Unexpected Finds

I started reading Plato’s Republic this morning. I bought the Allan Bloom translation a while back and am finally getting to it. I only read the introductions and a couple pages of the book so far, but damn…it’s awesome. I’m glad I read the introductions because they gave me some really good insight as to why it was written and what we might get out of it by doing so.

Here are a couple quotes I’m already in love with:

From the introduction by Adam Kirsch

“In other words, Plato’s focus is not so much on the content of Socrates’s ideas as on the way those ideas affect and transform his listeners, enabling them to start actually thinking, instead of merely repeating platitudes.”

Philosophy doesn’t teach you what to think. It’s not a list of rules. It teaches to you how to think, to use your mind and navigate the world around you. When we say “My philosophy is…,” we don’t mean these are my rules for living. We should mean this is how I look at the world and decipher it’s meaning.

“…philosophy was fundamentally a subversive pursuit and had been recognized as such for most of history.”

Subversive! That’s why they killed Socrates. Philosophers aren’t supposed to tow the line of conventional thought. They blur up those lines and force us to re-think and define how we came to those lines. It should make you angry! We’d all love nothing more than to float through life on easy street, but that limits the future, not only ours but our children’s.

“The Enlightenment, taken literally, believed that the light could be brought into the cave and the shadows dispelled; men, in that view, could live in perfect light.” -Bloom

Socrates believed there was an elite that could understand things better and take care of the rest of humanity. Political rulers, priests, and professors. They had the books and the intelligence to take care of the masses. The rest needed to listen. If the man that came back from outside the cave came in saying, let me lead you out into the world so you can be free, they’d kill him. That may be true. But what I’d love is this idea from the Enlightenment. The cave is dark and shadowy, bring light in and every human will have to learn truth on their own and they will. Unfortunately, the older I get the more I start to think that just isn’t possible.

“His (a philosopher) situation is extremely dangerous, because he knows truths the rest of the world is determined not to hear.”

It’s like we’re all on a very fixed track to get to point B and we will not be dissuaded. The philosopher comes in with his wild ideas, maybe we can be kinder, maybe we can love each other, maybe we can not use force…what a monster. Everyone knows taxes must be paid to make roads for us to use. Everyone knows that women’s healthcare means being able to kill off unborn children. Everyone knows that if we don’t bomb the shit out of that country they’ll kill us all. Lord help the person that suggests maybe, just maybe, we can do otherwise.

Writing all of this I suddenly realize how poignant Dr. Seuss books are.

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And I, my Robert Frost…

The Silken Tent

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when a sunny summer breeze
Had dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To everything on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

Oh wow.

I’ve never been a big fan of poetry, but over the years my sons have made me aware of poetry I did not know existed, in the form of folk and rock music. They’d pause the music and repeat a line that moved them. “Mom! Can’t you just see that? Such poetry. This guy rocks.” I had never thought of Bob Dylan or the Grateful Dead as poets. Poetry was those crazy stanza’s you read in old books, the words that make no sense when read in your head during class. The interpretations teenagers come to in class surrounded by judgmental peers and an authority that always seems to have the answers…that never make any sense to me. I never read any poetry outside of high school and its required reading.

But recently, I picked up a book I had “Complete Poems of Robert Frost: 1949” It’s old and the dust jacket disappeared long ago. I don’t know where I got it, probably at a used book store or the thrift store’s dollar book shelves. I only know Robert Frost because of a Simon & Garfunkel song

“you read your Emily Dickenson and I my Robert Frost, and we mark our place with bookmarkers to remember what we’ve lost”

A few days ago, I picked the book up and figured I’d give it a try, read a page or two and ruminate on it just before bed. The first night I read one or two short poems, ending with this one, The Silken Tent. It made no real sense to me, so I closed the book and went to sleep.

The next evening, I opened the book to my bookmarker and read that poem again. The crazy thing…it clicked. Suddenly I saw the picture. And I read it again. I smiled and closed the book.

A day later, I read it out loud to my son. It didn’t sound right, halting and confusing, he didn’t get the picture. He took the book and read it himself and started to see. I read it again in my head and got more. It touched my heart.

This morning I read it out loud again and again, putting pauses in the right places. It made more sense. I’ll try to read it to my son again and see what he thinks.

I am that silken tent! I stand on this earth surrounded by the love of those around me, my head erect and tall. I feel that I’m strong and freestanding until the time I start to be blown by the trials of living. That’s when I feel the pull of those guy wires that hold me up. They are not restraining, they comfort me and protect me from falling. It’s a gorgeous picture and I can’t wait to read it again.

Poetry…It’s not dumb. I just didn’t get it.

There is a choice. Really.

“The year 1968 was a good one to come out with a dashing anthropological adventure yarn claiming to prove that warfare is ancient and integral to human nature.

The year began with the revolution in Prague and the TET offensive in Vietnam. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s worst dream came true in Memphis, Robert Kennedy was felled in a hotel kitchen, and blood and chaos ran in the streets of Chicago. Richard Nixon slinked into the White House, Charles Manson and his lost followers plotted mayhem in the dry hills above Malibu, and the Beatles put the final touches on the White Album. The year ended with three American astronauts, for the first time ever, gazing back upon this fragile blue planet floating in eternal silence, praying for peace.”

From “Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it means for Modern Relationships” by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

This book is world shaking, seriously. I got it because it was recommended from another article about relationships and how our culture may have a skewed idea about what human nature really is. It’s about sex but it’s rocking my whole world and relating to every aspect of my life.

This paragraph made me stop and think about my friends who believe humans are irreparably damaged goods, probably even evil from the get-go. I’ve had this idea that we really aren’t for a long time. I’ve started to think maybe somewhere, somehow, everything became skewed. Like the Little Mermaid says, “I just don’t see how a world that makes such wonderful things could be bad!”

The truth is, we (humans) could go both ways. Kindness and abundance makes for happiness, more kindness and abundance. The more love, the more kindness, the more open and communicative we are, the more those around us do the same. When a child expresses anger or frustration in ugly/hurtful ways, punishing it in ugly/hurtful ways only creates a feedback loop of the same ugly and hurtful actions. We’ve chosen to create a different feedback loop in our home and recently I’ve begun attempting to create that feedback loop in other areas of my life. It seems to be working.

Despair and Horror

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I finished reading Celeste Ng’s “Everything I Never Told You” this morning. I’ve never read a sadder story. I don’t think there was an once of joy in it. Every page was painful. There were small hints of hope but they were always thwarted. A real honest tragedy, one that anyone could easily fall into. That’s what made it so good. It’s not some far off unreal place and time or strange people you just don’t meet in real life. It was just an honest family with emotional scars made my honest parents. It was real.

Tears in my eyes, practically a sob, as put down the book, my husband asks, “Why do you read those?”

Why am I so drawn to these books? Books of sadness and despair, and horror too, are my favorites. I enjoy a good romance or feel good story from time to time, but the books I come back to over and over again are the ones that make me cry out, “NO!” through tears or wake up in the night in terror.

All my life I’ve had a very active imagination. Sitting at the park, watching my kids play, I imagine one of them getting hurt, a kidnapper, or a big earth quake. Walking through the grocery store or sitting in the doctor’s office waiting room, I imagine a natural disaster or terror attack. Talking with a friend, I imagine wild affairs. I actually feel each of the emotions as they play out in my mind. It runs away with me and I live that for hours. It’s hard to lose. It took time to learn not to act on those emotions. My mother will attest that I did it as a child as well, hiding under the table at a pizza place yelling, “We’re all going to die!”

While I’m reading one of these books, I feel like I live every page as I read. It’s like living someone else’s lifetime and learning from their experiences. I think that’s why I love them so much. They make me feel.

There’s No Time!

What gets in the way of writing? Or really anything that we feel really want to or should do to better ourselves? It seems we all have that thing, that project that we really think would be a great service to the world if we just got it done but then, for some reason, don’t find the time to do. “Life gets in the way!” we say. Facebook posts, a tv show, or in my case, blank staring out into space, takes up the little time we have to pursue those goals, no matter how lofty our ambitions.

Yesterday, I decided to give up getting any physical work done. I was exhausted from the previous days outdoor activities and just needed to rest. Of course, I chose to start a new book! I started a little “light reading”, “Utopia” by Sir Thomas More. Written in 1520 in LATIN and translated into English in 1550, this book is not an easy read, but the subject matter interests me and I’ve heard it’s a great book. This is going to be one that takes my full concentration to interpret due to the old language. Within a few pages, I have already received a gift from 500 years in the past!

Read this passage! It’s difficult but you’ll get the gist, I promise!

“Howbeit, to the dispatching of this so little business my other cares and troubles did leave almost less than no leisure. Whiles I do daily bestow my time about law matters, some to plead, some to hear, some as an arbitrator with mine award to determine, some as an umpire or a judge with my sentence to discuss; whiles I go one way to see and visit my friend, another way about my own private affairs; whiles I spend almost all the day abroad among others and the residue at home among mine own, I leave to myself, I mean to my book, no time. For when I am home, I must common with my wife, chat with my children, and talk with my servants, all the which things I reckon and account among business, for as much as they must of necessity be done, and done must they needs be, unless a man will be a stranger in his own house.”

Did you get that? Once again, I’m reminded that there is nothing new under the sun. Seriously. Reaching back into the distant past, I pull up “I’m so busy with work and family, that I have no time for myself!” You just have to love that.

He did finish the book though. I know that because I’m reading it! How many other people didn’t finish their book though? How many finished it and never had it published? How many had them published and we’ve forgotten all about them? But this one made it through the time machine. This one has come through to say to us, “Peace, brothers. All is as it always has been. Take a breath and keep trying.”

I’m off to put at least few minutes into my book today!

It’s Over?

I don’t usually post in the evening, especially on the weekends, but while making dinner and listening to my husband and son play guitars together, I stopped. I listened. Just for a moment I let the music, music from people I love dearly wash over me. I longed for the members of the family missing; those that are gone from this world, those living outside our sight for the time being, and those I know would love to listen in amazement. I remembered a paragraph of my book that I really wanted to blog about. I made a note on my computer to write about it on Monday morning, but here it is again. Someone must need to hear it.

It seems that “awareness” is a buzz word these days and I’m completely on board. I love seeing t-shirts with “WOKE AF” on them. I want one. It’s something I think we all take for granted, being aware. We come to an end of a week, season, or year and think “Wow! What happened?” “It’s Christmas again? Already?” “Wasn’t your son just a baby last week? And now he’s running after girls?” We hear it every day. It’s hard in the constant spin in this world to keep track of what’s happening around us. It’s hard to even watch a movie or eat a meal without attempting to multitask, to get more done in that hour or two. I watch my sons worry about their future, trying to make a plan, and I tell them to stop and enjoy today. It’ll all change soon.

Can we slow down time by being aware of its passing? Probably not, but we can certainly try. We can draw out specific moments, maybe write them down to savor. I feel like I should have taken time to write more down. At least I took more pictures. I wish more of them had me in them. Most of my pictures, my children will be able to say “Mom took this one. That’s why she’s not in it.” It makes me appreciate selfies. They bring us all in the photo.

I finished “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” this morning. I wanted to slow down and savor each page, but I just couldn’t stop myself from rushing to the end. Part of me wanted to read a chapter a day and move on to something else, maybe I will with the next book. Maybe, instead of reading for an hour from one book, I’ll have several books and read one chapter from each. Same time spent, same number of books read, but I can make the story last longer.

Towards the end of the book, this paragraph struck me. I stopped and read it twice. I cried, and I put the book down to get another cup of coffee to think. I read it to my son when he woke up. I want to print it out and post in on my fridge to remind me.

“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life. Let me gay; let me be sad. Let me cold; let me be warm. Let me be hungry…have too much to eat. Let me ragged or well dressed. Let me be sincere – be deceitful. Let me be truthful; let me be a liar. Let me be honorable and let me sin. Only let me be something every blessed minute. And when I sleep, let me dream all the time so that not one little piece of living is ever lost.”

Touching isn’t it? God, let me live every minute as if it is all I have, because it is. Let me taste my breakfast, let me feel the pain, let me revel in joy. Let me remember the dreams of my subconscious. Let me really live, not just trudge through to the end and on my deathbed think, “It’s over? Already?”

Do Things Really Change Much?

I was recently up in the mountains waiting for my son to finish a long bike ride, when I decided to be brave and go shopping…alone. I know, it sounds weird, but I’d much rather stay in the parking lot safe inside my truck with my book. No, the shopping village is not dangerous. Walking the half a mile and back isn’t strenuous. It’s just that I have a fear of being alone. I tried going for a hike while he rode but that didn’t work. I just kept hearing people coming up behind me. I walked a mile and practically ran back to the truck talking to myself the whole way. I brought my dog with me once and felt much more comfortable with my scary beagle there to protect me. She may at least be an ice breaker or a reason to be on the trail by myself, but she is short and getting old so she insisted on stopping in every shady spot along the way. I practically had to drag her along. Making the dog unhappy was not helping. So I thought it might be easier to walk into the shopping village and look around while I waited. The lure of a used book store in the middle of it was strong enough to get me out and on my way, but the whole time I was walking I was wondering what people were thinking. It’s weird and I can’t explain it. You’d think I’d enjoy wandering alone with no one waiting for me to finish. I thought I’d stop and get an ice cream on the way back but I just rushed back to the truck and thumbed through my new books. Call me weird.

I picked up several books that day, one of which was “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith. I’ve never heard of it, but the title sounded familiar and the cover was intriguing. The previous owner wrote her name inside the cover and along the side of the book, as if announcing to the world wherever she set it down that this book belonged to her. When I got home, I set in on my “to-read” shelf along with the others. When that shelf is full, I don’t allow myself to buy anymore books! I stuffed these books in and sighed. Why can’t I read faster?!

This week I started reading that book. I posted it on my Facebook and one of my friends said it was one of her favorite books. By the end of the day, I was already eighty pages into it and had fallen in love as well. It reminds me of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” When I’m reading I’m right there with her, getting to know her parents, her neighborhood, and her way of thinking about the world around her. It’s beautiful and sad at the same time.

“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friend and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she could read a biography.”

I wish I could live that way. Books cannot disappoint or betray you as people can. Their pages are exactly what they are written to be. They don’t change the next time you open them. They cannot ignore you. Unfortunately, I crave human contact, that return of affection and attention that books cannot give. But books are a wonderful distraction. They fill in where humans lack. They give me ideas about how to navigate this world, more tools to work with. They give me hope and remind me of what has been, what can be. I close my book and move in the world with those characters in mind. How would Francie react to this? What would Napoleon think? What would Aurelius say?

A special kind of crazy, my sons say. I am intimidated by change but get bored easily. I crave the company of humans but fear them at the same time.