Thursday, November 25, 2010


Riding south with Cassie to visit her family on Tuesday and thinking of the houses and towns we passed, incomprehensible numbers of lives and activities. Long, stalled lines of cars on the opposite side, was there any way any of them could have bailed, taken an alternative route over land and off the highway, or was there nothing but to soldier on and say " it must be?"

How rarely I am in another's presence. Mostly the other is in my imagination, or at the other end of a telephone wire or computer screen. I think of others often but am rarely with them.

And the days pass, it is already Thursday, halfway through our stay, we have been well taken care of by my sister-in-law and her family. There is still sunlight and a few red Japansese maple leaves here. And news. And uncertainty.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The tube and I

I had to have an MRI today to find out what's causing this pain I've had for about a month, running from my neck all down my left arm. My doctor thinks it's a slipped disc. While it hasn't gotten any better, it hasn't gotten any worse. A month ago I went in for the scan and as soon as the techs put me in the machine, I panicked and fled. I didn't think I was claustrophobic, but I know now. As soon as I saw the glass come down and felt myself pushed into the tube, I felt as if buried alive and asked to be set free. It was another month before I could get an appointment. This time my doctor gave me a sedative which I took half-an-hour before, and I also wore a sleeping mask. When they pushed me into the magnet, I started to panic again and something stopped me, made me decide to stick it out and see what would happen, perhaps the vague understanding that the whole procedure would take about twenty minutes. Once I was inside, I began to relax and listen to my breath, and feel it flowing through me, and not caring about the loud racking noises, thankfully muted by earplugs. Clearly when I swallowed it affected the machine or the signal, I felt a different effect. After a while, I thought I might like a beer. It was a series of little hurdles, four to five minute intervals, and the kind technician checking on me after each one.

Then I wondered, in our age of nanotechnology, has there been any thinking/exploration to devise a less drastic form of this equipment, something that might capture images without traumatizing some of us, that could be used to target (hypothetically) the affected area?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Not thinking

What I think of as thinking is probably not thinking. It is the automatic traffic of associations through my brain rather than conscious, deliberate thought. I am absorbed in a conversation with someone about Billy Collins's poem Lines Lost Among Trees, a conversation that has long since passed but I have more things I want to say, and I drive past the intersection where I wanted to turn. My mind is on automatic, or on vacation, as in Mose Allison's song. Then I am reminded of a description of the Giants manager, John McGraw, in the Glory of Their Times: "Any mental error, any failure to think, and McGraw would be all over you. ... However, he'd never get on you for a mechanical mistake, a fielding error or failure to get a hit." And I cannot count the errors I have made because of not thinking, or because of being wrapped up in my head, automatic thoughts, associations, whatever label you want. There's also the story of Milo, in the Phantom Tollbooth, driving along and he stops paying attention, when the sign points left he goes right, and after "mile after mile ..." he ends up in the Doldrums. Tock, the alarm clock watchdog, makes Milo understand that he got there by not thinking and with conscious, deliberate thought he can and does get the car moving again.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"Te taire"

From Voltaire, Candide,

In the neighborhood lived a famous dervish who passed for the best philosopher in Turkey; they went to consult him: Pangloss, who was their spokesman, addressed him thus:
"Master, we come to entreat you to tell us why so strange an animal as man has been formed?"
"Why do you trouble your head about it?" said the dervish; "is it any business of yours?"
"But, Reverend Father," said Candide, "there is a horrible deal of evil on the earth."
"What signifies it," said the dervish, "whether there is evil or good? When His Highness sends a ship to Egypt does he trouble his head whether the rats in the vessel are at their ease or not?"
"What must then be done?" said Pangloss.
"Be silent," answered the dervish.

(I believe in the original the dervish says "te taire," which could be translated as "shut up!")

Then they go on to meet a gardener, who says he doesn't mind what happens in the kingdom but cultivates his garden the best he can. And maybe that is the best I can do. I am not in charge of what I am not in charge, and usually I do not know what's best.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tragic sense of life

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
creeps in this petty pace from day to day
and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusky death
Out, out, brief candle-
life's but a walking shadow,
a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more.
It is a tale told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing.

Shakespeare, MacBeth

I don't know where I was sitting or what I was thinking when MacBeth's speech came to me. It happens in the drama after he is alerted that Lady MacBeth is dead, and then he says something like "that's all we need now." It's a powerful, tragic speech, which combines the monotony of life in the first lines (petty pace from day to day,) a cumulative effect ("all our yesterdays," fatalism ("to dusky death" "heard no more",) fleeting quality of life ("walking shadow" "hour" "no more",) senselessness ("tale told by an idiot" "signifying nothing") and violence ("sound and fury"), the latter of which the play is especially about. It's ironic also that the player metaphor is used within the play, which is not unusual with the Bard.

Compare with Ecclesiastes:
"all is vanity.
What profit hath a man of all his labor which he taketh under the sun? ...
The wise man's eyes are in his head; but the fool walketh in darkness: and I myself perceived also that one event happeneth to them all. ... Yea, I hated all my labor which I had taken under the sun: because I should leave it unto the man that shall be after me."

and also:
"And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit.

For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."

However, Ecclesiastes says eat and drink up and be merry, for life is short. No such small comfort for MacBeth.

I don't know.