25 August 2008

Play ball!!

I am not opposed to ritual and tradition; indeed, I have based the whole last chapter of my new book on them. There, I speak respectfully, even religiously, of rituals and traditions and of my participation in them. I spoke there of how I like to ground my life in ritual and tradition. Engagement in rituals engages me in my present.

But these opening events at colleges and universities test my patience with their empty rituals and traditions. We sit at meeting after meeting, for hour after hour and nothing is offered there of which to partake, nothing is offered there about which to consider or to wonder; nothing is presented but meaningless enthusiasms and empty praises, none of which sustain. I think that if I must sit at any meeting, then that meeting should be no less stimulating than either my engagement in private study or a public class session.

But at this day’s waning, I cannot answer for today except to acknowledge that I was there, and though I can name where I was, I cannot say what, if anything, occurred there that demanded (or even acknowledged) my presence. I think that any participant in these traditional opening ceremonial events (even ones into which we are coerced, at a minimum, by demands of retention and tenure) should derive some meaning from these occurrences; there should be some spark of intellectual life and promise inherent in the welcomes and introductions and promises and annual and perennial budget fears. I should exit a meeting enriched and not enervated, stimulated and not sedated. I think I should leave these orchestrated venues ready for engagement in the classrooms and not dulled by reports which hardly concern it.

I mean, we purport to traffic in ideas, but none are today to be found.

16 August 2008

Birthday Blog

I guess I am tired of measuring these birthdays in years that have passed: a constant backwards glance as a measure of . . ., well, what does this backwards glance represent? Usually disappointment and lament When we are younger, we only look forward to the next birthday when we can be older, and when we are older, we only look backwards to when we were young. The former engages hope and the latter regret. I prefer the stance of the young, and so, despite my sixty-one completed years, I look forward to the next many years with hope and expectation. I no longer need my driver’s license, nor the right to drink in public saloons without an Identification card. I already vote albeit, with little success, and I have long moved out from my parental home. I don’t know what the future may hold for me, but I approach it, despite serious disappointments, from a satisfied past. I have arrived at my present with intent, and I experience now at the advent of my sixty-second year, some satisfaction, some pride in accomplishment, and great expectations for the future. I do not wonder what that future may entail, but look forward to its continuous appearance and its invitations.

The summer appears over. This week I take the older daughter to her second year of college and prepare the younger for her first year of high school. And I think of Tennyson’s Ulysses:

Come my friends, ‘tis not too late to seek a new world . . .
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I just hope that with all this ambition and energy I can still get to bed somewhat early!!

11 August 2008

On the News

Somewhere, Thoreau wrote that one might read a newspaper once to discover some news, but that further reading is merely indulging in gossip. The Rabbis condemn those who engage in gossip to Gehinnom in perpetuity. On March 7, 1852 Henry David said “The news I hear for the most part is not news to my genius. It is the stalest repetition. . . . We should wash ourselves clean of such news.”

The news today is such. Wars continue to be fought and other wars begin; issues of global warming persist; Brett Favre is a big hit for New York Jet Fans; and the American 400 meter relay beat the French by .08 seconds. I think losing at the Olympics is just as beautiful as winning. And this news of the numbers steals my time.

I read the newspapers nonetheless. As I said elsewhere (a phrase popular among academics and use for shameless self-promotion), I daily check the headlines online from the New York Times, peruse them periodically during the day, and the news weighs heavily on my consciousness. Despite his bravura, Thoreau knew the daily events, and often responded to them in writing. For example, you might read his vicious reporting in his journal of the hanging of John Brown in 1859. It was, I think, his ideal to stay uninformed, but it was his fate not to remain so.

I read the news, but I don’t have to do so to know that wars are taking place and are being even now planned; I don’t have to read the papers to know about the horrors of Darfur, or the injustices of people and governments. Oh, I don’t dismiss the details though the total picture is clear.

There is nothing more important than the end of the horror, the horror, but I grow so weary and depressed constantly hearing about it. And so much time is spent on the hundredths of a second. Tomorrow the order would all be reversed. It is like 1984: the events stay the same but the names change, as I’ve said elsewhere.

Thoreau bemoaned the time spent on the news and such. He says, “In proportion as our inward life fails, we go more constantly and desperately to the post-office. You may depend on it, that the poor fellow who walks away with greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while.” Thoreau knew only too well how the world oppresses and subverts our purposes. Hillel knew the conflict; he said, “If I am not for myself, who will be? If I am only for myself, what am I?” And neither Thoreau nor Hillel had to deal with the Olympics!

04 August 2008

Letting Go

The issue of letting go has become central to my thinking lately. I begin to consider that ‘letting go’ may be one of the primary and steady processes of living. It might be now necessary to return to Roth’s earlier novel, Letting Go for some additional perspective on this subject. In the colloquial, ‘letting go’ refers to losing one’s self to a sense of abandonment—to release the restrained (repressed) self to spontaneity, to unself-consciousness, and even to joy. Alcohol and drugs are aids to this letting go, and I suspect good sex results from it.

I am thinking of another ‘letting go,’ and one not unrelated to the above. I am referring to the letting go of roles which tie me to ways of being which no longer are life-giving. For example, I can no longer be the same father to the nineteen year old as I had been to the ten year old. When I try to be so, I engage in behaviors and emotions no longer appropriate, and entrap me in positions and situations no longer productive for growth and living. Spinoza knew such emotions as leading to states of human bondage; refusing to let go I insist on using scripts for the wrong play. I speak beautiful lines in improper settings. I enslave myself and the daughter.

And the nineteen year old sister cannot be the same sister to the fourteen year old as the fourteen year old was to the nine year old. Indeed, very often she can’t even be the same sister today as she was yesterday because today so much has changed from yesterday. She has to let go. And it is so hard to do so, especially if yesterday there was so much reward in yesterday’s relationship. And the letting go is acknowledges that what yesterday was satisfying reward is today unhealthy dependency. Letting go leaves us both free.

And so, we have to learn how to ‘let go’ of the singular nature of the relationship and the behaviors we have attached to it, though these behaviors and emotions must be, perhaps, stored and made readily available for a time when they might again be appropriate, though that moment might not ever again occur.