A Journal of Life Pursued

Archive for the ‘The Examined Life’ Category

Thursday, 07.03.2014

In Books, Literature, The Examined Life on July 3, 2014 at 10:00 am

Yesterday at 4:43am Lucy jumped into bed with me and curled up on my pillow. Carole is out of town and perhaps she sensed the void. The sun was about to rise so there was no point in delaying the day and I got up and got the coffee going. Lucy looked at me expectantly and I wondered how people without a dog start their day. I put a top on my coffee cup and we set off on our walk and while I was walking down the path through the morning woods I had a sense that there was nothing at all in the world existing but for that moment, quiet and private and telling. It was quite extraordinary and for the rest of the day I reflected on it and attempted to grasp it over and over, trying as one does not to lose grip on such a thing as that. I was successful to a point and then, like all things strongly desired, I lost my grasp on it and it was gone, but for the memory of it.

* * *

I finished the third book (of six) in the Karl Ove Knausgaard series, My  Struggle, and the last paragraph is one of the most beautiful paragraphs I’ve ever read.

“After the moving van had left and we got into the car, Mom, Dad, and I, and we drove down the hill and over the bridge, it struck me with a huge sense of relief that I would never be returning, that everything I saw I was seeing for the final time. That the houses and the places that disappeared behind me were also disappearing out of my life, and for good. Little did I know then that every detail of this landscape, and every single person living it, would forever be lodged in my memory with a ring as true as perfect pitch.”


Thursday, 6.19.2014

In Life, The Examined Life, Wisdom on June 19, 2014 at 12:32 am

I spotted a woman recently who was sporting a beautiful broad smile. She was an older woman, portly, and as she walked she swung her arms wide. I saw her again, a day or so later, same smile, broad and genuine. I could not help myself. “Excuse me,” I called. She was walking rapidly. She did not stop. “Excuse me,” I said again, a bit louder. She turned. “You have a beautiful smile,” I said. She leaned into me. “It is my gift,” she said. Her English was heavily accented–German, I think. She continued: “So many people have so many problems, you know. I can’t do anything to help them. So I give them my smile.” I was speechless and my eyes misted over. All I was capable of, being so taken aback by this, was an understated, Thank you.

It is not every day that wisdom walks by, arms swinging. When it does, be prepared to give thanks.

Thursday, 6.12.2014

In Life, The Examined Life, Travel on June 14, 2014 at 6:31 am


Tallinn, Estonia. A week ago our bag was stolen in Amsterdam. We were standing outside the city-center train station, foggy after a transatlantic flight, hungry and disoriented. I stood post with our bags. Carole, Tim, and Candace huddled over the map, occasionally glancing up at the street sign. A man approached and asked for directions. That should have been warning enough, as if I had a look of the local about me. I responded that the train station was directly behind me. He nodded and moved on. A second  man appeared. I had not noticed him before. He locked eyes on me. I stared at him briefly, then he too moved on. He did not smile. The men disappeared into the crowd. My senses returned and I looked down to discover that one luggage bag had disappeared as well.

* * *

I wonder, if at night in their lair, thieves harbor misgivings at having troubled their victim? Will they use the shampoo they pinched? Will they sell Carole’s curling iron, or simply toss it aside in their futile search for pearls and diamonds?  Are thieves, by definition of personality, lacking the introspection necessary to feel remorse? I doubt it. More likely, circumstances demand that they ignore such sentiment. Like the rest of us, they have to eat too. Most times I worry that the world is lurching along this path of desensitized behavior, particularly with relation to the physical world, the environment: What can I salvage, rather than how can I contribute? Personally, too often I discover myself looking to see what can be secured, rather than conserved. We are all, to a fashion, practicing thieves.

Such are my misgivings.

Sunday 5.11.14

In Books, Death, Life, Literature, The Examined Life on May 11, 2014 at 4:38 pm

There was a birder at the park this morning. I spotted him as Lucy and I rounded the path. He was walking a bike. He occasionally stopped and lifted his binoculars and peered into a tree. He was wearing bike shorts and a helmet and was sporting large rubber band-like straps below his kneecaps. “Red tail?” I asked, sauntering past, a bird disappearing over the trees. “Kestrel,” he corrected. I moved on. He lingered. Lucy darted ahead. There is an unmatched quality to a Sunday early morning.

* * *

I returned two books to shelves this week, actually, to be precise, one book to the shelf, one to the library. I have tried to read Angle of Repose Wallace Stenger’s 1971 Pulitzer-winning novel three times. I advanced almost two hundred pages this go ’round (out of 600) but decided to retrace my steps. It lacked a certain deeper context. Or rather, it–this context–escaped me. A book has to appeal on multiple levels. Angle of Repose seemed lacking in dimension. No doubt my problem, not the book’s. The other book, The Second Book of Tao, was poor timing. Some books, like some foods, require the necessary appetite. Bailing on a book no longer troubles me.

The last novel I devoured was the second book in the six book series, My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard. Like many other readers of this series (3000 pages!), I cannot get enough, but cannot explain exactly why. Zadie Smith says she needs his books “like crack.” James Woods, writing in The New Yorker, says, [Knausgaard] wants us to inhabit the ordinariness of life, which is sometimes visionary…, sometimes banal…and sometimes momentous…but all of it perforce ordinary because it happens in the course of a life, and happens, in different forms, to everyone. He notices everything—too much, no doubt—but often lingers beautifully.” It feels time to get book three. I have the appetite.

                                   * * *

I cleaned out dad’s room the day after he died. All of his belongings packed into three grocery-store banana boxes and four trash bags. I took the bags of clothes to Good Will. The boxes remain in the back of my truck. Dad never read Thoreau, but he understood living simply. The sage lives as long as he should, not as long as he can, says Montaigne.  Dad, unknowingly, was a great philosopher.

   * * *

I return from my morning walk with Lucy and declare to Carole that I don’t have a spiritual bone in my body. This is a revelation after years of fruitlessly attempting to cultivate a phantom desire, as if living up to a responsibility. “Do you mean religious bone in your body?” she asked. “No, I know I don’t have that,” I say. She nods and says it’s the same with her. We leave it at that. Know thyself, counseled the Greeks.

Late Night Thoughts on Listening to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros*

In Creativity, Death, Happiness, Life, Music, The Examined Life on February 1, 2014 at 11:00 am

It is late in the evening and I am especially missing my youth. This is probably why I don’t stay up late. Why subject yourself to such a thing? It isn’t so much missing the days of youth as it is creeping closer to the remove of those day altogether, the permanent remove of everything, frankly. What else would explain why, after so many months absent, I write these notes. It is late at night when we need one another most.

I haven’t been here, …the house, for some time and looking at the statistics I see that a couple days ago I had a spike in site visitors. Yes, even with endless months of no participation there is still a struggling readership. A few days past was the one-year mark of my friend Michael Dingle’s death and maybe that explains the spike. I wrote about Michael a few times. Perhaps friends visited to refresh his memory. A year later I still miss him and miss more the magic potential of not growing old that he somehow represented. We would run our ropes and I would belay him, or him me, and we would climb strong as if there were nothing else. Such is the course of climbing–and the course of friendship. Those moments were singular, or at least seem so, presented by that old trickster, memory. But eventually his luck ran out. And, now on a lonely evening, I think on that and wonder at it all.

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” wrote Fitzgerald. Despite training and wishful thinking I lose grip on the present and drift away, receding from the present. Agreeing with Sandburg, there are too many of me and they all are incomprehensible tonight, all of them in the past tense seemingly, waving goodbye.

But that is the stuff of navel gazing and that never really gets a person anyplace but thinking of their belly and that is never good. Fat or skinny, belly pondering is a dead-end, I suspect. Instead, tonight I listen to music for joy, Edward Sharpe and the merry band of music makers. I am grinning to this music like an idiot and perhaps that is the key. Good music and a smile on one’s face. It is enough to be satisfied with that. But it is late and I get silly in the late hours. “Come dance with me,” sing the band, “over heartache and rage.” Okay then. Tonight I will dance on, over heartache and rage, to the sunny fields of morning. Thank you for listening. Good night.


*  Yes, I lifted the title. Sort of. For a real writer-thinker, you’d be well served to read Lewis Thomas’s Late Night Thoughts On Listening to Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. 141634

Since we’re on the subject: there comes along occasionally a personality that fills my heart with joy and aspiration, such are the emotions when I watch Alexander Michael Tahquitz “Alex” Ebert, lead-man for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. I can understand why he is held in almost cult-like status by his fans. Here, listen to the band’s best known tune. Turn up the volume and decide for yourself.

(I’m sorry if you’ve received multiple copies of this post. My tools are rusty and I sent things out before they were ready.)

Knowledge Gained

In The Examined Life, The infinity of ideas on September 4, 2013 at 6:00 am

I was raised better than to simply walk away from such a friend as you. Yet, I did, I have. My apologies. Sincerely. My absence does not mean I’ve not been thinking of you. To the contrary, I have been plagued with guilt, that most burdensome of the self-induced emotions, over my thoughtless (non-)actions. Over abandonment.

A friend, a reader of the House, recently chastened me: You cannot just walk away. You should post an update, explain. She was right, of course (as women most often are). Except I have little to offer as explanation. This is my pattern: In-depth obsession followed abruptly by vacuous absence. The pattern has dogged me all my life, tinting everything–cresting elation swamped by indifference.

To my friend’s comment, I offer this description by way of explanation. I note too, that in my last post (many months ago) I also touched on my obsessive tendencies. But this time is different. Now I have some related knowledge. Here’s what I now understand: My life has been spent in pursuit of mastery, or if not mastery, at least the ability to do something really well. Just one thing, anything. It didn’t matter, physical, intellectual, spiritual (whatever that is), athletic, one pursuit after another, all the while, sniffing the air, checking the compass, asking: Is this the path to mastery? Obsession grows around such a thing, blanketing it, so that only the pursuit remains, the motive lost. Ultimately, I read the wind: No, you’re not going to master this thing, then I shut down. The lever is flipped and I move on.

This insight came one night, prompted by a deep conversation with a young friend; a conversation well lubricated with ample amounts of Maker’s Mark. It was a flash, a revelation that laid out my entire life. Imagine all the dollars I saved in therapy! The next morning, the whisky fog cleared, yet the insight remained, the insight being specifically of a life spent in pursuit of mastery, albeit Illusive mastery.

Which brings me back to “…the House…” My effort here has been nothing less than to try to figure out how to master life. And here’s the thing: I came to understand that one can’t. Indeed, there are truly things a person can master but life is not one of them. This is knowledge gained, wisdom even, and in the gain a bit of awakening happens. Yet, even at that, a truth revealed, the lever is again flipped and I move on.