Organizing stuff in the barn always means finding things of Significance that have been hiding for years. Some of them connect to stories and Stories.
This one ended 60 years ago. The tall person was David Lyon, my Chadwick roommate in 1958-59, after which he went to Paris for two years (long story there), before returning to Chadwick for his senior year, which was my first year at Harvard. He’d just been accepted to Harvard himself when he died in a car accident. The old people in the photo are Commander and Mrs. Chadwick, the grandparents of the three at the back and great aunt/uncle to the rest. Mrs. C. was a huge presence in my Chadwick life.
Here we see Betsy’s sister Caroline and her first husband Steve Butterfield, in 1973. Shame it’s not color — Steve’s hair was a magnificent red. He worked for Bolt, Beranek, and Newman when the internet was being born, and was the first person we ever saw use email. When we were at Stanford in the 1979-1980 sabbatical, Steve was at Xerox PARC. He gave me a tour of the Future just when the personal computer was being invented…
Broot took this one in summer 1963, the young guitarist clipping fingernails.
And this is Larry Fredericks, taken sometime in the 1980s. He was a colleague/friend in the first few years at Acadia, an enthusiastic member of CPC/M-L (Communist Party of Canada, Marxist-Leninist). He had a marvelous International Harvester Scout, red in colour, which at one point he traded in for a bronze-hued Impala with electric windows. He took me for a ride on the Big Road, getting it up to 90 or so, and zipped the windows up and down… I said “Lar, what you got here is a Bronze Pig”. He thought that characterization was funny until I wrote a rather mocking song about it. I learned the power of music and lost a friend… but then one day maybe 10 years later he turned up… he was doing something in banking or was it stock-broking in Toronto, and had rented the white Cadillac convertible at the airport.
I note that I didn’t post anything to the blog in February and that it’s now past mid-March. So what have I been up to in that time? Most of my keeping track has been managed on yellow pads, but one of the most recent distractions was email from HR65 about our 55th Reunion, delayed 2 years because of COVID and now scheduled to take place in May, and do we want to register and attend? This sort of thing usually puts me into some sort of tailspin: I surprised myself by actually enjoying the 50th Reunion, back in 2015 (which seems another world entirely), but my ambivalence about Harvard is pretty close to the surface. The 55th is basically a day of ‘symposia’ (which means listening to erstwhile classmates talk about something, and tends toward the Grand Questions) with bits in between for “breakout sessions” that are supposed to evoke conversation. I run screaming, but ?why? … and I have an answer to that. Or maybe it’s an Answer. The question one is surely likely to be asked (if anybody asks anything) is “so what have you been doing?” and you get a few minutes to try to say something significant, memorable, fulfilling. Ugh. But imagining that socially discomfiting question did inspire me to try to sculpt an Answer (impossible to deliver/convey in the allotted few minutes, and to a complete stranger at that), if only to remind myself about what actually matters.
So here goes: at the core of what I’ve been doing in the 16 1/2 years since I retired and moved to Maine has been curation of a lifetime of enthusiasms, putting It All Together for myself and perhaps for some as-yet-unimagined audience. There’s a catalog of activities that span parts of that 16 1/2 years:
14 years in support of Alice (1925-2010) and Wick (1924-2019)
about 5 years being more involved with writing, much of it to keep track of thoughts re: Convivium Questions
and throughout, reading and buying books that bear upon enthusiasms
reorganizing the personal Libraries, a vast enterprise in negentropy
And of course playing at hypertext, working toward building a Lifebox.
Each of those is a saga of discoveries, far too complex for that elevator-pitch few minutes, and mediated by incoming periodicals and blog posts and books. In short, I’ve been enjoying my life day-to-day, no boredom or lack of things to do, and being pretty private about most of that, though it’s at oook.info for anybody to explore ad lib. I’m on the Periphery in almost every way, spatially and intellectually and practically, working at blamelessness. Self-absorbed covers it pretty well.
Has it really been a month since the last blog post? Of course lots of stuff in that time, books arriving and being wolfed down and at least partially digested, various end-of-year summings-up, and the plunge into 2022. Staying home, minimizing f2f encounters, watching It All Go Down.
Preparations for the weekly Convivium have supplanted blogging to some degree, and
tell the tale of my wandering attentions pretty well.
By way of paying attention to the world outside the many comforts of home, I’ve been following Heather Cox Richardson and Umair Haque, both sort of paywalled (or anyhow I’m not sure if hyperlinks to their posts on Substack and Medium are readily accessible), and both painting not-rosy pictures of what’s just around the corner.
…and then consult The Aleph (pdf), when you’re ready for the next thing… Hell of a ride. I’ve just ordered The Total Library : Non-Fiction, 1922-1986, so The Future Is Assured for the rest of January. And of course other things will appear, seemingly out of nowhere.
Days often begin with a meaty email message from John, always spiky with pithy observations, lively questions, pointers to interesting sources and resources. Following up on his links is just the beginning of the day’s fun, because there’s always a trickle of blog postings coming through as well (sometimes tucked away for later viewing, sometimes sucked right in, and maybe passed along to others), and often enough the various messages complement each other.
wood pellets marketed as “sustainably sourced biomass”
“…counting biomass as carbon-neutral…”
est. 60,000 acres of trees burned every year to supply the growing pellet market
…It takes between 40 and 100 years for a new tree to pay down the carbon debt racked up by logging and burning an old one…
supposedly “residue from the timber industry, made out of scraps and sawdust…”
but trees harvested in US and Canada to make pellets for export
supposedly “sustainably sourced forest thinning and low-grade wood”
“…if a government or private entity cuts down a forest but doesn’t redevelop the land, it has not officially engaged in deforestation”
no one has figured out how to capture and store enough carbon to make any difference
The problem is “the economy”, which is required to produce profits and reproduce itself, and which requires large energy inputs to do so…
The truth is that if the economy is not entirely remade, the debates over the folly of biomass, over what counts as renewable, over whether or not a tree can grow back faster than it burns —all of it will vanish into a great silence.
John goes on to note the Smugth with which he piloted a biodiesel car for a decade, shudders to think about other things done or considered, and observes:
I’ve been struck during the pandemic that everyone draws their own line of what is a reasonable precaution and what is an unwelcome intrusion, and there are people who staunchly defend their particular stance along the spectrum of public health (collective gain) vs personal liberty (and economic gain). The same spectrum is clearly in place on the environmental plane…and I see the mixture of cognitive dissonance and preachy self satisfaction at work in myself and in so many others.
…Mayer died in 2014. She continued to make work through the last decades of her life, but was largely left behind by the art world, a casualty of proliferating commercial galleries and a fervid market that had little use for her ephemeral works.
We live in a world where capitalist states and giant companies largely control science. (Just consider the moral insanity and capitalist logic of global vaccine apartheid.) Some of the biggest backers of technology to capture carbon and store it underground are oil companies like Exxon. Yes, we need to consider technologies with an open mind. That includes a frank assessment of how the interests of the powerful will shape how technologies develop.
A week or so I was wondering to myself ??What does one do when one recognizes that one is caught in a Contradiction? When one realizes personal implication in something that one deeply deplores? ?When one wishes to at least be consistent… ?? …which of course happens all the time, trivially and grandly. When one reads about water in the San Joaquin Valley and learns about the structure and depradations of the almond industry, is it thinkable to keep buying almond milk? And what about that 2 cord of wood we burn each winter, just how much better or worse is it than, say, propane in our wall heaters… and so on. Such thoughts are pretty small potatoes in comparison to the Big Delusions of our society and culture, our nation, our species…
the in-built addiction to Growth that underwrites pretty much everything we do, and that we have been pretty much constantly reminded of since The Limits to Growth (1974; 2004 30-year update), which I’m starting to re-examine.
A sense of the relevant is the ability to identify and detect those things that have consequences beyond themselves.
creativity is connecting things
spaces and linebreaks create poetic meaning
Photography is alright, if you don’t mind looking at the world from the point of view of a paralyzed Cyclops —for a split second (David Hockney)
models sanctified and celebrated by insiders can evolve into uncontested, lucrative, congealed monopolies/specialties/cartels/cults/disciplines —which in time become self-centered and selfish, more and more about themselves, and less and less about their original substantive content.
It’s interesting to trace a stream of morning activity, if only so that I might be able to get back to sources too briefly examined, and of course it’s useful to dip a toe into the slipstream of my Attention from time to time.
I’ve been reading Mark Arax The Dreamt Land: Chasing Water and Dust Across California, on the recommendation of Robert Glennon, and got wondering about all the concrete that went into the aqueducts, then recalled reading a New Yorker article about sand (May 22 2017) … which inevitably led to the google for other bits of the Tale of Sand. Here’s some of what I found:
In September 1945, the short story “The Aleph” was published in the Argentine journal “Sur”. It is written by Argentine writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges to narrate his fictionalized character’s experience as he saw the Aleph, a point in space where all points in the universe can be seen. Reprinted as the title work of Borges’ 1949 collection “The Aleph and Other Stories” … a matter of literary craftsmanship to explore “infinity”. With its varying theme, the literary piece argues that the universe is ineffable, time is inexorable, experiences shape perception and rationality. … According to the narrator, the Aleph is a “small iridescent sphere with unbearable brilliance” where all places on Earth can be seen from every angle without distortion or confusion, simultaneously.
…the Aleph or “Alef” is the Hebrew alphabet’s first letter and in Jewish Kabbalah, it is the “En Soph” that signifies the nameless being called “YHWH” who created the world.
In his first set theory article in 1874, Georg Cantor outlined that the Aleph is the representation of transfinite numbers.
…Aleph is a representation of how unpredictable, indescribable, and unconscious life can be for the human-animal as unseen forces move him/her.
And quite by chance a couple of links to our sort-of neighbor when we lived in Lexington VA, Sally Mann:
“What do you know about this business?” the King of Hearts asks Alice during the trial at the end of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. “Nothing,” she replies. “That’s very important,” responds the king. The scene continues: ” ‘Unimportant, of course, I meant,’ the king hastily said, and went on to himself in an undertone, ‘important—unimportant—unimportant—important—’ as if he were trying which word sounded best.
Some of the jury wrote it down “important” and some “unimportant.” Alice could see this, as she was near enough to look over their slates; “but it doesn’t matter a bit,” she thought to herself.
At this moment the king, who had been for some time busily writing in his notebook, cackled out, “Silence!” and read out from his book, “Rule forty-two: All persons more than a mile high to leave the court.”
Everybody looked at Alice.
“I’m not a mile high,” said Alice.
“You are,” said the king.
“Nearly two miles high,” added the queen.
“Well, I shan’t go, at any rate,” said Alice, “besides, that’s not a regular rule; you invented it just now.”
“It’s the oldest rule in the book,” said the king.
“Then it ought to be number one,” said Alice.
The king turned pale and shut his notebook hastily. “Consider your verdict,” he said to the jury in a low, trembling voice.
“No, no!” said the queen. “Sentence first—verdict afterward.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”
“Hold your tongue!” said the queen, turning purple.
“I won’t!” said Alice.
“Off with her head!” the queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
Every now and again I write out a metathoughts summary, for my own future edification. I’ve just finished reading Neal Stephenson’s Termination Shock, which is more or less a speculative fiction take on geoengineering, and have of course been considering the Crises of the era/moment: epidemiological, ecological , climatological, technical, existential, politico-economical, socio-cultural, psychological and so on, the whole litany of -als … which are of course also dynamical, continuing to evolve, and with which we mess at our Peril. But one does wonder about the notion of Fixability.
The basic problem is that there’s nowhere to stick the Lever to alter one parameter without implicating other parameters: everything is joined in, only sometimes simply and obviously—more commonly, indirectly and even mysteriously. And even if one has some such Lever, let alone a place to stand, or a fulcrum…
So you have what we observe as this mysteriously organized Realiity, with vast numbers of internal connections whose dynamics are only imperfectly understood, through which course energy and information. One’s brain is a local manifestation of this architecture of Reality, and there are now billions of [human] brains in operation; but that operation is not upon independent billions, though the mapping of their interconnections and contingencies would be very complex indeed. And there are surely modalities of exchange amongst those brains [and the brains of many more billions of no-longer-extant individuals, not to mention other sentients…] besides the sight-and-sound that are readily perceived.
The Mechanism is … exquisite. And it’s more organic than simply mechanical levers and circuits. The animation is Life, which comes down finally to the processing, the allocation, of Energy, ultimately (?) stellar in origin. But what is it all for? Amusement of the gods, if gods there be?
The User’s Manual for that Reality is continuously edited, mostly in the direction of greater complexity of what we understand (as opposed to simplification).
And what I’m doing these days is spelunking in that grand territory, poking my nose into various corners of that land/thoughtscape to see and hear and touch what there is to be learned, just for the sake of learning’s pleasure and joy. What a gift, and opportunity, to live therein.
Never too far away is the “and so … what?” question, part of the idea that one might have Responsibilities, in the direction of what to do with that learning, beyond the pleasures of basking in it. If I do, I have no idea how to meet or discharge those Responsibilities, and presently find it satisfying to ignore them, or think of them as discharged in years of teaching [which were more years of learning] and librarianship. Am I writing a book? No. Though the 12 Blurb books are surely products of some of my explorations, and my pile of yellow pads tracks the last 3 years or so of adventures.
And a lot of work (reading, writing, cogitation) on Convivium questions centered on memory.
There’s a Project just taking shape to make better sense of the welter of books on language, linguistics, lexicons, lexicography. That will probably enliven July, and necessitates a reorganization of the Auxiliary Library in the barn. And of course the piles of books on divers subjects grow and totter, delightfully.
And 25-30 miles a week of St. George peninsula roadside trash continues to be picked up on an almost daily basis (well over 140,000 cigarette butts in the four years since we started counting).
We are 20 years into a brave new century.
Remember when 2000 rolled over and we all thought there weren’t gonna be enough digits to keep the internet from crashing? So much history has rolled by, over and around us . . .affecting each of us in a myriad of ways.
What has the impact of these years been on you and your inner life?
How might you be a different person from the one who saw in that new century with all the zeros?
So I went to my shelf of journals and found the volume that includes 2000 and read through that year and into 2001, and so I have data to help me note some ways in which I am
a different person
grandparent retiree photographer again last of a sibling set yogi
avid Appalachian Trail hiker (we finished the 11-year odyssey of day hikes in 2003) GIS (Geographic Information Systems) Evangelist in the role of Librarian and Professor engaged with liberal arts colleges working on Global Studies/Stewardship entangled with digital library initiatives
recognizably the same
omnivorous quester bibliophile cyberspace participant hypertext author foodie walker æsthete [in a good way…] collector heathen musician watcher from the sidelines Mocker [Ringo’s answer when asked if he was a Mod or a Rocker]
Yes, folks, for 20 years it’s been ODTAA (One Damned Thing After Another). Some things I discovered in the journal entries: few of the films I watched 20 years ago are memorable (most left no trace); I noted lots of boring meetings; lots of travel; lots of (less boring) task-focused meetings; lots of consultations, many leading to Web documents; a wide variety of courses and workshops taught; schemes to change the World around me hatched; weekends on the Appalachian Trail, lots of driving north and south from Lexington VA to trailheads. It was a very full and satisfying life, and so is its 2021 successor.
An early morning riffle through this week’s New Yorker produces a marvelous collision of Americas. The first is a two-page spread advertisement for Sensei Lānaʻi, a “Four Seasons Resort” which proposes “Elevating Wellness into Wellbeing”:
This is the single most offensive ad I’ve encountered so far this year, and maybe ever. You owe yourself a close reading of the text:
I then turned a couple of pages to arrive at The Talk of the Town, the lead piece of which is Adam Gopnik’s “Fault Lines” which begins
Readers of “Through the Looking-Glass” may recall the plight of the Bread-and-Butterfly, which, as the Gnat explains to Alice, can live only on weak tea with cream in it. “Supposing it couldn’t find any?” Alice asks. “Then it would die, of course,” the Gnat answers. “That must happen very often,” Alice reflects. “It always happens,” the Gnat admits dolefully.
Gopnik goes on to consider America’s current crisis of democracy, and says
The default condition of humankind, traced across thousands of years of history, is some sort of autocracy.
…Keeping a republic is a matter not of preserving it like pickles but of working it like dough—which sounds like something you’d serve alongside very weak tea. But it is the essential diet to feed our democracy if we are to make what always happens, for a little while longer, happily unhappen.
What a juxtaposition: the utter crass ME-ness of Larry Ellison’s Lānaʻi (“Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison bought 98% of the island of Lanai in 2012 for an estimated $300 million…”) with Gopnik’s rendition of our current slide toward the “default condition of humankind.” But Gopnik tells only a part of the story, which includes Lewis Carroll’s discription of the fatal anatomy of the Bread-and-Butterfly:
its wings are thin slices of bread-and-butter, its body is a crust, and its head is a lump of sugar.
Thus, if the Bread-and-Butterfly did find its weak tea with cream, it would die as its head dissolved; if it didn’t find its weak tea with cream, it would starve. The Bread-and-Butterfly is, as Gregory Bateson noted, a classic example of the Double Bind:
the essence of a double bind is two conflicting demands, each on a different logical level, neither of which can be ignored or escaped. This leaves the subject torn both ways, so that whichever demand he or she tries to meet, the other demand cannot be met. “I must do it, but I can’t do it” is a typical description of the double-bind experience.
Hobson’s Choice is another common trope, in which the Choice is between something and nothing. Both are all too present in today’s world.
sustained by belief, ritual, and sacrifice and relies upon the devotion of a group of people, from a small coven to an entire nation, for its existence. An egregore that receives enough sustenance can take on a life of its own, becoming an independent deity with powers its believers can use to further their own spiritual advancement and material desires… provides instructions on how to identify egregores, free yourself from a parasitic and destructive collective entity, and destroy an egregore, should the need arise. Revealing how egregores form the foundation of nearly all human interactions, the author shows how egregores have moved into popular culture and media–underscoring the importance of intense selectivity in the information we accept and the ways we perceive the world and our place in it. (from the Amazon precis)
How very like the ‘Trumpism’ that seems to stalk the land and contribute to that “current crisis of democracy.”