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Archive for February, 2013

BrightCobblesI haven’t walked here in several years — weather, distance, preferred places get in the way — but I thought it would be a fun image to adapt for a post that was more ‘in between’ than exactly here or there.

You go one way to the arch, another to the carillon, down into the woods, or across the meadows to the vista that used to be ordinary farmland….

The cobbles lead to some of those places, but looked at from this direction, they also all lead into one another, endless merging rows of granite and moss, churning into new patterns with each new angle of observation.

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…can sometimes be a triumph of hope over experience.

But unlike marriage, in gardening, if you aren’t occasionally killing plants, you aren’t learning new things….

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little-watch-gearsOver the course of the web comic, Sinfest, a female character who started out as willing eye-candy for the male characters [and certainly, the male audience], has changed — hairstyle, behaviors, values, clothing choices — to the bewilderment of characters who, while certainly exhibiting some changes over the comic’s run, have become more entrenched in their behaviors and values.  Conversations that had once been based in shared attitudes are now awkward.  New characters are becoming more important, and other older characters are showing some cracks in previously glossy, predictable carapaces.

And then there’s the real world — in my lifetime, companies have been uprooting themselves and migrating to wherever the workers are cheaper [and yes, I know this has happened in other eras, but the shifts across continents seem more dramatic] and cheap shipping means that, perversely, it’s more economically feasible to order something from another country than it is to get it from a farm down the road….BellyoftheBeast

Well, “cheaper” until that ‘milk’ turns out to be powdered countertop material and your beefburger turns out to have been the horse that came in last place once too often.  “Cheaper” until your assembly workers are drinking pesticide, or striking, or learning how much money is being made from their labour. When individuals realize their own worth, and realize it is more than what their paychecks or overseers say, “profit centers” become much more dicey propositions….and either those organizations need to evolve or move on. [Or get more weaponry, or sell more antidepressants/anti-anxiety meds…..]

Once the Chinese industrialize Africa, will we have finally run out of places for the factories to move in their quest for workers who won’t demand too much?

Suggested music:  “Myn ynd Wymyn”, Uncle Bonzai

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Be back in a bit…
MiltonPianoKeyboard

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I was thinking about the arguments by Cavell, and realized that the frustration with “not being able to tell”, or know with certainty, that shows up when you try to define your way into Truth, was related to some other frustrations, particularly at the intersection of conservative religion and modern mores:

“Marriage equality threatens traditional marriage in the same way that abolishing slavery made freedom less enjoyable for white people”  — Michael Shiller [for all I know, this quote is out of context; I’m still running with it]

Where’s that threat, exactly?  It comes from taking away a previously-percieved pathway to Goodness and Certainty-of-Ones-Goodness.  When you can claim that being straight makes you a better or more blessed person, people who happen to be straight have an automatic Goodness boost.  Similarly, if you pray every morning that it’s just ducky that you were born into a particular faith, or born in a particular gender, you’re celebrating something that seems to just be natural for you….but you’ve chosen to count it as a Certainty bonus.  I’m Good and, in fact, Better than those people, and I can say this with confidence because I am straight and male and in x splendid tradition.

Funny how people who claim to view the Biblical texts about there being “neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female” as inerrant seem to forget how threatening those lines really are.  You _don’t_ get to claim that you’re special because of a cultural or gender status.

The step to saying “and you don’t get bonus points for being straight, either” is really not that far, but apparently is so much more threatening [well, maybe because the admonishment from the previous paragraph is conveniently ignored most of the time ;-)].  You don’t get to be confident of your Good status just because you made sure you only love one variety of human being.

Nor do you get to tell your children they are Good because they are following those instructions and damned if they don’t [I almost wrote ‘damed’ there, due to a finger injury that’s making typing a little tricky this week.  Hah…].  Goodness is both easier and harder than making injunctions.  I remember talking with a man at church one Sunday who was absolutely furious that Martin Luther King might be celebrated as a prophetic voice in our times, when, Dr. King had maybe not been a perfect scholar or husband [please note: I am not starting a debate about these claims; I’m just relaying why this parishioner said he was upset].  The upshot of the complaint, though, was “Why did I bother putting so much effort into staying on the straight and narrow when someone who _does_ seem to stray gets seen as Good?!!!  This is unfair!”

Oh, the tragedy of ‘wasted’ effort.  Arguments of waste are deeply powerful:  we send more young people into the breach insisting that we can’t let the last batch of soldiers “die in vain”.  So we spend more lives, as if the first lives lost were not sacred enough on their own.  We hate the loss, we hate fearing that we might lose more, we hate thinking we will lose face if we don’t do something, something BIG in order to “take a stand” and …and yet….. At some point, when we run out of Certainty, we have to find some other way.  Maybe a way that was willfully ignored because it looked messy, impure, imperfect, surely NOT what the Boss had in mind in the original blueprints…

The news photos of thousands of happy couples kissing in celebration of newly-legal wedding vows twist knots in the hearts of people who have defined their Goodness by denying their own desires and the changing laws strike fear into the hearts of parents/Patriarchs who wonder how their rules are going to stand against a tide of Love.

Unclench your hands and hearts from that dead lump of Certainty, and come to the table of celebrations: We have Cake!

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Oh, for 20 years and more I have been collecting bits and pieces of a story, something started in a morning class as I tried to connect my brain to classical texts that expressed ideas I disagreed with… the next excerpt from N+1 seems to be another item of interest:

Today we take it for granted that philosophers would prefer not to use words like the rest of us, but Socrates, for one, advised his followers to do their thinking in the street—making use of everyday objects like shoes and carts in even the most complex arguments. Cavell’s peers made similar use of everyday language—you can’t walk into a philosophy course without hearing the phrase “the cat is on the mat”—but, by contrast, they were so intent on defining and distinguishing that one almost expected to find a “dictionary of terms” at the end of each paper they published. But what exactly happens, Cavell asks, when you look up a word in such a dictionary, or hunt its definition down in the text? Can a philosopher really choose what her words mean?

Consider what takes place when you encounter a less philosophical word — not “reason,” say, but “umiak”:

You reach for your dictionary and look it up. Now what did you do? … We tend to take what a native speaker does when he looks up a noun in a dictionary as the characteristic process of learning language. … But it is merely the end point in the process of learning the word. When we turned to the dictionary for “umiak” [a type of Eskimo boat] we already knew everything about the word, as it were, but its combination: we knew what a noun is and how to name an object and how to look up a word and what boats are and what an Eskimo is. …What seemed like finding the world in a dictionary was really a case of bringing the world to the dictionary.

Cavell’s larger argument is this: If we must bring the world with us to understand a definition, then we cannot define away the ambiguity in words, for the world we bring with us is already hopelessly ambiguous. — Charles Peterson, “Must We Mean What We Say?”

Tangentially-related to this are the world-in-a-raindrop moments of trying to explain “Jeck” cookies to people unfamiliar with German traditions of Carneval, or explaining the novelty of having actual drag queens at a Philadephia Mummers’ Parade this New Year’s Day.  You could look in a dictionary and find definitions of the individual terms, but the real explanations can only come in stories and other forms of expanded context.

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This Valentine’s eve, there was snow.  Not terribly much, but Word cleared the walk and scattered salt before we turned in last night, and today I drew a heart in a patch of snow and sent her a picture of it.

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Honestly, that would have been done even if this wasn’t Valentine’s Day, and probably that is the point.  I walk through the grocery store, and my purchasing criteria are a mix of what we need, what is economical, and at least one thing that will delight.  The mercy, the wonder, the really splendid part of all this is that these are not mutually exclusive demands. Usually it’s some ingredient that’s needed to make something later.  (Yes, we adore good chocolate, but honestly, I’m delighted by home-made corn muffins, and she likes baking them).  She is delighted by the flowers I plant, the food I can harvest from our little meadow, and little sparkly objects that are fun for me to make.

This isn’t to say we don’t like fancy things (the American Craft Council spring shows are coming up, after all), or that we couldn’t benefit from nomming a few fewer calories.  But putting on a big show on one day can suggest that the other days are less important, or that the self you present on a regular basis isn’t the one you most want your Beloved to see.

I like this version better: Each day _is_ when you send love; each day is when you laugh together, kiss, snuggle; each day could have an amazing dawn, or a spectacular sunset, or rain, or sleet, or hail…..but it always has that constant awareness: I am known and I am loved and that makes us the lucky, or the blessed, however you choose to see it.

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