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Category Archives: philosophy

Letter of Resignation

Letter of Resignation
(On my third reading of Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse)

 
Vasudeva,
Is it really necessary
We live in this hut together?

Isn’t it enough
I gave you my clothes
For the privilege of tending oar?

Can I only find myself
In the eternal now of the river
Always flowing, but never the same?

Must I sit under that tree
For an entire week to find myself?
After a week, I should have found my navel by now.

Must I sit there to
Defeat my demons? Afterall, they are
At my heels no matter where I happen to be.

The lotus
Grows from mud, I know,
But I want a bath and clean soft towels.

Why can’t I find myself
In a club somewhere,
Meditating in the beat and the groove?

What about the
Constant flow of people and machines,
The never-ending now of the ever-changing traffic?

Why can’t I
Subdue my demons
Over a great meal or between olive thighs?

I resign.
Besides, Vasudeva,
You snore horribly.

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2016 in Culture, philosophy, psychology, Religion

 

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In Response to William James and “The Will to Believe”

 

Sometimes one leaf
Will wave, oscillate.
A perfect repetition
again and again.
A dancing leaf machine,
Just the right shape,
Weight, tilt and wind—
Bent back by breeze,
Pulled forward by the
Spring of the stem
Twisted tight,
Bent back by breeze,
Twisted tight again—
Leaf and breeze in
Harmonious twist
And spring, twist
And spring, twist
And spring.

That can go on
As long as the breeze
Remains constant.
External forces,
Internal reactions,
Cause and effect.

Sometimes just one,
One leaf in an entire tree,
Waves. I imagine
It looks at the others
hanging still, and wonders
Why it is the only one
That has chosen to dance.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2016 in philosophy, Poetry

 

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State of Being

Verbs are words that show a state of being—present, past, future. Transient or continuous. When we use the verb “was/were,” we mean something that has passed. It happened in the past. It is done. It is over. When we use the verb “is/are” we speak of something that is present. Something that exists now, current. An action that is going on right now. This moment.

For the purpose of my question, tense is not important. Past participle, continuous, perfect—none of these important to my question. What is important are simple tenses. Past and present.  

And so I ask, why do we say someone is dead?

We can say someone is alive. To be alive is a continuous state. Continuous, until it ends, either abruptly, or slowly, slowly over a period of time. Suddenly, or counting down, day, day, day. One hand. A few fingers. Done. Present becomes past very easily.

Someone is alive. Then they are not alive. But they are not dead. If we insist on using present tense we should say something that is an actual ongoing state. Something that is active. Her body is in the ground. She is decomposing. Her ashes are disappearing into the snowy stream.

Death is not an active state. It is not something someone does. It is the end of doing. She is alive. She is laughing. She is loving. She is healing. She is holding your hand, raising children. She is putting her feet on the dashboard on a long ride, talking, laughing, singing.  Under your hand, her leg is warm.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2016 in Culture, Family, philosophy, psychology, Social

 

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Halfway Through March

When I woke this morning, I was afraid I could not write. I felt it was gone. It, whatever that is, felt absent. But during the day’s discussion, in the three minutes between classes, in moments during planning, the topic of poets came up. I found the poem “We Bring Democracy To The Fish,” by Donald Hall. Don’t blame me for the way the title is capitalized – blame Donald. Anyway, he was Laureate until that poem was published. Then he was Poet Non Grata. He and the Dixie Chicks hung out together looking for work.

Distressed Haiku had this line: “I finished with April/halfway through March.”  His wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, had died in the month of April, 1995. That line. That one line. I have said that myself, nearly word for word. And I was writing again. But would I ever write of anything else?

I ask that, yet I have. I have. But, time and time again, I return to it. Why? Because one doesn’t go on. One doesn’t heal. One continues, with the wound. With the weight. One may be happy, one may be loved, and one may be content, one may have a wonderful life. I certainly do. But that is still there, because it is part of our lives. For those in this “club we’re in that I wouldn’t wish anyone to belong to,” as a friend of mine put it, one doesn’t go back to the old way of being, but creates a new normal around the space.

Everything is made of space. So, I guess, I’m still writing about everything. I guess.

 

Halfway Through March

It is second period.
I have been discussing
Poetry with Mr. Wolf.
Poets, appreciated but
Never paid well,
Never paid attention to,
Paid heed, respected,
Honored, yes: the Poets Laureate
Paid, at first, in wine.
Chaucer paid in
Gallons of wine.

Name bridges after them,
Put up markers roadside,
Have them inaugurate
The president, but don’t
Pay them enough to
Leave their teaching posts
So they can develop
Their craft without
Daily worries of bills due.

The discussion moved to
Donald Hall. One year only
He held his post.
He published
“We Bring Democracy To The Fish.”
So long and thanks for all that.

But now it is period three,
Donald Hall is in my brain,
So I am reading.
Students working,
Teacher reading, because
I can barely think
Anything else.

I didn’t know
He lost his wife.
Twenty-six years,
Cancer comes and
She goes.

I had always pictured him
Alone. Solitary, New Hampshire
Snow. Writing.

But he wrote of
Her leaving and
What was left,
He wondered if he
Would ever write of
Anything else.
Here, listen to his
Distressed Haiku:
“Will Hall ever write
lines that do anything
but whine and complain?”

Here is the Universal.
Here is the experience
Of the creative. Of those
Who take everything
Of their lives, of their
Surroundings,
Turn it into something

To understand.
Make the internal life
External, visible, palpable.
Make something with
No hands reach out,
Shake you, shock you,
Leave you thinking,
Understanding what you
Did not understand before.

Make the solitary
The common experience.
Remind me
I’m not the only one.

 
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Posted by on January 7, 2016 in Books, Culture, Education, philosophy, Poetry, psychology

 

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My Messy Desk

Einstein had a messy desk. Behind the messy desk were messy bookshelves with piles of reports, journals, and loose papers. A study published in the September 2013 issue of Psychological Sciences suggests, strongly, that a clean and tidy desk, or office space, leaves one doing socially acceptable things, having normative ideas, and, for want of a better set of terms, doing the right things, thinking the right things, and behaving. Those who worked in, or, in this case, filled out a form in, a messy room, with a messy desk, had less normative ideas, made more creative connections and reported being willing to try things much much further afield. They didn’t see the need to do the right things, think the right things or behave as expected.

I may never clean my desk. It does not make me smart. It doesn’t make me a creative genius. I may clean my desk. It does not make me dumb. It doesn’t make me dull. But the messier side of life is about being indicative of webs of connections. Not graphs. Not charts. Webs of ideas, concepts, facts, which may seem unrelated but later are pulled together to solve a mystery, a problem, a puzzle no straight lines or charts could solve and shine light upon an answer no single beam could illuminate.

It is why one needs to learn things that are of no immediate use. Of no seeming use at all. Because the more of those things we know, the more errata we have, the more connections can be made, the greater our potential for creativity. Connecting things no one had thought to connect in ways no one had before seen. That is how the unsolvable becomes solved. That is how the unanswerable becomes answered. That is the creative process.

That is the gift of a broad liberal education – one of curiosity and not direction. It is why America was a creative powerhouse. Losing that is why we no longer are. It now costs too much to be curious. It doesn’t result in a job. And we all lose.

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2015 in Culture, Education, philosophy, psychology, Social

 

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Seven Questions for Adam: An Interview by Craig Smith

Seven Questions for Adam: An Interview by Craig Smith.

 

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Varieties of Religious Experience

A drive. Arlene next to me, my hand on her knee. On the radio, I have playing the overture from Jesus Christ Superstar. It has stopped raining.

We are driving south on US1, between Rockledge and Eau Gallie. One would think, from the names, these places would be much more interesting, more exotic than they are. Rock Ledge to Rocky Waters. US1 here is all a limestone ridge along the Indian River, a one hundred and twenty-one mile brackish sound, much of it shallow enough to walk across, separate from the ocean by a spit of land in some places as narrow as a quarter mile. It is a beautiful river though, with very little in the way of buildings to break the view, and often this is a beautiful drive.

Today it is gray. The wipers take the mist off the windshield. We talk about seeing plays, about Hair and Godspell, ideas for the future, and all the while, the river to the left.

A faint rainbow was in the sky when we left her house. Now, it is a bright bridge in the sky, and arc of refraction that spans the river. We look. Arlene loves rainbows. And clouds. And simple things and never tires of natural beauty, never taking the world for granted, and she looks at the rainbow from clear end to clear end and smiles. She smiles. She smiles and nearly I forget the rainbow.

How rare to see the rainbow’s end, and how rare to see both, and so solid, so bright, so manifest I am sure we could start at one side and walk over it to the other, look down upon the river from atop the rainbow bridge, through the light, see the world and the water in the full prismatic array of the visible light spectrum, sit, sit, and watch the clouds drift through as we lie upon the light.

The perfect arc. Then, as we watch, a vine of lightning appears, spreads, grows, center to sides, seemingly slowly, filling the color encased space with bright branches.

Who else saw this? Arlene. I. Anyone else? Probably. Maybe not. But it was not, then was, then was not again. There is no proof. Just memory. And beauty. An engram deep and quiet and I, I fortunate to have it. I need no photograph. I was there. It was perfect. It was glorious. It was beyond what can be beauty and it was shared.

Once, on a morning walk, I saw a meteorite. The memory lies next to the rainbow.

A brief, bright exclamation burned above the earth.

Celestial arc-lamp.

Below, predawn sirens,
Traffic noise,
My own padding feet.

Ineffable
Transient
Passive
Noetic

William James wrote, in his 1902 collection of his lectures at the University of Edinburgh, Varieties of Religious Experience, that there are four hallmarks of religious experiences. They are ineffable, in that they are too great for words and cannot be described even though we may try. We may do our best in prose, poetry, paint, but we know we have not come close. They are noetic, in that they bring us to insight and contain truth, though we may be unable to speak what that truth is, we can feel it present. They are transient, in that they come and are gone. They do not last and cannot be captured. They are passive. We cannot control them. We cannot bring them on or replicate them. They seem a gift and we are powerless in the presence of them.

And, as such, this rainbow, and the sharing of it. This rainbow and lightning and the experience of it, is, in essence, an experience religious. I cannot do it justice in words, I feel the truth therein—it exists in my memory and in the memory of a shared moment and, in its time and space, I was powerless. I could experience it only and neither bring it, hold it, describe it nor own it in any way other than as a feeling, a memory and a truth.

But the religious experience need not be brought by only the extra-ordinary. There is spirit and beauty in the ordinary if we only pay attention. There is the mystical in the mundane.

Out of the freezer
Saved for iced coffee
Poured from a glass mug
Into a blender,
Add milk, sugar, cocoa
Put on the top and
Press the button.

Done
Top off and vessel lifted
Above the mug
Poised to pour,
Halt.
Stop, cease, stunned,
Beauty.

Crystals,
Icicles, horizontal,
Circumference to center
Fill the mug.

Glorious
Ephemeral
Evanescent

Pick up the mug
In awe of the
Quick miracle
Gaze transfixed,
Frozen pitcher raised.

Place the mug
On the counter
Instantly,
Crystals rain
Into the coffee film below,

I must write this.

How many miracles
Unnoticed,
Unappreciated,
Unknown.

How much beauty
Surrounding
Never seen,
Waiting,
Existing,
Gone.

It takes little convincing most people that coffee can be a religious experience.

Especially if it makes Arlene smile.

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 30, 2014 in Nature, philosophy, Religion

 

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The Wheaton Test Or What I Need to Know About You Before the Second Date: With an Amendment Three Years Later Regarding how Completely Wrong I Was and a Further Amendment One Year Later that I was Not

Amendment
02/22/18

I wasn’t wrong.

Sometimes love alone isn’t enough.

Some people are set in their ways. Some people don’t fit. It doesn’t matter if it is one, or the other, or both, she, I, or us.

I think, in the end, I was sold a bill-of-goods. But it wasn’t she who did the selling – it was me. I sold myself on a dream, on a life I could have. This is on me.

I told my son, never feel badly about being a fool for love. If you are a fool for anything, let it be for love. And love her, I do.

Sometimes love alone isn’t enough.

Amendment
12/26/2016

There is a picture on my bedside table that was not there yesterday morning. It is a picture of a gloriously beautiful woman, sky and sea behind her, smiling. It is in a frame of gilt and funk and sparkle and it makes me smile nearly as much as the beauty in the photograph. It was a present from Arlene for Chanukah. And it is perfect.

Beside me, as I write this, is another picture, a drawing, actually, by Brian Andreas. We were in a gallery in Charleston, South Carolina. She was looking at Christmas ornaments, hand-blown globes, from Glass Eye Studios in Seattle. Each globe, multicolored, swirling, translucent, reflective, unique, blown with ash from Mount St. Helens. And she was going to buy one. The problem was that I had already gotten it for her, months earlier, in Tacoma at the Museum of Glass.

There they were, something I knew she’d want, right next to something I didn’t think I’d see anywhere but online or in a book. She recognized Andreas and how much I liked his work, how much it made sense to me, and asked me to walk away while she looked through them. I did, and visited with the gallery owner.

“I hate to ask this, but, she is looking at something I already got her as a surprise. So, please don’t let her buy an ornament.”To not sell something is not the best thing to ask a shop-owner. He listened kindly, I explained, he smiled.

That ornament, made with ash from deep within the heart to the Earth, from the heart that is the birth of all hearts, the hearth that is the mother of all hearths, is hanging from her tree. And I am looking at the print now.the-edge

They came to sit & dangle their feet off the edge of the world & after awhile they forgot everything but the good & true things they would do someday.

She had picked one of my favorites. Just like that. I picked what she would have gotten, she picked what i would have. We knew.

It has been three years and a few months since I wrote The Wheaton Test. And here is what I’m telling you – I was wrong. Wrong wrong. Not just a little wrong. Utterly wrong. Not fun-sized snack wrong. Elephant wrong. Blue whale wrong. The Earth is flat wrong. The kind of wrong that can leave one wondering if brains actually have any use if, after all, they can be that dreadfully wrong.

Here is what I wrote to Wil.

Good evening and happy Thanksgiving to you! I’m writing because I wanted to say that three and a half years after The Wheaton Test was published it is: 1) One of my most hit posts, 2) my most shared post, 3) is used on dating sites, if seems, as a litmus test and, most important of all 4) terribly and completely wrong and I am engaged (a few months now) to that very same young lady. What I’d have missed out on if I had taken my own advice! So, thank you. The ride would not have been quite as interesting otherwise. Blessing Always.

The reply was short and simple. “:-)”

Three years and then some. I have memories of my granddaughter, Sadie, at a year and a half old, sitting on the hearth (notice how close hearth is to heart?) of Arlene’s fireplace Christmas morning after a sleepover night so my kids could go out and have fun. Videos of her opening presents from her. Pictures of Sadie with Arlene’s kids, G!G! And Jules. Memories of wonderful moments on the beach, shared rainbows, amazing concerts. Memories of helping her eldest set off for college. And Arlene’s smile. Always that smile. And memories of kindnesses – kindness unsurpassed in any person I have ever met. I never thought I’d have new memories, domestic memories, memories with other than my own children, that would be important to me again. And here they are.

So, while she does now know who Wil Wheaton is, I know it also doesn’t really matter. I know, now, that, if we know something, we are often surprised others don’t. The knowledge we carry we feel is common. If we know something about quantum physics, we somehow feel it is not abstract, not uncommon. The same is true for literature, or popular music, or TV shows. Anything. Knowledge. Skill.  We can’t imagine others don’t know, can’t do, what we know and do.

So I was wrong. Or, rather, she was right. I draw that distinction because she is, to my recollection, nearly always so. When she tells me something, I may not get it right away (I am slow, I think), but given a bit to sink in, there is that moment of realization that she is correct. Now, even if I don’t get it, even if I immediately disagree, I won’t discount anything she says. Instead, I sit with it, let it sink in, roll around, because I know, given an hour, or a day, it will dawn on me not only that is is correct, but how as well. All I need to do is wait.

And wait with her I’ll gladly do. I will sit with her at the edge of the world and dangle my feet over, over into the nothingness, until all is forgotten but that which is good and that which is true.

All. Even Wil.

*****

Original Post
August 3rd, 2013

Sitting with a young lady, I was, at a Japanese restaurant. The kind where they cook the food at a table in front of you and you sit with people you don’t know and the chef makes noise banging salt shakers and scrapers and juggling shrimp and squirts saki in great arcs into the mouths of gulping diners. The kind that leaves one waiting an hour. But this time, we waited nearly two and a half. It gave us plenty of time to talk. Or try to. It didn’t go so well.

I tried physics.  No good. She tried current movies. No dice. I tried Eastern philosophy. No way. She tried popular music. No go. I mentioned Facebook. AHA!  Yes, we both knew Facebook, of course.

“Did you see the video today of a mother asking Wil Wheaton to give her infant daughter a pep talk? It was brilliant.”

“Who?”

Uh oh!  “Wil Wheaton?  You don’t know who Wil Wheaton is? You know, sort of like Nerd King.”

“Oh, nerd is a label. I don’t like labels.”

“Well, labels make it a bit easier to talk. You know, like saying mayonnaise instead of that stuff made with eggs, and going on to list all the ingredients. Agreed upon meanings.  As long as a label isn’t used as a pejorative.”

“What’s a pejorative?”

Uh oh! “Wil Wheaton. You know, Star Trek The Next Generation.”

“I never saw it.”

“But most people know who Wil Wheaton is.”

“I bet most people don’t. Go ahead. Ask.” She looked around us. Plenty of people to ask, for sure.

I did. Ten out of ten asked didn’t know.  I shook my head.  “Well, most likely, they wouldn’t be my friends.  She looked at me. It must have been the sight of my foot so tightly lodged in my mouth that did it.

I texted my friends. They did. They knew. Every one of them. She did the same. They didn’t. Every one of them.

We tried talking some more, once I dragged my foot from my gullet. But anything I wanted to talk about, I had to build background, step by step, first. That would have been fine, except she made it clear she didn’t care about any of it by saying, “I don’t care about that.”

Dinner was interesting. Nice young lady. We sat in her car and didn’t talk.

The next day, walking home from my office, I wrote these rules.

Over hot dogs at Mustard’s Last Stand, we edited them.

Craig put them on a poster.

Someone tweeted them.

Wil Wheaton got a hold of it. He posted it on his blog. “This is wonderful and I’m honoured to be included.”

It was shared and reblogged over a thousand times in less than two hours.

“Using this for all future relationships.” And “This. This and a thousand times this.” And “This is SACRED. Never Mind The Bible.”

“I’m well-beyond my second date, but I’m adopting this anyway. If not for my partner, just to make sure *I’m* following it.”

“I’m not sure if I would say all of these things about myself because I know myself. I know my insecurities. But I would like to be like this and I would like to think I’m at least a little like this. Maybe someday I’ll find someone to work through the little things and we can both appreciate the crazy, stupid, and amazingness of the world together.”

“The Wheaton Test is now one of my favorite things.” “Fabulous.” “This is perfect. Absolutely perfect.”

“These are like all the things I wish I could have conveyed but didn’t know how.” “This is beautiful!” “YES. All of this. All of it.”

And on.

Enjoy.

Use it in good health.

PS. What else did I write, other than this poster?  So glad you asked. Look on my blog (above) under books or look here.

The Wheaton Test. Or,  What I Need to Know About You Before the Second Date.

What else did I write, other than this poster?  So glad you asked. Look on my blog (above) under books or look here.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2013 in Culture, philosophy, Poster, Social

 

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My fourth book is out and you must buy it. Songs from the Well: A Memoir of Love and Grief

An author must practice promotion. And be utterly shameless about it. In this case, it is easy.

Songs from the Well: A Memoir of Love and Grief.   Out in time for Lee, my wife’s (I cannot use the word “late”) birthday.

From Amazon: Songs from the Well is a memoir, selected from the author’s writings and told in essays and poetry, of the author’s life with his wife, Lee, through her diagnosis with brain cancer and death five months later, to the aftermath of dealing with his grief and facing a life without her.

100% the profits go to the local charity, Cancer Care Center of Brevard Foundation. They do not do research or anything alike that and have no administrative costs. All the money goes to pay for things those in treatment and their families can’t afford due to their treatment. Like water bills. Gas to get to appointments.Rent.Like that.Please please help us raise fund and help those who have gone through this process, but think they are alone.  So buy the book and share this link.

Or just scan the QR below with your phone and it will go right to the correct page.

We can celebrate her birthday with her by reading her stories. By celebrating her. And helping those who helped her when she needed it the most. And, frankly, if you don’t want to read it, buy it anyway. It is $4.95.

It is an ebook. It can be read on a Kindle, or on an iPhone or Android phone with a free Kindle app or on any PC with the free Kindle program or on Amazon with their CloudReader. If it goes well, we’ll do a paperback edition as well, but, for now, ebook was the way to go to raise the funds.

Don’t want to read it? Fine. it is $4.95. Download it into nothing. let is spend it electrons into the free air. But buy it. The idea is to raise money for the Foundation in Lee’s name. And as much as we can by her birthday, 4/22.

And we got it out in time for her birthday. I want to see how much we can raise for them and how far we can get this.

Please buy one, share this, send it out, whatever we can do to help refill their coffers and remember her birthday.

Thanks.

Scan the QR to buy the book! 100% of the profits go to charity.

Scan the QR to buy the book! 100% of the profits go to charity.

 
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Posted by on April 16, 2013 in Books, Family, philosophy, Poetry, Suicide, Writing

 

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Kiss me, I’m a poet!

Celebrate National Poetry Month

Celebrate National Poetry Month

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2013 in Books, philosophy, Poetry

 
 
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