Archive for May, 2012

Pindar in the dugout (?)

May 31, 2012

Nineteen years ago, back when it was still just the two of us, we lived out on the Davidson-Cheatham county line on River Road. Turn right out of the driveway to head back into (relative) civilization, or left to go deeper into the rustic rural hinterlands. It was a pretty place to be, but (we thought) no place to live with small children. So when Older Daughter arrived a couple years into our marriage we moved to town. No regrets, and yet…

We decided to head back that way last night for our anniversary dinner. Riverview may not look or sound like a romantic destination, but it was. So was the journey. And the catfish and hushpuppies were, as expected, superlative.

And also as predicted, the fish inspired interesting dreams: in one I encountered my old professor of Greek & classics. Frisbees (Olympian disks?) were being hurled. I overheard Professor T. tell someone that I “looked like Pindar in the dugout.”

Pindar? I don’t know Pindar. So I looked him up. Some said he was the greatest Greek lyric poet of antiquity,

in virtue of his inspired magnificence, the beauty of his thoughts and figures, the rich exuberance of his language and matter, and his rolling flood of eloquence, characteristics which, as Horace rightly held, make him inimitable.”His poems however can also seem difficult and even peculiar… much admired though largely unread

Hmmm. But what’s the dugout got to do with it?

Well, way ahead of Nietzsche Pindar said: “Become what you are.” Achieve your potential. Give 110%.

And he said: forget about immortality, “but enjoy to the full the resources that are within thy reach.” Stay within yourself. I’m trying, I’m trying! [More baseball cliches]

And especially fitting last night, out on the scenic deck at Riverview:

Youth is a blossom whose fruit is love, happy is he who plucks it after watching it slowly ripen.

He’s right about that. As Spinoza tweeted, love means “enjoyment of a thing and union therewith.” Heading into the twentieth year of a union that’s ripened nicely, I’d have to say we’re happy. Happy not in a merely Sisyphean way, but genuinely happy for the harvest of youthfulness reclaimed. Our trip down memory lane, aka River Road, was clarifying. And as noted, the fish was as good as it gets.

Progress, marriage, perfection

May 30, 2012

Three words not often together, yoked here with some great advice from Ron Padgett on our wedding anniversary, mine and Sharon’s. Perfection seduces but eludes, even in the best marriage of true minds. What would Mrs. Plato say?

But I’m still stubbornly resisting Padgett’s “Don’t think that progress exists. It doesn’t.” If you’d told me back on May 30, 1993 that we’d be right here, with two great kids, a load of mostly happy memories, a pack of exciting plans, and our health, I’d have said that sounds like  progress to me.

Get some sleep.

Eat an orange every morning.

Be friendly. It will help make you happy.

Hope for everything. Expect nothing.

Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room before you save the world. Then save the world. Be nice to people before they have a chance to behave badly.

Don’t stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don’t forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm’s length and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass ball collection.

Wear comfortable shoes.

Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.

Plan your day so you never have to rush.

Show your appreciation to people who do things for you, even if you have paid them, even if they do favors you don’t want.

After dinner, wash the dishes.

Calm down.

Don’t expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.

Don’t be too self-critical or too self-congratulatory.

Don’t think that progress exists. It doesn’t.

Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don’t do anything to make it impossible.

Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not possible, go to another one.

If you feel tired, rest.

Don’t be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel even older. Which is depressing.

Do one thing at a time.

If you burn your finger, put ice on it immediately. If you bang your finger with a hammer, hold your hand in the air for 20 minutes. you will be surprised by the curative powers of ice and gravity.

Do not inhale smoke.

Take a deep breath.

Do not smart off to a policeman.

Be good.

Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.

Do not go crazy a lot. It’s a waste of time.

Drink plenty of water. When asked what you would like to drink, say, “Water, please.”

Take out the trash.

Love life.

Use exact change.

When there’s shooting in the street, don’t go near the window.

-“How to be Perfect” by Ron Padgett

And what else happened on May 30, Mr. Keillor? Well, Thoreau published his first book. He knew something about progress and its absence, wondering if we ride the rails or they us, if we really have anything to say through our shiny new gadgets etc. He also knew that real progress is a personal affair.

To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour.

But did the bachelor of Walden Pond know that the most satisfying progress is inter-personal, and connubial? I’ll bet not.

Pursuing progress

May 29, 2012

For the record: our freshly unveiled low-rent pool was a big Memorial Day hit. The little blue float’s gonna be my new summer hammock. Felt like Benjamin Braddock, happily adrift and pondering the future of plastics. Who needs the beach when you’ve got the Redneck Riviera!


But, back to what passes for work here in the sunny season of my greatest content. I love it out here in the warming world, always have. Get out of the stuffy hothouse and embrace the real heat, I told my brother-in-law at the birthday party. He doesn’t get why anyone would ever walk away from air conditioned comfort if they didn’t have to.

Of course my infatuation with summertime needs to be rethunk, in the sobering sweltering light of catastrophic climate change. Anthropogenic natural heat is something I’d never seriously considered. Had any of us, really? But if the planet’s crossed a line and is soon to become uninhabitable at this latitude, I intend to be among the last to enjoy it anyway.

So, to work: I’m juggling two new projects & seeking to integrate them: Philosophy Walks, a rumination on all the ways philosophy and philosophers get around in space, time, imagination, and possibility. This includes the literal forms of motion dearest to me, perambulation mainly, but increasingly also cycling. Philosophy rolls, too. And climbs. And floats. Maybe Philosophy Moves is a better working title.

And the second project needs a working title. It’s a fact-based fiction starring William James, ambling towards a heart-taxing climax on Mt. Marcy.

WJ is practically my alter ego already. I relay his tweets, for instance. The environmental writer Andrew Revkin spotted this recent one…

To be happy most of us need some austerity and wintry negativity, some roughness, danger, stringency, and effort, some “no! No!”

And said in response

I’m likning the evidently posthumous tweets from the philosopher/psychologist @WillmJames

Thanks, Andy. He’d be liking your work “pursuing progress on a finite planet” too. That pursuit was in fact his philosophical quest also, and the best reason I can think of to pursue my 2d summer project.

And there, I think, is my working title: Progress.

Extended sympathies

May 28, 2012

A Memorial Day dream, or pure fantasy? Depends on how many of us share and spread the cooperation meme. Andrew Revkin imagines a time when humans will war no more. Darwin did too:

“As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.” Descent of Man

A Memorial Day for War’s Fallen, Perhaps Someday for War Itself? –

“When I Think”

May 27, 2012

The concluding snippet of Robert Creeley‘s lovely poem about time’s paradoxical presence in passing. Reminds me of Blake, Beatles (“In My Life”), Santayana, Spinoza, Einstein, Nietzsche, Bill Murray…

When I try to think of things, of what’s happened, of what a life is and was, my life, when I wonder what it meant, the sad days passing, the continuing, echoing deaths, all the painful, belligerent news, and the dog still waiting to be fed, the closeness of you sleeping, voices, presences, of children, of our own grown children, the shining, bright sun, the smell of the air just now, each physical moment, passing, passing, it’s what it always is or ever was, just then, just there. WA

Happy Memorial Day weekend. May your memories of it recur pleasantly, too.

Summer out back

May 26, 2012

Moved the glider to Little House’s back porch this morning.

It’s 63 degrees, headed to 95. Everyone will later be complaining about the heat. But not me, I have another cool and restorative dawn in pocket.  And a redneck pool, soon to fill. And Younger Daughter’s birthday party. And the glorious holiday inaugural of summertime.  And nothing much to think, say, or do.

The living is easy. Life is good. Enough said.

Alright, I’ll just be a redneck

May 25, 2012

You know Older Daughter thinks you’re a redneck when…

Imageyou propose a trip to Ashland City for catfish, and spend the better part of a hot afternoon clearing the ground for a low-rent pool.

She won Round 1: we ate Indian at Woodlands. But school’s out, summer’s here, and the pool’s coming. I need a cooling station near the hammock. (Last year’s model didn’t quite cut it.) Just pass the hush-puppies and fried pickles, please.

A joyful wisdom

May 24, 2012

The past is the past, but the future can be a Long Now. That’s what Faulkner really meant to say, whether he knew it or not.

But I wonder if he knew or approved of John Dewey‘s view?

We always live at the time we live and not at some other time, and only by extracting at each present time the full meaning of each present experience are we prepared for doing the same thing in the future. [More Dewey quotes]

That’s a Stoic attitude. (See Marcus Aurelius.) All these guys were Stoics of one sort or another, as John Lachs first taught me many years ago. Life is for the living, in an expanding and inclusive present that continually renews itself day after day, year after year.  Stoics have their dreams, but also their responsibilities.

And as William Irvine says, Stoics can have their fun too. Stoics for life possess a joyful wisdom.

“Just a shape to fill a lack”

May 23, 2012

Still absorbing the life and meaning of Faulkner. He was a strange case, personally melancholic and bleak but still hopeful and enthusiastic for his species. First image you meet, on entering Rowan Oak, is a photo of him flashing a tight-lipped semi-smile with the caption that it was “the only time I ever saw my friend happy.”

And yet, in his 1950 Nobel address he famously declined “to accept the end of man… he will prevail.” He celebrated the human spirit “capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance,” and the writer’s privileged opportunity to illustrate and invigorate those virtues, to embolden his peers to greatness.

But like so many great wordy writers and thinkers he mistrusted his medium. Words too are tools, and placeholders. “I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word [love] was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word…” [More Faulkner quotes]

And when his time to leave finally arrived, another Rowan Oak exhibit revealed, Faulkner the Stoic wanted few words. “He made the books, and he died.” But that’s not what they put on the stone.

He was right: our words can’t tell our whole stories, but they do begin to fill a lack.

Faulkner’s tools

May 22, 2012