism was all the reason needed.  And from speaking with the older generation today I understand that many of them bought it, a good portion don’t know and a greater portion don’t want to talk about it.

In fact, there are not many with whom I could strike up the conversation with today about the Vietnam/Korean wars and have any meaningful or insightful conversation at all!  What makes this absolutely tragic is that so many people died and it caused so much pain;  all for reasons (or non-reasons) that the majority of people cannot articulate very much at all.

And parents would send their son’s to go die just as blindly today as they did back in the ’60s and ’70s.  Yes, there is access to information but the availability of information does not inherently confer critical thinking skills upon its readers.  And add to this the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ people today really cannot figure out which was is up and which is down outside of their narrow arena of expertise.


When you’re about to shrink with fear, instead do what the peacocks (and many mammals) do: frighten fear by enlarging your silhouette.  Blow yourself up – mentally – feel unbreakable, wear self-confidence like a rhinoceros its carapace, appear immortal.  Deadly fear will immediately run away, its scythe between its legs…..

To live in fear of what’s about to happen is for many people today – owing to our current political situation – a reality.

But to live in fear, period, is a horror, a torture.  You have forgotten fear was the culprit, and you have been obliterated, replaced by a shameful black hole, which breathes – or not – in your stead.  

This evening – outside, a murder of crows darkens the air with its flying formation, announcing the storm of the century, the end of the world – this evening, to live in fear will be my definition of death.  – Philippe Petit, In Search of Fear.


anxiety:  “Temporal prosperity comes always accompanied with so much anxiety.” – John Donne, 1623

Categories
Quotes

Lapham’s Quarterly – Discovery

 

Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world. – Arthur Shopenhauer, 1851

The world is a country which nobody ever yet knew by description; one must travel through it oneself to be acquainted with it.  – Philip Dormer Stanhope, 1747


I began to see that among the many universes in which the world of living creatures existed, some where large, some small, but that all, including man’s, were in some way limited or finite.  We were creatures of many different dimensions passing through each other’s lives like ghosts through doors.

The salt of those ancient seas is in our blood, its lime is in our bones.  Every time we walk along a beach some ancient urge disturbs us so that we find ourselves shedding shoes and garments, or scavenging among seaweed and whitened timbers like the homesick refugees of a long war. 

From The Unexpected Universe – Loren Eiseley (similar to a verse from Lapham’s Quarterly – The Sea – Entry here.)


For men are accustomed to divine the new by the example of the old, and by an imagination schooled and stained by the old; which is the most deceptive kind of thinking, seeing that much is drawn from the sources of things does not flow through the usual channels. – Francis Bacon from The New Organon.  

When they shout “Long live progress,” always ask, “Progress of what?” – Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, 1957

“Medieval times, were in many ways more tolerant than modern.” 

The corridor that led to it had a smell of old carpet and furniture oil and the drab anonymity of a thousand shabby lives. – Raymond Chandler, from The Little Sister. 

Then, after the fatigue from this had passed away, an hour of perfect bodily repose and quiet comfort was necessary before the good ideas came.  They often came actually in the morning on waking, as Gauss also has remarked:  “The law of induction discovered Jan. 23, 1835 at seven AM, before rising.”  But they were usually apt to come when comfortably ascending woody hills in sunny weather.  The smallest quantity of alcoholic drink seemed to frighten them away. 

From An Autobiographical Sketch – Hermann von Helmholtz


Science is beautiful when the confirmation of its theories ‘disconfirms’ the dominant beliefs of the culture it is working within, or simply disconfirms the intuitions of the human brain itself.

The Copernican revolution is still something that we are intuitively uncomfortable with.  One asks, “I’m on a round ball in empty space, spinning and circling a big, round burning thing?  And this is all happening in a distant and undistinguished corner of a cosmos that has every appearance of being infinite?”  

From The Science Delusion – Curtis White


Progress – progress is the dirtiest word in the language – who ever told us – And made us believe it – that to take a step forward was necessarily, was always A good idea?  – Edna St. Vincent Millay – Poem


Fiction’s abyss is silence, nada.  Whereas nonfiction’s abyss is Total Noise, the seething static of every particular thing and experience, and one’s total freedom of infinite choice about what to choose to attend to adn represent and connect, and how, and why, etc.  

Zipf’s law was not confined to animals.  He saw the whole world as a system in which every particle sought the path of least effort.  Paths within paths within paths:  the blood coursing through our veins, the cells swimming through our blood, the atoms whirling in our cells – all of this within us, and all of us within the earth’s atmosphere, and all the planets and stars within the cosmos, all straining to move with grace.  

All walking animals are adept at finding the path of least resistance across a landscape.  Indeed, many human roads and trails follow old animal trails.  In Rising from the Plains, McPhee describes how railway engineers discovered a geological ramp crossing the Rocky Mountains in southern Wyoming:  they followd old Native American trails, which in turn followed bison trails.

“Leave the beaten track occasionally and dive into the woods.  Every time you do so, you will be certain to find something that you have never seen before.”

A book without readers, in this scheme, is like a trail without walkers.  It soon fades from this earth, while a classic work changes shape with each successive wave of readers – widening, straightening, sometimes queering wildly to new destinations, and so continually providing new utility to those who follow it. 

From How to Cross a Field of Snow – Robert Moor


“We are caught up in the winds that blow every which way,” he wrote.  “And in the hullabaloo, the thinking man is driven to ponder where he is being blown and to long desperately for some quiet place where he can reason undisturbed and take inventory.”  

The journey is its own reward

“an appreciation for the special experience of living and working ina  remote, hostile, and unspoiled environment.”  Such entries include “feelings of awe concerning natural phenomena, such as violent storms and breathtaking views.”

“Numberless stars crowded the sky.  I had never seen so many.  You had only to reach up and fill your hands with the bright pebbles,’ he wrote of his first stunning night alone.  “And it was all mine:  the stars, the constellations, even the earth as it turned on its axis.”

Whatever removes you from comfort, forces you into the unknown, asks you brave the small space of personhood to try to feel a sense of – as some would have it – beauty, special experience, or wonderment. 

From Special Experience by Kea Krause some of these entries from Rear Admiral Richard Byrd’s journal in Antarctica.


Poetry and religion arise from the same source:  the perception of the mystery of life.  – The Turning Sky by Susan Brind Morrow

Philosophers, weary of being deceived, have in their petulance declared that nothing exists but what is in our mind.  They might have gone all the way and concluded that, the nature of the mind being as elusive as that of matter, there is nothing real either in matter or mind. – Questions on the Encyclopedia, 1770 – Voltaire