Back from Ecotopia, bicycling Mecca, mythic Portlandia, genial host for this year’s American Philosophy (SAAP) conference. It was wonderful being there, as I’ll relate anon.
A year ago at this time it was great being in Florida with Older Daughter for Spring Training.
It was wonderful being here and in lovely La Vergne TN yesterday for Younger Daughter’s first softball “scrimmage” of the season (I really resent the creep of football lingo into our game, Coach, please call it an exhibition) and her first dinger over the centerfield fence, against an outstanding new pitcher. A moment we’ve been waiting for all winter!
But therein lies a philosophical knot I need to tug. Being in the moment, and being happy to be there, is what my mentor John Lachs calls immediacy. Waiting for a moment, anticipating it, wishing and longing for it, may pull us away from countless potential moments of immediacy nearer to hand. It may also warm a cold winter’s night, though, and bring a different kind of immediacy – the immediacy of expectation and hope.
This question of how to balance a quest for personal immediacy with a sense of responsibility to the future has teased me for a long time. I don’t think it’s detracted from my enjoyment of the present, but rather has linked many presents and brought the future close. It’s been one of the streams I fish in, a tributary of the great Transcendentalist river Thoreau and Emerson paddled.
Isn’t the future an inscrutable abstraction? Well, futurity may be. But living and breathing future humans are concrete possibilities, dependent largely on us until doomsday dooms us all. My mentor Lachs has always understood that, acting with tireless solicitude for the students he saw as tangible emissaries of the future, visiting us here in what will become (barring that rumored imminent doomsday) their past.
Balancing immediacy and futurity would then seem to be a matter of sensing where we are, in the present, with regard to past and future. John McPhee’s Bill Bradley had that sense on the basketball court for Princeton, as chronicled by John McPhee (it’s his birthday) in his first book A Sense of Where You Are (1965) and revisited by Dreyfus and Kelly in All Things Shining (2011), one of my bargain snags at Portland’s magnificent City of Books, Powell’s. It’s a special quality of attention to what’s going on right now, that sets up smart choices going forward. Shoot, pass, or dribble? Doing the right thing next depends on how well we attend to what’s happening now. Immediacy with a shot-clock: great metaphor! And what great inspiration for writers and scholars, to grasp the ultimate payoff of so many separate moments strung together:
McPhee has published more than 25 books, even though he rarely writes more than 500 words a day. He once tried tying himself to a chair to force himself to write more, but it didn’t work. He said, “People say to me, ‘Oh, you’re so prolific.’ God, it doesn’t feel like it — nothing like it. But, you know, you put an ounce in a bucket each day, you get a quart.” WA
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