McEwan’s thinking machine

June 21, 2017

Ian McEwan, reflecting on the experience of writing pre- and post-computing, reminds me of those primitive grad school days and nights when they chained us to typewriters and ordered us to churn out proof of our worthiness every three days, for nearly two weeks. The idea was either to kill us (i.e., cull us from the program) or make us stronger for the next hurdle, the Ph.D. I still like writing longhand, and sometimes feel nostalgic for my old Selectric. But McEwan is right, this is more like thinking… less pressure to get it right the first time, more opportunity to play with possibilities.

When asked how his writing process has changed with the onset of technology, McEwan answered: “In the seventies I used to work in the bedroom of my flat at a little table. I worked in longhand with a fountain pen. I’d type out a draft, mark up the typescript, type it out again. Once I paid a professional to type a final draft, but I felt I was missing things I would have changed if I had done it myself. In the mid-eighties I was a grateful convert to computers. Word processing is more intimate, more like thinking itself. In retrospect, the typewriter seems a gross mechanical obstruction. I like the provisional nature of unprinted material held in the computer’s memory — like an unspoken thought. I like the way sentences or passages can be endlessly reworked, and the way this faithful machine remembers all your little jottings and messages to yourself. Until, of course, it sulks and crashes.” WA

Right. Sometimes the machine sulks and crashes, but more often it’s the operator.

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RT @MichaelSimsBook: A brilliant book that surprised on every page, although I know Darwin well: DARWIN’S SACRED CAUSE. https://t.co/rrkbKScE0L

June 21, 2017

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If you want to be happy, https://t.co/LG7p0ppu9Z

June 20, 2017

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I’ve just posted on my Blog about: Morning air & communion https://t.co/60mvcXlC6f

June 20, 2017

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Morning air & communion

June 20, 2017

Speaking of air, which was again lovely and chill this morning – actually had to don a jacket for our dawn stroll – Henry had it just right: “…let me have a draught of undiluted morning air. Morning air! If men will not drink of this at the fountainhead of the day, why, then, we must even bottle up some and sell it in the shops, for the benefit of those who have lost their subscription ticket to morning time in this world.” We inebriates of air can’t stop feeling a bit superior to those who sleep away their only shot at the fountainhead.

The other lingering feeling I continued to enjoy this morning, in the backwash of another pleasant Fathers’ Day, is that of paternal pride and sentiment. On that holiday in 2001, our girls  presented me with a shirt upon which they had imprinted their hand- and footprints. Sixteen years later, an update (with supplemental pawprints):

The sentiment is gratitude, for their persistence (this being the year they each graduated, from college and high school, respectively) and their grace. I was an @home dad when that first shirt arrived, and I will always look back on those charmed days in the company of our joyous and inquisitive children as the very best of times. As I’ve noted before, in echo of one of my favorite essayists, “daily companionship with a questioning child is a reminder of what intelligence is for–not, ultimately, for dominion, but for communion.” 
Yes, that form of communion I’ll always happily take. Why do I dote on my dogs? Practice, for the next time I’m graced with the steady company of a questioning child. 
In the spirit of communion, then, this slightly-tardy recognition of Fathers Day in the form of an 1895 letter from William James to his little girl Peggy. It reminds me of the picture book-inspired conversations I used to have with my little girls.
El Paso, Colo.Aug. 8, 1895.
Sweetest of Living Pegs,—Your letter made glad my heart the day before yesterday, and I marveled to see what an improvement had come over your handwriting in the short space of six weeks. “Orphly” and “ofly” are good ways to spell “awfully,” too. I went up a high mountain yesterday and saw all the kingdoms of the world spread out before me, on the illimitable prairie which looked like a map. The sky glowed and made the earth look like a stained-glass window. The mountains are bright red. All the flowers and plants are different from those at home. There is an immense mastiff in my house here. I think that even you would like him, he is so tender and gentle and mild, although fully as big as a calf. His ears and face are black, his eyes are yellow, his paws are magnificent, his tail keeps wagging all the time, and he makes on me the impression of an angel hid in a cloud. He longs to do good.
I must now go and hear two other men lecture. Many kisses, also to Tweedy, from your ever loving,
Dad.

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Time marches on. 16 years later, bigger hands & paws. https://t.co/iKOJCuG3PS

June 19, 2017

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Jack and The Kid-the remarkable story of a lifelong Cardinals fan. #Resilience #gratitude https://t.co/8Yl4kaz5IK

June 17, 2017

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An “inebriate of air” (Emily Dickinson’s phrase) is no lush or pessimist. #podcast https://t.co/1uMmgId58P

June 16, 2017

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June 16, 2017

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Inebriates of air

June 16, 2017
Here’s an antidote to radical pessimism: reaffirmation of the will, as articulated by Robert Richardson in his 2010 talk at the William James Society’s gathering in Chocorua, New Hampshire.
Will You or Won’t You Have It So?” is our “most probing question,” James said. “We answer by consents or non-consents and not by words.” Consent isn’t just talk, it’s volitional action drawn by the vision of something better than the status quo, by refusal to surrender to fate. Richardson finds great inspiration in James’s imploring challenge to teachers, as urgent now as ever:

Spinoza long ago wrote in his Ethics that anything that a man can avoid under the notion that it is bad he may also avoid under the notion that something else is good. He who habitually acts sub specie mali, under the negative notion, the notion of the bad, is called a slave by Spinoza. To him who acts habitually under the notion of good he gives the name of freeman. See to it now, I beg you, that you make freemen of your pupils by habituating them to act, whenever possible, under the notion of a good. Get them habitually to tell the truth, not so much through showing them the wickedness of lying as by arousing their enthusiasm for honor and veracity. Wean them from their native cruelty by imparting to them some of your own positive sympathy with an animal’s inner springs of joy. And, in the lessons which you may be legally obliged to conduct upon the bad effects of alcohol, lay less stress than the books do on the drunkard’s stomach, kidneys, nerves, and social miseries, and more on the blessings of having an organism kept in lifelong possession of its full youthful elasticity by a sweet, sound blood, to which stimulants and narcotics are unknown, and to which the morning sun and air and dew will daily come as sufficiently powerful intoxicants.

And then, to illustrate, Richardson tosses off an allusion to Emily Dickinson that speaks directly to the peripatetic soul. The aspect of good that draws us walkers and cyclers out into the open and rejuvenating air of morning, day after day, is an intoxicant without painful residue. It leaves us better than we were, un-hungover, moving forward. An “inebriate of air” is positively addicted, happily dependent, and free. There’s nothing wrong with leaning on the sun.

I taste a liquor never brewedI taste a liquor never brewed –
From Tankards scooped in Pearl –
Not all the Frankfort Berries
Yield such an Alcohol!
Inebriate of air – am I –
And Debauchee of Dew –
Reeling – thro’ endless summer days –
From inns of molten Blue – 
When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door –
When Butterflies – renounce their “drams” –
I shall but drink the more!
Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats –
And Saints – to windows run –
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the – Sun!
Emily Dickinson, 1830 – 1886

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