Reconnecting

Not using the internet for 48 hours isn’t the same as not being able to use the internet for that length of time.  Even politicians (who are notoriously slow at figuring out what people need) have started to make noises about this being an essential aspect of life.  Some (many) things you just can’t do without connectivity.  And during a pandemic taking an entire family to an enclosed space with free wifi (still a rarity) for over a full day so that they can get things done is an issue.  All of this has convinced me of the need to purchase a wifi hotspot, in addition to relying on what Astound Broadband (formerly RCN) is able to provide.  (You see, I’m in charge of a Sunday morning program at a local faith community.  I couldn’t even email anyone to let them know I wouldn’t be able to show up on Sunday without using costly data.)  Now that service has been restored, a kind of nervous normality has returned.

This has been a learning experience.  Of course we’ve got books to read.  I have papers, stories, and a next book to write.  None of those, ostensibly, uses the internet.  All of them do, however.  I’ve been conditioned to look things up on the web while I’m writing.  This is true of both fiction and non; a fact needs checking, a reference requires look-up, a thought occurs to you that has to be dealt with before you move on.  There’s an email you forgot to answer.  Etc.  Etc.  The web is our source of news (what’s happening with Ukraine?), our phonebook, our map, our encyclopedia.  Let’s face it—it’s an addiction.  But a necessary one.

Like many things, our government has the capacity to make internet access available, just like they could do our taxes for us and stop the madness of setting back clocks each year from Daylight Saving Time.  They could ensure universal health care.  They’re too busy “defending” a crumbling, pre-internet way of life and enriching themselves to actually enact any of these things.  And somebody would have to figure out what accountants would have to do if taxes weren’t an issue.  I strongly suspect people would still be willing to pay for more than basic internet connectivity.  But to have a basic signal out there that we could tap into without tapping out our data plans would be a real boon.  I found myself glancing at our neighbors’ houses all around and thinking, “They have internet.”  We pay a lot to have it too, but the only company in the Valley can’t guarantee access, especially on a weekend.  What have I learned?  The ascetics were onto something.

Photo by Nicolas Häns on Unsplash

Getting Your Goat

I have to confess to having known very little about goats.  Although one book does not an expert make, I still feel that I know quite a bit more now than when I started Sue Weaver’s masterful The Goat: A Natural and Cultural History.  I can’t convey it all to you here (that’s what the book is for), but I can offer a few highlights.  I do have to say that books that measure animals by the human exploitation of them tend to bother me a bit.  There’s something about reading how they make good pets but then they taste good too.  Especially since one of the takeaways is just how intelligent goats are.  I suspect even smart animals wouldn’t hang around if they knew their owners were licking their chops behind their backs.

Goats were very early among the domesticated species.  People do keep some breeds as pets, kind of like herbivorous dogs.  Goats require stimulation and tend to be playful and curious.  And they put up with humans quite well.  They climb.  You can find goats in trees in some locations since they do like to ascend whatever they can.  I remember seeing goats on the roof of a restaurant in Wisconsin (I can’t remember the name of the place, but I do recall the goats were supposed to be there).  Having not grown up on a farm I’ve never been too close to goats, but this book does make me interested in knowing more.

The book is heavily illustrated and it describes several varieties of goats as well as general goat physiology and behavior.  In fact, it answers that age-old question of how to tell the sheep from the goats.  Behaviorally they’re quite different, with goats being more individually minded and not always acting as a herd.  More individualistic, they nevertheless crave company.  And it is this difference between the sheep and the goats that starts to give the latter a bad name, perhaps because of their willfulness and individuality.  Goats are good followers, but on their own terms.  Sheep apparently don’t think much about it.  They follow any leader.  Historically, and unfortunately still, in some locations, goats have been preferred sacrificial animals.  Indeed, some gods, such as Pan, are portrayed with caprid qualities.  It is the intelligent, it seems, that are often targeted by the gods.  In any case, goats have long had associations with the divine in human minds.  And Weaver’s book parses goats in great detail.


Outernet

Once in a while (ahem), I interject a note of caution regarding technology.  This blog has been part of my daily routine for over a dozen years.  I try to post every day.  When I experience life outside I often think “that would make a good blog post.”  I make notes.  I ruminate.  One of the things I caution about is the fragility of tech.  In order for me to post these thoughts many different components have to work just right.  Not only that, but if I want to pay bills, or, more importantly, work so that I can pay bills, I have to have internet.  Everyone in my family uses it and they do so all day long.  This weekend is the long anticipated Project for Awesome (check it out at projectforawesome.com) sponsored by the Vlogbrothers, John and Hank Green.  If the names are familiar it’s perhaps because I’ve read and commented on their books.  Then the internet went out.

Late on Friday afternoon, of course.  Now we’ve had outages before—most recently after a power outage earlier in the week.  I called what used to be RCN, the only service provider in our area, only to be on the phone for half an hour with a tech.  She talked me through the usual rebooting and system checks.  The router was fine, but the only actual connection to the internet is via wifi mediated by a device called Eero.  There’s no ethernet cable (as if Apple laptops even have ethernet ports any more!), no phone line plug-in (ditto), nothing.  Nothing but Eero.  Apparently Eero had died.  And being a weekend a masked tech can’t be sent until Sunday afternoon.  So Friday night with no Disney Plus and Saturday without the long-anticipated Project for Awesome (you really should check it out).

Then my wife noticed her phone could act as a wifi hotspot.  It felt like we were entering a new world of magic.  (And data bills.)  The laptop could covert the G4 that her iPhone could receive into wifi.  It wasn’t ideal, because we have three people who want to use the internet.  With old tech.  All because one component of RCN’s complex system has x’s for eyes.  We had to play Wordle through her phone.  Watch Project for Awesome (it supports charities!) through her phone.  I don’t know, maybe we are even breathing through her phone.  Once in a while I interject a note of caution regarding technology.  This blog post is brought to you by my wife’s phone, acting as an internet hotspot, before anyone else awakes this Saturday morning.

Ancient history!

Healing Borders

Sometimes you read a book that just gets your head buzzing.  Brett Hendrickson’s Border Medicine: A Transcultural History of Mexican American Curanderismo is one such book.  It brings together so many areas of fascination: healing based on different belief structures than scientific medicine, the role of community in avoiding cultural appropriation, and the cultural blending that takes place at all borders.  The myth of the “pure” has long created problems, particularly in the realm of religion.  Things blend.  They always have.  And this includes belief structures, faiths, religions.  This is most obvious at borders, which makes them very interesting places.  Officially we police them, wanting to keep what is “ours” and keep “them” out.  In reality we are blending with each other and that’s not a bad thing.

In much of educated society, it’s assumed that scientific medicine is the only valid kind.  There are those even among the schooled, however, who pray for the ill.  Curanderismo is a form of folk healing that involves cures that would be rejected out of hand by science.  In a materialist, chemical world, only this can heal that.  Curanderismo looks at things quite differently.  Its practitioners don’t charge an arm and a leg for their work.  They are extremely popular.  And they heal people.  This is part of what makes Hendrickson so wonderful to read—he doesn’t assume up front that this doesn’t work.  Some analysts treat this kind of thing from a perspective of cultural superiority, as if scientific medicine is the only real way to treat illness.  Cultures, however, can heal.

Culture is something we value because it makes us feel secure and comfortable.  We know what to expect.  We speak the language, know the conventions.  (It would help Democrats, I think, to realize that although we’re trying to dismantle xenophobia, it is still very much intact in most of the world.  People follow autocrats because they’re afraid.)  We all live near borders.  Our personal border may be the wall of our apartment or the front door to our house.  It may be the Protestant/Catholic next door (or Buddhist/Atheist/Muslim/Hindu/Agnostic).  It may be the middle class/working class person who lives across the street.  In one town in which I lived it was literally those on the other side of the railroad tracks.  We draw borders for protection, but what Hendrickson shows so clearly is that they can also be places of healing.  


Routine Interruptions

Ironically, having just written about routines, we experienced a power outage with a wind storm.  Sitting home of an evening, the lights in every occupied room began to flicker.  We grabbed flashlights, suspecting what would come next.  The power outage led to a temporary loss of the internet, the god of this age.  Routine was interrupted.  This brought to mind just how fragile all this is.  As supply-chain issues have demonstrated, everything has to work just right for our society to operate at expected standards.  And an internet outage leads to an interruption of routines.  Whenever this happens, it reminds me of how complex our lives have become.  And how unfair.  There are people across the world who struggle with daily necessities such as clean water, safe homes, and reliable sources of power.  And a wind storm in eastern Pennsylvania doesn’t mean that the company’s power in another state is out.  Does this mean I take a vacation day?

As this winter winds down I again lament the loss of snow days.  They were local holidays, of course, and based on the unpredictability of nature.  Our power outage, followed by internet outage, was a personal kind of snow day.  Nobody wanted it and we all planned to work today.  Other than the outage, we’re fine.  Just like a snow day.  There’s a feeling of helplessness to it.  To fix the internet we rely on someone who knows how to do such technical wizardry.  Anyone can stuff a rag in a hole in the window, but to replace the glass it takes an expert.  How do you contact them when the internet’s out?  (Of course, everything’s back on in time for work.)

No doubt, many aspects of our lives are better.  We can pay our bills without using a stamp.  We can look up basic information online.  Even attend religious services virtually.  (Who doesn’t want to linger in their pajamas on a Sunday morning?)  Yet, for all of this to happen our power must be on and steady.  Our internet connectivity must be strong.  We have to be able to connect to work so that we can be paid so that we can keep the power on.  It seems an odd way to spend our time.  Obviously, if you’re reading this they—that mysterious they—have got things working again.  The power is on so that I can type this, and the internet is connected so that I can post it.  And yet I don’t feel any more secure.  And I know I’m one of those who has it easy.


Routine Change

A certain type of mindset thrives in routine.  Perhaps you’ve noticed that these posts appear each day about the same time.  This happens because the routine states that work comes next and it will be largely the same day after day after day.  After work there’s also a pattern until I fall, exhausted, into bed.  Hit repeat.  In the midst of this routine change has crept.  Partly it’s the pandemic, but mostly it’s technology.  And spending habits.  People don’t buy academic books like they used to.  Overall books are booming—so much so that paper shortages aren’t uncommon.  In order to try to keep up with electronic lifestyles, publishers have to integrate the newest technology and to do that everyone has to learn far more tech than technique.  The pace of change is dizzying.

For those who thrive on routine, such rapid-fire alterations make it feel like we need a personal change manager.  “How do I do this now?”  The way we’d done it for years has suddenly shifted and it is only one of many moving parts.  Meanwhile, outside work, other aspects are shifting even as many people still survive without computers at all.  We’re left, those of us tied to routine, in a haze of uncertainty.  It’s like that dream where you’re driving and you can’t slow down but you can’t see out the windshield either.  To make it through we look for routine.  I type this posts on a laptop.  I prefer to write things out by hand, but there’s no time for that any more.  The routine has been broken and the shop that repairs it has gone out of business.

Perhaps this is a malady of those of us who look to the past.  Technological changes used to be measured in centuries, not seconds.  Ancients thought a spout on a jar was a pretty rad invention.  For a hundred years.  Maybe two.  Now if you don’t buy a new iPhone every couple of years you’re hopelessly outmoded.  What was my routine again?  I still awake at the same time and begin each day with writing.  I’ve learned to do it via laptop.  Then it’s to the work laptop where updates seem to be loaded daily and I’m the dog chasing that stick now.  I wonder whose vision we’re following?  Technology’s in charge now.  The rest of us mere humans should be able to get along, as long as we establish a routine of routine change.


Living Right

Horace Liveright had an outsized influence for his somewhat foreshortened years.  Initially a bond trader, he eventually moved into publishing where he founded the Modern Library as well as Boni and Liveright.  The Modern Library still exists, now as an imprint of Random House.  Liveright ceased publishing operations eventually, but the name was revived as an imprint of W. W. Norton.  There have been many publishing Wunderkindern, including Richard L. Simon, co-founder of Simon and Schuster (and father of Carly Simon), and the Scot William Collins whose name still appears in HarperCollins.  While reading about Liveright recently I learned that he also was responsible, in an unexpected way, for the development of the horror film.

Liveright never worked in the film industry.  He did, however, work as a stage producer in New York in the 1920s.  Among his most successful works was a play titled Dracula.  It starred Bela Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan as Dracula and Abraham Van Helsing, respectively.  The success of the Broadway show caught the attention of Hollywood and Lugosi and Van Sloan were cast in the same roles in Tod Browning’s Dracula, widely considered to be the first horror film, released in 1931.  Van Sloan went on to appear in Frankenstein as well, and Lugosi reprised his Dracula character as well as several other monsters.  It’s possible, perhaps likely, that horror would’ve begun with some other entry into the genre, but as history stands Dracula, based on Liveright’s stage production, started the whole thing.

Unless we work in it, we tend not to think about publishing too much.  We don’t pay attention to the publisher of the book we’re reading, and who lingers over the copyright page?  Giving a thought to these details, however, often adds new stories to the ones between the covers.  A fellow editor is fond of saying that books are as much about the author’s story as they are about the story the author’s telling.  The press, for example, often focuses on the former.  Who is it that wrote this book and why?  The question may be extended further—what publisher took it on and how did they even get into the business of deciding what people will read?  The internet has democratized that quite a bit, of course, and some authors can become their own authorities by knowing how to handle it.  So I’m taking one such opportunity to highlight the work of a sometimes forgotten pioneer who nevertheless began a publishing venture from which we’ve all most likely read.  And he also helped created the horror movie.


Socks and Books

The other day I was thinking about my annotated copy of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  I read this in seminary and took notes in the margins.  It was part of my permanent collection.  After a couple of moves from Boston, finding myself in Illinois, I couldn’t find it.  Like socks in a dryer, it had simply vanished.  Socks, of course, sometimes fall out of a sweatshirt or some other garment some time later—a piece of clothing with which they shared the carnival ride of the tumble dry.  The book, however, stayed vanished.  I often wonder where it went.  Prior to Nashotah House, mostly my wife and I kept our books in boxes.  Even now with a house many of them are still in boxes.  But I’ve never knowingly left a book behind when vacating an apartment.  Where is Nietzsche?

Wherever he is, he’s not alone.  This has happened before.  While attending Edinburgh University it seemed like a good idea to get out a bit.  Travel is an excellent form of education.  My wife and I, both interested in history, joined Historic Scotland.  Membership came with a guidebook describing all the properties and we used this as a record of which sites we’d visited and when.  (We used to keep extensive travel diaries, but epic trips are few these days now that we’re no longer academics.)  In any case, when we moved back to the United States, that guidebook was a treasured possession.  Yes, we kept it with the other books but in those days they weren’t so many as they’ve become now.  When we were unpacking things in our apartment in Illinois, we noticed it was missing.

Our flat in Edinburgh was small—really only three rooms.  Nothing was left behind there.  Where, then, did our book go?  Where’s Nietzsche?  What other items have we lost that we haven’t discovered yet?  And where do the socks go when they’re lost in the dryer?  It’s almost enough to make me believe there are little wormholes scattered around our planet, particularly attracted to socks and books.  Well, phones, wallets, and car keys too, I suppose.  The biggest mystery, for me, is the books.  We’ve unpacked nearly all of them now that we have a house.  Those still in boxes have been taken out and returned, no box remains unopened.  Our Historic Scotland guide and Also Sprach Zarathustra aren’t among the books we have.  They’re out there with the many things we treasure and misplace over time.  Perhaps some day we’ll stumble upon that place and be amazed.


Whose Baby?

Some books are better known as movies.  I suspect that I, like many, saw the movie Rosemary’s Baby without ever reading the book.  It turns out that they’re very similar.  The book takes the action a few minutes beyond the end of the movie, but otherwise they’re quite close.  Reading a horror novel where you know everything that’s going to happen isn’t exactly the recipe for thrills and chills, but I’m nevertheless glad to have done it.  For a book published as long ago as it was (1967) it still isn’t easily found used.  New copies tend to be just as expensive as new books.  I just wanted to have a read to see if Roman Polanski stayed close to Ira Levin or not.

Levin had a string of successful novels, but Rosemary’s Baby is probably still his best known.  He is quoted as saying he didn’t believe in the Devil and felt guilty that his book (and movie) may have led to many people taking on that belief.  In many ways Polanski’s movie kicked off the age of modern horror, being released the same year as George Romero’s Night of the Living DeadRosemary, however, opened the door to horror with overt religious themes.  It paved the way for The Exorcist and The Omen.  The latter, written by David Seltzer, was another example of a movie based on the Devil by an author who didn’t believe in him.  Personal belief aside, that trinity of movies remade the horror scene and led to one of the strangest cooperations in cinematic history.

In the book versus movie scenario often there’s a clear winner.  On other occasions the movie is so powerfully made that it overshadows its novel.  Rosemary’s Baby, along with The Exorcist, tended to do so.  (The Omen was novelized from the screenplay by the screenwriter.)  I wonder if that might not be because religion pays right into cinematic representation.  The novels, after all, can take several days of reading on a normal workaday schedule.  The film, if well done, transports the viewer there for a couple of hours and leaves you feeling as if you’ve been through, in the case of Rosemary, a traumatic pregnancy.  It so happened that the unholy trinity of religious horror tapped into that rapt storytelling of which celluloid proves so capable a medium.  Still, reading the novel fills in many of the gaps and brings to mind the benefits of the written word.  And this is, like a birth, something to be celebrated.


Incorporeal

I’ve been struggling with the concept of incorporeality.  Well, not me personally, but in how it fits into demon movies.  Specifically the Conjuring universe.  I’ve recently been watching the series through again and the corporeality of demons strikes me as problematic.  As spiritual entities demons don’t have bodies—that’s why they possess people.  Yet in these films they can be contained by blessed spaces, or objects.  The doll Annabelle, in particular, has to be kept in a locked glass case to prevent the demon (apparently Valak) from gaining its full power.  Annabelle Comes Home discusses this directly.  After the priest blesses the doll, Lorraine Warren says it’s not enough.  The evil has to be encased in another layer.  In this case, glass from “Trinity Church” which has, ironically, been torn down.

Watching the entire series, as it currently stands, Annabelle appears in four of the eight films and is named in a fifth.  Annabelle: Creation implies that the demon in the doll is Valak (a.k.a. “The Nun”), and she has her own movie as well.  In each case the demon has to be contained within a sacred space.  Once out, it manifests in corporeal form with the ability to harm, or even kill, human beings.  Now, I know this is movie magic.  I also know these movies have been carefully pieced together.  The corporeal/incorporeal question is a standard of seminary training.  While the topic of ghosts, and demons for that matter, was never raised in the curriculum, we did have to deal with God and angels and what it means for a being without a body to become incarnate in one.  These movies could use some seminary.

Is it like this?

In Holy Horror, and especially Nightmares with the Bible, I wrote quite a bit about The Conjuring and the universe it’s building.  I’ve seen demons physically attacking characters, and even taking on classic demon shape.  The viewers wants to see the monster.  If they’re truly incorporeal they can cross between glass cases, doors, windows, and walls.  Some of them do, when it suits their purpose.  Yet they can be quieted by being locked into a glass case, as long as it’s been blessed.  Of course, I’m trying to figure this out on my own.  There are entire fandom wikis out there based on the films and they probably have much more detail than I could ever find on my own.  But then, in a sense, information on the internet is, well, incorporeal.


A Little Fuzzy

Animals don’t obey the law.  As I observed just a few days ago on this blog, they don’t recognize indoors or outdoors.  And they certainly don’t respect private property.  Conflicts are sure to arise.  Mary Roach turns her impressive writing skills to address this, and related issues in Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law.  I’ve read an academic book on this subject as well, and I have to say that one wasn’t as much fun.  Roach has a way of bringing the humor out of even potentially trying subjects such as how do we scare carrion birds away from human corpses?  How do we eliminate pests that we’ve accidentally introduced?  (Think of rabbits in Oceania.)  How do we stop birds from getting sucked into jet engines?

Although the book handles these with a light touch, as with most of Roach’s work, it also raises some serious issues.  Solutions to introduced species can involve poisoning that also kills native species it’s designed to protect.  Genetic engineering may have (likely will have) unforeseen effects.  What is a dominating species to do?  We have laws about ownership, after all, and we expect them to be obeyed.  Squirrels, for example, won’t care that you just had to have a sink replaced at great expense.  They’ll gnaw their way in anyway, creating a new crisis right on top of the old one.  Deer cross highways, their brains not yet evolved enough to interpret what a car is—they’ve only been around for just over a century.  (The cars, not the deer.)  They sometimes cross runways too.  (The deer.)  We like animals well enough in the wild— in fact we long to see them.  When they get into our space, however, our rules don’t apply.

As long ago as the Bible, and perhaps before, the question arose of punishing animals.  If your ox gores someone what should you do with it?  I’m not sure Homo sapiens are the best species to be making such decisions.  We’ve shown colossal poor judgment (think of Trump and try to disagree).  We’re actively destroying our own environment, the terrestrial equivalent of defecating in our own fishbowl.  What gives us the right to punish other creatures who are more in tune with what nature tells them to do?  Perhaps the biggest takeaway from all of this is that we may try to make the rules, but the rest of the planet responds to what we might call a higher power.  I’m glad that writers like Mary Roach can show the fun side of it all.


Thinking about Thinking

I’ve been thinking about thinking quite a bit.  My lifelong fascination with religion is part of this, of course.  So when someone pointed out Bridget Alex’s article “The Human Brain Evolved to Believe in Gods” in Discover, I had to ponder it.  The idea, here supported by science, is that people evolved survival traits that lent themselves to religious belief.  That religious thinking was a byproduct that eventually took on a life of its own.  Evolution works by giving a reproductive advantage to one trait over another—which is how we get so many types of dogs (and maybe gods)—and those that disposed people to be religious did just that.  Elaborate religions evolved from these basic traits.  Alex suggest there are three: seeing patterns, inferring intention, and learning by imitation.

While there’s a lot of sense here, the reductionism doesn’t ring true.  The need to explain away religion also seems uniquely human.  Ironically, the idea that we are somehow special compared to other animals derives from a biblical worldview from which science has difficulty divorcing itself.  One of the greatest ironies of the science versus religion debate is that scientific thinking (in the west) developed within a worldview formed by Christianity.  Many of the implications of that development linger, such as the supposition that animals can’t have consciousness, or “souls.”  We watch a chimpanzee in an experiment and deduct points when they don’t do things the way a human would.  We thus confirm the biblical view in the name of science and go home happy.

Photo credit: Afrika Expeditionary Force, via Wikimedia Commons

I have no doubt that people evolved to be religious.  There are certainly survival benefits to it, not least group building and shared purpose.  I do wonder that science doesn’t address the elephant in the room—that we have limited receptors for perceiving specific stimuli, such as light and sound, but that there are other phenomena we don’t perceive.  We build instruments to measure things like x-rays and neutrinos and magnetism, but we don’t sense them directly.  How can we possibly know what we might be missing?  I suspect the real problem is we don’t want to admit willfulness into any other part of the universe.  Humans alone possess it.  Some scientists even argue that our own sense of will is an illusion.  It’s not difficult to believe that we evolved to be religious.  It’s also not difficult to believe that we pick up hints of forces that have yet to be named.  An open mind, it seems, might lead to great rewards.


Pennsylvania Dreaming

“I finally understand what I’ve come here to learn,” I said.  I was incredibly happy.  I recall the sun was shining, making its way up from my feet to my legs in a symbolic way, soon to reach my head.  I was on the cusp of an epiphany.  That’s when I woke up, needing to head to the bathroom.  Of course, after that it’s difficult to fall back asleep.  I knew that even if I did it would be to a different dream and I wouldn’t learn what it was that I’d come here for.  So it is with the great experiment of consciousness.  Either we’re continuously learning or we’ve already died.  Nobody has all of the answers.  Consciousness may be the true final frontier.  There is no scientific explanation for what it is that is universally accepted.  We all, however, know what it is though daily experience.

Dreams are considered part of our subconscious.  While we sleep we’re said to be not conscious, although we all know that at times we are.  Sleep can be somewhere between.  And we don’t even know what consciousness is.  The study of dreams is still valued in psychoanalysis—it is a form of thinking too—but in our materialist, capitalist society we tend to dismiss dreams.  They generally don’t bring in money.  In ignoring them we move further from understanding consciousness.  Enlightenment, while not a scientific category, still seems possible, even should it come in dreams.  If only we could stay asleep long enough to see it through.

I have a friend who also thinks too much.  He sometimes wonders if this constant focus on what the “they” want isn’t a plan to keep us too busy to think things through.  I often think that the monastics had it mostly right.  At least the part about taking time to contemplate.  When you encounter an idea that feels like a key and you know the door that it opens will be profound, it always seems that work comes to interrupt right at that point.  The job where you can wrestle with ultimate reality and not worry about not producing “product” for which you’re paid, is rare indeed.  That’s why waking from this particular dream was so difficult.  I had a semester break while teaching where I read three books that changed my outlook forever.  It was possible because I had a few weeks before I had to be back in the classroom.  Since then the dream, I guess, has been to return to where you’re paid to learn, for the betterment of all.


Just Curious

I’m constantly reminded of the dangers of it.  Interdisciplinarity, I mean.  We all know the cliched image of the myopic professor unable to function in the world because he (and it’s normally a he) has spent all his time on one subject.  Such people do exist, and they are generally institutionalized.  (What else can society do with them?)  More recently, however, the emphasis in higher education has been on interdisciplinary pursuits.  Many modern doctorates span two areas and many modern professors show themselves as adept at activities beyond their “day jobs.”  It is difficult, however, to be an expert in more than one thing.  In my own case, I had interdisciplinarity thrust upon me.  I’m therefore constantly being reminded of how tricky it can be.

While hot on the trail of a new angle recently, I found what I thought was the only book on a subject.  (All these years and am I still so naive?)  I started reading only to discover that the topic had been explored many times before by scholars, beginning in the decade I was born.  Clearly, if I wish to speak intelligently on this topic I should go back and start at the beginning.  So it is with interdisciplinary work.  Ironically, the book I was reading was itself interdisciplinary, demonstrating that old Ecclesiastes was right all along.  

My own research journey has been one of restlessness.  Others have seen this more clearly than I have.  Once at the Nashotah House bookstore I had a discussion the the manager about rocks.  This particular woman was certainly smart enough to have been on the faculty, and she saw things those of us that were didn’t.  I concluded by saying I didn’t know why I’d been so taken by geology to which she replied, “If it wasn’t geology it would be something else.  You’re curious.”  She knew me better than I did.  My curiosity about geology was deep and intense.  (It still is.)  I realized suddenly, it seems, that I knew too little about the very ground upon which I walked all day.  What could be more basic than rock?

On my desk

If anyone bothers to look at my full list of publications it quickly becomes clear that geology is absent.  I never became an expert, but I still read about it and pick up interesting rocks.  A small piece of rose quartz with a fresh fracture face stopped me in my tracks one very cold morning recently.  I’m sure plenty has been written on the subject.  The safest thing, however, is to become an expert on one thing.  Safest, but dullest.


Love on a Monday

I hope you may find love on a Monday.  I have a feeling that if we took Valentine’s Day more seriously the world would be a better place.  Capitalism, however, abhors interruptions (unless you buy lots of stuff) so many of us are at work this Monday.  I was recently reading how the full, unbroken eight hours’ sleep is a product of the industrial revolution.  I’d never thought of that before.  Everyone is different, of course, but it is natural for our species to wake in the night and be up for an hour or two and then to fall back asleep.  That, of course, interferes with the nine-to-five (925) that capitalism holds so dear.  In response, humans have altered their natural sleep patterns to conform.  The results are predictable: a line at the coffee machine every day at the office.

When I raised this with a friend, I was reminded that much of our life-style has been determined by the industrial revolution.  Certainly the concept of the weekend was.  And the constant feeling of never having enough time to, well, exist.  I awake when my body tells me it’s slept enough.  Generally that’s around 3:00 a.m.  I begin work early because Protestants have this work ethic going, but then I always get sleepy around 8:00 a.m.  Napping on the job is essentially the same as being a communist, so like many others I struggle through the rest of the day, not quite as efficient as I was for the first couple of hours.  In many cultures a nap is built into the after lunch slump.  Intravenous coffee is preferred by capitalists everywhere.

What if love catches you on a Monday?  Is it a sick day?  A vacation day?  A personal day?  Or all of the above?  It’s an opportunity to be human, but less than a true capitalist.  Someone could be making money off your time!  And whoever heard of more than ten paid holidays in a year?  I’m not complaining.  I love weekends and the scattering of holidays I receive, I really do.  Still, I miss the spontaneity of life.  The flight from a predator.  The shutting of the eyes when tired.  The celebration of love when it’s found.  A Faustian bargain was made when Christianity wed capitalism.  We’re encouraged to buy valentines for our sweeties, but show up to work and be there bright and early again the next morning.  May you nevertheless find love on your Monday.