Further Musings

Beauty smote his heart, he looked up from the forsaken land & hope returned to him

Archive for February 2007

Out of the Leaf-Mould of the Mind . . .

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Recently I talked with a friend about some of his germinating film ideas and during that conversation this Tolkien quote, read long ago in his biography, came back to me.

“One writes such a story not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed nor by means of botany and soil-science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mould of the mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps. No doubt there is much selection as with a gardener: what one throws on one’s personal compost-heap; and what my mould is evidently made largely of linguistic matter.”

(Tolkien: The Authorized Biography by Humphrey Carpenter. Pg. 126)

Typing out that quote and sending it to my friend has me wondering a bit tonight about what compost I’ve been adding to my inner-life lately. I know I don’t take in stories as much as I’d like to, particularly through my favorite medium of the novel.

I miss novels and biographies. I miss long, involved, engrossing stories. I miss being pulled to the chair, being conquered by the story and swirling with the emotions of it. I wonder if that effects the way I interact with folks.

Normally when I bemoan my lack of novel reading I wonder if depriving myself of reading fiction is worth it to meet a goal of graduating . . . but tonight I’m wondering a bit about the rich loam of compost I’m depriving myself of in the future as well. Before I came to graduate school I was reading a lot more or better said, I was reading more fiction. And I wonder if giving up novel reading over the last couple of year will mean that in the future my ability to empathize, to recognize and to understand both others and myself will be less than it could have been.

And for that heavy price what am I gaining? I think most of my “school time” is spent composting other kinds of input instead. Instead of understanding people, the things that I am adding to my compost pile are designed to help me understand the things that influence people. Why we get to drink coffee and tea. Why soldiers are shipped off to war.

I think to some extent my philosophy of graduate education has been to throw onto the compost pile as much as I can garner: micro-economic theory, the history and theory of world trade, a smattering of thoughts on institutions and game theory, public policy, studying how governments make decisions. I think I’ve done this more with a hopeful eye to the compost than with a definite plan.

Typing these thoughts out makes me wonder about these choices. I’ve made them. I wonder what fruits they will bear.

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February 26, 2007 at 6:11 pm

Assembling the Pieces

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Tonight I’m wondering about themes.

Last night as I drove down I-40 I listened to One, Two Buckle My Shoe a mystery novel by Agatha Christie. Tonight on the phone Charity and I felt something like Hercule Poirot as we groped around the experiences of the last week. We rummaged through thoughts and impressions and tried to piece together a story. We tried to figure out what what’s going on.

Of course, on one level, we know what’s going on. I’m typing. Charity’s eating with her mom. But what’s happening? Listening to a mystery as I rocketed across so many miles of pavement has me thinking of Poirot as a metaphor for us.

The impetus for this groping, this searching, is that we got kicked today. We got kicked and we got kicked hard. The details aren’t important for this context. We got kicked hard enough to make wonder why . . . to make us wonder, to make us try to listen to our experience and make some sense of our feelings.

I think it’s a bit of an odd thing to listen to one’s experience. By listening I don’t mean so much one kind of learning I did last night (not to eat a whole bag of Fritos in 15 minutes on the interstate), but to listen to the big thing and to try to make sense of it through the little things we’ve been thinking about around it. It’s like we got kicked hard enough everything in our lives lept up in the air and landed sideways with a BANG! on the floor.

And tonight we felt about that shellshocked and we walked around our week and weekend among the flotsam of our experiences.   We talked together about some of our different experiences, the ones that whispered a subtle meaning but we ignored because it was easier to think about how cool Leopard OS is than to think that we might think that we are cosmopolitans waiting to emerge when watered with the right doses of success.

I don’t think everything has a secret meaning behind it but I think sometimes somethings come together a bit like the answer does to Hercule Poirot. While I think there are somethings that demand to be wrestled with and thought about and pondered over. I also think there is some merit to passing over and touching with words and thoughts the different realities of our life, gray hairs, disappointed hopes, looming decisions, happy friends to try to think what they mean for us.  I’m not suggesting a goal oriented exercise.  I think they’re worth thinking about on their own and I think that sometimes an answer or a paradigm arises from trying to think about all those thoughts as together.

So tonight we did a bit of that together as we had the breath kicked out of us hard enough to make us silent in the face of it.  And we’re wondering what all these experiences sum to.

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February 19, 2007 at 9:19 pm

Posted in Reflections

The Night Sky

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Taken Friday night at Bret’s cabin.Click for full screen version.

(Click for full screen version.)

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February 4, 2007 at 7:13 pm

Posted in Pictures

Season of Migration to the North

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Last weekend I finished the novel Season of Migration to the North by Tayeb Salih. Set in the early-to-mid 1900s in the Sudan it was a black and strange tale from beginning to end. Rarely pausing for vistas of the Sudanese landscape Salih instead spins his tale through the vehicle of the narrator, an Oxford educated Sudanese man returning his Arab village on the Nile after his many years abroad studying in England. When he returns his village the narrator encounters Mustafa, a farmer who moved to the village he had left and the novel then plunges into a dark dream as the narrator is drawn, with increasing unwillingness, into Mustafa’s dark, Nihilistic past which preceded his farming days on the Nile.

The novel tells the intertwined stories of the two Oxford educated Sudanese men and the more the narrator sees the less he likes. Mustafa’s story unfolds onto the page like a dark and cruel dream which reaches out to envelope both narrator and the reader. His dark, deathly and deceptive stay in England is unveiled bit by bit as the putrid tale of his many English lovers unfolds. Mustafa’s story suffocates and when his tale is fully known the narrator longs to burn down the room holding Mustafa’s artifacts and memories and cleanse himself from his contact with the blackness that has enveloped Mustafa’s white lovers, the narrator and the little village on the Nile.

In the end Season of Migration to the North is an unflinchingly putrid tale of Nihilistic man whose selfishness blackens everything he touches and Salih keeps story fixed firmly upon the gore and the rancidness of the story.

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February 3, 2007 at 11:20 pm

Posted in Reviews

A Weekend Project

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I don’t know if we’ll get out to the backyard today but this is what we worked on two weekends ago.  This spot will be the veggie patch.






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February 3, 2007 at 9:25 am

Posted in At the House, Pictures

Changing Seasons

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Somewhere in the back of my mind lurks a memory of a Myers-Briggs theory which says that when you reach a certain age (circa mid-life crisis) you begin to develop a set of interests that are not the interests that you or other people associate with yourself.

gardening-books.JPG I don’t know whether or not that is a conjured memory and I do seem a bit young for a mid-life crisis but I have recently spent several enraptured evenings reading North Carolina Gardener’s Guide.

What’s more surprising that my departure from novels into non-fiction is that, on one level, I don’t find this to be a surprising fact. Of course I’d read a gardening guide. Don’t I have a whole yard (and what a yard it is!) that is in need of attention and amenable to color and variety, fruit and flower? In a month or two Charity and I will be plopping down plants, watching them grow and eating tomato and basil combinations left and right.

What’s strange about me browsing gardening catalogues is that it doesn’t fit my residual self-image. Flower catalogs? Engaging in heated conversations about shrubbery at the pub? What about novels and big ideas? Right and wrong? Societal trends?

kitchen.JPGI think somehow that this is part of a bigger set of changes that have me sketching house designs during sermons and have our kitchen table littered with cookbooks. My neighbor declares that my new found interest is a reaction to being in academics. He thinks that the ying of scholarly pursuits must be balanced with the yang of dirty finger nails. Perhaps. But I think that that I’m developing a tactile creative side that would have come even without a graduate program.

Mind, I’m still not very good at it. My vocabulary is pretty limited and my intuition is underdeveloped. But hopefully experience will bring a greater idea of what spices I like and what annuals I don’t.

It all has me wonder if this is a long term change or just something for a season. Perhaps the busyness of children will pare back my culinary endeavors. Perhaps eating at the B & V’s house or S & J’s has changed how I view food for good. I guess time will tell.

Anyway, just something interesting I’ve been thinking about.

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February 2, 2007 at 11:48 am