Wednesday, February 22, 2017

From My Reading, 2/22/17

I started, but never finished, reading George Orwell's 1984 in high school. Eventually I will get back to it, but I am glad now that I read this first. 

From Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley:

"But why is it prohibited?" asked the Savage. In the excitement of meeting a man who had read Shakespeare he had momentarily forgotten everything else. 

The Controller shrugged his shoulders. "Because it's old; that's the chief reason. We haven't any use for old things here."

"Even when they're beautiful?"

"Particularly when they're beautiful. Beauty's attractive, and we don't want people to be attracted by old things. We want them to like the new ones."

A little later in the conversation, the Controller explains why none of the new things written can be like "Othello":

"Because our world is not the same as Othello's world. You can't make flivvers without steel--and you can't make tragedies without social instability. The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get. They're well off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age; they're plagued with no mothers or fathers; they've got no wives, or children, or lovers to feel strongly about; they're so conditioned that they practically can't help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there's soma. Which you go and chuck out of the window in the name of liberty, Mr. Savage. Liberty!" He laughed. "Expecting Deltas to know what liberty is! And now expecting them to understand Othello! My good boy!"

The Savage was silent for a little. "All the same," he insisted obstinately, "Othello's good, Othello's better than those feelies."

"Of course it is," the Controller agreed. "But that's the price we have to pay for stability. You've got to choose between happiness and what people used to call high art. We've sacrificed the high art. We have the feelies and the scent organ instead."

"But they don't mean anything." 

"They mean themselves; they mean a lot of agreeable sensations to the audience."

"But they're...they're told by an idiot."

"The Controller laughed. "You're not being very polite to your friend, Mr. Watson. One of our most distinguished Emotional Engineers..."

"But he's right," said Helmholtz gloomily. "Because it is idiotic. Writing when there's nothing to say..."

"Precisely. But that requires the most enormous ingenuity. You're making flivvers out of the absolute minimum of steel--works of art out of practically nothing but pure sensation."

The Savage shook his head. "It all seems to me quite horrible."

"Of course it does. Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the overcompensations for misery. And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability. And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt. Happiness is never grand."

*     *     *

More and more I find myself wondering what we are buying, and buying into. How normal it seems in this corner of the world to expect and demand comfort and ease. How natural it seems to be to allow oneself to behave and be treated as first and foremost a consumer. How often I hear people confusing education with job-training. Does it raise a fight in you, the way it does me?

*     *     *

My other offering today, something old and beautiful. Spent, I suppose. But look:

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

"Help us to eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors"

My friend Carrol shared this prayer from the The Book of Common Prayer on social media last week. I have decided to share it in turn in the form of a postcard to my representatives, along with a personal message to each on the back. Something felt important about doing this by hand, and the repetition of the words and the patterns around them. Lingering on all of it. These are words that need hearing, and attending to.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Elision," Rock & Sling 11.2

My poem, "Elision," is included in the current (11.2) issue of Rock & Sling. I received my contributors' copies recently, and they are beautiful. What an honor to have my work included. This issue does not seem to be available yet through their online store, but I can share the link with anyone who is interested when it does become available.

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

From My Reading, 2/11/17

from Man's Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy, by Viktor E. Frankl:

We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.

*     *     *

I have been taking my reading extra-seriously these days. There was a time when I was younger that I let myself believe I did not have room to read "for pleasure." It took crisis to realize that reading was not, in fact, a luxury, but food for my heart and mind. I made the decision that there was room in my life for books more than twenty years ago, and sure there are lean times, but I no longer have qualms about calling reading essential. Through the years you might have been able to find me reading while nursing babies, while knitting, while stirring pots of things-that-need-constant-stirring on the stove. Sometimes my head drops into the book on my pillow at night before I've read even a page, and sometimes these days I have trouble keeping the book propped open well enough to read on the treadmill. It does not matter, though; I am finding nourishment, even if it is in tiny bits. Plus, I get to meet the most amazing people through their books. Last week I got to know Viktor Frankl, and while I was familiar with some of his ideas, I needed to hear them more deeply.  Things like the passage above. And like this:

I consider it a dangerous misconception of mental hygiene to assume that what man needs in the first place is equilibrium or, as it is called in biology, "homeostasis," i.e., a tensionless state. What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task. What he needs is not the discharge of tension at any cost but the call of a potential meaning waiting to be fulfilled by him.

I was also stunned by passages like this one:

For as soon as we have used an opportunity and have actualized a potential meaning, we have done so once and for all. We have rescued it into the past wherein it has been safely delivered and deposited. In the past, nothing is irretrievably lost, but rather, on the contrary, everything is irrevocably stored and treasured. To be sure, people tend to see only the stubble fields of transitoriness but overlook and forget the full granaries of the past into which they have brought the harvest of their lives: the deeds done, the loves loved, and last but not least, the sufferings they have gone through with courage and dignity.

There is poetry in there, don't you think? And maybe enough strength for the day?

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