The Idea of a #FathersDay #Rhizome

Saturday evening, at about 8 pm, Kim, Fiona, and I had finished dinner and were sitting on the deck, getting ready for the final phase of the evening, when my phone rang. It was my eldest daughter, Mairead, calling from Japan, where it was already Father’s Day.

Perhaps some fathers, especially those interested in gardening receive rhizomes for Father’s Day, maybe irises to plant, or ginger, or asparagus. I have been interested in the works of Deleuze and Guattari, and particularly around the idea of rhizome as a philosophical and educational concept.

We ended up having an hour long discussion, covering all kinds of different ideas, a very rhizomatic discussion.

It is hard to say where to start, with everything so interconnected, and it probably doesn’t matter. Instead, I will provide a little context and then try to map out some of the rhizomatic discussion.

Mairead left for college when she was fourteen, heading off to Mary Baldwin College in Virginia. She explore several different majors and ultimately ended up getting a degree in history from University of Connecticut before heading off to teach English in Japan, and then enter graduate school there.

From time to time, we get the opportunity to talk about her studies, and this evening was a good example. She talked about a presentation she gave in her seminar which is being led by a professor very interested in Guattari. Mairead mentioned to him that I was interested in Guattari and he asked if I was a history professor or something like that. She said something like, no, he’s just weird that way. He said that he would like to meet me some time, and I hope that will work out.

I remembered meeting one of Mairead’s Asian Studies professors at Mary Baldwin. We had joke beforehand about how she should teach me a phrases to say to him, introducing myself, but instead of being a proper introduction, being the sort of phrase that someone might convince someone else to say, as a joke. So, Mairead taught me how to say “Hi. I’m weird” in Japanese. I didn’t know what she had actually taught me to say, but I figured it was a good thing to do, so I said it to the professor, who raised an eyebrow as I said it.

This evening, Mairead who only knew rudimentary Japanese at that time, told me that she might not have used the best word for “weird”. The word she taught me had connotations of “deep” and “mysterious”.

One of the ideas that came up in our discussion this evening was one that people who don’t speak multiple languages and travel circles where different languages might be spoken are unlikely to encounter, the decision of what language to talk in.

It seems there are many factors that go into this decision, in terms of the context of the discussion, the content, the participants, the goals, etc. I guess the closest I get to that is deciding, especially in my work role, whether to write something as an email, a tweet, a Facebook post, a blog post, or some other format. Perhaps it is something we all have to decide in terms of whether we call someone, text them, send them an email, a Facebook message, or many other options.

It made me think of a Group Relations conference I attended in Holland back in about 2000. It led to a brief digression to talk about Wilfred Bion, S. H. Foulkes, and Melanie Klein. We talked briefly about psychoanalysis, Object Relations, Group Relations, and Group Analytics. We did not digress as far as Jacques Lacan which could have brought us all the way back to Guattari.

The Group Relations conference was international and was supposed to be in English, but at one point, some of the participants rebelled and chose to speak in Dutch, leaving me and some of the other international speakers out, or “othered”.

I also spoke around recently listening to a recording of Evelyn Underhill’s 1911 book Mysticism. We went off on a brief tangent about Underhill, Tolkien, and hobbits. Evelyn Underhill did write to C.S. Lewis, who was a friend of Tolkien. It is curious to wonder if Tolkien knew Evelyn Underhill. I suspect he did.

Thinking about Underhill’s work, it is interesting to think about how our approaches to realism, idealism, pragmatism, etc shape our thoughts about the transcendent. It is even more interesting to think about this in terms of how the language we speak or choose to speak shapes our thinking. Mairead spoke of the choice on language in a multi-lingual setting as being automatic, and I thought of how Underhill spoke of some of the writings of the mystics as being automatic. A tangent we didn’t get off onto was Jackson Pollack and automatic painting or approaching Pollack from a context of Deleuze and Guattari

Mairead recounted writing a paper about some female Christian mystic back when she was in junior high school. We had a good discussion around women and mysticism. We talked about how this might relate to the education available to women in the middle ages, their relationship to the dominant power structures of the time, how it related to other forms of expression, particularly in the arts.

This led to an interesting discussion about the relationship between religions and power structures. We talked about the established church verses the counter-cultural church. Mairead spoke about a Buddhist friend who had visited the United States during one of the Gulf Wars and was shocked to find Christians that supported war, since there was a strong relationship between Christianity and pacifisms in Japan. This led to talking about Buddhists that were not pacifists in Japan, which may seem equally hard to fathom for American’s that have a strong association between Buddhism and pacifism.

Perhaps the interesting relationship isn’t between pacifism and specific religions, as it is between pacifism and how the religion relates to the power structures of the culture. Perhaps pacifism is more about a rejection of the use of violence by the dominant power structures to maintain power, and so established religions are less likely to be pacifist and counter-cultural religions are more likely to be pacifist.

It was particularly interesting to think about this in terms of the discussions about Islam, and particularly some of Donald Trump’s rhetoric, and Obama’s response.

We veered over to touching on R.G. Collingwood’s Idea of History as well as a discussion of one of Mairead’s classes where different professors come and lecture on different methods of research. It made me think of a class I took on Marx back in my college days, not the Marx of the Red Scare, but the Marx of Philosophy, History, Economics, Sociology, Political Science, and more. This provided another chance to return to the thought of Guattari, but instead, it was time to end to phone call and attend to other stuff.

A Pre-Modern Brotherhood of Post Structuralists

The latest class in the Poetry in America series has started, Modernism, and the first poem being explored is In a Station of the Metro.

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

The discussion forum starts off with

“his first attempt to write the poem resulted in a thirty-line draft; his second, six months later, was half that length; the next year, Pound produce the haiku-sized final draft.”

We are then asked, “How does Pound's poem accomplish so much with so few words?”

Pound’s poem’s power comes from compressed comparison. The comparison is implied and a verb isn’t even needed.

Pound kept whittling away at the poem until he was down to just fourteen words (not counting the title). Why stop there? Why not keep going until you get down to just two words to compare and contrast, “Faces : Petals”? Down to one word, “Apparition”? Or no words, like John Cage’s 4’33?

What is it that makes poetry poetry? Especially if we abandon the subject, structure, and sonance of earlier poetry? Are we reduced to just comparison?

It makes me think of Billy Collins’ poem, “The Trouble with Poetry: A Poem of Explanation”

In Collin’ poem, we find:

And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,

As we think about what it is that makes poetry poetry, I think about my own writing. Why do I write like I do? How does this relate to modernity, capitalism, and the industrial revolution? Is it time for the next phase in poetry? Post Modern? Post Structural? Or, perhaps like our Pre-Raphaelite predecessors, a return to some of the beauty of previous art, perhaps a Pre-Modern Brotherhood of Post Structuralists?

Subsequent thoughts: As I go through the comments in the course, one person writes:

the poem first invoked memories of Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry"

I respond:

I like comparing the Pound's crowd to Whitman's crowd. The apparition of these faces in the crowd; how curious you are to me!

Many of the other comments focus on apparition, particularly the ghostly aspect, and it makes me think of Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem Wraith

Benedict and Deleuze

The super bowl really didn’t hold my attention, so I headed off to bed early. But now, in the middle of the night, the meatballs and bean dip sit uncomfortably in my gut and I cannot sleep. After tossing and turning for a bit, I get up and try to write.

I don’t have a burning desire to write, like I often do. Instead, I am writing simply because it is what I do. Not only was it Super Bowl Sunday, but it was the last Sunday of Epiphany. We had a Baptism and our Annual Church Meeting.

The priest did a great job of tying the Baptism to the readings about transfiguration and focused on our own individual transformations. The annual meeting was upbeat and we all ate together afterwards as a church family.

I chatted briefly with our Seminarian. She spoke about how different Ash Wednesday was after she had started her discernment process. I commented about how even the Baptism felt very different. I looked at the child being baptized. I wondered what his life would be like, how God would touch him. I thought back to my own baptism, when I was a child. What was it like? For me? For me mother? For the minister? For godparents? What did they think would be come of me?

Phrases like “Changed from glory into glory” and “if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation” come to mind. I think back to my poem about Lent, “You have entered unchartered territory”.

I have not settled on my Lenten discipline for this year. Will I try to write a poem a day? What will I do with my personal devotion time? How do various study groups fit in? I keep stumbling into a few different ideas that seem at odds with one another.

One is the ‘Rule of Life’. It keeps coming up in different Lenten studies. I’m eager to jump into this, but waiting for Lent and for the studies to begin. Concurrent with this is my interest in the unknown, the unknowable, the unexpected, the unchartered territory. I think back to my readings about rhizomes, connected learning, and digital pedagogy.

Where does the Rhizome and the Rule of Life meet? How do I hold Saint Benedict and Gilles Deleuze in my mind together? It stirs a longing in my soul, to bring together these two thoughts in the midst of daily life.

I stumble across Deleuze’s essay Immanence and start reading the introduction. How I long to spend time reading it and finding others to discuss it with, in the context of the Rule of Life. Yet in a few hours, I will need to get on with my daily life.

I spend a little more time, looking at audio files I could download and listen to on my commute, but now I must try to get some sleep.

Relevance #Discernment #SavingSweetBriar

It‘s Groundhog Day, Candlemas, Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, or day after the Iowa Caucuses, depending on your orientation. I was thinking of writing about these for my blog post today, until I came across this article

Sweet Briar College gets record number of applicants.

Students and faculty say the number of applications – which increased from 751 at this time last year to 1099 this year — is just another sign of a community that has banded together to pull itself back from the brink.

I decided to retweet it, and so I checked to see if the #SavingSweetBriar hash tag was still active. It is, and from there I found an even more interesting article

Making the Most of Stakeholder Revolt: The Recapturing of the San Diego Opera and Sweet Briar College.

This article starts

Over the past few years, NPQ has been tracking nonprofits whose stakeholders rose up to save them after their boards voted to close the doors. They are in a larger field of organizations that have felt the sting of stakeholder rebellions when a board has somehow broken faith with the community it serves.

I skimmed over the beginning section and the part about the San Diego Opera. I haven’t been following that story as closely as I’ve been following the Sweet Briar story. The section on Sweet Briar starts off presenting some of the history, and then has this quote:

There was a failure of faith in the mission—probably over about a ten-year period—from what I can tell and have observed since being on the inside. There was a belief at the highest leadership level that women’s colleges weren’t relevant anymore. A lot of that was coming from generations of administrative leaders and board leaders who were from classes of an earlier date, when Sweet Briar was the option because…

This particularly jumped out at me, and I’ve included the quote, leaving out the reason people had gone to Sweet Briar on purpose. You see, this Sunday will be my last day as Clerk of the Vestry of Grace and St. Peter’s Church in Hamden, CT. I have loved serving on the vestry. For those not acquainted with Episcopal Church governance, being Clerk of the Vestry is a kin to be secretary of the board of directors.

It is a difficult time. Like Sweet Briar, we have had dwindling participation and have had to rely on our endowment. As a board, we have explored cost saving measures while trying to stay true to the mission. I’ve brought up what happened at Sweet Briar at Vestry meetings. If we had been a different church with different leadership, our story might be more like Sweet Briar’s. As I read the paragraph, I thought of how it would read if it were talking about various churches:

There was a failure of faith in the mission—probably over the past few decades—from what I can tell and have observed since being on the inside. There was a belief at the highest leadership level that churches weren’t relevant anymore. A lot of that was coming from generations of administrative leaders and board leaders who were from churches of an earlier date, when you went to church because…

I remember singing Hymn by Paul Stukey

I visited Your house again on Christmas or Thanksgiving
And a balded man said You were dead,
But the house would go on living.
He recited poetry and as he saw me stand to leave
He shook his head and said I'd never find You.

I don’t know if there were people at Grace and St. Peter’s who believed this, but it certainly wasn’t the case when I got there. At Grace and St. Peter’s there remains a strong faith in the mission, worshipping God, feeding the hungry, visit the sick, sheltering the homeless.

I don’t know what God has in store for Grace and St. Peter’s. I don’t know what God has in store for me, but I know that the mission still matters, and like Sweet Briar College, it will continue in unexpected ways, even when many people question its relevancy for today.

#DigiWriMo: Stranger Danger, Will Robinson

One of my goals for #DigiWriMo is to be more engaged in other people’s blogs and hopefully to have others more engaged in my blog. Years ago, I used to participate in various blog swaps and I work as a social media manager, so there is nothing really new about this for me.

One person who has been really good at this, at least in the early moments of #DigiWriMo is Sarah Honeychurch. She’s been commenting on my posts, thank you Sarah, and responded to Joanne Fuchs tweet about blogging once a week, “I find having a supportive audience in events like #DigiWriMo helps me.”

So, I went over to Joanne’s blog, where her most recent post was Yes, Virginia. You Can Ask Your Own Questions!. Joanne sounds like the sort of teacher I would want my inquisitive eighth grader to have. Joanne was talking about helping students form questions around “letters from service men from different wars”. It fit nicely with the story I heard Arnie Pritchard tell Friday night about This Business of Fighting based on his father’s letters.

Joanne also reminds me of Paul Bogush and I wonder if they’ve met. As an aside, another participant of #DigiWriMo this year is Geoffrey Gevalt. I read his bio and looked at the Young Writers Project. It made me wonder if Geoffrey knew Steve Collins and Youth Journalism International. I sent Steve a Facebook message to see if they knew each other. They should.

All of this is prologue to the key focus of this evening’s #DigiWriMo post. The other week, my daughter Fiona texted me, letting me know that there was some guy at her school teaching the kids about Internet Safety. Now I want the internet to be safe as much as the next guy, probably more so, since my job is social media manager for a health care organization, but I often find a lot of the internet safety talks, at best, misguided. They focus on online predators and stranger danger, and less on more important issues like cyberbullying or how you can help online friends in times of danger.

Stranger danger: I’ve never met Sarah, Joanne, or Geoffrey face to face. Yet if I ever get a chance to, I will jump at it. They sound like my kind of people. I have met lots of other people face to face after getting to know them first online, including my wife. Knowing how to judge and get to know people that you meet through the media, whether it be online, or any other form of media is an important skill. It applies equally to getting to know authors, musicians, journalists, politicians, and others.

Yes, online predators are a danger, but I believe a greater danger may be accepting uncritically what various media personalities are saying. Learning how to think critically about what we experience through various media can address both of these dangers.

Later this week, I will be speaking at Career Day at my daughter’s junior high school. I will be talking about being a social media manager, and what it takes to do that well. Perhaps key areas I’ll focus on include the value of meeting the right people online, collaborating with them, and how to better judge what we consume online.

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