Blur Circle

Steve Yost's weblog

July 26, 2002
Isolated in our castles

Steve Himmer commented "The American Dream is to buy a big house and build a fence around it, and the more isolated you become the more successful you are.", in response to my dolorous post about a lack of a good social circle.

Last night I read in The Spirit of Zen by Alan Watts an interior version of the same:

Briefly, [Buddha's] doctrine is that man suffers because of his craving to possess and keep for ever things which are essentially impermanent. Chief among these things is his own person, for this is his means of isolating himself from the rest of life, his castle into which he can retreat and from which he can assert himself against external forces. He believes that this fortified and isolated position is the best means of obtaining happiness; it enables him to fight against change, to strive to keep pleasing things for himself, to shut out suffering and to shape circumstances as he wills. In short, it is his means of resisting life.
Joe's bemusement with the question "what religion are you" reminded me of an interview with Martin Prechtel I read in The Sun magazine (April 2001), where he talks about the Tzutujil language of Santiago Atitlan:
...the Tuzutujil language...has no verb to be. Tzutuil is a language of carrying and belonging, not a language of being. Without to be, there's no sense of this or that...One cannot say, "She is a mother", for instance. In Tzutujil, you can only call someone a mother by saying whose mother she is, whom she belongs to... In a culture with the verb to be, one is always concerned with identity. To determine who you are, you must also determine who you are not. In a culture based on belonging, however, you must bond with others. You are defined by where you stand and whom you stand with.
How interesting that these threads weave together, and even to my surprise mention a Guatemalan community.


July 25, 2002

Yesterday I spoke on the phone with my parents, as I do almost daily since my father started with the hospice program following his heart attack. We usually talk about daily things, but we know we talk just to connect. We reserve the direct expressions of love like fine wine, to be tasted occasionally.

My dad was a robust, active man until a few months ago, but he has a serene acceptance of what his body is doing now and that he could die any time. His grounding is in a deep and long-tempered faith. Decanting, I told my dad yesterday what an inspiration his attitude was. My mother -- by his side all day every day now, which must be just as trying in some ways -- told me that someone recently asked how he was and he responded: "The real me is fine."

Who Says Words with My Mouth?

All day I think about it,
then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and
what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere,
I'm sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.

This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I'll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I'm like a bird from another continent,
sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear
who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?

Who looks out with my eyes?
What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn't come here of my own accord,
and I can't leave that way.
Whoever brought me here
will have to take me home.

This poetry.
I never know what I'm going to say.
I don't plan it.
When I'm outside the saying of it,
I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.

-- Version by Coleman Barks
"The Essential Rumi"
Castle Books, 1997

July 24, 2002
Nondescript terrain

After the brain-cleansing vacation, I'm having trouble getting identified enough with anything to blog about it. I'm just working, practicing the piano, and rowing.

Oh, and entertaining ideas with Marielle about picking up everything and moving to Guatemala or somewhere in Europe, facing down and trampling over a creeping sense of stagnation. I'm reminded of my "I need a tribe" post as we discuss how hard it is to establish and keep social connections that we really value here. She remembers her Belgian upbringing and her young experiences in Spain and Italy, where people socialized seemingly effortlessly. Is it New England or the US in general that's the problem? Is southern Europe still as she remembers it, or has it gotten caught up just as much in lifesap-sucking commerce?

I'm wondering if these idealized beings exist, who have time to sincerely chat with you, reciprocate dinner invitations, have good manners, eat healthily, are well-traveled and worldly-wise, and aren't materialistic. And don't drive SUVs or live in McMansions. You, know, perfect. But not too perfect. A little rough around the edges. Creative and arty and outdoor-loving. Ethnically diverse. From many socio-economic spheres. And not too much better than me at too many things.

Tell me "yes, it's really like that here! What are you waiting for?". And even better if it's right here (cf. Rumi, In Baghdad, Dreaming of Cairo: In Cairo, Dreaming of Baghdad). But of course it's right here, in blogland. But really, come on. This glowing text only goes so far. Too bad you all can't meet us at the cafe.

I guess the above is inspired by Jeneane's question about "the payoff" and Halley, who lives in my town (and fer crying out loud I've never sent her email) and like so many others is going through "stuff", but also by Paul Perry, who definitely has a life (no kids, apparently), and Joe Mahoney, who seems to have a damn fun life for someone with three kids, even when he does have a real job.


July 22, 2002
Kurt says it well

Kurt Brobeck's lucid thoughts float over the din, coming in unexpectedly clearly like a small AM radio signal bouncing off the stratosphere from another part of the world.

Empty head => full head

Just returned from a week of vacation. It's been the first vacation I can remember where our explicit goal was not to have any particular goals. Just lots of being together, sleeping late, beach and pool, afternoon naps, reading, a party and a few dinners with relatives.

I wanted to bring an instrument, but couldn't find my easy-playing alto recorder on the way out the door, so I grabbed my clarinet and toodled on it all week. I divided my reading time between Chesterton's Complete Father Brown stories (for the beach) and Will Durant's excellent classic Story of Philosophy, still in print after 75+ years (I'm up to Spinoza after 15 years of desultory reading).

There was a book sale at the local public library, and among the vast flotsam of embossed-cover beach reading spread out on the library lawn I found a few gems:

  • The first edition of Gwendolyn Brooks' The Bean Eaters, apparently curiously withdrawn from library circulation after four checkouts 1965-7, surfacing now just in time for me to scoop it up. Here's a Usenet post I did in 1993 that mentions her poem We Real Cool, which is in The Bean Eaters. And while we're in the dusty Usenet attic, here's another little old poem.
  • Symbolism, by Alfred North Whitehead -- three Barbour-Page Lectures from 1927 (more on this later)
  • The Spirit of Zen by Alan Watts
  • A volume of A Study of History by Arnold Toynbee

More on my reading list, ordered mostly used from various sources via Amazon and still arriving:

Will I ever finish Wolfram's tome? Realistically, not for a long time. These others are calling stronger.

July 12, 2002

Just discovered Sainteros via Rebecca (where there's more recent good stuff).

July 09, 2002
Bloom still on?

To read: 1997 Howard Bloom article The Global Brain, for another perspective on a familiar subject. Via Paul Perry's subject index, where I could spend a good while.

July 07, 2002
Borges' 'A Personal Library'

I'm looking forward to Paul Perry's listing of Borges' list of recommended books 'A Personal Library', which he promises soon. Or maybe I should go to the source he cites, but it appears that The Total Library, a British publication of Borges' non-fictions, is out of print. But maybe Selected Nonfictions contains the same lists.

Update July 22: I bought Selected Nonfictions and it does seem to be the same book, just as Paul assured me in email. I may post the 'A Personal Library' and the' Library of Babel' lists here if it's not stepping on Paul's toes. Borges' commentary on selected books from his lists is simply excellent, as is the rest of this book, based on my random readings from it last night.


Wolfram 110

W. Edwin Clark's collection of Wolfram links and humor, via Tom Parmenter, via a private mailing list.

July 05, 2002
A new kind of poetry subject

There are a lot of people Stephen Wolfram could have more graciously acknowledged in the main text of his new book. One of them might be Laura [Riding] Jackson. Read The Quids (second poem on this page). (Jackson ref. via Mark Woods)


July 03, 2002
Note to self: read more Wolfe

Good, even-handed writing by Alan Wolfe here, reviewing Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich by Kevin Phillips and Stupid White Men ... and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation! by Michael Moore. He gives qualified support for the former and trashes the latter.
via A&L Daily.

[Added later: more from Phillips here and here, via Mark Woods via also not found in nature.]

July 02, 2002
My Bloody Valentine

My co-worker Marco, who knows I have a broad taste in music, is always tossing me CDs from his collection as he comes in, to see what sticks. So thanks to him I just discovered My Bloody Valentine's 'Loveless' album, eleven years after its release. It's a stickah.


Driver's ed

How often do we really drive when we're driving? During my thankfully short commute this morning, I sort of woke up in the car and tried to remember what it was like when driving was new -- high school driver's ed class, when driving was fresh thing, a separate thing to do, a bodily thing that made me sweat a little and feel my hands on the wheel and how my body angled with the turns. Remember learning? At some point, we got past the mechanics and tried to appear casual about it. After a week or so, we were casual about it, and thus began the quick slide to where driving now gets us in a semi-stupor from one place to another.

So this morning when I woke up in the car, I pictured how 100 years ago, how we got someplace was most definitely an experience. I doubt that many people absently picked their noses while riding in a buggy or on a saddle.

And finally this morning, something about the hint of coolness in the otherwise thick summer air coming through my inch-open car window made me crank it down (ah, yes, a hand crank) and shout "whooooo" at the top of my lungs. Solitary as being alone in the deep woods, at 70 miles an hour on a busy highway.