2022-09-23 16:01

Just hanging out downtown with Bob.

Positively… Fifth Street? Well, close enough.

I’m a few blocks from Ninth & Hennepin, where, I’m sorry to report, none of the donuts have names that sound like prostitutes anymore.

2022-09-21 16:26

Last, next.

89: Great Lakes (Michigan)
90: Pitch Black (lined)

Michigan, Pitch Black

2022-09-17 07:18

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own:

…the beauty of the world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder.

2022-09-16 05:52

Lewis Thomas, “Information,” The Lives of a Cell:

The solitary wasp, Sphex, nearing her time of eggs, travels aloft with a single theory about caterpillars. She is, in fact, a winged receptor for caterpillars. Finding one to match the hypothesis, she swoops, pins it, paralyzes it, carries it off, and descends to deposit it precisely in front of the door of the round burrow (which, obsessed by a different version of the same theory, she had prepared beforehand). She drops the beast, enters the burrow, inspects the interior for last-minute irregularities, then comes out to pull it in for the egg-laying. It has the orderly, stepwise look of a well-thought-out business. But if, while she is inside inspecting, you move the caterpillar a short distance, she has a less sensible second thought about the matter. She emerges, searches for a moment, finds it, drags it back to the original spot, drops it again, and runs inside to check the burrow again. If you move the caterpillar again, she will repeat the program, and you can keep her totally preoccupied for as long as you have the patience and the heart for it. It is a compulsive, essentially neurotic kind of behavior, as mindless as an Ionesco character, but the wasp cannot imagine any other way of doing the thing.

Thoreau, Journal, 13 February 1859:

Sometimes in our prosaic moods, life appears to us but a certain number more of days like those which we have lived, to be cheered not by more friends and friendship but probably fewer and less. As, perchance, we anticipate the end of this day before it is done, close the shutters, and with a cheerless resignation commence the barren evening whose fruitless end we clearly see, we despondingly think that all of life that is left is only this experience repeated a certain number of times. And so it would be, if it were not for the faculty of imagination.

commonplace Thoreau
2022-09-15 05:37

John Ruskin:

The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see. To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and religion, all in one.

2022-09-14 06:06

Spinoza (trns Elwes):

Men would never be superstitious if they could govern all their circumstances by set rules, or if they were always favoured by fortune: but being frequently driven into straits where rules are useless, and being kept fluctuating pitiably between hope and fear by the uncertainty of fortune’s greedily coveted favours, they are consequently, for the most part, very prone to credulity. The human mind is readily swayed this way or that in times of doubt, especially when hope and fear are struggling for the mastery, though usually it is boastful, overconfident, and vain.

2022-09-13 06:15

Richard Hofstadter, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life:

Anyone who speaks of anti-intellectualism as a quality in American life must reckon with one of the signal facts of our national experience — our persistent, intense, and sometimes touching faith in the efficacy of popular education. Few observers, past or present, have doubted the pervasiveness or sincerity of this faith. […]

From the beginning, American statesmen had insisted upon the necessity of education in a republic. George Washington, in his Farewell Address, urged the people to promote “institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge.” To the degree that the form of government gave force to public opinion, Washington argued, “it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.” The aging Jefferson warned in 1816: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” […] “If the time shall ever come,” wrote a small-town Midwestern editor in 1836,

when this mighty fabric shall totter; when the beacon of joy that now rises in pillar of fire…shall wax dim, the cause will be found in the ignorance of the people. If our union is still to continue…; if your fields are to be untrod by the hirelings of despotism; if long days of blessedness are to attend our country in her career of glory; if you would have the sun continue to shed his unclouded rays upon the face of freemen, then EDUCATE ALL THE CHILDREN OF THE LAND. This alone startles the tyrant in his dreams of power, and rouses the slumbering energies of an oppressed people. It was intelligence that reared up majestic columns of national glory; and this and sound morality alone can prevent their crumbling to ashes.

But if we turn from the rhetoric of the past to the realities of the present, we are most struck by the volume of criticism suggesting that something very important is missing from the American passion for education. A host of educational problems has arisen from indifference — underpaid teachers, overcrowded classrooms, double-schedule schools, broken-down school buildings, inadequate facilities and a number of other failings that come from something else — the cult of athleticism, marching bands, high-school drum majorettes, ethnic ghetto schools, de-intellectualized curricula, the failure to educate in serious subjects, the neglect of academically gifted children. At times the schools of the country seem to be dominated by athletics, commercialism, and the standards of mass media, and these extend upwards to a system of higher education whose worst failings were underlined by the bold president of the University of Oklahoma who hoped to develop a university of which the football team could be proud.

2022-09-12 18:04

I found this in a used book I bought recently. The bookstore is still around.

Bookmark for Lake Country Booksellers in White Bear Lake Minnesota

(Original series here, with subsequent discoveries here.)

2022-09-12 05:32

Thomas Pynchon, Against the Day (pp 1000–01):

“We will buy it all up,” making the expected arm gesture, “all this country. Money speaks, the land listens, where the Anarchist skulked, where the horse-thief plied his trade, we fishers of Americans will cast our nets of perfect ten-acre mesh, leveled and varmint-proofed, ready to build on. Where alien muckers and jackers went creeping after their miserable communistic dreams, the good lowland townsfolk will come up by the netful into these hills, clean, industrious, Christian, while we, gazing out over their little vacation bungalows, will dwell in top-dollar palazzos befitting our station, which their mortgage money will be paying to build for us. When the scars of these battles have long faded, and the tailings are covered in bunchgrass and wildflowers, and the coming of the snows is no longer the year’s curse but its promise, awaited eagerly for its influx of moneyed seekers after wintertime recreation, when the shining strands of telpherage have subdued every mountainside, and all is festival and wholesome sport and eugenically-chosen stock, who will be left anymore to remember the jabbering Union scum, the frozen corpses whose names, false in any case, have gone forever unrecorded? who will care that once men fought as if an eight-hour day, a few coins more at the end of the week, were everything, were worth the merciless wind beneath the shabby roof, the tears freezing on a woman’s face worn to dark Indian stupor before its time, the whining of children whose maws were never satisfied, whose future, those who survived, was always to toil for us, to fetch and feed and nurse, to ride the far fences of our properties, to stand watch between us and those who would intrude or question?” He might usually have taken a look at Foley, attentive back in the shadows. But Scarsdale did not seek out the eyes of his old faithful sidekick. He seldom did anymore. “Anarchism will pass, its race will degenerate into silence, but money will beget money, grow like the bluebells in the meadow, spread and brighten and gather force, and bring low all before it. It is simple. It is inevitable. It has begun.”

commonplace Pynchon
2022-09-11 17:51

Something I wrote a few years ago:

The Magical Powers of a New Shirt: on The West Wing, 9/11, language, and violence

2022-09-11 06:16

Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings:

Sam said nothing. The look on Frodo’s face was enough for him; he knew that words of his were useless. And after all he never had any real hope in the affair from the beginning; but being a cheerful hobbit he had not needed hope, as long as despair could be postponed.

2022-09-10 17:13

We attended a truly joyous concert last night. It was an absolutely perfect program for the opening weekend of the St Paul Chamber Orchestra’s 64th season.

2022-09-10 05:33

Toni Morrison (via):

We have to stop loving our horror stories. Joyce’s Ulysses was rejected fourteen times. I don’t like that story; I hate it. Fitzgerald burned out and could not work. Hemingway despaired and could not work. A went mad, B died in penury, C drank herself to death, D was blacklisted, E committed suicide. I hate those stories. Great works are written in prisons and holding camps. So are stupid books. The misery does not validate the work. It outrages the sensibilities and violates the work.

commonplace writing
2022-09-09 06:24

Alison Gopnik (via):

But here’s Hume’s really great idea: Ultimately, the metaphysical foundations don’t matter. Experience is enough all by itself. What do you lose when you give up God or “reality” or even “I”? The moon is still just as bright; you can still predict that a falling glass will break, and you can still act to catch it; you can still feel compassion for the suffering of others. Science and work and morality remain intact. Go back to your backgammon game after your skeptical crisis, Hume wrote, and it will be exactly the same game.

In fact, if you let yourself think this way, your life might actually get better. Give up the prospect of life after death, and you will finally really appreciate life before it. Give up metaphysics, and you can concentrate on physics. Give up the idea of your precious, unique, irreplaceable self, and you might actually be more sympathetic to other people.

2022-09-08 05:20

Joseph Brodsky:

When hit by boredom, let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. In general, with things unpleasant, the rule is: The sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface. The idea here is to exact a full look at the worst. The reason boredom deserves such scrutiny is that it represents pure, undiluted time in all its repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendor.

Boredom is your window on the properties of time that one tends to ignore to the likely peril of one’s mental equilibrium. It is your window on time’s infinity. Once this window opens, don’t try to shut it; on the contrary, throw it wide open.

2022-09-07 06:19

Barbara Tuchman, Practicing History:

…I take notes on four-by-six index cards, reminding myself about once an hour of a rule I read long ago in a research manual, “Never write on the back of anything.” Since copying is a chore and a bore, use of the cards, the smaller the better, forces one to extract the strictly relevant, to distill from the very beginning, to pass the material through the grinder of one’s own mind, so to speak. Eventually, as the cards fall into groups according to subject or person or chronological sequence, the pattern of my story will emerge. Besides, they are convenient, as they can be filed in a shoe box and carried around in a pocketbook. When ready to write I need only to take along a packet of them, representing a chapter, and I am equipped to work anywhere; whereas if one writes surrounded by a pile of books, one is tied to a single place, and furthermore likely to be too much influenced by other authors.

commonplace writing
2022-09-06 07:17

Ursula K. Le Guin:

The trouble is that we have a bad habit, encouraged by pedants and sophisticates, of considering happiness as something rather stupid. Only pain is intellectual, only evil interesting. This is the treason of the artist: a refusal to admit the banality of evil, the terrible boredom of pain.

(see also)

commonplace writing
2022-09-05 05:45

Lewis Thomas, “The Long Habit,” in The Lives of a Cell:

In a recent study of the reaction to dying in patients with obstructive disease of the lungs, it was concluded that the process was considerably more shattering for the professional observers than the observed. Most of the patients appeared to be preparing themselves with equanimity for death, as though intuitively familiar with the business. One elderly woman reported that the only painful and distressing part of the process was in being interrupted; on several occasions she was provided with conventional therapeutic measures to maintain oxygenation or restore fluids and electrolytes, and each time she found the experience of coming back harrowing; she deeply resented the interference with her dying.

2022-09-04 05:53

Ernie Fontaine, Lodge 49:

What’s the use of living forever if you’re all alone on a Sunday.

2022-09-03 05:29

Brian Eno:

With tools, we crave intimacy. This appetite for emotional resonance explains why users — when given a choice — prefer deep rapport over endless options.

2022-09-01 05:36

CG Jung:

If there were no imperfections, no primordial defect in the ground of creation, why should there be any urge to create, any longing for what must yet be fulfilled?

2022-08-31 07:25

Emily & Amelia Nagoski, Burnout:

Science is the best idea humanity has ever had. It’s a systematic way of exploring the nature of reality, of testing and proving or disproving ideas. But it’s important to remember that science is ultimately a specialized way of being wrong. That is, every scientist tries to be (a) slightly less wrong than the scientists who came before them, by proving that something we thought was true actually isn’t, and (b) wrong in a way that can be tested and proven, which results in the next scientist being slightly less wrong. Research is the ongoing process of learning new things that show us a little more of what’s true, which inevitably reveals how wrong we used to be, and it is never “finished.” So when you read a headline like “New Study Shows…” or “Latest Research Finds…,” read it with skepticism. One study does not equal proof of anything. In [this book], we’ve aimed to use ideas that have been established over multiple decades and reinforced by multiple approaches. Still, science doesn’t offer perfect truth, only the best available truth. Science, in a sense, is not an exact science.

2022-08-31 06:18

Always do the more difficult thing.

—Wittman Ah Sing
(Maxine Hong Kingston, Tripmaster Monkey)

2022-08-30 17:09

📚 What I finished reading in August.

2022-08-30 05:59

Cold Mountain (trns Red Pine):

disappointed impoverished scholars
know the limits of hunger and cold
unemployed they like to write poems
scribbling away with the strength of their hearts
but who collects a nobody’s words
may as well save your sighs
write them down on rice-flour cakes
even mongrels won’t touch them