"...Soon, I hope, I’ll have again figured out where my career is heading. I will have mastered (insofar as French is master-able) this language. I will look with relief – rather than panic – upon a lane with 4 swimmers. For now, though, all I can do is learn and learn and learn."
This quote is from my friend ann over at whatifandwhynot. The whole post is highly recommended reading as is the entire collection of posts/essays.
What captures my imagination in this quote is the optimism, the quiet self-assured belief that in the end she will succeed - she will learn. I equate the two, success and learning, not only in the ordinary sense of mastering a skill for a job, but in the sense that a core value of learning is mastering the skill of empathy as a prelude to self-fulfillment. What I read in the quote above is just that, a belief that the ultimate goal of happiness is achieved by learning; learning to communicate with, to accept the other - to be empathetic. Empathy might be the most important skill a person can learn. It is the glue that binds a couple, a family, community, society, and ultimately the world. Without empathy we degenerate into a culture of apathy, disharmony and selfishness with a warped, sadly limited conception of happiness.
“Happiness never stays the same, except in its origin; every day brings forth a new blossom.” Stendhal
What is the unchanging origin of happiness? Love? Seems like a good candidate to me. There are the three classic types of love: Eros, Philos, Agape (just google 'varieties of love' for the complete list). For me the types of love are less important than what we do with the love we have. Can we be happy without love, of some kind, and can we feel love, of any kind, without empathy? I would go so far as to say our happiness depends upon our capacity to love which in turn is contingent on our ability to feel the other, to be empathetic.
Charles Bukowski says "...we are here to drink beer..." as well as love, learn and "...laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us." I count 5 good reasons for why we are here and that's not a bad start. Bukowski probably really believed we are here to drink beer, but it could be he meant we should enjoy the things we have/make...enjoy the fruits of our labor so to speak. Either way is a good enough reason to exist. Stephen Jay Gould suggests we must create our own reasons "from our own wisdom and ethical sense." John Cage tells us, "No why. Just here." What it comes to for me is there is no why outside our own will, desire and capacity to create a meaning and live up to it.
So my friend over at whatifandwhynot has knocked it right on the head. Be optimistic that you can do what you want/need to do (do what you love/love what you do...see Ray Bradbury). Be optimistic about seeking and finding happiness -the Raison d'être . Look for it in the world as well as in yourself. Find it in the people around you...the people who share the lane with you. Find what is common with the other, work to make common ground, be empathetic and you will find love and happiness. Above all learn...and learn and learn and learn....
That's all I have for now.
"The real issue is not talent as an independent element, but talent in relationship to will, desire and persistence." Milton Glaser
Talent in a nutshell? I believe it to be a slippery bugger; talent is not to be contained in a shell of any kind. Can anyone say with certainty what talent is, where it comes from or how it is harnessed? A quick perusal of thoughts and quotes by some talented artists shows a surprising (to me) lack of trust, even belief, in 'talent'. I think talent is a species of intelligence, as is genius, an actual trait/characteristic of brain activity. F. Scott Fitzgerald's brain works in a certain way, enabling him to write The Great Gatsby while I must be content with such as this post. YAWN ..., that's a pedantic statement saying nothing about the relationship of talent to art. But a reductionist explanation may be the best I can muster on my own.
I wonder why so many talented people disparage the idea that talent is an actual characteristic, a real player in the success or failure of an artist. The consensus seems to be that hard work is THE key to unlocking art, with heavy doses of discipline and luck. It is as if hard work is required to legitimize the art. Like pain in my previous post, art requires hard work and discipline to be worthy of the title. True? Or is this adding to the myth that art is a herculean achievement? Perhaps it is. There is no denying the role of hard work, discipline, will, desire and persistence. But why remove talent from the equation? Many people are capable of hard work, suffering,... but what sets the artist apart from this crowd? Talent, an ability to create/discover connections the rest of us simply cannot see.
"...I paint German artists whom I admire. I paint their pictures, their work as painters, and their portraits too. But oddly enough, each of these portraits ends up as a picture of a woman with blonde hair. I myself have never been able to workout why this happens." Georg Baselitz
Is this the best ever description of inspiration or what? Brilliant. Inspiration, is it a real phenomenon or another by product of work and discipline? The thoughts and quotes I found generally treat inspiration with the same wariness as talent. Once again the consensus seems to be that it is not a real thing in itself, but a name we give to the ability to pay attention and show up for work. I believe work/art is what an artist, or anyone, does with an inspiration. Whether the inspiration comes from outside or inside is immaterial, for me. What matters is something stimulates a thought process, words, pictures, faces, emotions, a landscape,... whatever it is, there is a catalyst and a reaction. Something very real is happening when inspiration occurs. Anyway that is how it seems to me.
Talent and inspiration, are they mysterious forces at work in the soul of an artist? Labels we apply to the products of hard work and discipline? Brain states that happen for some of us sometimes under the right kind of stimuli? Except for the soul part I say yes to all the above. There is as much mystery in talent and inspiration as there is in genius, beauty, truth, etc. What is not mysterious is they come to little or nothing without the will and discipline to work at one's craft. In the end I do believe is does come down to what our brains do, for whatever reason, to make connections in the chaos of it all.
That's all I have for now.
"I do find writing a very painful process. I never understand writers who say it's enjoyable."
'A very painful process' - not quite sure what that means. Is writing really painful? Does it have to be in order to be good, be authentic? It's difficult, sometimes ideas and the right words are hard to come by, but I don't find pain in that kind of difficulty. So far I have scribbled 9 pages in a notebook, restarted this post 6 times and still don't have a handle on what I want to say, but this is not a painful process. In fact it is rather enjoyable. Thinking about what to say, how to say it, searching for inspiration, it's a nice conversation I am having with myself and all the authors I look to for help. When (if) I finally do hit on the right combination it is exhilarating, like the spark in Frankenstein's monster "It is alive!".
I am curious why so many writers feel pain, seem to require it. I can understand what John Gardner means when he says,"Art begins in a wound ...".The wound opens the door for pathos, empathy, compassion, emotional maturity, curiosity about the human condition. But the wound is not the Art, if anything Art is a healing balm for wounds. In that sense pain does seem a requirement to be fully human, much less a writer.
Where does the pain come from? It is real, not imagined by strange folk who claim the title 'writer'. It is not always and only caused by writing about pain. I have written poems about some very personal loses and they did not cause me to feel 'pain' but something more akin to longing and even a sense of release/relief. Graham Greene challenges us to write about happiness, "Pain is an easy write. In pain we're all happily individual. But what can one write about happiness?" Is there angst in a story about happiness? Well it might at least cause some doubt about one's ability to write, and I don't have to tell you how painful that can be.
What is it about writing that can bring someone like to Styron to say, "... writing is hell.", or Orwell to compare it to "... a long bout of some painful illness.", or Katherine Anne Porter to beat herself in the head each morning just to get started. One can find any number of quotes about writing and pain but a good explanation escapes me, there is still something fuzzy about the concept for me. I do not feel pain when I write, which might make me less than Deep. I can be okay with that, as long as I can tell the difference between shallow and Deep, I may keep from making a great flapping jackass of myself. Also, I don't feel particularly deprived by the lack of pain, considering where I am at in my little quest to pen the perfect poem pain is the least of my problems.
It seems to me that writing is a lot like fire was to Frankenstein's monster, a nice little light in the dark, but painful to touch.
That's all I have for now.
John Gardner's full quote because it is so beautiful ...
“Art begins in a wound, an imperfection—a wound inherent in the nature of life itself—and is an attempt either to learn to live with the wound or to heal it. It is the pain of the wound which impels the artist to do his work, and it is the universality of woundedness in the human condition which makes the work of art significant as medicine or distraction.”
So the Bard is out in Arizona. At least his play The Tempest is now comedy non grata. The resolution ordering this ban and the dismantling of the Mexican American Studies Program in a Tucson school district reads in part:
A. A school district or charter school in this state shall not include in its program of instruction any courses or classes that include any of the following:
1. Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
2. Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
3. Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
4. Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
- Arizona State Legislature
It's possible some of the books on the list violate one or more of the provisions in the resolution...but overthrowing the US government?! And even if they do promote these ideas so what. Ideas are there to discuss and educate, if you ban/ignore them you risk losing the threads that hold culture together. Banning ideas is a dangerous business that belongs to fascists and other cowardly types. Besides these are text books that discuss the history of Mexican and other indigenous people in the Americas. One of the books is just a book of photographs. Book banning has a long and infamously storied history from 2nd century Christians, 16th century Catholics, to 20th century Christian Fundamentalists and now 21st century bigots. Yes I use the word 'bigot' on purpose and without apology for there is nothing else to call people who would ban the history of an entire people because it makes them uncomfortable...well there's plenty more I could call them but you get my point. On the upside the response by the Hispanic community is encouraging. Instead of rolling over they have begun to establish underground libraries. A group called Librotraficantes has organized a book smuggling operation to stock these libraries on a trek from Houston to Tucson. So if you can't join the caravan or donate a book at least go out find a banned book read it and pass it on, be really subversive and just start leaving 2nd hand copies in public spaces.
And what of our friends in Texas? It seems they have completely lost the thread with their new take on what an education is really for... Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.
Here's the rest of the platform. Fixed beliefs and parental authority cannot be challenged. Isn't that what children just do naturally? I know my kids are constantly poking holes in my beliefs and what passes for authority in our house. Maybe they learn to do it at school but I believe it really begins with the first time a toddler turns to said parent and asks "Why?" So basically what this plank of the platform promotes is the elimination of the word/question 'why'. And that after all is the basis for a really sound education. Has anything really important ever happened until someone asked "Why?" Run down the list of obvious examples like Einstein, Newton, Copernicus, or even their beloved Columbus. Where would we be without questions and challenges to authority? Still cracking bones, nuts and heads with hand axes I suppose. Again there is an upside to their lunacy. If they have their way every little Texas toddler will become a radical subversive. But the downside to that is the Texas GOP also supports beating children so maybe those toddlers are going to need lawyers.
And now finally on to our friendly Humanists. The following is from as essay by Roy Speckhardt:
It's time for a new push to do what's right in our everyday speech. It shouldn't be legislated and it doesn't need to be, but we can do better for ourselves. Here are Five Recommendations for a New Politeness.
1. Identify people in ways they prefer to be identified. This flows directly from the Golden Rule advice of treating people as they'd like to be treated.
2. State your opinions and critique with respect for the humanity of those with whom you might disagree. Politeness doesn't mean censoring the flow of ideas or even respecting your opponent's positions; just don't forget they're human, just like you.
3. Be sensitive to the fact that there are groups in this country that are faced with daily prejudice and discrimination. Being aware of stereotypes will help you avoid speaking as if you endorse them.
4. When you're in the majority group, and most everyone is in some aspects of who they are, consider giving ground once in a while to someone who isn't. Hit the brakes on your Beemer and let that minivan merge into traffic.
5. Take the time to inform those who aren't polite about the effects their words can have, and explain how they can get their point across in a more compassionate way.
So basically we should all follow the golden rule and be very nice about it. Sounds so simple, so basic, such a natural way to behave. Yes I say natural because without cooperation between individuals we wouldn't be here and without the golden rule in some form, cooperation just is not going to happen. The kind of close to the bone, do this or we are gonna die, hunter gatherer cooperation that took us from the stone age to silicon valley. And so cooperation is a basic survival tool/mechanism found in many different species. Herds, dens, hives, gaggles, nests, packs are all forms of cooperation among various types of creatures. Now I am not suggesting they are polite or even have a corollary behavior. What I would suggest is that cooperative behavior as manifested in humans has been raised to the level of altruism by discovery and implementation of the golden rule and is a significant factor in any forward progress we have or ever will make. But how do you politely tell someone to fuck off when they come around to take your copy of Shakespeare or to teach your kid that life is about being a drone for the man? I mean if the golden rule only works one way or when it's convenient then it isn't much of a rule. If only those of us who get the brown end of the stick are going to say "thank you" well then that's the only end we are ever going to see. No politeness is not always the best response to nonsense, skulduggery or baldfaced fascism. I would have to politely disagree with some of my Humanist brethren on this point. Sometimes in times like these doing the polite thing is not the right thing to do.
The conclusion? I don't know. They can ban books, history, whole cultures, even thinking but as long as they're polite about it...?
That's all I have for now.
It's an interesting resemblance. A couple of iconic tools that have helped us make our way down the evolutionary road. The Aucheulean hand-axe is a marvelous tool that kept its value for about a million years, great for cracking bones, nuts and heads. A simple tool that any one person then or now is capable of making. The mouse however requires an army of workers...from miners to designers...and is already out of date.
Ever wonder how our ancestors left the stone age behind and how we got to the age of the iphone. Was it language, fire, the wheel, microchips, the mouse? Our recent lineage is easy to trace...Steve Jobs was born and the world became a magical place overflowing with istuff - an app connected, interactive, seamlessly synched nirvana. So how did we make the leap from stones to silicon? I think the key was barter. The simple exchange of things and eventually ideas is the engine that drives us forward. From the first good trade the flood gates to the future blew open. It all started with a question, "What'll you take for that?" At that moment the iphone became inevitable...and probably greed too.
A lot is being said about greed these days...some like it some hate it. Oh yeah there are people who think greed is what makes us great. I take the opposite view, greed is our achilles heel. It will be our doom if left to our own devices. The greedheads tell the same story ad nauseum...mutual self interest, profit as motivation, innovation for personal gain, unfettered competition, the invisible hand of the market etc., etc., etc. What they have forgotten is the concept of a good trade. A good trade leaves all parties satisfied...not equal distribution, not communism, just plain old satisfaction. What passes for a good trade these days is an inside job that satisfies a few and fucks all the rest. The good trade became the slick trade and it just snowballed. Now we are buried in an avalanche and the skiers are pissed because we're digging ourselves out and fucking up their slopes. I think they should tighten their bindings because its going to be a rough ride.
Just finished reading The Killing of Crazy Horse by Thomas Powers. www.thekillikgofcrazyhorse.com Powers gives more space and credence to Native American oral history than is usually found in the history books. He offers a version of the truth that seems plausible, is fully fleshed and chocked full of human interest. The story is told from multiple points of view based on diaries, original interviews from newspapers of the day, first, second, third hand accounts recorded by anthropologists and a still lively oral tradition handed down through the generations. It is a compelling story told simply and directly by the people who lived it.
The last line of the book is thought provoking. Powers suggests a kind of moral to the story of Crazy Horse and the jouney his bones and medicine bundle take after his death. What can the loss or survival of these things mean to us? What is the significance of their disappearance? How does one really understand, come to grips with "...the divide between the things that have been lost and the things that survive."? It's a question that can be raised at any point along the continuum of all our stories. Or is it only at certain watershed moments that the question becomes pertinent/interesting?
Crazy Horse's bones are not lost but hidden puposely, so they survive. The medicine bundle is gone, disappeared though the vagaries of chance. So it is lost? Is there a difference that matters here? For me it is a matter of deciding whether life has a trajectory or is given a trajectory. Good fortune and sharp instincts might enable someone to recognize the divide between loss and survival in the moment and make a conscious choice to let something slip into the realm of the lost, or not, in full awareness of the impact of that choice. Or does this kind of awareness only come in retrospect? (Give a listen to Watershed by the Indigo Girls). Powers seems to think there is a point of demarcation between loss and survival. To me the divide seems difficult to locate. Doing so strikes me as an artform, a dive into the deepest end of the pool, requiring a truly powerful and mysterious mojo.
What is it that gets lost? Alright we can easily list the tangibles, what we might call mementoes or perhaps MEMENTOES...iconic, talismanic items such as photos, books, family heirlooms, medicine bundles and the like. Likewise at least some of the intangibles seem easily identified, love, opportunity (which could be a placeholder for all the intangibles), insight, inspiration, fame (from worldclass everybody knows your name fame to someone somewhere who says, "Oh yeah, I remember that guy."). What is it that really survives? All of the above that doesn't get lost? Is what survives who we are? Instead of saying "life is all the tiny things you left behind" perhaps the song should say "life is all the tiny things that survive." In her song The Gift Lucy Kaplansky says it this way, "The gifts that you are given are the gifts you leave behind". "Gifts", I can't think of a better word to call the stuff that survives
Though lacking the art to recognize the moment where what is lost falls away from what survives I have learned to pay attention to those who seem to have a clue and can share it. The poetry of lyrics is my main conduit to the grace of insight...vicarious depth. So if you happen upon this website and read this drivel have some sympathy, charity if you will, for someone splashing in the deep end just trying to find his mojo.
So now creationists in Louisiana are teaching their children the Loch Ness Monster is real. It is part of an anti-evolution strategy. They claim that Nessie or a distant relative survived the great biblical flood. This would prove that dinosaurs and man lived at the same time which would prove Darwin's theory fatally flawed. The Earth is a mere 4,000 years old instead of the 4.5 billion years estimated by most if not all serious scientists. They go on to claim that "scientists" are beginning to accept the reality of Nessie's existence.
Oh boy where to start. First of all these children are attending state supported religious schools through a voucher program. This kind of goofy religious pseudo scientific indoctrination is supported by taxes - government taxes - so much for separation of lunacy and government. If you called a school Hogwarts and purported to teach magic could you be part of the voucher program? How about a humanist school? You and I know there isn't a chance in hell.
Second - the outlandish claims made by creationists. Dinosaurs and men lived, and continue to, at the same time. The earth is 4,000 years old. The Loch Ness monster is an actual living dinosaur and scientists believe this to be true. Well manufacturing fairy tales out of nothing with no evidence save a book of stories is no basis for a coherent religion let alone a curriculum.
Lastly - what a terrible thing to do to children. Teaching them that monsters are real is a way to build character I suppose. They will end up believing Monsters Inc. is a documentary...hey they won't have nightmares. To give them such a distorted, false, twisted and dangerous worldview is just irresponsible. Oh and one more thing, you can call it religious freedom if you want to but it only works for one religion and belief system. And to call this mashup of loony nonsense a religion is a stretch too far.
Speaking of loony nonsense is anything more absurd than passing a law to ban talk of climate change? North Carolina has officially taken over the mantle of most batshit crazy legislature in the USA. What could possibly possess a group of elected people, probably many lawyers and successful business-people to stick their fingers in their ears and and say "LALALALALA...I can't hear you...LALALALALA...."? It's as if Peewee Herman has taken over the political process.
So what's a reasonable primate to do? Well one could go with the flow and have your astrological chart done, ask John Edward to contact all your dead relatives and invite them to Thanksgiving dinner, get your 'Nessie Lives' tshirt.... Me I am just going to stick my fingers in my ears and LALALALALA all the way down the Yellow Brick Road.
That's all I have for now.
'Located just down the street from Kabul's glitziest mall, is The Strikers, the country's first bowling alley and owner Meena Rahmani's gamble on the capital's newest entertainment venue. But more than a place for family fun in a city largely devoid of options, the 12-lane center stands as a reflection of both the country's hope for the future and the challenge of securing one even as NATO's fight against the Taliban enters its 11th year." (USA Today)
You may know the story. Meena Rahmani has opened a bowling alley, Strikers, in Kabul, Afghanistan. I just might be the most optimistic venture on the planet. Never mind the war zone, drones and ied's. This is a game, for men and women smack in the septum of the heart of darkness. Right under, or up the noses of Islamic Fundamentalists so conservative they make Sarah Palin look like the Good Witch of the North. Men and women playing together? Sharing shoes and balls? Keeping score - and the women might even win? And you know guys, they will throw that ball just a little bit harder every time a woman fist pumps a strike.
Optimistic enterprise? What else to call it? Meena has bet a wad of cash on the healing power of a game. And I think she is on to something. From school yards to prisons games are a way of defusing enmity and anger. A chance to channel negative energy into a positive outcome through the pure joy of competition. Oh sure it doesn't always work out. But anyone who has ever competed knows the feeling of mutual though grudging respect when the contest is over.
The nihilist might, or perhaps must, disagree with such a Panglossian outlook. Rightly pointing out the violence associated with sport, the dog eat cat world of capitalist competition and the daily race for resources that does not always bring out the best in the human beast. Yes Yes that's all true, but each example of nihilistic pessimism can be countered with a rosy story and a happy ending.
So what's a bowling optimist to do? Well I say the next time you encounter an angry fundamentalist or pessimistic nihilist just ask, "wanna play?". You may find "...the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
That's all I have for now.