How curious it is to be writing a blog post about an online course on Walt Whitman taught by a Harvard professor, shortly before the blizzard hits; so much further than Whitman’s mediations could ever have led him.
I, too, was once a student of modest means. I, too, once lived in Brooklyn. I, too, once walked the streets of Manhattan, visited the theatres and sailed the waters of the East River.
How different things might have been, if I had read Whitman, perhaps mixed with a little Foucault before heading off to college, before those long nights walking with an artist friend the back streets of industrial Ohio.
The railroad tracks, the blast furnace, the tree full of bats shrieking off into the night, and the fried onion rings at the all night truck stop might have made more sense against a palimpsest of Foucault and Whitman.
We were the flaneurs of twentieth century industrial America, and should have claimed our heritage of Whitman’s wandering around Manhattan or Baudelaire’s Paris.
But I was not so full of myself. I could not sing a song of myself, as much as I loved Giovanni’s Ego Tripping, I disliked self-referential pop music, and restricted my poetry to quaint imagism.
Years later, I took to the technology of my generation. Writing computer software became my poetry and my gateway to the penny presses of the twenty first century, the blog.
Like Franklin and Whitman, I went from working the presses to writing the content, fueled by a love of democracy. As a blogger, I hung out with the politicians, became a politician, and sought for words to make a difference.
But now, I must post my thoughts about Whitman, about the poems we’ve been reading before the blizzard hits, for like another poet that impacted me early, I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.
The snow falling softly outside was just too exciting for our dog and his morning barking was at least as energetic as when deer cross our property, so some other more furtive wildlife. I got out of bed early so he could go outside, and unlike when there are deer, he made no apparent attempts to bound beyond the bounds of our property. Instead, he rolled in the snow, played, and frequently came to the door to see why no one else seemed interested in coming out and enjoying the snow.
It has been a long week, so I was pretty tired when I dragged myself out of bed. When the rest of the family final emerged from their slumbers, I retreated back to bed to get a little more sleep.
Upon arising again, I engaged in the chores needing to be done. I helped straighten up the living room. I cleaned off one of the cars and shoveled the walk, and then I loaded up the car for a dump run. We’ve been traveling over the past couple of weekends so there were several weeks’ worth of trash to be hauled.
Back home, I put away some of the Christmas decorations, dealt with the dishes and bottled another batch of hard cider. I took Fiona to a sleepover birthday party. I also managed to get a little time to read more Whitman for the online class I’m taking.
If I had more time and energy, I would write a long blog post reflecting on the Whitman class. I would watch a movie with my wife. Instead, I’m just satisfied that I caught up a little bit with the chores and with my sleep, and look forward to catching up more soon.
Recently, a friend on Facebook posted,
A guy who has worked in progressive grassroots political organizing for many years is jolted awake in a cold sweat from a dream in which he looked into a mirror and saw Don Quixote staring out at him.
I found this interesting for a couple of reasons. One is thinking about Don Quixote. The first part of my reply was
My association to this … is the beginning of Don Quixote:
"You must know, then, that the above-named gentleman whenever he was at leisure (which was mostly all the year round) gave himself up to reading ..."
When I studied the text back in college we talked about the social context, how it was inspired response to the growth of novel reading brought about by the printing press.
How does this relate to today's Don Quixotes giving themselves up to reading social media brought about by the internet, and posting responses, thinking that this accounts to meaningful political activism?
The other part of my response referenced my long time interest in social dreaming. I participated in some online social dreaming matrixes years ago and remain interested in the subject.
A starting point for this is The Third Reich of Dreams: The Nightmares of a Nation, 1933-39 by Charlotte Beradt. What can our dreams tell us about what is going on, that we might not be able to see otherwise? As I think about it, I wonder, to what extent, we can apply ideas from social dreaming matrixes to social media.
There are fragments of two dreams from last night that have stayed with me today. In one, I was at a restaurant with a bunch of people I knew. I learned that one of them had died and two of them had disappeared, but I don’t remember much else about it.
In the second dream, I was traveling around, plugging in my electric car to recharge. There was some sort of time travel involved so I could see how the distribution of charging stations had changed over time, and could select whichever time period I wanted.
I don’t have much for associations with either of these dreams.x
And I submit that this is what the real, no bullshit value of your liberal arts education is supposed to be about: how to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone day in and day out.
This is how David Foster Wallace introduces his famous 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, “This is Water”.
Yet I have to wonder, is it really the ‘liberal arts education’ that does this? Can we get this without going to a liberal arts college? I’m taking a MOOC right now about Walt Whitman. Reading Walt Whitman breathes a little life into the day in, day out existence. So does a sacred scarf, a beautiful sunrise, and a few moments of silence in church.
Today, I spoke with my daughter Miranda and her efforts in the arts as it relates to tiny houses. I’ve seen people talk about the difference between tiny houses, RVs and mobile homes. Some of the discussions have talked about sustainability, others about supporting local artisans. Yet perhaps the big question is, how much art is there? How much of whatever David Foster Wallace was speaking about that keeps us from going through life unconscious?
I spoke with a homeless friend this evening. I know people who are looking at tiny houses to address homelessness. For some people, a tiny house, any sort of a house, is about having basic needs met, the physiological and safety needs from the base of Maslow’s hierarchy. Many people I know who live in nice houses, view their houses in this way. Yet what if our houses were meeting our needs of esteem or self-actualization?
It may seem to many that these sort of houses are reserved for the very rich who can have their dwellings designed by famous architects and built by master craftsmen. Yet this may be where the tiny house movement has some of its most important appeal. If you focus on form and function, and not on how many square feet a McMansion takes up, you can have a house that is a work of art.
Housing: Conceptual art and interactive sculpture, a chance to live deliberatively.
The freezing rain glazed the highway as we crept homeward. Unconsciously, I ran my fingers over the blue scarf. During another winter’s storm, my sister slid off the road. I’ve known those moments myself, the car sliding, out of control, everything happening all at once yet seeming to take forever, and then life forever changed. I felt my mother’s presence in the yarn.
I have no idea when she got the yarn. It was probably over twenty years ago, perhaps when one of my daughters was born. Throughout much of my life, my mother was always knitting, and the basement was full of yarn she had picked up for one project or another. Yet has her tremors got worse she couldn’t continue her knitting.
When we cleaned out her house, I agreed to talk the yarn and fabrics, and now I have a garage full of fiber projects waiting to be completed. My daughters have taken up where my mother left off.
The scarf is narrower than the scarves I made as a kid. The width is more like that of a priest’s stole. Did my daughter knit it out of yarn that had been intended for her baby blanket? Was the circle somehow completed when she knit the scarf and gave it to me? Were we somehow connected through this sacred scarf, my mother, my daughter, and I?
We passed cars that had slid off the road. Cars like those that held my sister and mother years ago. Unconsciously, I ran my over the blue scarf. I felt the warm of the cloth, of my mother’s love, my daughter’s love, and knew that we would make it safely home.