Back in body, not yet in will or spirit. But here are a few postcards from the edge. Great place to unplug, think I’ll stay there a little longer.
Archive for July, 2010
A philosopher whose opinion I probably regard too highly was saying on the radio recently that everyone ought to unplug from the digital universe from time to time, for therapeutic and sanity-saving reasons. I’m going to follow that prescription for a few days. We’ll see how it goes.
Matt Ridley says we’re just nodes and neurons in the cloudy, crowd-sourced Collective Brain, and our promiscuous ideas are having a lot more fun “meeting and mating” and “accelerating the rate of innovation” than we are. As-simi-late, Seven-of-Nine, resistance is futile. Freethought and Group Think don’t seem quite compatible to me, whatever “we” may think.
Will he then be sharing the proceeds of Rational Optimist with us all?
Honestly? I don’t really think anything “lasts forever” — least of all a child’s game, played by overpaid and emotionally immature young men. MLB’s leading lights are accomplished athletes but they’re not really “stars,” the schmaltzy and over-produced Fox TV opening to the contrary notwithstanding.
But I do still hope some good things will last a good long time.
For instance: the good achieved by the “all stars among us“. It deserves all the attention they got last night, and then some.
That’s the real value of sports, from the spectator’s perspective: as metaphor, exemplar, platform, inspiration.
Whenever I’m asked the score of a game I happen to have attended or viewed, I usually want to say “Who cares?”
But, honestly again: last night I did. That 13-year AL win streak felt like forever.
My wife and the other neighborhood lawn-&-gardeners have been begging for rain, this morning their prayers are being answered with a flood-watch. I’m watching. The pitter-pat on my patio roof is just a little too percussive and distracting, though the 72 degrees is very nice. I’m sure we have nothing to worry about, the ground will be much thirstier than it was in May.
A photo for the album: late yesterday afternoon, Older Daughter requested a little BP (that’s batting practice, not oily excess) so the three of us grabbed our bats and ball-bucket and headed over to the playing field at Hillwood. Younger Daughter stationed herself in left, I took the mound, and before I knew which way the wind was blowing found myself staring gratefully at the sky. Knocked to the turf by a line drive that might have put my lights out, but I held on. Older Daughter wanted to know immediately where my phone was, in case the next frozen rope should require an ambulance.
It’s a funny scene, the morning after, to recall. The total scene, though, the three of us there playing a little summer game in the sun just for fun, is to me– as the commercials say– priceless. And not pointless, not at all. How did Mr. Giamatti put it? Oh, yeah: some grow out of sports, some never grew into them:
These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion. I am not that grown-up. I need to think something lasts forever. It might as well be a game, in a green field, in the sun.
So we went home and watched Big Papi win the home-run derby, and hunted online for Wrigley Field tickets, and looked forward to tonight’s MLB All-Star game. Vandy’s David Price will start for the AL. Priceless.
What a nice, needed rainy Sunday afternoon it was here. The parched ground drank it in and so did we, with Granny over from her temporary rehab nursing “home” for a visit– she’s recovering slowly but surely from the latest broken hip– as we flipped the clicker back and forth from South Africa (viva Espana!) to the gorgeous French countryside full of parched cyclists. There were a few collisions in both places, including one that derailed Lance Armstrong’s quest for a cloud-free comeback, but nothing you’d call a train-wreck.
Granny brought and left the latest edition of The Nashville Retrospect, with its morbidly fascinating account of the deadliest train-wreck in American history. It happened on July 9, 1918, just a couple of miles from where I sit, at a site now commemorated with a plaque and a shady bench on the recently-flooded Richland Creek greenway.
I don’t know why train-wrecks are so irresistibly interesting, in all their grotesque and appalling misery. The one in question drew thousands of spectators, the newspapers of the day reported, many of whom were disappointed to arrive and find the tracks already cleared. The self-centered “there but for the grace of God” mentality must be part of it.
More than the gawkers’ insensitivity, though, I’m struck by the purple piety of the journalist who wrote of one poor victim, heard repeatedly wailing “Oh God Oh God,”
cramped in that telescoped coach and wounded unto death could he cry out unto Him who had breathed the breath of life into his soul and was now taking that life away.
More prosaically, the reporter also notes that “somebody blundered.” He does not note the incoherence of attributing blunders to train routers and engineers, but only generous and divine favor to their maker.
Another summer snapshot for the scrapbook, a scene to pull out (and repeat) when it’s cold and wintry: it’s 100 in the shade but we’re cool at home in our library, me with Wisdom, Younger Daughter (sprawled on the new blue “butterfly chair” she swapped her birthday Target card for the other day) with The View from Saturday, Older Daughter (flopped across the recliner, still in jammies) with Harry Potter (yet again).
Fortunately, I can say in retrospect, the pool was still closed because of a faulty pump or spigot or whatever. On this day, this is the cooler place to be.
Only Mom is missing from the picture. Maybe tomorrow… if she doesn’t insist on taking us bowling (or something) just to get out of the house. Sometimes the house is home sweet home and where you want to be more than anywhere.
Sad, though, and ironic, that this has to be an exclusively-summer scene. There seems never to be time for slow and painless learning-for-pleasure during the school year.
Studies show, says David Brooks, that merely living in the presence of good old-fashioned bound printed matter feeds the soul and swells the test scores. We can confirm the first part of that right now. Safe and snug in the cool of home, surrounded by smart walls that come alive when you pluck those wonderfully portable and efficient information retrieval devices down from their shelves, we feel pretty smart too, in a humbling Socratic way. Close proximity to some of the best that’s been thought and written works like a wonder drug, by osmosis. As Montaigne scrawled on his own library ceiling, nothing’s certain but uncertainty and nothing human is really foreign. That’s good to know.
I like my e-books, but they’re not really companionable in this way. You can’t display them on the wall, or sit and commune with a gathering of them as at a reunion, or just admire them from across the room. You can’t mark them up and scrawl in the margins in the same undistracting way.
The Internet helps you become well informed — knowledgeable about current events, the latest controversies and important trends. The Internet also helps you become hip — to learn about what’s going on, as Joseph Epstein writes, “in those lively waters outside the boring mainstream.”
But the literary world is still better at helping you become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import.
And where better to encounter the literary world than in your own cool library on a hot day. Turn the page.
Whether we know it or not, wisdom– applied understanding, meaningful perspective, self-knowledge that is not self-absorption, the examined life– is what reflective humans really want most, for ourselves and for posterity. Some of us are geeky enough to dream of a long and prosperous future for our kind, and that won’t happen without a lot more wisdom than has been on public display lately.
If we continue to accumulate only power and not wisdom, we will surely destroy ourselves… If we become even slightly more violent, shortsighted, ignorant, and selfish than we are now, almost certainly we will have no future. Pale Blue Dot
That was true when Dr. Carl wrote it a decade and a half ago. We’re on borrowed time here.
And so it was with quickened concern that I picked up Stephen Hall’s new book yesterday, Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience. It’s a thoughtful journalist’s survey of the history of wisdom as a concept and cultural ideal, re-framed in terms of what we are beginning to understand of its biological basis. The most pleasing passage I’ve yet come across cites Montaigne:
“The most manifest sign of wisdom is continual cheerfulness.” If by that he meant optimism about the future, he is backed up by neuroscientists, who have begun to find support for that notion.
Great. “It don’t come easy” (as the septuagenerian Starkey, wiser than reputed, sang) to be an optimist in this hot and oily summer of our discontent, but I’m definitely up for trying. Just like Charles Schulz‘s crew, cheerfully “working out the interior problems of their daily lives without ever actually solving them.” Yet.
“What do we really want from philosophy and religion? Palliatives? Therapy? Comfort? Do we want reassuring fables or an understanding of our actual circumstances? Dismay that the Universe does not conform to our preferences seems childish. The fashionable way of doing this is not to blame the Universe– which seems truly pointless– but rather to blame the means by which we know the Universe, namely science.” Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot
(Sagan’s text + video from Stephen Hawking’s Into the Universe and Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Solar System. The music is Jack’s Theme from the Lost soundtrack.)
Our home, un-walled and in multiple dimensions. “We need a much larger sense of what home is.” No crumbling infrastructure, no collapsing market, just an expanding and inviting horizon beyond the pessimists’ bubble. Sky’s the limit.