Dear Mrs. R—

Dear Mrs. R—,

Do you remember—more years ago than either of us would like to consider—when I was a mixed up kid trying to figure out my next steps after having lost all hope of going to the one and only—and private and expensive—college I had applied to? You encouraged me to apply to HBCUs, and I ended up enrolling at Florida A&M University. That was an exciting time. I became turned on to the idea of doing something unusual (for a hitherto conservative, and rather insulated middle class white boy). An adventure! I’d get to see how other people lived and experienced the world. I’d gain perspective and challenge the closed minded people I’d grown up with. There are a lot of words to describe me at that time, but let’s just stick with “Naïve” with a capital “N.”

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In the following, “C” is me. “X” is an unnamed friend and confidant. I badly want to edit this for readability—at times it feels like I’m riffing on “ways” and trying to see how many times I can use the word. But I’m letting it stand as is, as it captures a moment of thought in conversation.

C: Some days my loneliness percolates to a point where it feels like a tangible presence, or rather “anti-presence” would be truer. It’s more, rather than less, a thing because I can see it and know that there’s not an answer to it. It’s not a thing that my wife or my kids, or you, or my few other friends and numerous acquaintances can touch. I’m not even reaching out right now for you to say or do anything about it. Just saying it to externalize it so that it isn’t just in my head or me talking to myself in a journal. It’s just there. And I’m just here. Stating it helps detach from it a little.

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Casaubon’s Incredulity and Negative Capability

I first made note of this passage of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum in 2005. The narrator is Casaubon.

I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren’t trying to teach us. We are formed by little scraps of wisdom. When I was ten, I asked my parents to subscribe to a weekly magazine that was publishing comic-strip versions of the great classics of literature. My father, not because he was stingy, but because he was suspicious of comic strips, tried to beg off. “The purpose of this magazine,” I pontificated, quoting the ad, “is to educate the reader in an entertaining way.” “The purpose of your magazine,” my father replied without looking up from his paper, “is the purpose of every magazine: to sell as many copies as it can.”

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John Clare, Loss & Gain

On a surprise (forgotten) day of PTO, I learned of John Clare—I am Jack Randall now. I was Byron and Shakespeare formerly. As I read his verse and am confronted with his dismay at the destruction of the wild places he loved—this was the 19th c.—I am filled with sadness and nostalgia for how far this has gone in 200 years.

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Time and Value

I am 5. I have my whole life before me. What will I become? A fireman. A policeman. A construction worker.

I am 15. I have my whole life before me. What will I become? A lawyer. An architect. An inventor.

I am 21. I have my whole life before me. What will I become? A writer. An artist. A god.

I am 44. I have lived more than half my life. What will I become? Dust. Ashes. A fading memory.

We think differently at different times about how much time we have before us and what we can become with this time. But who among us can spend, right now, anything more than the present moment?

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The Self

This week I noticed an interesting question on Quora: Do we exist? When I followed the link I was expecting to see Descartes, and no doubt if I poked a little further I’d find him. Instead, what I found was a lovely illustration using a handful of geometrically arranged toothpics.

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Openness of Thought—Doubting Conviction

Words: Creative and Limiting

Recently I was discussing with a friend my failed aspirations to be a writer. I have a complex relationship with words. On the one hand they are an art form capable of extending, composing, and in some sense creating the world of our perceptions. On the other hand, they often tend to confine, reduce, limit, and damn us to live within a tinny parody of our fullest experience.

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People's Stories

People’s stories change lives. Letting people and their various perspectives into your own life can be threatening for this very reason. Hence xenophobia. Hence othering. Hence culture wars. Hence an epidemic of loneliness in our society. I grew up in an environment where being gay was felt to be one of the most revolting perversions known to man. And for reasons I’ve never understood I was repeatedly accused of being gay. [Read More]