Thursday, January 11, 2024


Oh, man. I so needed a morning like this, a long morning studying at Tom's, equal parts of Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo -- which is a fabulous book -- and Greek. What with one thing and another my mornings have been eaten by dragons, lately. So this was restorative.

I need a vacation, and I will take one soon. Have to get the year-end letters out first. This year has been the nightmare calendar for getting gifts processed and thanked: I didn't even get the lion's share of the gifts until after New Year's, because of the way the non-post days fell. It meant I was all caught up on Christmas Day, which has never happened before, but I was only caught up because the bolus dose was yet to come.

I may have to force the issue of a vacation with Martha: say, "you don't have to come with me, but I am going away for a couple days." We're old, but we're not that old. And even if we can't find someone to feed Van Buren, he'll just do what he did before: break into somebody else's house and eat whatever he finds. He's not exactly a delicate flower. More a semi-retired brigand. He may wreak havoc, but he's not going to starve.

A cold snap coming, four days with the temperature never rising above freezing, so we'll have to lug the earthquake water from the shed back into the house. Maybe change it out while we're at it.

Take good care, friends! xoxo

Wednesday, January 10, 2024


That he is vanishing all men know: 
a lift slant eyelid tells them so, 
not that I think it's noticed much -- 
not a vanishment as such -- 
so much as shrinking from the touch,
a disinclination to know at all, 
all that he knew in time before.

Read the note, it's all in there; 
the leaning angels twist their hair,
and wait the interim music out. 
Nothing they have to show more fair 
than tit for tat and this for that -- 
he says he's gone
but he's said stuff like that before.

Gone, alas. How would you know? 
His absence glows
like the moon from just behind the hill. 
You used
to think him not so ill: 
but he was much more cheerful then -- 
his opinions more like those of men;

lately he has turned so queer.
I think you know his late career,
the smell of tar, malignities,
his patience with indignities,
the twist of yarn between his fingers
catching on his scaled skin. 
For the lingering sake of God:
let him go, or let him in.

Monday, January 08, 2024


So I practice. Visualize space not as empty, but as overflowing with sensitivity and awareness: not an emptiness, but an ocean. Picture each supposed atomic particle as a world of luxuriant life, too tiny to bother with the occasional comet-like photon blazing by. What if there is not a single still, dead thing in all the universe? Turn the whole thing upside down. "An object at rest tends to remain so," intoned Mr. Newton: but as it turns out there is no such thing as an object, let alone one at rest. Everything that looks like an object turns out to be an eddy, holding its character only so long as the flow of the river and the obstructions it flows against remain. And the river and the pylon in turn are eddies, arising from larger flows and greater obstructions. If you try to understand why an eddy behaves as it does by scooping up the water it's made of and examining it in a bucket, the progress you'll make will be meager. "See? An eddy isn't real!" declares the Newtonian, proudly displaying the contents of his bucket. "It's an illusion!" And before his back is turned the eddy is there again, swirling in the same way, entirely untroubled by the interruption. Not real. Sure.

It actually matters, how we think about space. It matters dreadfully. We are sick from our delusions of vast empty spaces speckled here and there with inert particles, billiard-balls flying about from a dimly-conceived cosmic Break. This particle moves because something bumped into it, and that something moved because something else bumped into it, and so on. Why did anything ever move at all? Oh, that is a forbidden question! Only a very naughty child would ask that. 

Lucretius saw it: that to explain movement at all you had to endow atoms with a capacity, an inclination even, to swerve. You can worriedly push the necessity farther and farther away and farther back in time; you can assert, rather improbably, that there was just One Big Swerve a long, long time ago -- call it the Big Bang, if you like -- but something, at some point, swerved. Is it not more reasonable -- since we daily experience ourselves swerving here and there -- to assume that everything everywhere is swerving all the time?

Newton and Einstein, of course, were much smarter men than I am. The story goes that when Einstein first realized that his relativity equations accounted for the "wrongness" of Mercury's orbit -- its tiny but persistent deviation from Newton's laws -- he was shocked into silence for days. Had he actually seen into reality? Apparently so. 

But even he, though his faith was strong, could not demonstrate an deterministic universe. I am way beyond my writ, now -- I readily confess it -- but my point is, so are you. We know fuck-all about it. A little humility is in order here.

Saturday, January 06, 2024

The Matter With Things

Finished The Matter With Things, including all eight appendices, and now I'm feeling a little lost and forlorn. I didn't really expect him to end by giving me marching orders, but there lingered a wistful hope that he'd tell me exactly what to do and how to do it. Of course he didn't, and the whole point of the book is that there is not and could not be a context-free algorithm for what to do. The world is not like that.

Vervaeke, of course, coming like me from a Buddhist tradition, delivers practices -- meditations, contemplations, yogas: too many of them, probably. A lot of people probably just walk away from that part of his talks confused. We were already studying a three hundred page menu: adding on to it may not be the most useful thing to do. McGilchrist doesn't offer any practices. He doesn't advise you to walk down to the nearest church on Sunday morning and see what happens. He doesn't advise you to do anything: that's not his business. Which is appealing in its own way: as is his humble admission that he is just as damaged by modernity as anyone else. We are dug into a deep hole here, and nobody is going to just step out of it. The first order of business is to strike a match and get a good look what we've fallen into. For one thing, we're each in our own special, custom-made hole. Getting out will take some custom wriggles, in addition to general hole-climbing skills.

But I do come away with more direction, and more hope. I have been postponing practice until I knew what to practice. "My business, first, is to understand," I keep saying to myself. But it gradually comes into focus that I've misconceived things. It isn't that I need to understand in order to practice. It isn't even that I need to practice in order to understand. I need both of those things, of course, but the missing part, the part that McGilchrist supplies to me, is that figuring out what to do is in fact my purpose. The program is not to make the right guess at what God wants me to do, and then do it. I am God figuring out what to do, you might say; God coming into being. This confusion and aporia is a feature, not a bug. I'm in exactly the right place doing exactly the right thing. And so what I think actually matters. Like, really matters. In all my life I've never taken seriously the idea that what I thought could matter. But suppose it could? Suppose it does?

So many things fall away and so many things come in question, when I really shake free of reductive determinism. What had seemed so very rational and unprejudiced now looks in many cases more like begging the question. What if my family and my nation -- to take just two examples -- are as real as I am? Well, then the world becomes more complex. But it also becomes deeper. And we are so tired of this damned two-dimensional, schematic world we've made for ourselves. It's remarkably easy to convince people of the absurd hypothesis that this world is a simulation. Because so many of us have already made a simulation of it, and crawled inside our representation to live there. So the idea sounds right. 

But it isn't. The world is quite, quite real. And so are we.

Here I sigh, and shake my head, and resist the urge to highlight this whole post and hit the backspace key. The trouble with talking about God is that the moment you start doing it you start thinking you have a handle on Her. (Case in point: you assign Her, or Him, or It, a gender, which is patently ridiculous. You capitalize Her pronoun or you don't. The absurdities multiply inexorably) But the trouble with not talking about God is that you start to forget Her. Equally catastrophic, especially in the poisonous atmosphere of radical individualism. Hypoxia sets in immediately.

Around the time of the equinox, the sun rises and shines straight down Burnside street, and if you are walking east, the sidewalk and the wet twigs of the trees are all on fire, and they make concentric circles of light around it: you are in a fiery tunnel going towards a brightness you can't endure, and it's shockingly beautiful.

“When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?” O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host crying, `Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.'