Tell me why I don’t like Mondays

26 07 2010

Perhaps it has something to do with starting the workday early to try to fix a problem which was uncovered late on Friday and then not knowing if that fix is really enough of a fix and trying to find another way to deal with the problem and having a supervisor (who is genuinely a good guy) not understanding that the combination of the fix and the another-way was probably the best we could do given the time constraints and having to take the time to explain why this was so and then having him suggest that maybe in addition to making sure the patch (to offer up a metaphor) works we could also make the patch pretty until another supervisor (the head honcha and a good one too) said perhaps we can save the pretty for later and the first supervisor saying Uh, yeah, okay that makes sense and by the end of the day running out of time actually to implement the fix/another deal/patch and instead of leaving early because I started early leaving late because I had to explain why the patch should work to the supervisors who did in the end agree that this should work and we really don’t have much choice anyway.

So okay then.

Advertisements




It’s getting better all the time

4 04 2010

I blame Rod Dreher.

No, he didn’t start it—well, maybe he did—but he certainly propelled my thinking back a thousand years or so.

Mr. Dreher, you see, is an American old-school conservative: He’s skeptical of modernity even as he admittedly eats of its fruits; skeptical of government (that’s the American part) even as he decries a culture which, in his view, corrodes human dignity; and a believer in community and roots even as he’s repeatedly moved his family around the country.

I say this not to damn him, not least because he is honest about his contradictions, but to locate, if not the then at least a, source of my current trajectory.

You see, I became interested in one of his contradictions, and took off from there.

Dreher has written (not terribly thoughtfully, for the most part) on Islam and the violence currently associated with it. He then contrasts this to contemporary Christianity, and to the relative lack of similar violence. There are all kinds of commentary one could offer on his views and contrasts, but what squiggled into my brain was his unquestioning acceptance of a main tenet of modernity—why would this professed anti-modern base his critique on a pillar of modern thought?

Time: The notion that there is a forward and a back-ward, and that forward is better than back.

This notion of the forward movement of time, the accretion of knowledge, the betterment of the status of the world, has explicitly informed progressive thought within modernity, but it runs underneath almost all of modern Anglo-American and European thought.

(Disclaimer: I’m not talking about the whole world in my discussion of modernity, or of all forms of modernity—there are forms of modern art and architecture, for example, which are distinct from that of  political theory—but of the set of ideas which emerged out of Europe and which greatly informed European philosophy and political institutions. These ideas have of course also found a home across the globe (not least in the United States), but in attempting to trace the ideas back to there source, I’m confining myself to the United Kingdom and the continent. Finally, I make no claim that these ideas in and of themselves are unique to Europe, but that there particular shape and constellation is historically specific. That is all.)

Okay. So, what got to me about Dreher’s contentions regarding Islam was that Christianity today was ‘better’ in some objective (or at least, intersubjective) way than Islam, that is, that even those who are not Christian would see that Christianity is better for the world than Islam.

I’m neither Christian nor Muslim, so theoretically I could simply dismiss such claims about the relative merits of these religions as a kind of fan jockeying of a sport I don’t follow—except that, contrary to Franklin Foer, religion has been a far greater force in the world than soccer.

In any case, even if it is the case that currently there is less violence associated with Christianity than with Islam, it wasn’t always so: The history of Christian Europe was until very recently a history of warring Europe.

I’ll leave that for another day. What is key is the general formula:  that at time t x was strongly associated with y, and that if at time t+1 x is no longer strongly associated with y it is not to say that x will never again associate with y.

To put it more colloquially, just because it ain’t now doesn’t mean it won’t ever be. That Christianity is no longer warring doesn’t mean it won’t ever war.

To believe otherwise is to believe that the past, being the past, has been overcome, never to return; the future is all—a thoroughly modern notion.

Again, as I’m not a fan of either team, I’m not about to engage in Christian-Muslim chest-bumping. More to the point, shit’s too complex for that.

Besides, that’s not what I’m interested in. In thinking about time, I got to thinking about what else characterizes modernity, and thus what might be post-modern, and oh, are we really post-modern? no I don’t think so even though I once took it for granted (which goes to show the risks of taking things for granted) and maybe where we are is at the edges of modernity and who knows if there’s more modernity beyond this or whether these are the fraying edges and hm how would one know maybe it would make sense to look at that last transition into modernity and what came before that?  the Renaissance but was that the beginning of modernity or the end of what came before that? hmm oh yeah the medieval period and Aquinas and . . .  uh. . .  shit: I don’t know anything about the medieval period.

So that’s why I’m mucking about the past, trying to make sense of those currents within the old regime which led, eventually (although certainly not ineluctably) to the new.

It’s a tricky business, not least because I’m looking at the old through the lens of the new; even talking about ‘looking back’ is a modern sensibility.

So be it: Here is where I stand; I can do no other.

Well, okay, I can crouch, and turn around, and try not to take my stance for granted or to think that my peering into the past will in fact bring me into the past.

But I can still look.

~~~

My starter reading list, on either side and in the midst of.

  • A Splendid Exchange, William J. Bernstein
  • God’s Crucible, David Levering Lewis
  • Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven, Uta Ranke-Heinemann
  • Aristotle’s Children, Richard E. Rubenstein,
  • A World Lit Only By Fire, William Manchester
  • Sea of Faith, Stephen O’Shea
  • The Science of Liberty, Timothy Ferris
  • Betraying Spinoza, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
  • The Scientific Revolution, Stephen Shapin
  • Leviathan and the Air-Pump, Stephen Shapin and Simon Schaffer
  • Coming of Age in the Milky Way, Timothy Ferris

Suggestions welcome.





Friday poem (Sunday): Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief

7 03 2010

I’m having problems with time.

It stretches too much here then snaps back and contracts there. It never ends and I don’t know where it’s gone.

Nothing new about this, nothing unique to my life. Who is able, truly, to get hold of time and tuck it in her pocket and happily carry it with her, knowing it will bend and curve  and carry her through her days?

I’m being bowled over by time, undermined at and by that same time; I need to latch myself into it, surf it, live in and with it.

What other option is there?

Still, I haven’t been able to dig my fingers in, still, it slips through me, still, it leaves its marks and I am running and falling back at the same time.

Clearly, I need someone with a better sense than me. No time for exploration this week; I need someone durable and clear.

I need Maxine Kumin.

Our Ground Time Here Will Be Brief

Blue landing lights make
nail holes in the dark.
A fine snow falls. We sit
on the tarmac taking on
the mail, quick freight,
trays of laboratory mice,
coffee and Danish for
the passengers.

Wherever we’re going
is Monday morning.
Wherever we’re coming from
is Mother’s lap.
On the cloud-packed above, strewn
as loosely as parsnip
or celery seeds, lie
the souls of the unborn:

my children’s children’s
children and their father.
We gather speed for the last run
and lift off into the weather.





Friday poem (Sunday): Detached Verses

21 02 2010

It’s pretty clear that I’ve been a bit off with the blogging in general and the Friday poem in particular.

Damn that full time job!

(How long can I damn or curse the bank-account-sustaining office job? Can I turn it into a ‘card’ to be pulled out whenever I get lazy or sullen?)

*Sigh*

Okay, so I know I have to readjust how I think about my free time and how I want to make use or live in it. I work M-F 9-5 and teach Thursday and Friday nights. That’s how it is.

There is time. Maybe not enough, maybe not in the shape or line I’d like, but there is time.

So, in casting about for a Friday/Sunday poem (and yes, I’ll continue to call it ‘Friday poem’ regardless of the day on which it is posted), the theme presented itself.

I thought I’d look for something funny or wry, something witty or sly.

I thought  it might take some time(!) to find the right poem, but I found the right poem in no time at all.

It’s not funny, but there is a taste of wry in the following poem by Abba Kovner (translated from the Hebrew by Eddie Levenston).

And the final admonishment is witty and sly and altogether human.

Detached Verses

1
Soon
Soon you will pass from the darkened room
to another world. Freed from debts
and contacts.

2
One more
One more look
at the neighbor’s garden
and his dog asleep
on the still warm tiles.

3
A headline
A headline still blaring
by the base of an overflowing garbage can.

4
A little
A little longer in the setting light of
the sun.

5
The stub of a moment of parting
from things we ignored when we could still
live erect on our feet.

6
Things we believed would never
fade have already been abandoned
by your memory.

7
If only you had been one of the philosophers!
Giving a flavor of meaning
to ruined buildings, to acts

of heroism, to our fate.

8
Was that leap
into the depths
any easier?

9
Soon
Soon we shall know
if we have learnt to accept that the stars
do not go out when we die.





We play that we’re actors on a movie screen

2 12 2009

I have to get rid of my computer.

I’m not going to do that.

The internet, then. Save me some money.

Not going to happen.

No, I will keep my computer and my broadband and I will continue to waste time watching movies and bad t.v. shows and then watching them all again.

Yes, I finally got Netflix, and in the week and a-half I’ve had it I’ve watched 2 DVDs and a lot of streaming movies and t.v. shows.

A lot.

Now, I did learn one thing: I am over Law & Order. I watched an episode of L&O:SVU from their tenth season and just thought Blegggh—really?

And even tho’ I can watch CSI on CBS, my interest lags there, as well. Yes, there are still tw0-ish other shows I still tune in, but, mostly, I’m done with the whole t.v. thing.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that there are all these movies which I can watch at the click of the mouse.

This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem, save for my inability to close out the Netflix window after finishing a movie. Nope, time for another.

Pitiful. There’s reading and writing and Oh! Going outside!

Not happening.

This will fade, I know. I’ll get sick of myself doing nothing but sitting in front of my (um, new [it was on sale!], larger, external) monitor watching explosions and tears and drinking and running and people doing all the things I could be doing were not I sitting in front of my new, larger, external monitor.

But in the meantime, what’s that crappy movie I won’t admit to liking even as a guilty pleasure which I’ve seen 18 kajillion times. . . ?

Lord. Pitiful.





Closing walls and ticking clocks

11 10 2009

It was my twenti-mhtph class reunion last night.

I didn’t go.

But I did get to talk to folks who were at the reunion. T. called me amidst it all, then passed the phone to one person after another.

It was very loud.

I’m not sad I wasn’t there. I managed to miss all previous reunions, and, unlike in previous years, I wouldn’t have minded attending, but a trip back to SmallTown just was not happening.

B. filled me in a bit, today. I try to remember to call all of my friends and family members on or near their birthdays; B.’s day fell on a mad grading day, so it wasn’t until this weekend that we managed to connect. Anyway, she noted that a lot of people looked much the same as they had, some of the guys had gotten fat, one woman looked really, really old, and one of our classmates had gone completely around the bend.

Cameras-in-the-forest, president-not-born-in-US around the bend.

Everyone else seemed to have retained his or her sanity, however, and even Mr. Alternate Reality apparently entertained more than he offended. (It also apparently helped that another classmate basically served as his minder.)

So we’re halfway to the end. Does this make us old, or young? We are, thank the gods, no longer teenagers, but are we old? We ache and dye our hair and talk about our health, but we still have hair to dye and health to discuss, and we’re mobile enough that we can generate aches.

We’re forty-xmpthish: One lifetime down, one to go. Does that seem like so much more or not much more?

Who knows. It’s all we’ve got.

It’ll have to do.





Watching the tide roll away

6 09 2009

I am the most undisciplined person in the world. The world! The universe! The MULTIVERSE!

Okay, maybe not the multiverse. Maybe just in my apartment.

Where I live alone.

(The cats? They’re cats! They do want they want.)

Lack of discipline differs from laziness—tho’ I am, of course, also prone to laziness—in that the problem is located in the lack, not in the effort. Properly harnessed, I can work like the dickens.

Left to roam free, however, and I simply wander, nose about the field, and am apt to lie down for good, long, nap.

As an occasional phenomenon, this is not only not a problem, but even a delight. As a regular occurrence, however, it doesn’t refresh, but enervates.

Low-key folk may welcome enervation, but I am not a member of that particular tribe. It’s not—exactly—that I’m high-strung, but I am restless, ambitious, and voracious. I need to do.

I’ll avoid the whole doing-vs-being discussion (for now), noting simply the fulcrum for  balance may be set differently for me than it is for others: I need a fair amount of doing to make sense of my being.

Unfortunately, I’m shit about doing unless forced. The mere need, in other words, is insufficient motive.

Fortunately, I can respond to the flimsiest of force, especially if that force makes a kind of sense. A self-made list is indeed flimsy, but it also makes sense: Here are the things I want to accomplish. It sets out in physical form tasks I set for myself, makes it separate from me, and gives me a means of satisfaction when tasks are completed, i.e., I get to cross them off the list.

I don’t know why it’s satisfying, and I don’t care. It makes sense because it works for me, even if the underlying reasons for why it works remain murky. I don’t need endless epistemological iteration of the appeal of list-making and crossing-off, I need something to get my ass in gear.

‘Working model’ or ‘beta-version’ or ‘jury-rigged’ or ‘throwing spaghetti at the wall’—whatever. It’s a means, not an end.

Now, not everything is on the list. I don’t need to put things like ‘brush teeth’ or ‘clean litter box’ or ‘eat’—these are sufficiently habitual and/or vital that they carry their own force. (And besides, I’m not that pathetic.) Nor do I need to remind myself to read for my courses, print out notes, or grade: the requirements of teaching keep me in line. Ditto with wage-work generally.

And I don’t need any (well, not usually) prompts to keep in touch with friends. Pleasure has its own rewards.

The only kind of work for which I need no external constraints is writing. When I want to write, I do, and once I start writing, I almost always want to continue writing. I think this is partly due to knowing that I’m pretty good at writing, partly that it’s not hard for me, and largely because I write to find out what happens, i.e., I’m curious, and that’s enough to drive me on.

This is also why I don’t sketch out what I’m going to do in advance. As I paused in writing this post, I was thinking about writing my dissertation, and how different writing that was from writing my novels. Yeah, duh, but there’s something central to both types of writing: not knowing how it ends. In fact, I had a hell of a time writing my dissertation as long as I thought I knew all that I would think about the argument. I had to tell myself that I did not, in fact, know how the dissertation would ‘end’, that I had to let it play itself out. It was only then that I was actually able to sit my ass down and write the thing.

So writing I can do because writing is something I can do.

Pitching and selling what I write? That’s on the list.