Tag Archives: Ralph Waldo Emerson

My life as a Moody Blues song …

Several entries ago, I mentioned a book on learning to think like Leonardo da Vinci. Well, I am slowly working my way through the exercises (very slowly indeed, as I am mired somewhat at the first one), which is to come up with a list of 100 questions – the focus being on curiosity, to see what it is you are naturally curious about. The point is to write down 100 questions without stopping, coming up with the first 20 or so rather easily, but then really having to stretch to come up with the latter 80. Well, some of my questions are rather banal, and a few are indeed interesting. But that’s not the point. The point is that I noticed that while in my teens, twenties and even early thirties, a lot of my questions probably would have begun with “why”, a lot of my questions now start with “what” or “how”. Not that I have become more practical or experiential, nor do I think I have become less philosophical. In fact, I’m probably a lot more “big picture” oriented at this juncture in my life than I have ever been. But it is interesting to note how the “big” questions didn’t seem to make it on my list. As an idealist, this level of pragmatism seems odd to me — but more troubling is that coming up with 100 things I wanted to know seemed extremely difficult. It’s not so much that the depth of my curiosity has lessened, but rather than the scope of my inquiry seems to have gained a sharper, more narrow focus.

Of course, that’s the purpose of the exercise, I suppose, to identify these kinds of things. But it got me thinking — perhaps stopping the asking “why”, looking elsewhere for the justification or purpose of things (i.e., “why is the world the way it is?”) and starting to focus on the “what” and “how” (i.e., “what can I do to apply what I know” or “how does what I know relate to what I don’t know”), is the result of my spiritual wandering, my questing for “Truth” (of course, ultimately one learns that Truth, in order to be universal, must at first be discovered to be absolutely and indelibly personal). But as I reviewed my list of questions to categorize them (and do some kind of preliminary prioritization, which is the second exercise in the book), I realized that I’m not looking so much for the answers to the big questions anymore. It doesn’t really make much difference to me at this point, for example, why the world was formed, or why human beings learned to swim, or found religions. I suppose the bottom line is that I’m not so much concerned with why things are the way they are, but rather with what I can do within the framework of what is. And that reminds me of several different things: the first being that simply realizing the way things are changes them (because based on a coagulation of Martin Buber and R. D. Laing, changing your experience of something in fact changes the thing being experienced, because now you are also experiencing your experience of a thing which is now an integral part of that thing’s existence), and also that the mingling of the observer and the observed (well, not so much a mingling, but a blurring of the line between the two, which eliminates the confines of duality to some respect) changes both the experimenter and the experiment. Krishnamurti proposed that to understand the answer, it is necessary to understand the question. Kabir said the destination is part of the first step of the journey. So few things are not related in that way.

On a separate note, I guess: Knowledge is power. That’s a common phrase, much quoted and bandied about. But I recently read a quotation from Emerson (that doubtless is based on the original source to some degree) that stated it a different way: “There is no knowledge that is not power.” Not quite as diametrically opposed as “those who are not with us, are against us” versus “those who are not against us, are with us”, but a slightly different shift in perspective, nonetheless.

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Miscellaneous

So ends another weekend. We (stardances and I) were hoping to have a quiet weekend to ourselves, just cleaning and organizing and having a very quiet, uneventful time of it. But the lives of teenagers are SO uncertain – it turns out that the Troll Queen decided to stay with us rather than visit her father this weekend. And so there were three. It wasn’t really too much noisier, however, since she had a number of activities to participate in that didn’t include us, and also had quite a bit of homework to do. We all have a bit of home work, when it comes down to it. There is so much to do around the house that needs attention.

I’ve just ordered a new computer for work (hurrah, because this one won’t run Neverwinter Nights, it’s just THAT ancient) and it should be arriving within the next five to seven days (right about the time that Hurricane Isadore will arrive, I’m sure). In preparation for that, we are trying to organize the foyer so that I can have my “office” isolated a bit more from the rest of the house; that way, everyone gets to use the front room while I’m working, and I’ll have a bit of space that I can set up as my writing area for those hours that I’m not working. Think of it as my study … I’m looking forward to figuring out all the organization, and I’m also looking forward to getting the Painting Room organized so that Star can have her bit of creative space as well. I think it will do us both a world of good. I’m thinking that what Star needs for Yule this year is a drafting table … 🙂 This weekend after payday I’m going to run out and find her a wonderful magnifying glass so she can examine the flora close up and personal…

I’ve immersed myself in a very intense reading program right now, trying to prepare myself to begin writing new material with a vengeance >:->. My current reading list is as follows:

Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. I — This is a very wonderful book. Gibbon is one of the only non-contemporary historians (a contemporary historian would be someone that wrote about their own time, like Herodotus or Julius Caesar) that wrote before this century that is still considered a valid source of information. His prose is a bit dry, but I find it good reading and his philosophical interpretation is tenable. Right now, I’ve just finished up with Severus and am heading into the first of the Barbarian incursions.

Kenneth Lyon, Hemingway — This biography is quite thick; because I am a VERY fast reader (for example, the Lord of the Rings trilogy takes me about two days to read), I like to find books with a bit of heft to them, and this one certainly fit the bill. I’ve become interested in reading about writers, and trying to figure out where they were in their lives when they wrote whatever they wrote. Hemingway is a great study in contradictions; reminds me of my father at times, and at other times, reminds me of myself, particularly at those times I don’t particularly care for myself. But his writing style I like very much. Less is more. Sometimes, much more.

Lady Charlotte Guest, The Mabinogion — A classic of Celtic mythology, albeit due to the time of its translation, perhaps a bit over romanticized. I try to keep at least one culture’s mythos nearby to dip into – Edith Hamilton’s Greek Mythology was something I had to read in high school and I’ve liked it ever since.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays and English Traits — I admit it, I’m a bad scholar. I inherited the five foot shelf of books that comprise the Harvard Classics Library a few years ago, and sadly have not read too many volumes. For some reason, when I was looking for something to give my reading variety the other day, I picked up the Emerson volume. Two essays in particular, The American Scholar and Self Reliance I am particularly struck by. Many of Emerson’s interpretations of books and their uses is echoed in Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind … amazing how the course of 150 years has not changed the basic outlook for American intellectualism all that much.

e.e. cummings, 100 Selected Poems — I’ve always liked cummings as a poet, even mimicked him to some degree during my Memphis years, particularly regarding capitalization, sentence run ons, etc.

Lewis Turco, The Book of Forms: A Handbook of Poetics — This book I highly recommend for anyone who is interested in learning about different poetic forms, particularly if you’re interested in being a poet who writes verse (i.e., lines that have a specific word count, meter, emphasis, etc.) as opposed to prose (i.e., unmetered text).

I’m still anticipating with bated breath the arrival of my two new books, Heny Miller’s On Writing and The Books in My Life. I foresee that just as he was a turning point for me at 28 (the year he started writing, too) when I first picked up the Tropics, Miller will get me started on something more grandiose that I probably can currently imagine. Through Henry Miller I started accumulating a repertoire of authors and really began to become well-read.

To close, here’s a thought from one of my journals about a year ago:

A sentence represents a period of time.
Within that period of time,
the verbs are the lessons,
and the nouns are the tests.

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