Little Vines on Paper

I have finally found the books with which I want to spend the rest of my life. But there is not enough time in the day, for the moment, to draw wisdom from their pages. So I miss them because it's become apparent how necessary it is to revise good ideas: it is not enough to merely encounter them once. Yet the ideas are not only in those books, the point of the good idea is that it is timeless and can be found in that Stoic idea of how people live, easy to locate if one is looking to people.
So here are some vignettes of what I have been doing when not checking contextual vocabulary for the book I am supposedly copy editing, but let's say that any translation happening as fast as this book is being translated means that the translation needs to be checked and retranslated in places, too. Anecdote one: I would perhaps be frustrated by this, or the ever more arcane deadline (though not on my end), but I am working with people whose haste is making something come together in months, as opposed to the years it would take me. So I may be losing sleep these days checking all these things that will not be revised enough but at the same time, I have become part of something that is powered by a will that I have not encountered in ages.
And I encountered the Wizard of Oz-like project manager, who took me away from hours on the job for coffee with the author who never showed and ended up remarking offhandedly at some point, "It is better to work on solving the small problems if we want the larger ones to be resolved." That is just like the opening to Epictetus' Golden Sayings, which asks man to focus on the things that are in his control: "The things in our control are by nature free, unrestrained, unhindered; but those not in our control are weak, slavish, restrained, belonging to others. Remember, then, that if you suppose that things which are slavish by nature are also free, and that which belongs to others is your own, then you will be hindered." If something is beyond our control, we are taught to say to such, "You are but an appearance, and absolutely not the thing you appear to be" and say to such that it is nothing to us. The little things are far more accessible, like how I talk to the cleaning ladies at the university; what is not accessible is whether I will be hired again next year.
By talking to the cleaning lady after the exam I held, I gleaned this nugget from her, "It appears," she said, "that some people have forgot that they are people."
Indeed, people we are. Not numbers, not parties, but people who laugh and cry, eat and discard stems or bones. Messy material. Problematic.




So as I was walking through the farmer's market today, one of those quiet, overcast days when it seems that every vendor I know calls me over to exchange a few wordsno matter which, I stood the longest at the fish stall, where the lady talked about her brush with politics, how by not getting involved, she became an outcast and lost her job, only to be hired soon afterwards, with two children to feed, at a newspaper. She had been some kind of IT worker in the early days of such...and today she plunges her hands in the ice to release the fish that become people's meals.
Her main comment was that the sooner people understand that fortune comes and goes, if they have the fortune to see this in their own family, they are better adjusted to the way of things. That those too focused on the material are quickly disappointed and have little to teach others (viz. the way of things). That if one lacks such teachers, one has books (says the fishmonger-if you understand my interjection): books, not just one book but many books because all one needs is never in a single book. She was talking about how it is never enough to live by worrying over material existence, but that it helps to do the useful or enjoyable. And she did not use the contemporary stock phrase positive energy as she spoke, but the phrase, to fill the soul.
So much of what annoys passes quickly: one may even reach old age and regard past experience with that grain of salt that may or may not be used to freeze things (to link to a marvelous blog I discovered today via languagehat).
Freezing is an interesting concept. It is most useful for its opposite, heat, as in, the hot months of summer. From these opposites, I take time from little time to reflect on these anecdotes that serve as substitutes for books for as long as the tome of history I am working on occupies me. But does not control me. Because I still have the little things, and if they are not books they are at least placeholders to the texts that await me: the itses in want of context.



Brush: Ewansim Grunge at DeviantART.
Bookstore:  Erato Books

Triumph and Mules

Some of us apparently go through life with a questionning that does not go away, ringing in our ears like the slave's whisper at ceremonies that were bought (in our case, through friendship) or earned: "memento mori." That slave is the true self, it sees its lack of freedom in strange aspects of circumstance, like birth, education. By writing this, I do a disservice to the history of that whisper and the honour that was both civil and a rite, the triumphus. What was it like to be responsible for so many men, as a general in a war? As I write, I am thinking of Vespasian, who used one of his campaigns to make friends, not money, and the money that he needed he raised by selling mules, earning him the nickname mulio. To look at him then, would one know he would become emperor, his very own face on the currency that lesser men who bought triumphus would mint in their ultimately poor propaganda? The tides of the times shift, but it seems that to be truly great, one is helped if the flow of that river was controlled by systems put in place by predecessors. For example, what is Vespasian's endowment, the Roman Colosseum, without the precedent of Scribonius Curio's double theatre? To not build on such foundations, the questioning does not cease, one is left to forge one's own way in life, without public honours as affirmation that one is on the right way.
And yet, I write this, but you know about the Colosseum and its "moral degradation" of the Roman Empire exhbited there in the "sanguinary exhibitions" to quote Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities. If the grooves of life are in place, might we also posit that some excess, for some level of people, will ensue?
I do not know, but these are my recent thoughts that I offer here along with the message that I am falling behind in the reading and writing that I do for pleasure because I have been sitting for many hours trying to fix and even translate from scratch sentences for a book that I know I will not have time to proofread afterwards (so many disappointments in life).
At such times, in my private thinking, I tend towards approximations and tend to blur out the details. For this post I have picked a picture of the acropolis, which we know as the fort at the highest part of the city. We know, too, that the procession of the triumphus would end on Capitoline Hill, comparable to the acropolis; specifically, it would end at the temple located there dedicated to Jupiter. The caput in Capitoline also happens to refer to the highest part of the body (if related to fanciful etymology connected to the creation of the temple there). The blur I see has to do with high points and heads, that also have temples there.
If triumph finishes by pointing to something greater, how do the rest of us who don't get such laurels elevate ourselves? Not through what we have, but what we give (as shortly put in this Singaporean film); mule-trading Vespasian once made friends instead of money and those are the footsteps I would like to follow to satisfy the whispering slave.



Curves: thethiirdshift. Brush: favorite by ~egg9700. Both at DeviantART.

Doubt into Yellow

Here is a photo of flowers taken two days after I bought them in the market from an old lady vendor on her little stool, whose shaky hands produced my change in notes pre-folded. There was such distillation in her existence, such premeditation and simplicity that I long to see in myself. I did not recognise the yellow flowers as snapdragons, and asked their name to learn the local appellation, "little yawners". There is a great distance between a yawn and a dragon's roar (assuming dragons roar). I found myself either roaring or yawning last week, it seems I have to watch out when people start talking about education, which I see as a craft and by no means a product. I hear I will be hired again this year, which is excellent considering that my PhD dissertation has fallen into an administrative black hole and as such is yet undefended. I need to know how how to greet what we are told to see as uncertain with the zen attitude of the surfer. I used to spend hours reading about surfers, like Laird Hamilton who was raised on waves so, naturally, I might think, sought big waves. Surfers don't tend to be big on words but to watch them is to see a difference in humanity: many take the plunge, but not with equal grace. Laird surfs effortlessly, in sprezzatura, little yawner with the force of a dragon.
There is a big wave before us; we are told it is big especially by the media. Where it is not bureaucratised, it is ruled by the relative values not of sophistication, like Feyerabend's defense of 1950's China's adoption of the Yellow Emperor's Textbook of Internal Medicine ("Acupuncture, moxibustion, pulse diagnosis have led to new insights, new methods of treatment, new problems both for the Western and for the Chinese physician"), but of musical chairs where the chair one had been sitting on may suddenly be removed in the next round, if it is the volition of the games' master to remove that particular one. Whether you are an artist, a teacher, an entrepreneur, you will hear about plenty of uncertainties.
After reading a useful post by Enbrethilel I wondered about how, frankly, we might need to be wiped out before the questionning of what a healthy mind takes for granted can begin, and the words can rally forth. Her post was specifically about education, and cites a book by John Taylor Gatto in which he identifies a problem of our age as beginning, "when the young were assigned to consume, not to produce". I will posit here that part of what it takes to create (poiesis) is doubt.
A recent NYRB article on Koons explains, "where there is no doubt, there is no art." It is doubt that reduces one to the epistemology of one's ontology. This can be explained by Taoism: I found a page that does this quite well (it gives the gist): "Certitude evolves forth to DOUBT as it answers, yet DOUBT revolves back to certitude as it QUESTIONS; hence, answer within the DOUBT, yet QUESTION within the certitude." In this equation, one is just to "realise" the extremes, flow, and potential balance.




Before the Taoist's five elements theory, symbolised in five colours (black, green, red, white, yellow), there were only the two colours of yin and yang: black and white. The "Yellow Emperor" mentioned above is not only said to be the ancestor of the Chinese, dating to the third millennium BC, but is an important deity in Taoism and it was his tribe that practiced what we take as typical Chinese medicines like acupuncture. He is also said to have helped create the first Chinese calendar and his wife was said to have discovered silk: no small discovery (need one even mention the silk road). His tribe honoured the yellow earth and Yellow River, and that colour, of the five, is that which symbolises a stabilising energy, associated with rice which grows in the yellow earth and brings stability to mankind. It is also important to feng shui, which is based on the five elements theory that roughly correspond to the cosmos.
I am focusing on yellow as it is the colour one hopefully comes to, it is the centre of the bagua, if you have ever seen that octagonal trigram template used in feng shui. It is a reminder that one is to seek the balancing force; e.g., in times of increased activity, to seek a restful attitude.
The skilled surfer does not wobble and is not too stiff. To quote a page on Taoism, "REST within the activity suggests that we will feel better in all life’s activities if we bring a RESTFUL attitude to activity, or as the Tao Te Ching puts it, blunt the sharpness; untangle the knots; soften the glare;… and so on." Such is one story of the yawning snapdragons.



Background: Marie Claire Idees; Brush: Ewansim flower grunge at DeviantART.

Experiments in Change

In 1968, Leonard Nimoy in his eponymous album Leonard Nimoy Presents Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space, changed a line at the end of Max Ehrmann's "Desiderata" from "Be Cheerful" to "Be Careful."  What an apt amendment to the text to reflect the change of man as he reaches beyond the atmosphere of childhood.  Caution is certainly learned through expectations that are molded through experience, though the latter is often a source of fear and as people get older, they become more fearful than disinterestedly cautious.  A friend once wrote that the young ought not be dismissed because they are less full of fear and that precisely because of that they are important to us. The thought could be extended to say that the young seem freer to experiment; the truth being that we can all continue to experiment so long as we are alive but few of us want to bother with the oblique glances of the Joneses.  Experimentation can be rather necessary, particularly if one finds oneself in a situation in which one's hands are tied.
Consider this ever-frequent scenario where one may even take on a mercy job with a deadline and not be sent the material, like copy, in a timely fashion.  Linguistic and copyright standards are further infringed by the speed and thoughtlessness of a certain kind of communication that began with the facsimile, which means make similar; it's other appellation, telecopying, seems the harbinger of today's activities that take the prefix 're', e.g. retweet.
Instead of becoming angry at irresponsible people who are not entirely honest and disregard one's requests to honour terms of work, one might wish to read about the state of the industry.  A gem of a resource for anyone working with the printed word is "For Editors" at writersandeditors.com.  Among the links posted there and repeated several times down the page is the once-popular aphorism, "Cost. Quality. Speed. Pick any two."  Good work takes time, so what if one has no time?  I propose that out of such unhappy situations, one merely claim to those who question one's poor output that the job was one's very own Persian carpet, and that one has a collection of such (to reference the practice in the weaving those carpets to intentionally leave or make a mistake).
Much can be said about the need as a professional to refuse any work that will not let one's talents shine through in order to establish a good reputation.  But it is becoming a platitude among some today that to stand in such a light is a privilege because where most people are standing, economic necessity is the star of the play and its curtains for them.
Silly word play is one thing but it is another to recognise the number of advocates for relaxing rules (e.g. retiring restrictive relative clause distinctions); some such advocates are esteemed editors, such as John E. McIntyre, whose now pens a Baltimore Sun column, You Don't Say.  Rules change and are therefore not to be reverenced but regarded.  It seems curmudgeons, of which I am sometimes one in my professional life (this blog is recreation), need to get with the program.




In general, experimenting allows for more leeway in getting the strange combination of components to a life in harmony.  We do not all learn at the same time; one may admire Victorian polymaths but this admiration cannot form one's foot to fit that crystal shoe.  The crystal may always have been, anyway, not so much in that which one knows, per se, but how willing one is to engage with those multiple aspects of life that have something to teach.  The experimenter becomes excited by a problem, wondering what on earth all that ugliness will have to impart.
Bertrand Russell in The Conquest of Happiness recommends that one think through all the terrible consequences one can foresee in one's worries until one eventually becomes bored by those thoughts and therefore entirely uninterested when such worries recur.  He generously shares anecdotes from his own life when he was not at his best, such as his early lectures, which incidentally helped him develop a technique of invention that involved thinking deeply about a subject, not thinking about it at all for some time, and then returning to write a lecture about it; the ideas would fall into place and the only time he made any changes was when the idea was not clearly expressed.  He admits to having come to the wrong conclusions about some things, and it would be hard not to notice that even in that book is support for ideas that have since fallen out of fashion.  But such is dwarfed by his acclaim in other areas, for his having, generally speaking, a great mind.  Russell also reminds readers to put their own lives in perspective: no one is the centre of the universe, in fact, everyone is almost incredibly minute.
One can truly feel like a speck of sand and feel bound to circumstance not of one's own design; despite all one's work, one realises that one depends on waves if one is to get out to sea; one may reach a moment when it seems futile to impose one's will on that landscape.  Things will not be the way one wants them to be, expensive mistakes can be made, deceitful people encountered, one may even stagnate for years and be tempted to believe such is deserved, but the impositions are also those restrictions that the imagination sometimes loves like ivy takes to wood lattice; expensive mistakes (that may cost time) are easy to remember; deceitful people are cause for the stories of most panache; stagnation is an illusion so long as one is aging and also there is a beauty in the slow life if one can train oneself to see it.  I will never forget as one of those small children sent to summer school going to an office to drop one activity in favour of another and thinking the organizer had little time so immediately made my request.  "And good morning?" he asked, and I burned with embarrassment.  All these Persian carpets!  Good morning, world.



Brush: Galaxy by GIMP.

Stakes of Style

Self-contradiction in self.  It is possible to be hard-headed in some discussion and meek in others whether because of that sorry excuse called mood; a lapse of certainty making information familiar seem brand new; exaggerated admiration of someone else.  One may take the lack of certainty and let it grow, thinking one's lacunae make one gentleyet be preceded by the reputation of being a dragon.  This type of paradox may be called being serious (which does not necessarily make one an able thinker).  Serious people who are also sensitive may have a recurring problem where doggedness conflicts with the flaws of a humanity felt too deeply to be cosmetic.
This earnestness, which is a pledge, true to the root of the word, for even when not realised it remains present as an outstanding debt, can be confusing because people less committed will seek to bury alive that part of the person through a stifling lackadaisicalness.
"Une pierre, aux passants demandant un soupir, Du naufrage des ans a sauvé leur mémoire; Une muse ignorante y grava leur histoire", writes Chateaubriand in his poem, "Les tombeaux champêtres" on the country graves of those unknown, the lives of whom are recorded by an ignorant muse, and yet may prompt passers by to seek new paths, of friendship, "Qui ne tourne la tête au bout de la carrière? L’homme qui va passer cherche un secours nouveau: Que la main d’un ami, que ses soins chers et tendres, Entrouvrent doucement la pierre du tombeau !"  It is the touch of friendship that lives beyond the grave. It is the word of friendship that can keep us alive when we are threatened by the stone of an ignorance greater than one's own, that of complacency.
But who would choose for the ignorant muse to write their history?  If a trap has been set for one's paradoxical qualities, if these are fruitful, one must remove oneself, surely.  Some level of avoidance or assent can be achieved through style.  Sartorial or verbal range can defy expectations.  Or like my friend de plume wrote today, writing style can crown one's confidence.  These are tools, not idols, though how quickly they can be raised up and mistaken for gods.  One may wish always to appear in the best light and prostrate oneself to cosmetics, forgetting the living thing underneath.
Friendship leads us out, affinities.  And if we want to have good friends of the stable kind, we need to become better friends ourselves.  Through cultivating the disposition of soul that determines our manner of diction, and speech, as Socrates says in Plato's Rep. 3.400.  "Good speech, then ... wait[s] upon good disposition, not that weakness of head which we euphemistically style goodness of heart, but the truly good and fair disposition of the character and the mind."




If good speech relies on the disposition of the character and mind and is distinguished from "weakness of head" called "goodness of heart," it stems from a goodness impaled in resolve.  A goodness that is a pledge, not a passing fancy.  Style and communication is important in Rep., and one interesting section is at 396c, where it is stated that the good man will not imitate the inferior man and will be embarrassed to do so, being unpracticed at such.  Yet Plato himself imitates the inferior through many of Socrates' interlocutors in his dialogues, which are a case in point of the use of such imitation; to know how to engage or respond to all sorts of people.  (Granted, there are concessions made in the Rep. that some art or skills not praised have their use.)
I wrote above that some sorts of people might attempt to bury one alive, belittling accomplishments, work, values, etc.  If a person takes those words to heart, he or she may stop believing in their Ossian world of beauty (the narrator who either wrote a 3rd c. poem or was invented by Macpherson in 18th c., who claimed to have discovered Ossian's epic).  The point regarding that poem is that it could have been.  Interestingly, the (faux?) plumed poem also gave rise to 18th c. cultural independence and romantic nationalism, which may be described as what could be.  Just like Chateaubriand's Les martyrs, inspired by Ossianism, was also inspired by an imaginary megalithism according to which the megaliths were made by Druids (along with associated clichés, including forests, mournful processions, and human sacrifices).  There are also ways in which Plato's Republic is a portrait of what could be.
Any person could be better.  If one knows the right words, one could even create a situation for an oft destructive person to be of constructive assistance.  A knowledge of many styles can be of use: this is what allows one to begin with a joke to break the ice if necessary—for few are won over through preaching; rather, trust may be earned sometimes only by engaging with the vulgar vulgate of the throng.  Logan Pearsall Smith writes in Words and Idioms, "human speech is after all a democratic product, the creation, not of scholars and grammarians, but of unschooled and unlettered people. Scholars and men of education may cultivate and enrich it, and make it flower into the beauty of a literary language; but its rarest blooms are grafted on a wild stock, and its roots are deep-buried in the common soil."  It was Montaigne's conviction that man would never be happy until he had the courage to accept his human condition.  Courage may be the key word: the courage to face one's own paradoxes and understand something of the humanity around one if one isn't set on castigating it.  If stilus meant at once stake, mode of expression, mode and manner of writing, what is it we look to pin down with words and why?



Curves (top image): thethiirdshift; brush: ~egg9700, both on DeviantART.
Images taken at the Benaki Museum.
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