Archive for the ‘autobiography’ Category

Of a feather

May 30, 2013

specbirdsThe truest vision of life I know is that bird in the Venerable Bede that flutters from the dark into a lighted  hall, and after a while flutters out again into the dark… It is something — it can be everything — to have found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while the drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below… one who will patch your bruises and straighten your ruffled feathers and mourn over your hurts when you fly into something you can’t handle.

Those near-closing lines from the great Wallace Stegner’s Spectator Bird were inscribed on a small scroll for attendees at a wedding to take home and ponder, twenty years ago this afternoon. Good words. To my fellow bird: happy anniversary.

Adding voices

May 29, 2013

Late to the starting gate today. We were out celebrating our anniversary, and taxiing the girls back from the multiplex (“Ironman” thumbs down, “Gatsby” just ok). And it’s summertime, the living is supposed to be easy. Spent much of yesterday putting up the pool, with “Porgy & Bess” for company. Today I’ll blow up the floats and soon we’ll all be adrift, like Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate.

lunchboxStill thinking about milestones, endings and beginnings. One of the more nutritive things I packed into Older Daughter’s graduation lunchbox, along with many other words of unsolicited advice from many voices (and with a bag of goldfish and a Hershey bar, just because a lunchbox ought to have something at least barely edible in it) was Ann Patchett’s little book of commencement wisdom, What Now? It’s based on her Sarah Lawrence  speech a few years back.

Sometimes not having any idea where we’re going works out better than we could possibly have imagined.

If you’re trying to find out what’s coming next, turn off everything you own that has an OFF switch and listen.

…our future is open, we may well do more than anyone expected of us, at every point in our development we are still striving to grow.

Sarah Lawrence is Ann’s alma mater, so part of her rumination is on the value of coming home.

Coming back is the thing that enables you to see how all the dots in your life are connected, how one decision leads you another, how one twist of fate, good or bad, brings you to a door that later takes you to another door, which aided by several detours–long hallways and unforeseen stairwells–eventually puts you in the place you are now.

Back to those voices: my favorite part of What Now? is Patchett’s “secret,” no secret to us pragmatic pluralists (and isn’t that a nice image of the walker’s dilemma, on the cover? More on that later):

The secret is to keep adding voices, adding ideas, and moving things around as you put together your life. If you’re lucky, putting together your life is a annpatchett_whatnowprocess that will last through every single day you’re alive.

And sometimes putting together your life just involves putting together your pool.


Butterfly in the sky

May 28, 2013

It’s the first unofficial day of summer, with no one to drop at school or (as yesterday) the airport, so I didn’t bother scheduling the harp to prompt my pre-dawn rising. Got up anyway, thanks to long habit and loud birds. Feels virtuous.

backpack2We’re till in the afterglow of Older Daughter’s official launch from High School on Sunday afternoon. Big party tent’s still up and so is my sentimental mood.  The commemorative slideshow Mom labored long and lovingly to assemble, with its time-lapse of 13 annual “first days,” has me strolling memory lane. Oh the places we went, back before graduating pre-school. Those were some happy walks.

And then there were all those flights of armchair adventure. One of our first songs not from the Pooh songbook was the Reading Rainbow theme: “I can go anywhere…”

Gave OlderStorytime with Emma Daughter a Seuss lunchbox filled with non-comestible stuff to chew on, including some advice to the aspiring writer. Best advice ever, of course, is “Read read read…”

But as the genial host always said, you don’t have to take my word for it. Reading’s still fundamental, we’re still born ceaselessly into the past. Follow the green light, Colbert, and read the book.

Crucial complementary advice, if you really want to free your imagination and go places: take a reading/writing break. Take a hike.


May 27, 2013

Most of a walker’s milestones are unremarkable and unremarked. Yesterday Older Daughter took a short walk across a tented stage and passed a big one: High School. She graduated with distinction, accomplishment, praise, and promise. Congrats, lucky class of ’13!

And now, in a few fleeting summer weeks, she gets to head out and do it again. Four more years, if her path is straight and clear, to her next short walk milestone and a college degree. Oh the places she’ll go!

And there’s Younger Daughter, stepping up to take her place in the procession right behind. If the stars align we’ll be celebrating a pair of graduations in 2017. May we all remember, between now and then, to savor the journey.

Screen Free

May 2, 2013

It was the last day of class, before finals. We squeezed in a slew of reports in Bioethics: Tim’s on fracking (as a public health issue), Jacob’s on a legislator’s idiotic proposal to eliminate peer review as a criterion of federal funding for science, William’s on justice, fairness, & equality, Joshua’s on the misplaced pursuit (not possession) of happiness, Nick’s on the culture of violence (arguably our greatest public health issue), Mike’s on live organ donation, and Caleb’s on hyperparenting. They were all timed and terrific, occasionally even TED-like in their crisp clock-awareness. (I confess I enjoy ringing the bell.) I think I learned something yesterday.


But the big news is from Bell Buckle: Older Daughter smashed a triple over the center fielder’s head (and darn near over the fence) to drive in the tying run late in the game, and then scored the go-ahead. Her team won! They’re in the regionals, playing tomorrow in Donelson. Go Tigers!!

And, coincidentally: it’s “Screen Free Week“… perfect time for me to unplug and get busy grading. Maybe squeeze in a ballgame too, and try to be more like Dan Yaccarino’s free-range robot Doug,”who unplugs himself from his daily download of information to go out and explore the world.” Later.

A universe not made for us

April 27, 2013

Raining, but it won’t rain us out today. They moved Older Daughter’s final regular-season game up to Friday afternoon, anticipating today’s deluge, and she celebrated Senior Day with a couple of key hits in a decisive 12-2 win. (I know the score, they made me scorekeeper.)

Following Younger Daughter’s big game-tying  hit and game-winning run on Thursday, after her Tigers rallied from a huge deficit against arch-rival Ensworth, it made for a very satisfying conclusion to the Spring softball season.

A happy ending, for sure. Meaningful too?

Well, it meant a lot to those of us who were there, who cared. Could there be any deeper or more cosmic meaning to our happiness?

It may be too big a question for a rainy Saturday morning. We’ll take it up next Fall in The Philosophy of Happiness, with questions like:

 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.

Meanwhile, Carl Sagan says “if we crave some cosmic purpose, then let us find ourselves a worthy goal.”

Beating St. Cecelia and Ensworth were worthy goals. But, what do we really want?


Take me out to the… prom?

April 13, 2013

Walked past Vandy’s Hawkins Field yesterday and noticed that they’d be hosting my undergrad alma mater Mizzou this weekend. Didn’t make it out last night, Older Daughter’s softball doubleheader in Columbia (on the other side of a soul-destroying traffic jam on I-65) had us out too late.  Arrived at last, as the sun lowered over Zion’s bucolic country ballpark carved out of the cornfields as in Field of Dreams. We weren’t in time for her near-homer in the first game (reported by Uncle D.) but did get to enjoy her pair of  crushed line drives & ribbies in the second.

She’s too hard on herself, though, later recapping the action by recalling instead a pair of inconsequential Ks against a tough pitcher. We must all continually learn and recall the lessons of positive psychology, and as parents (& teachers) we must continually teach them. We write our own narratives, let’s not bury the happy leads.

So, Commies & Tigers this afternoon maybe? But I’m told the senior prom, which in my day involved parents only minimally and grudgingly, would likely monopolize our afternoon and early evening. Have to see the kids, all gussied up in their formal-wear, get formally “presented.”

Oh well. Wasn’t really sure who I was going to root for at The Hawk anyway. I know who I’m rooting for at the prom.


March 2, 2013

Snow! It doesn’t take much to impress a middle Tennessean, even a transplanted midwesterner who always makes fun of the natives who freak out  and line up for grocery staples, cancel school and skip appointments and scotch travel plans etc. The light dusting we woke to this morning has turned drab late winter pretty, briefly, transforming roofs and limbs and moods. It’ll probably be gone by noon.

What kinda “gone” we talkin’ about? asks one of the songs Younger Daughter’s been inflicting, on the first leg of our daily commute. It’s a good question. Gone from the ground isn’t gone from memory and anticipation. Let it melt, we can begin looking forward to its next rare appearance all the sooner.

I’ve still been studying Lincoln, in anticipation of the American Philosophy conference soon to come. “Now he belongs to the ages,” famously proclaimed his War Secretary. That’s another kind of gone, lamentable but also more comforting than oblivion.

I’ve also been encouraged by my spouse to think about the possibility of our being gone for good from our family homestead of nearly seventeen years, in part because Older Daughter’s about to be gone (to college) and because other changes may also be in store. I admit I do like the place out near Temple Road she found yesterday. But the thought of being permanently gone from my beloved little cave out back, glistening this morning under a fresh coat of white, makes me sad. This particular residence would come with a bigger and better detached retreat-house than mine, but…

“Detached” is a clue to the quality of this kind of regret. We become attached to our places, to our particular plots of earth. It’s hard to think of going, let alone packing and moving.

So I won’t, this morning. Spring Training’s in full sway now. There’s another kind of gone my inner child loves without qualification or regret, the kind that always ends in coming home. “It’s a goner!

Idle dreaming

March 1, 2013

Heard the harp this morning, on the heels of a strange and intricate dream involving a visit with Eric Idle at his English country estate, which was somehow laid out on a pattern based on his Galaxy Song [2012].

I don’t usually place much stock in dreams but this one was fairly vivid. But, a quick search turns up nothing about an English estate. He lives in LA. His auto-biography  is interesting, though.

Not sure that was worth getting up to report. Now for something completely different…

More good midterm reports yesterday, from Evan on Performance Enhancing Drugs in sports, Celecita on happiness, Sean on Batman the fatalist-deontologist, and Andrew on free will. All helped me think more about how to respond to the implied (yet good-natured) misanthropy of Vincent’s report the day before, the one he introduced with this image:

save planet

I’ll bet she’s fun at a party.

It’s true enough that too many people tread the earth too heavily, and that we’d all be better off with a lighter collective footprint. If we’re talking about culling the excess, I have a list of names I’d like to start with. Many live (part-time) and “work” in the District of Columbia.  I don’t think they’ll report voluntarily to Vincent’s euthanasia chamber. (Captain Kirk explained the trouble with those back in the future of my childhood.)

But much as we’re a problem, we humans are also the only likely bearers of a solution in sight. If saving the planet means exterminating the humans, count me out. I love horses and whales but I’m finally still a humanist, maybe even a bit of a speciesist. I think we can do better.

[Einstein was a humanist. But so is Seth MacFarlane, named Harvard’s Humanist of the Year in 2011. He’s behind Neil Tyson’s new Cosmos, too. Guess there’s more to him than vulgar bears and stupid boob songs.]

I’ve always assumed that choosing to “do better” implied a robust affirmation of free will, and I still think my own motivational psychology requires something like that. But Andrew gave the best succinct answer I’ve heard to the classic pragmatic question on this interminably insoluble issue: What practical difference does  it make to any of us, whether we possess free will or not?

The difference is one of focus: instead of appealing to each individual to do better, to pull him- or herself up by his or her own moral bootstraps, an enlightened-but-determined society would concentrate its efforts on improving the psycho-social-material environment. With better “inputs,” Andrew said, we’ll all do better.

I agree. Let’s not “throw the moral business overboard,” in William James’s memorable phrase. Let’s not give up on one another.

“A little piece of a big big universe”

February 23, 2013

It was another of those charmed winter days in the south: reports of a blizzard back in my native midwest were countered here with just enough sunny warmth to take my Vandy library research (Kloppenberg’s Reading Obama and Putnam’s Philosophy in an Age of Scienceoutdoors.

vulibyThe library did not cater to its patrons as it does now, back when I was in grad school. The kids don’t know how good they’ve got it, with their cafe and patio seating and solar charging stations et al. Most of them don’t know because they don’t patronize their library at all. But never mind. I don’t need to channel Spencer Tracy again.

An even warmer and more welcoming sign of early Spring: Younger Daughter back in the (softball) game, on Peabody Green breaking in the new cleats she insisted we pick up at SportSeasons on our way to school at noon. (She’d had a morning career-day “internship” at the neighborhood vet clinic, still intending to follow in Grandpa’s steps despite a few queasy moments reading X-rays she won’t want me to elaborate here.)

VU’s baseball team, just across the way at Hawkins Field, was about to hit the pitch too, at 4. I’d have tried to persuade YD to join me there for a few innings, if it’d been just a few degrees warmer. But the sun was finally in retreat, and baseball’s really not a winter sport even by our standards.

Older Daughter was off practicing softball too, at the remote River Campus, before taking in the Predators hockey game with her boyfriend. To each her own.

Since Mom was also away last night we were left again to fend for ourselves. Pizza and what movie? YD’s default proposal was yet another screening of The Simpsons Movie, but I insisted on another selection. Hitchcock? Maybe next time. Beasts of the Southern Wild, we decided.

I’m still processing my reaction to that disturbing, fantastic tale of mythic critters making their way from  melting prehistoric polar ice to a Louisiana “bathtub” to befriend the most incredibly tough and wise little girl ever. YD thought it a terribly sad story, but I think she’s missing the life-affirming aspect of a strong, precocious young lady imagining “kids in school in a million years,” and  “scientists of the future” someday discovering clear traces of a long-gone girl and her daddy.

I sure hope she wins.