Archive for June, 2012

Declaration of independence

June 29, 2012

106? It’s going to be 106 here today?!

Alright then, let’s go to Orlando. It’s only going to be 90 there, and in the Magic Kingdom they don’t worry about mundane environmental reality anyway.  Carl Hiaasen‘s got me well prepared.

Imagine promoting a universe in which raw Nature doesn’t fit because it doesn’t measure up; isn’t safe enough, accessible enough, predictable enough, even beautiful enough for company standards. Disney isn’t in the business of exploiting Nature so much as striving to improve upon it.

I will, I will! I will use my imagination. I’ll wish upon a star. I’ll try to enjoy the parade. I’ll pretend to believe in magic, for the kids. And I’ll remind myself to appreciate the secular appeal of commercial enterprise rooted in global pop culture.

We’ll be there on the 4th – a good place, really an essential place to declare one’s independence.

An earthbound philosophy

June 28, 2012

It’s a cool 63 degrees out here on the porch this morning, sun already hanging high. Hard to believe the triple-digit forecast. Hard not to believe this is more than just extreme weather we’re having. Hard to stay away from the reality-denying cool of the pool.

Floated with Songlines yesterday, pondering native Aussie wisdom with Bruce Chatwin:

The Aboriginals had an earthbound philosophy. The earth gave life to a man; gave him food, language, and intelligence; and the earth took him back when he died… To wound the earth is to wound yourself, and if others wound the earth, they are wounding you. The land should be left untouched: as it was in the Dreamtime when the Ancestors sang the world into existence.

So, they’re a hybrid of Berkeleyan idealism and indigenous pagan naturalism. Esse ist percipi, to be is to be perceived. And honor thy mother.

There are worse things to be, worse perceptions to sing. As Carl Safina pointed out, most western philosophy (David Hume a notable exception) “hasn’t had the world in mind,” hasn’t appreciated the natural sympathy, the “feeling for the other” that is fundamental to our humanity.

It’s really too late now for us to leave the land untouched, though. We need to retouch and restore it to as much aboriginal health as can be reclaimed. We need to sing our own song, and to remember that we’re somebody’s ancestors too.

Chatwin was already very sick when Songlines was published a quarter century ago, and probably knew he had just a couple years left to the rare bone marrow disease that would take his life at age 48. ”Hazards of travel – rather an alarming one.” Didn’t keep him from traveling and singing, right to the end. His books are still singing,  still shaping perceptions of a healthier planet. The aboriginal truth: we’re not dead yet, it’s not either.

Disney devours my dreams

June 27, 2012

Awoke to what must be a classic walker’s anxiety dream, if there can be such a thing.

In the dream, troubling but not quite nightmarish, I’m trying to make my way along a familiar but still-somehow-alien lane, going who knows where, with some urgency but no clear purpose. My legs are leaden, my body in a sluggish semi-comatose state, I can’t summon any power, can’t stride right. I keep remembering things I forgot to pack for the trip, a feeling of desperate foreboding grows and grows. Gotta get outta here! But I can barely move. Beginning to panic…

Good morning.

What? I was just getting interested.

But I think I know what that was all about. We’re heading shortly, the whole crew, to Orlando. The girls want  to do Disneyworld and Universal, for old time’s sake and for Harry Potter’s. I’m resisting, subliminally.

Unlike surprisingly many adults of my acquaintance, I’ve never enjoyed the theme park experience. S told me last night to psych myself for the lines and the crowd and the heat. (And the hurricane?) That dream may have been my response.

Everybody loves Mickey and Goofy and Pluto. Nobody (in my family circle anyway) gives much thought to its net impact on Florida’s environment and global culture. Professor Roeder had us read The Disney Version at Mizzou, maybe that’s the ultimate source of my unpleasant dream. If so, I should be grateful.

Well, I’m going to psych myself alright. I’m going to read me some Carl Hiaasen. Ready or not, Team Rodent, here we come. “Resistance is called for,” Carl says. It may be futile. But it’s active in my dreams.

“Never sit your life out”

June 26, 2012

Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989), so much more than a travel writer, was a cosmopolitan walker. He said:

“Change is the only thing worth living for. Never sit your life out at a desk. Ulcers and heart condition follow.”

He’s found his Boswell (or another one) in Rory Stewart, who’s written the introduction to a new edition of Songlines.

Most of human history was conducted through contacts, made at walking pace…the pilgrimages to Compostela in Spain…to the source of the Ganges, and wandering dervishes, sadhus, and friars, who approached God on foot. The Buddha meditated by walking, and Wordsworth composed sonnets while striding beside the Lakes. Bruce Chatwin concluded from all these things that we would think and live better, and be closer to our purpose as humans, if we moved continually on foot across the surface of the earth.

What Chatwin knew intuitively has been repeatedly confirmed. One recent study concluded that self-propelled motion in the open air, not in a gym or on a treadmill, “had a 50 percent greater positive effect on mental health than going to the gym… walking, running, biking and other outdoor activities through green space lowered stress.” Another links outdoor exercise to greater decreases in tension, confusion, anger and depression… just five minutes of exercise in a green space can improve mood and self-esteem.

And all of these outcomes correlate with greater philosophical insight and steadier daily productivity. Well, that’s the working hypothesis of the study I’ve embarked on this summer. Results await confirmation.

Just ride

June 25, 2012

I don’t often stay up after midnight reading things I don’t have to, but State of Wonder left me no choice last night. I read it in the pool, in the hammock, and finally in the house. I read it on paper, in pixels, on the iPod, on the Kindle, every which way. I had to finish it.

My fellow Nashvillian Ann Patchett is a wonderful storyteller. She didn’t make me want to go the Amazon jungle,  she made me feel like I’d been there already. And she made malaria fun.

She’s a wonderful bookseller too. Her Parnassus hosted an event yesterday for the cycling enthusiast & author of Just Ride: A Radically Practical Guide to Riding Your BikeGrant Petersen reminds us that a bike is a toy and we’re supposed to enjoy it. Don’t count the miles, he says. Count the minutes if you must; but it’s far better to count the days, if you want to make them really count.

“When you count a day, you check it off whether you ride five minutes or five hours. I rode my bike today! Count things that add up fast, come easy, and encourage you.”

The days aren’t all easy but they do keep coming (until they don’t). I’m much encouraged by Petersen’s simple message: forget the racer-wannabe culture of spandex and BORAF (the Big Old Race Around France) and, well, just ride. As I’ve said: for me philosophy walks, but it rolls too.

I believe in magic

June 23, 2012

I do believe, I do, I do! I believe in natural magic, the magic of reality. Don’t read Rowling without it.

…the magic of a thunderstorm over Grand Canyon, of the Milky Way on a cloudless night far from light pollution or of a scanning electron micrograph of an ant’s face. Or, for that matter, the magic of a lover’s kiss. Fairy-tale spells, miracles and myths — they make good stories. But the truth — science — is more magical, in the best and most thrilling sense of the word, than any myth or made-up miracle. Richard Dawkins

The magic even works in Kentucky.

Who knows what great magic may lie ahead, as reality unfolds? As Arthur C. Clarke put it,

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”


“It may be that our role on this planet is not to worship God–but to create him.”


“Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all.”

And finally:

“I am an optimist. Anyone interested in the future has to be otherwise he would simply shoot himself.”

Looking for magic

June 22, 2012

Time to fetch Older Daughter home from writing camp!

We took the liberty of cleaning her room a bit, in her absence. (There’s a first for everything.) Came across this interesting thought, worthy of Dumbledore, on her chalkboard:

The art of being wise

June 21, 2012

The summer reading list continues to grow, as it tends in June to do. Time still seems long. That’s an illusion, of course, but for now a nurturing one. So I’m going to add a couple more titles that came to me just yesterday.

First, to allay my guilt at spending more time browsing cheap old McKay’s than Ann Patchett’s rich new Parnassus, her State of Wonder. There’s a practical point to this one, for me, aside from its blurbed promise to be “perfect from first page to last.” It also addresses issues in bioethics, as I’ll be doing in the coming Spring semester. So this one’s class prep.

Second, speaking of the Amazon (and again, offending Independent Booksellers everywhere): all of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books have now been made available for free, for Amazon Prime members. Older Daughter’s long been pestering me to read them, so Sorcerer’s Stone [Philosopher’s Stone, it should be] now awaits my selective attention on the Kindle.

Plate’s full, I must stop visiting the buffet. James’s analogy in Principles of Psychology may be helpful:

As the art of reading (after a certain stage in one’s education) is the art of skipping, so the art of being wise is the art of knowing what to overlook. (Volume 2, “Reasoning”)

That applies to personal foibles as much as to books and reading, of course. We all have much to overlook.

The journey itself’s the thing

June 20, 2012

Then again, sometimes the best-laid plans are bested by circumstance.

My appointment with Carl Safina had to be re-scheduled, S decided to comandeer my Lazy Point (what I’m now calling the pool-hammock-glider zone out back) for an office party. I was to be elsewhere.

Younger Daughter took care of some of that, first summoning the Dad cab for a ride to the Pet Resort (Angel needed a makeover, apparently) and then to basketball camp. A couple more small errands, and then (why not?) McKay’s.

I still had a $20 credit in my wallet from the last time. It’s down to $4 now, and my summer reading stack is way up. Abbey’s Monkey Wrench Gang and Desert Solitaire, Abbott’s FlatlandLerner’s America as a Civilization, Ford’s American Short Story, a symphonic recording of baseball classics called Play Ball (including James Earl Jones’ rendition of “Casey at the Bat”)… and the big prize:

“The soul of a journey is liberty, perfect liberty, to think, feel, do just as one pleases. We go a journey chiefly to be free of all impediments and of all inconveniences; to leave ourselves behind, much more to get rid of others.”  Wm Hazlitt

“In these divine pleasures permitted to me of walks in the June night under the moon and stars, I can put my life as a fact before me and stand aloof from its honor and shame.” Emerson

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road, Healthy, free, the world before me, The long brown path before me leading me wherever I choose.” Whitman

“The longest journey begins with a single step, not with a turn of the ignition key. That’s the best thing about walking, the journey itself. It doesn’t much matter if you get where you’re going or not. You’ll get there anyway.” Edward Abbey

And that’s just from the jacket. A meander off the designated trail is perfectly in keeping with the Lazy Point mentality, a well-placed monkey wrench along my way. John McDermott always says “the nectar’s in the journey,” too. I’m getting there.

The infinitely healing dawn

June 19, 2012

The View from Lazy Point begins with a perfect pairing of epigraphs and gets better, so far, with every turn of page.

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon… Live in fragments no longer. Only connect. -E.M. Forster

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. That makes it hard to plan the day. -E.B. White

Saving the world means connecting the dots between ourselves and the world, and living whole (holistic) unfragmented lives of natural piety.

At this rate Carl Safina may be the most quotable marine biologist ever, or at least since Rachel Carson.

There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.

Safina insists from page one that “we are natural,” that being natural means being forever at risk, and that “the future is by no means doomed.” Wise up, homo sapiens, we can still save ourselves and our compadres on earth if we’ll just grasp that we’re all “facets of the same gemtone.” Like all good naturalists he respects and regenerates with the dawn. His June chapter concludes,

Even with so fine a start to today, imperfections are evident. I know this, though: this morning, full of such rich, deep, savage beauty… indicates that there remain on Earth some remnants of a long-lasting world, some yardstick.

It’s easy to see why the dawn near Lazy Point and Montauk, on Long Island, might inspire such confidence.

I’m planning the rest of my day around the savoring of the rest of this book. Then I’ll see what I can do about saving the world.