Archive for the ‘morning’ Category

Rising in freedom

March 28, 2013

It’s an exam day, so I’m free to think and talk about whatever I please this morning. In fact, my family’s on Spring Break this week (half of them at the beach), so I’ve been free to alter daily routines in all kinds of ways. Coulda slept in an hour this morning. But I and my dawn habit chose otherwise.

FreeThe Existentialists warn us against the “bad faith” of supposing our freedom merely occasional and intermittent. Like Phil Connors, we’re always free to pound the alarm into submission.

(Thanks for the .gif of endless repetition, Quinlan.) We don’t have to get up, go to work or school, give or take that “miserable” exam James said good students should care less about, the night before.

Then again, freedom really does become dreadfully burdensome when it drives us to subvert our own larger goals and aspirations. Sleeping in and skipping out might feel free today, but how will it feel in six weeks when you get that disappointing course grade? Or in six years, when you still don’t have that degree?

No, when my alarm rings I find it far more constructive to side with the pragmatic defenders of habit, routine, repetition, and the illusion of  personal compulsion. I do “have to” get up, because I’ve already made the choice to live well and be at least as happy as Sisyphus. Existence precedes essence, sure. But who wants only to exist? We want to flourish.

And also, of course, because body clocks are harder to pound into submission than digital alarms.

Spring Break dawns

March 11, 2013

It’s always good to come home, even after the best of trips. Better still, coming home to Spring Break. Yesterday topped 70 here, on a day I began in the cold and misty dark, scraping heavy frost from the windows of my rented Malibu near the sea in Jersey. The drive to Philly was easy, the company of my Michigan friends was a delight. (Navigating the Philly airport is another story.) But a direct two hour flight and another time change had me home safe and sound before noon. Hauled out the hammock later and yielded to its charms.

Today, rain. But as Jimmy says, holiday’s more a state of mind than of the weather. Take it when and how you can. Pace Santayana, it’s ok to be “hopelessly in love with Spring”-just don’t take “Spring” too literally. I do try to love all the changing seasons, but this is the change I really seem to need most.

So, though I failed to fulfill my best intentions this morning by not sleeping in another hour, Up@dawn will take a break too. My ambitious goals this week: stay in bed past dawn’s early light at least once,  and don’t post here again until the green beer’s gone.

Happy Spring!

The morning question

March 4, 2013

No new Bioethics cases from Glenn McGee today, we’re patiently working our way through midterm report presentations. Good opportunity to step back and ponder larger questions. Life. The Universe. Everything.

Well, what about life? [Don’t ask Marvin.] What obliges us to preserve, protect, and defend it? Komron’s report on physician-assisted suicide muddies the question. It seems the very least  a conscientious healer can do for some patients, in loyalty to life, is help them terminate an untenable and intolerable existence. Not to help, in those toughest cases, is to harm.

What’s wrong with misanthropy? Isn’t it the most rational stance, given our history? Why shouldn’t we notice and deplore and finally renounce all the collective harm we do to our planet and other species, and decide (with Vincent) that we  really ought to pull the plug on ourselves?

Hard questions. But at this hour, my answer is always clear: it’s morning, the life at hand is all I’ve got for sure, there stands a day before me: what good shall I try to do today? That’s what Ben Franklin called The Morning Question. The fate of whatever life may lie ahead, we dawn philosophers presume, hangs in the balance of how we all respond. “The days are gods,” is how Emerson said that.

(We’re free willists too, I suppose it goes without saying. “I will posit life (the real, the good) in the self-governing resistance of the ego to the world. Life shall be built in doing and suffering and creating ,” confided young Willy James to his former diary of despair. Then he got up and began to live.)

The really vital question for us all is, What is this world going to be? What is life eventually to make of itself?” Nearly forty years on James still didn’t know The Answer, and neither do I. But pragmatic philosophers feel the greatest tug from ahead, urging us forward, already depending on us to make something good of this day.

Finish each day

February 22, 2013

I’d read a lot of Emerson over the years and never come across this piece of practical wisdom in precisely this formulation, before Maria Popova passed it along from Jon Winokur’s Advice to Writers yesterday: “Finish each day before you begin the next, and interpose a solid wall of sleep between the two.”

Here’s the more common version, brought nearly to life:

Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

Whichever way The Sage really said it, I do try always to rise fresh and ready. My sleep rarely interposes as solid or lasting a wall as I’d like, but the spirit of daily renewal in anticipation of another good day’s work is what the dawn’s all about for me too, and for melioristic pragmatists in general.

So, and despite a detour to the doc’s office with Younger Daughter yesterday, I’m back at it today with “new dawnings” for the impending American Philosophy conference. The symposiasts at my session won’t find me a hard sell, I was already sure there’s a pragmatic line running from Emerson and Thoreau through Rorty and Putnam and Cavell. And Lincoln. [“What Would Lincoln Do?”] And beyond.

Sometimes, when preparing to gather with colleagues in a professional setting, it’s tempting to think you must speak and communicate with such clarity as to remove all possibility of being misunderstood. But that, Emerson knew, is an impossible bar to clear.

Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

And to be merely competent is also to be misunderstood. To be human is to make mistakes. Big deal.  I like to remind myself, before traveling to meet my peers, of what James said about our fallibility in Will to Believe:

Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf. At any rate, it seems the fittest thing for the empiricist philosopher.

So I’ll just keep on rising before the dawn of day, catching a few reflections, committing a few errors, and occasionally glancing out and up for inspiration. One more insight, Mr. Emerson? “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”

Plugged in again, ready to greet the dawn

January 7, 2013

Ah yes, 5 am. It all comes blearily back, calm and bright. Or with bright aspirations, at least.

Two weeks unplugged, without a post or tweet or email (if you sent me one and need a reply, please re-send: I’m resolved to be friends again with the “delete” key). It felt like freedom.

I’m reassured that I can quit this medium at will, when I want to.  Have done it many times, in fact, like the proverbial serial ex-smoker. So I choose to assert my free will by believing I’m no internet addict. The unwired world is still there, I can still find my way back to our ancestral reality-based community of now-frequently-missing information. And what a great place to visit.

In fact, though, it’s a bit unsettling to realize how quickly a constructive habitual daily routine can be undone. I’ve been lounging abed ’til my first glimmering awareness of the dawn, every day of this holiday break, and have been shocked (though only briefly) by my own lassitude. Will is a tenuous construction.

But it’s over now, the girls are back in school today and I’m back at my desk in the dim light of a lovely pre-dawn crescent moon.

And it’s good to be here, to snag whatever reflections may happen to break my way in 2013. Not going to force it, and I’m even resolved to sit some days in “radio” silence, unplugged again, with only an open file and ruled notebook for company.

But I’m ready. Alive, alert, awake, enthusiastic, calm, caffeinated, seeking more light.

Dusting off the early-rising machine

August 13, 2012

Made a point of getting to bed slightly earlier last night, soon after the zany last act of London 2012. This morning was a semi-dress rehearsal for tomorrow’s start of High & Middle School. Have to get up & leave the house earlier each school-day, no more sleeping in ’til 6:30 or 7, no more leisurely (’til the coffee’s gone) glider sessions  out back. Must wake up to reality.

So, I was out here in time for this morning’s 6:06 sunrise.  It’s a cool 69 degrees, I still have more than half a Grande’s worth of caffeine to sip on, and (unlike tomorrow) I don’t have to be in the Big House at this hour rallying the troops to a 7 am departure. You really don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s almost gone.

John Muir, my latest object of biographical fascination, is a good source to cite this morning. In The Story of My Boyhood he recounts the episode in which his stern and pious father gave him permission to rise early, rather than stay up late. This was in the 19th century, of course, so young John had to try and rouse himself without benefit of a clock radio or other “mechanical servitor” (in Thoreau’s phrase) if he was to jump-start the dawn.

…next morning to my joyful surprise I awoke before father called me… I sprang out of bed as if called by a trumpet blast, enormously eager to see how much time I had won; it was only one o’clock. I had gained five hours, almost half a day!”Five hours to myself!” I said. “Five huge, solid hours! I can hardly think of any other event in my life, any discovery I ever made that gave birth to joy so transportingly glorious as the possession of these five frosty hours!

So what did he do with that glorious bonus time, over the ensuing weeks? Built himself an “Early-rising Machine.” It was the first of many ingenious Muir creations, including  “a desk in which the books I had to study were arranged in order at the beginning of each term.” I really could use one of those.

But I already have an Early-rising machine. It’s a little rusty, but if it still works I’ll use it tomorrow. At five. And tomorrow, and tomorrow…

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.

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.

All I’m saying

May 2, 2012

This will be very brief, I really must get on with my stack of grading. But for the record:

This was the first pre-dawn of the season warm enough (71) to entice me straight from bed out into the darkness. Here I sit on my Little House porch, in the exquisite wooden glider my wonderful spouse recently surprised me with, surrounded by birdsong, as the sun finally begins poking over the hedge.

I love the feeling of summer, even when it is premature and probably a harbinger of anthropogenic planetary disequilibrium. That’s all I’m saying this morning.

“up again, old heart”

January 3, 2012

So it’s 2012, and today’s a school-day. “Up again, old heart”: time to gather some fresh experience, to summon what Winifred Gallagher has called “the old-fashioned quality of grit,” which

may be a better predictor of real-world performance. Attention’s mechanics ensure that when you lock on your objective, you enhance that aspiration and suppress things which compete with it, which helps you to stay focused.

How quickly reliable habits and routines withdraw, when we relax our grit and unlock our focus. This morning I locked on the objective of escaping those seductive flannel sheets before dawn’s early light. Mission difficult, but accomplished – and immediately rewarded with the pleasure of a still and peaceful world all to myself for a few delicious pre-dawn minutes. Must do it again tomorrow, and tomorrow. The pace only becomes petty when those minutes are taken for granted or forgotten. Must not misplace that precious ticket again.

In life’s best moments we wake up.